Do First – Ask Questions Later

My Tai Chi teacher had an annoying knack for being right and gaining the moral high ground in any aspect regarding his teachings.

I resent it. I don’t deny he’s right, but I still resent it. Maybe it’s because he’s right. This means the sensible thing for me to do is to take note of it regardless of how I feel.

One beginner’s lesson went like this.

We practised the “Heaven and Earth” movement for about ten minutes. One of the simplest ones in Tai Chi but also one of the most profound. At our level, however, it was more a matter of getting it right, without tension and stiffness before we could even think about the deeper philosophies it represented. Took us quite a while to even realise where we were tense and force, usually when “trying” to do it in a relaxed manner and even longer to fix that.

There was the curious and very specific instruction to ignore our breathing throughout. Which is odd because this was taught as a Qi Gong exercise which literally translates to “breath work”.

Then we dropped Heaven and Earth and went on the simply standing still and breathing. With the same issues. Tense, stiff, especially when”trying” to breathe naturally and in a relaxed way. Same process, took ages to even realise where the tension was, and even longer to fix it.

Then we combined both components. Do the movement with the breathing. Dramatic improvement. It was so much easier to do the movement and breathe naturally.

Then came the discussion after the lesson. Does the movement help the breathing? Clearly yes. Does the breathing help the movement? Also, clearly yes. Which is the more important? Which serves the other? Do we do Heaven and Earth to regulate the breathing? Or do we regulate the breathing to do Heaven and Earth?

Cue animated discussion from beginners. With ideas and opinions ranging from the (seemingly) profound to the downright ludicrous. After a while, we split into two camps, each strongly supporting opposite views to the other. Eventually, we talked ourselves out, realised anything further would be very obvious bullsh*t, so we fell silent and waited expectantly for my teacher to give the correct answer, validating my one side and humiliating the other.

When he realised we were finally done pontificating to each other, he blinked out of his daydream, and brightly said, “Who cares?”

And ended the lesson there.

The real lesson seems to have been this: As in my previous post, I often do wonder about the habits of successful people. When interviewed, they say, or at least imply, the secrets of their success are such and such things they do every day. I often suspect it’s the other way round: Because they are successful, so they can do such and such.

Hidden not too deeply behind my doubts is simply me looking for an excuse for me not to have to do what they do. But as my Tai Chi teacher pointed out in that lesson – we can do the movement, we can do the breathing, we can do both together. He later said for these things, it was often quicker for students to just do and figure the principles out for themselves than for him to teach it.

So for me, it is as it says in the Big Book of AA: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep man in everlasting ignorance – That principle is contempt prior to investigation – Herbent Spencer”.

My teacher said it was actually quicker and easier to just try a movement, or test a Tai Chi fighting principle than to try and teach or explain it.

Or, as my first sponsor told me in exasperation when I was trying to wiggle my way out of his suggestions, “Do first, ask questions later. It’s the easy way.”

Chicken or Egg

Ever hear testimonies like, “I wake up at 5 every morning to pray for an hour, meditate for another, then go for a run as the sun rises. Throughout the day, I’m in contact with God whenever difficulties arise, or sometimes, just to chat with Him. I make sure I reach out to at least two people to do service to them, however small and humble. At the end of the day, I write down a list of things I’m grateful for, then I get on my knees in thanksgiving and pray for at least fifteen minutes before I turn in at 10pm. I attend fellowship meetings twice a week, the prayer meeting once a week, and do community work at least once a fortnight. I donate to the poor too. And that’s why I’m in good recovery.”

Really annoying right?

Mainly because I don’t do what they do, and don’t have what they have. Simple envy tends to lead to me making excuses. But more of that another time.

On a more serious note, I’ve always wondered – is it because they do these things, therefore they are in fit spiritual state? Or is it because they are in fit spiritual state, therefore they can do these things, which, while there is no doubt they are good, worthy habits and probably help one maintain a fit spiritual state, attempting to do them when one is not in fit spiritual state could be counter-productive.

Are they in a good state of mind? (In Christian terms – broken and contrite, repentant and humble. In Addiction terms – admitting powerlessness over addictive behaviour and willing to turn to a Higher Power for help) Hence they are able to take these Actions? Or do taking these Actions bring them to the aforementioned good state of mind?

On a more personal, self-pitying tone, do I have to do all these things at all? Isn’t it unreasonable? The big guns in Recovery do all these things because they are already in a good head space (not successful, but willing). What about those of us who aren’t quite so willing? Would attempting to do all these on top of normal life, which is often falling apart, simply add burden to a system already at breaking point?

The closest I have to an answer came from my Tai Chi teacher during a Beginner’s class many years ago. See it here.

Omicron – God’s vaccine?

Disclaimer: This is entirely off my own head following a conversation with my father-in-law. There is no other research, evidence, or authority other than my own opinion and understanding of matters at time of writing.

Currently, most of the world is in the grip of the Covid – Omicron variant spreading like wildfire. Even Singapore, with one of the most well-controlled and compliant populations, coupled with one of the most efficient and organised public healthcare systems, has conceded it is only a matter of time before it spreads within the country and smashes all previous records in terms of daily infections.

Fortunately, the evidence seems to show that Omicron is not as deadly as Delta.

But it does presumably confer a degree of immunity to Covid in general.

As Gru in Despicable Me would say: LIGHT BULB!

IF (and a big “if” here obviously) Omicron turns out to be so mild, that the mortality and morbidity rate (read number of deaths and amount of harm) is comparable or even less than vaccination… then there we have it.

Effectively, God-given vaccination, all-natural, no nasties, no artificial flavours, even the most ardent anti-vaxxers can’t argue with that. And compliance and uptake figures? No problems. Spreading like wildfire. We can’t avoid it even if we wanted to.

And, as a medic friend commented, the only way we could have nailed Covid once the vaccines came out, was to have everyone vaccinated at the same time, rather than piecemeal across the world. Which possibly allows for resistant variants to arise.

If Omicron spreads across the world but turns out to be so mild, this could be the mass same-time vaccination that we failed to do the first time around.

Too much to hope for?

Probably.

But it does challenge perceptions about vaccination on both sides. And maybe, just maybe, this could be the silver bullet we were all waiting for.

True Hypocrisy

I judge Christians who are very openly… Christian.

You know, the ones who say Praise the Lord and Hallelujah a lot. The ones who close their eyes and raise their hands when they sing, like they really mean it and feel it. The ones who pray for at least an hour a day, and read at least a chapter of the Bible. The ones who make it a point to say grace before meals with their children.

I assume that they are like me, and it was/is all for show. That deep down, they feel nothing of that sort, but because that is the “right thing” to be seen to be doing, they do it. Hypocrisy of the highest order.

Some of them have been keeping up this facade for decades. As part of the show, they not only do these Christiany things, they also are: faithful to their spouses, hold down and work hard in their jobs, raise their kids appropriately, avoid indulging in vices, do volunteer work and give generously to charity.

Some of them even (shudder) Share the Gospel with people they come into contact with.

And they keep this up till the day they die of old age.

I shake my head in judgement at such people and look down upon them for not having the integrity to admit they don’t feel what they do.

Unlike myself. I know I’m not perfect but at least I’m honest. And because I refuse to do what they do, because I know it would be insincere, I just carry on as I am, messing things up, indulging in vices, and generally being very unpleasant to everyone around me.

But at least I’m being open and honest about my faults.

Unlike those hypocrites who refuse to admit it’s all a sham, and proceed to live their entire lives like actual saints. Even when they die, it’s with a peaceful smile on their faces, as though they carry on the act even beyond the grave.

Of course, there might be another, far simpler, explanation to all this, and I hope it is blinding obvious to any reader of this blog.

In AA, there are slogans such as “Act as if” and “fake it till you make it”.

Not a call to hypocrisy or putting up a show, of course, but rather to Do First and figure it out later. Taking Action, they call it, rather than Thinking About Why It’s Not Going to Work, and that I Don’t Feel it in My Heart.

It seems to have merit. Many addicts got started on the path to Recovery by showing up at an appropriate meeting. I don’t think there was a single one (myself included) who turned up Rejoicing in the Lord, skipping in with a song and clap. For most of us, it was Do or Die. Only under the greatest of duress, external pressure, force of circumstances, sheer desperation that drove us to the rooms.

But showing up was an Action. A concrete “thing” that we “did”. Not an idea in our mind that we thought. And with Action comes Results, apparently.

If someone takes correctly prescribed medication, he gets the benefits thereof. No matter if he believes it’s going to work, what his attitude to the treatment is, or even if he’s got the right idea about his own condition.

Yes, ideally, he has full understanding, is wholly on board, motivated and positive, which helps enhance recovery, improves compliance in the long term.

But in the short term, if I pop the pill, I pop the pill. I “act as if” I believe this is going to help. I “fake” my belief in the treatment by actually taking it. But in doing so, the medicine does have an effect, and I do get better.

It’s not hypocrisy after all then, but a grudging submission to… well… something other than myself at least, who knows better. And why not?

Maybe those Christians with such disciplined lives are on to something after all…

Bicycle Lessons

After a long break, I managed to drag my kids out to the East Coast cycling park to go for a nice long cycle.

This was the first time my daughter was trying her bigger bike so I was naturally more careful with her, staying close and watching out for her.

My son, I thought, being older and more experienced, should have been able to more or less go by himself.

However, as the journey wore on, I became increasingly irritated by what I perceived to be his lack of regard for road safety. He would constantly drift to the centre of the lane, sometimes even cutting into the other side, even when people were coming towards us.

When my daughter kept having to come to a stop to scratch her nose, claiming she couldn’t cycle with one hand, he proceeded to show how he could do it… and proceeded to the drift-across-both-lanes-without-looking and forced traffic on both sides to slow down warily until he regained control.

Furthermore, when it came to the uphill stretches, he would refuse to heed my wise advice to build up speed leading up to it and instead cruise into the slope then struggle going upwards.

I was fuming at him towards the end, but to my credit, I didn’t say anything specific about his riding, except to reiterate general road safety to both my children.

Boy, am I glad I didn’t take it out on him.

The next day, as he was getting wholesome exercise playing outdoors with a neighbour, I took my daughter alone for a quick cycle along a nearby route that runs by a canal.

After setting her up, I got on my bike and stopped.

Why did it feel so small and cramped?

So I got off, quickly adjusted the seat and handlebars and went off again.

Then I stopped again.

Why did it feel so wobbly?

I checked the clips and catches for the folding portions – all in order.

In the end, as my daughter was getting impatient, I just went without stopping anymore.

Nearly died I did.

At the next lamppost, we were navigating past, I oversteered and almost went into it.

At the sharp turn into the canal track, I almost lost control and went into the canal.

Even on the simple straight part, my daughter was cycling almost faster than I could keep up with.

Mistakenly feeling proud that she was coming to her own, I decided to switch the high gear so I could travel at speed.

It was then when I tried to change non-existent gears with a non-existent gear lever that I realised my mistake.

I thought I was riding this…

My 7-speed 20-inch folding bike….

Instead, I was riding this…

His single-speed 16-inch folding bike.

In my haste to get going, I accidentally took my son’s smaller bike instead of my larger one.

Hey, they’re both white. Easy to make a mistake!

In any case, despite my best efforts, I was cycling exactly the same way as my son was the day before.

By the time my daughter and I got back from a far shorter jaunt than the one the three of us went on the day before, I was exhausted, shaken and my nerves were shot, trying to control a bike that was not fit to ride.

If you needed to turn the wheel 30 degrees to the left, it would go anywhere from 27 to 33 degrees. It’s not much as angles go, but any cyclist or driver would know, as far as steering is concerned, “roughly that way” is just not good enough.

I apologized to my son as soon as we got back for the nasty thoughts I was thinking about him the day before but thankfully didn’t articulate.

The next day, we took it to the local bike repair shop and gave it to the owner for parts. As we wheeled it there (it wasn’t safe for either of us to ride it), the stem came loose and some ball bearings slipped out. It was basically falling apart as we took it in.

Talk about no judging until you walked a mile in another’s shoes.

Or cycled on their bike.

Vaccination Morality

Getting vaccinated is now officially a Moral Issue rather than a medical one.

In most countries, there are really only two things governments can do: Impose safe-distancing measures, and vaccinate the population.

The former is fraught with political peril. Nobody wants it. Everybody hates it. There are economic and social consequences. And really, even in the most compliant and supportive populations, there will only be partial adherence to any measures.

Vaccination however is something else. You either have had it, or you haven’t. Two weeks have passed, or it hasn’t. You are Fully Vaccinated, or you are not.

This is something the authorities can measure and control and is now something that they have no choice but to cling on to for dear life. And I don’t blame them.

As a parent, I go through the same thing. I am loath for my children to suffer, come to harm or fail in life. I am even averse to the idea of this happening because of something I did or failed to do myself.

I can’t guarantee their financial security but I can splash out on tuition lessons, enrichment classes, and exam training courses so that… they succeed? Perhaps. More so that if they fail, I can confidently say it was not for lack of effort on my part.

I think governments are in a similar position. When Covid broke out, nobody really knew what to do. In which case, the next priority was to be seen to be doing the right thing. So that it all hell breaks loose, one can say – well I tried. It wasn’t me.

So when vaccination became available, it was the one and only thing any government could use as a measure for their efforts to deal with Covid.

Cue – removal of obstacles so as to get vaccination rates up such as making it free. When people were hesitant, governments got twitchy and worried. Cue – strong social drive to guilt-trip people into get it done.

Do it for your elderly mother if not for yourself.

I mean, I did agree with the “social responsibility to get vaccinated” bit (past tense deliberate), but it is still emotional blackmail.

Still hesitation and numbers not quite as shining as preferred.

Now the screw started turning. Only vaccinated people get to: Socialise in groups, eat out together, go to malls and cinemas or something like that. Ostensibly this was for the protection of the poor souls who were still unvaccinated. To keep them safe.

No, this is not forcing anyone. We are just trying to protect you.

I do this all the time with my kids. Think: No dessert unless you finish your dinner. No screen time unless you finish your homework. I’m not forcing you (e.g. by threatening a caning if there is non-compliance) but this is for your own good.

Then Delta came along and changed everything. For all practical purposes, the vaccines don’t stop its spread. It does significantly reduce the severity of Covid when one gets it. But it hardly stops you from getting it, nor stops you passing it on to loved ones should you be contagious.

Vaccines are now more like a personal shield. Inoculation of an antidote before you have to taste poison. A really good idea if poison is all around and it’s only a matter of time before you have to face it. But no longer a matter of social responsibility.

But, just as parents of highly stressed and pressurised children find it hard to stop the extra tuition lessons, governments will find it hard to let go of vaccination as the ultimate measure of their handling of the pandemic. Because if they do, there is really nothing else they can do.

Nothing highlights this more where now specific provisions have been made for the few people who are medically ineligible to get vaccinated. Vaccination is now not just moral, it’s practically religious.

If you are certified to be unable to take the vaccine, then you are excused from the restrictions the other lepers unvaccinated have to comply with. Even though you remain just as unvaccinated, and vulnerable, as they are.

That most of us feel this is appropriate proves the point. We look at the people who cannot step into a mall and say, “Serves them right.” We look at those who want to be vaccinated but are ineligible because of allergies and say, “Poor thing.” And we rejoice when the authorities give them permission to enter the holy places such as malls and cinemas, instead of being horrified that they can now legally place themselves at such risk, and also be a risk to others.

Would we feel the same way if it were Ebola?

That we don’t means we collectively know that the medical risk – as defined by the spread of Covid in the population, is no longer a significant factor. Unfortunate, but we have to accept that.

Unvaccination is now more an individual choice. Like eating really unhealthy food, or not exercising, not sleeping, not taking prescribed and recommended medication as directed. Foolish if you choose it, but that’s up to you, as long as you don’t complain about consequences. And you are free to make that choice, even if it turns out to be the wrong one, because it no longer affects others.

The original moral imperative for vaccination – which I did agree with – is no longer relevant.

Covid has moved on.

Maybe it’s time we did too.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

It’s not about lying.

The classic story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf is usually told to little children. At the end, the ritual phrase must be uttered “and the moral of the story is…”, as a set-up for the Important Life Lesson, usually delivered as a stern warning, “Liars are not believed even when they tell the truth.”

But the moral and the story don’t actually match.

Of course, the moral is true – liars usually are not believed even when they tell the truth. Except in the case of cult personalities in religion, sports, politics etc. And the underlying message is: Tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie. I agree wholeheartedly.

But the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf is not about lying per se.

I believe in the final reckoning, all lies will be exposed, all secrets and deceptions revealed and accounted for. (I worry most about my own, rather than relish at the prospect of others getting their comeuppance.) And yes, the Boy Who Cried Wolf was wrong to lie. But the spirit of his wrongdoing wasn’t so much lying in how I would do it, but attention-seeking.

When I lie, it’s pretty obvious why I do it. Almost always, it’s to save my own skin, hide a wrong-doing or failure – basically shame avoidance. Or sometimes, to boost my ego – e.g. exaggerating my knowledge, putting someone else down, backing up a point in an argument. In both cases, the aim is the same: To raise my moral standing, or at least avoid a drop in it.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf fable, none of these were at play. He was simply bored. He wanted entertainment and stimulation, and it needed to come at the expense of another human being. This harks to what I call the “My Will Not Yours Be Done” principle of human nature.

Basically, this is a parody of the prayer Jesus prayed in the Gethsemane where he said, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” If this is the ultimate prayer of surrender and submission, uttered by Jesus himself, then the direct opposite is what’s in my heart all the time, and I suspect, I am not alone.

It isn’t enough that my will be done, it must be in opposition to someone else’s for it to be meaningful and… satisfying. Or, in the case of the Boy – “fun”.

Superficially the story is about lying.

But on the next level, it’s about attention-seeking. Which, innocuous as it sounds, actually drives me up the wall. Not just from my kids, but perfectly reasonable people like my wife, mother, in-laws. More on that another time.

At the heart of it, I think it’s My Will Not Yours Be Done. That innate human desire to feel secure and valued by exerting dominance over an equal.

There is no glory in lording over animals or inanimate objects – it has to be someone else who would otherwise be able to lord over me.

Never Turn Away

I was in a sulk for the last full day of our staycation.

The reason for the sulk is irrelevant. (Truly, it is. Not just irrelevant to the story, but, as it often is in my case, irrelevant to any reality. I sulk for no good reason. More on that another time.)

But the main point to note is that in a sulk: I go silent and brood. I exude brooding. The purpose of the sulk is to make people know I am brooding so they feel sorry for what they had done, and beg me to be normal and happy again.

Basically, emotional blackmail.

It doesn’t work for two reasons. The first is that 99.9% of the time, there is absolutely no justification for my sulk. Any offence or slight that kicked it off is understandable, accidental, or most commonly – non-existent. It’s all in my head.

Do you know how hard it is to maintain a sulk knowing I have no good reason for it?

The second is my family is more or less immune to my sulks. I call it Gross Insensitivity, but realistically it’s probably more a function of their general Well-Adjustedness where when they sense I’m just being an a**, they don’t indulge me in it.

Annoying as it is in the middle of a sulk, I do appreciate this is good for me in the long run.

In any case, amid this sulk, two incidences happened which just brought to mind a Christiany principle that always used to bother me. In Matthew 7 v11, Jesus challenges his listeners by pointing out even how sinful, evil, failing fathers still do good for their children, how much more can a good and loving God be trusted to bless His children?

Firstly, my daughter, the more sensitive of my two children, sensed Daddy was brooding, so she quietened down a bit and was slightly worried. (Don’t worry, my wife spotted it and briefed her on what was going on so she didn’t take it to heart too much in the end) But at the end of a full day at the beach, she was so tired she fell asleep at the dinner table.

Even though she was (superficially) the cause of my sulk, it was unthinkable to me to do anything other than carry her back all the way back to the hotel room. About half a kilometre including some very long traffic lights. Her tantrums do get to me. Her whining does wind me up. But when she is in genuine need and not fighting me about it, I can’t do anything but pick her up and do what is best for her. Even in my deep sulk.

The other incident was when my son, with a lower EQ than his sister, and therefore completely oblivious to my sulk, instinctively reached for my hand while walking and prattled on about some minor thing that was very important to him at that time.

Though he was equally culpable in causing my sulk and had not even acknowledged my sulk, the fact was this was an innocent reaching out of a child to his father, with no agenda other than to hold hands and chat.

I didn’t pull back from him.

The point is this: Even at my most petulant, unreasonable state, I will not refuse connection with my children when they ask for it. Whether they deserve it or not is beside the point. Whatever they had done or not is irrelevant. (And that’s from my twisted, self-pitying point of view.) How much more does God not cold-shoulder His children provided they are not actively fighting Him?

I could be taking that verse out of context, but something does resonate in me. If even I at my worst, will not refuse connection with my children, I think a good and loving God will do even better.

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