Category Archives: On My Mind

29 at Twenty-Nine

Happy birthday to me, a blog post for you!

Since this is the last year of my 20s, I thought I’d begin with a list of 29 things that comprise my current self and world understanding, things I’ve learned along the journey so far. These 29 things might not be objectively true (my evidence leans anecdotal) but they’re my present subjective reality. I’d love to hear your thoughts on areas of commonality and disagreement. What have you learned about the world?

Here’s what I know:

  1. The world is a beautiful place. It might not always seem so, but look around and you’ll find it.
  2. Despite being a beautiful place, the world is full of suffering. Look around and you’ll find it. Look inside and you’ll find it.
  3. People are imperfect. They make mistakes. They’ll hurt you, they’ll hurt themselves, and then they’ll do it all over again. And again. And again.
  4. People are afraid. They’re afraid of their own minds, of rejection, of failure, of pain. And then they act in ways that cause rejection, failure, and pain.
  5. As individuals, we have very little autonomy. We have very little choice. We are constrained in almost everything we do unless we purposely set ourselves up to do otherwise.
  6. People want to be recognized. They want to be heard, seen, and listened to.
  7. Young people, students, want to be recognized. They want to be heard, seen, and listened to. They want to be treated like people.
  8. Compassion is a continuous practice towards others and towards ourselves. Practicing compassion helps us to care for individuals as well as for our planet.
  9. We often talk about love as a feeling, but love is also an action. Act in ways that show love.
  10. Dropping expectations expands the possible. Experience what is rather than what you were hoping for.
  11. Inefficiency wastes much of our time. Ask for help so that you can spend that time on things more important to you.
  12. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to give in or give up.
  13. There are many occasions when done is better than perfect.
  14. Being honest is painful; getting caught in a lie is more painful.
  15. It is possible to learn to control your mind.
  16. Be kind to everyone because who you know matters a lot more than what you know.
  17. Humans are social animals who evolved to connect with others. Technology both facilitates and distracts; use it wisely.
  18. Be aware of what you do versus what you say. If they don’t match and you want them to, look deeply and be better.
  19. Helping others sounds a lot better than it is. Monetary donations need to be carefully considered and calculated to have the greatest possible impact.
  20. Fresh food and clean water are luxuries that should not be taken for granted.
  21. Giving ought not require, anticipate, or expect a response. Giving is one action and receiving is another.
  22. A willingness to experience discomfort or stress provides great opportunities to learn from a wide range of new experiences.
  23. Much that is considered “wrong” should be questioned and examined. People will get upset when you start to do that. Let them.
  24. Don’t ask unless you’re willing to hear the answer.
  25. It’s okay not to know, but it’s not okay to plead ignorance as an excuse.
  26. Moving to a new place is an opportunity to be the most current version of you.
  27. Beauty can be found in people, in places, and in actions. It cannot be taken for granted and must be protected.
  28. Peace cannot just be a dream; it must be lived every single day.
  29. Changing your mind in the face of new evidence and understanding shows wisdom and strength of character.

I’ve considered making similar lists in the past, lists of what I know to be true, but I’ve never felt like I know very much at all. That’s not inaccurate here, except that I’ve learned to articulate what makes sense to me in the present moment and I’m comfortable knowing it will change. I’ve become willing to say it out loud and let others guide me to deepen and sharpen what I think I know. There’s so much freedom to learn once you can set aside being wrong, or making mistakes, or digging in your heels. That’s what I’m looking forward to this year, and what I wish for all of you: Take the opportunity to learn.

Learn and do something good with what you know.

My 2018 Reading List

Back in 2016, a friend convinced me to get on Goodreads and I’ve been keeping careful track of my books ever since. Growing up, I’d keep track of the books I read over the summer, writing titles and authors in notebooks with rainbow gel pens. Times change. The lists below are in alphabetical order by title and grouped into nonfiction and fiction categories.

Nonfiction

21 Lessons for the 21st Century
Yuval Noah Harari

The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness and Effectiveness
Epictetus

The Art of Loving (I admit, this was a re-read)
Erich Fromm

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Atul Gawande

Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World
The Dalai Lama

Building Peace: Living and Learning for a Better World
Rebecca M. Stein

The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money
Bryan Caplan

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
Richard W. Wrangham

Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy
Mark Regnerus  

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II
Liza Mundy

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters
Thomas M. Nichols

The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life
Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson

The End of Epidemics: The Looming Threat to Humanity and How to Stop It
Jonathan D. Quick

The Ethics of Identity
Kwame Anthony Appiah

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling

The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between
Abigail Marsh

The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully
Frank Ostaseski

Future Sex: A New Kind of Free Love
Emily Witt

The Geography of Morals: Varieties of Moral Possibility
Owen J. Flanagan

Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding–And How We Can Improve the World Even More
Charles Kenny

The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality
Angus Deaton

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
J.D. Vance

The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen
Kwame Anthony Appiah

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence
Michael Pollan

How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
Lisa Feldman Barrett

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking
Jordan Ellenberg

How We Talk: The Inner Workings of Conversation
N.J. Enfield

I Will Survive: Personal gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender stories in Singapore
Leow Yangfa

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment
Francis Fukuyama

Inventing Human Rights: A History
Lynn Hunt

Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool
Jennifer Jacquet

The Jew in Lotus: A Poet’s Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India
Rodger Kamenetz

The Jews of Islam
Bernard Lewis

The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity
Kwame Anthony Appiah

Meditations
Marcus Aurelius

Mindwise: Why We Misunderstand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want
Nicholas Epley

The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis
Martha C. Nussbaum

Mothers and Others
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity
Steve Silberman

Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence.
John Francis

Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
Amy Chua

The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence
Dacher Keltner

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women
Kate Moore

The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World
Owen J. Flanagan

Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves
George M. Church and Ed Regis

Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies
Geoffrey B. West

Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air
David J.C. MacKay

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002
David Sedaris

Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World
Megan Feldman Bettencourt

Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction
Maia Szalavitz

Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism
Ian Bremmer

Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul
Jeremiah Moss

The Way of the Bodhisattva
Santideva

Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter
Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
Robert M. Pirsig

Fiction

China Rich Girlfriend – Kevin Kwan
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki – Haruki Murakami
Corridor – Alifan Sa’at
The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan
Dance Dance Dance – Haruki Murakami
A Horse Walks into a Bar – David Grossman
A House Without Windows – Nadia Hashimi
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
LaRose – Louise Erdrich
Luncheon of the Boating Party – Susan Vreeland
The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
The Round House – Louise Erdrich
South of the Border, West of the Sun – Haruki Murakami
Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami
Strange Pilgrims – Gabriel García Márquez
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

Nothing tickling your fancy? Take a look at my lists from 2016 and 2017.

Wishing you peace this new year, in your mind and in your heart. Happy reading!

IMG_0387

Building Peace: A Time for Giving

I live in a country obsessed with stuff. We have a lot of malls and shopping centers, a lot of sales, many opportunities to spend money. There’s a lot of getting new things, getting rid of old things, and keeping up with trends. I work with very privileged teenagers and for many of them, getting each new iPhone is the norm.

The focus on materialism has struck me sharply this week based on what I’ve seen and heard around school and I started to wonder: Why isn’t this a time for giving?

After talking with an administrator, I was asked to write a few lines for the parent newsletter and submitted the following:

With the prevalence of advertisements and sparkling lights it can be difficult for young people to remember that this time of year is a time for giving. We are lucky to live in Singapore where there are ample opportunities to give back to the community, volunteer time, and donate money to local causes. In Advisory, students are bringing in food donations for Food from the Heart, a resource bank for a variety of non-perishable items. Please consider emphasizing the importance of giving as you talk with your children around this time of year. There is much that clamors for our attention, but giving lies at the heart of what makes us human. As the IB mission states, we aim to develop “caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world”. Thank you for helping us raise these young people.

So for this post, let’s talk about giving.

‘Tis the Season

Many of us are attracted to shiny new things, as the advertising industry well knows. But once we’ve received the shiny new thing, does it make us as happy as we hoped that it would? Does it solve the problem we hoped it would solve? Sure, sometimes we love it and we’re glad to have it. But other times, we find ourselves using or missing the same comfortable old thing instead. Advertisers don’t talk about that part.

This is the time of year where we’re supposed to want the new thing. We deserve it, we’re told. We’ve worked hard. We can treat ourselves. 

And we have worked hard and we can treat ourselves. Sure.

But we can also give.

Giving is a verb. It is an action. It is something you do with purpose in whatever way you’d like. Giving means doing for another without expecting a response. It means thinking about someone else and removing yourself from the equation. Give because you want to and then step aside.

Giving doesn’t actually have a season, but this opportunity is as good as any. We can decide that this is a season of giving and we can promote giving as a peaceful act.

How to Give

Giving is easy because you can give anything.

We can give small moments to people in our lives just to see them smile when they realize we’ve thought of them. We can send a few “thank you” emails. We can offer a compliment about a new shirt or tie. We can smile a bit more, laugh a bit more, appreciate each other just a little bit more. We can ask after one another and listen, really listen, to what people say.

Giving, after all, is a verb.

And if we have it, we can give time. We can set aside our phones and other distractions and give people quality conversation, a friendly phone call. We can volunteer almost anywhere. For those of you in Singapore, we have ample opportunities to do just about anything.

If we’re lucky enough, we can give money. There is no shortage of good causes (and advertisements for causes that might not be so good). I know that this can be overwhelming, so if you’re looking to make the greatest possible impact, here is my favorite place to start.

A Peaceful Act

I haven’t written much about peace and peacebuilding since I published my book back in June, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve been trying to live it with my students in our discussions about prosocial behavior in psychology class. I’ve been talking with friends from outside work to gain new and different perspectives. I’ve been meditating daily to grow in my ability to be open to sensations, experiences, and people.

So this is my request for a peaceful act: Please, amidst the holiday parties and glittery ads, think about giving. 

As I’ve written before, I see peace as the keystone in the arch of what comprises a better world. Giving, in any way you choose, will help make that world a reality.