The flower kids of Myanmar

I pulled up my scooter to a red light at the intersection as I began to whine to myself about the unforgiving afternoon heatwave of Mandalay. I glanced around to see how everyone else is coping with the heat when a young boy about the age of 7 in dirty clothes and scruffy hair approached me in his worn-out flipflops. As he gets closer, I noticed a bundle of white jasmine flowers strung up on a thread in his right hand and he politely asked if I would buy some.

One, that’s not familiar with the local customs, might ask if the kids are doing it for social media clout. Far from it.

Flower girl striking a pose

Unfortunately, this is their livelihood. Most kids who do this kind of job come from a very poor family which requires everyone in the family to work, just to make enough money to buy food and supplies for a day.

I started feeling conflicted about how to respond. On one hand, I want to help this little guy out by buying the flowers off of him so that he could go back in the shade and rest. But on the other, I have been told multiple times that my empathy will encourage the parents or guardians who are behind apparent street hustles all across Myanmar in most cases.

Regardless, I still bought a dollar’s worth of flowers from the kid after feeling the moral obligation to help, especially if it’s going to cost me less than the price of a cup of coffee.

However, one realization started to kick in as I rode off in my scooter. These kids are running a genius hustle! Let me explain.

Sustainable business model?

These kids are making money off of thin air or rather a thin tree.

I traced back to where the flowers came from and most of them are picked at Buddhist monasteries in and around Mandalay. Jasmine trees are incredibly popular and cultivated across the country due to their characteristic fragrance and use in Buddhist offerings.

The jasmine flowers generally fall off their stem once they are ready to be harvested. So, the base of the tree is usually surrounded by a white patch of jasmine flowers. Which makes the job of jasmine pickers slightly easier as they would only have to worry about picking the ones high up on the tree.

Once they have collected enough jasmine flowers, they would find a shaded spot under a tree and begin to sort them out before arranging each one on a thread. Next comes the hard part, going out and selling the flowers.

In most cases, the parents use their kids as the front for their operation since there’s a higher chance of making the sale if poor kids in dirty clothes are the ones soliciting the passers-by to buy flowers. Naturally we don’t want young children to be out working, so we assume that if we buy the flowers and when they sell out, they will get to go back home.

However, that’s just the complete opposite of what happened. As they would just get more from their supervisors or parents in most cases and be back on the streets right away. It’s basically child labor and it’s borderline illegal.

In addition, selling flowers is just one of many hustles the kids are exposed to. Many of them also sell fruits, popsicles and in some cases, they will be sent out to beg or pick up plastic bottles while the parents sell the flowers.

However, there’s also a chance that behind the façade of poor kids in dirty clothes is a far more sinister operation run by human traffickers and gangsters. According to the stories, there are people taking advantage of the lack of effective laws preventing child labor in Myanmar. These people would go around the country recruiting orphans with the sole intention of putting them to badly paid (unpaid in some cases) hard labor.

Systemic failure

One might wonder how all of this is allowed to happen right under the government’s supervision. However, there is little to no government supervision when it comes to enforcing child labor and child abuse as Myanmar has one of the least reliable social services in the world. At the same time, there is little attention given to the wellbeing of orphans, homeless and impoverished people.

Nonetheless, not all hopes are lost as there are a few non-profit organizations or government funded projects to help out the kids. However, all the social safety nets were thrown out the window when Covid-19 made its destructive wave across the country in 2020 coupled with a military coup that wrecked the social, economic, and political stability of the country within the span of a year.

Recent economic hardships dramatically put many impoverished families over the edge and on the streets. Therefore, enabling the act of begging and street hustles the only viable ways to make a few bucks to make ends meet.

A bigger picture

One of the biggest concerns of the culture of using young children in a street hustle is that they will be left behind when the time comes to look for a job as adults. Since such livelihood does not guarantee a steady stream of income for the family and there is less chance of scaling it up to a successful business overtime, especially if you do not have the knowledge of starting and managing a business due to their lack of proper education. As a result, the kids will not be able to escape poverty for generations to come.

At the same time, it is uncertain if the young children would be willing to go back to school once the economy recovers and the country’s political unrest becomes a distant memory.

The underlying cause of child labor is rooted in generational poverty and will take tremendous amount of resources to bring these kids back to school. The young children are not supposed to be the bread winner of the family as it will affect their future aspects of getting a job or starting a successful business, all of which require attaining a certain degree of education.

A flower kid playing with rocks while waiting to end the day

Being put to work at a young age will put them in a disadvantage compared to the rest of the population. Additionally, this will have a severe ripple effect for the country’s overall economic performance in the long run.

Therefore, it is indeed the government’s responsibility to come up with effective solutions to tackle poverty. We can look at how other developed nations deal with such social issues. For one, the government can provide subsidies to the poor families so that the children will be allowed to go back to school.

For instance, Philippine government has been tackling child labor by giving educational and family assistance to the poor families, so that those families that depend on the child’s income can meet their minimum basic needs. (*wcms_437075.pdf (

Learning to beg from a very young age will, in no doubt, destroy the spirit of independence and the individual’s self-esteem which will come back to haunt them for a lifetime. Therefore, we as civilians can offer help by volunteering in educating the youth of poor families and donating to NGOs.

Regardless, only time will tell if the culture of street hustle using vulnerable young children can be eradicated altogether.

You can make donations to the NGOs by following the links below or better yet you can donate to local orphanages in your area.

Save the Children | Myanmar

At a Glance – Child’s Dream (

Delivering for children in a time of crisis | UNICEF Myanmar

As always, stay safe and stay curious!

Time for young people in the high office

At some point in our lives, we have all come across inspirational quotes such as “The youth are the future of the world” and “The youth of today are the leaders tomorrow” etc. But what do we really mean when we say that? More often than not, we simply utter those phrases to encourage young people to strive harder in life because we see a spark of potential in them and that’s how just we nurture ‘bright, young people’, isn’t it?

If that is that case, then I wonder why there aren’t more young people in high political offices. We can assume it is simply because of the young age and the lack of ‘life experiences’ when compared to someone much older. However, experience doesn’t equate to better decision making, especially if they are someone who prefer to keep things the way they always have been.

Let’s take a look at the current head of state and government around the world and see how many of them are under 40. As of today, there’s a total of 195 universally recognized countries in the world. Out of 195 world leaders, less than 10 of them are under 40! That means 95% of the high offices in the world are currently occupied by people older than 40.

I am aware that I am simplifying it way too much to prove a point, but the point still stands. There has to be more youth representation in high political offices.

Here are just a few incidents that reaffirmed my belief.

UN has a serial sexual abuse problem

Recently, I watched a VICE’s documentary on the sexual abuses perpetrated by United Nation peacekeepers in Africa, Bosnia and basically anywhere around the world where the UN troops are stationed. The focus of the video was on why these rape cases keep surfacing over and over, and why the UN officials have not done enough to punish those responsible.

A UN peacekeeper

“Civilian peacekeeping personnel are international civil servants with immunity from the jurisdiction of any national court. UN officials are granted immunities under provisions in Article V of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations (CPIUN).”[i]

[i] UNaccountable: A New Approach to Peacekeepers and Sexual Abuse | European Journal of International Law | Oxford Academic (

According to European Journal of International Law, UN peacekeepers have immunity to judicial system of the country they are designated to serve in, similar to the immunity granted to an ambassador of an international embassy in a foreign country. That means they can’t be prosecuted by the court of the country when they’re accused of committing sexual abuses. They can only be tried by the UN court or the court of the respective country the peacekeeping troops belong to, which can sometimes take months and other times it won’t even receive any attention at all.

The primary justification of such immunity is to grant the ‘international civil servants’ the freedom to perform their duties in foreign countries without being bound by the restrictions of said country. However, something has to change if the UN peacekeepers are to be trusted and relied upon by vulnerable people they are sworn to protect. And that change has to come from the top. Believe it or not, those at the top are just as incompetent and corrupt if not worse.

It has mostly to do with the fact that many of the top officials are ancient to put it politely and many of them don’t like “reforms”. They like the old way better; the way they have functioned for decades and they prefer to keep the status quo.

Therefore, if there’s going to be a change it has to be a radical one. By that I meant, bring the whole system down and build it back up one brick at a time with younger people in the lead this time around.

Time for a reshuffle

There is a video of the Myanmar ambassador to United Nations giving an interview for Aljazeera. I cringed as I watched him stutter and speak in broken English.

How do we determine who to send as a representative of a country, be it an ambassador to international embassies or a UN representative?

What are the qualifications and does it matter if the person can speak proper English? It’s possible that I am being extra nitpicky to something that shouldn’t even matter?

What really bothers me is when high-ranking diplomatic officials that are representing Myanmar speak broken English on the world stage. It gives other countries a reason to look down upon the country and its education system. Just my two-cent.

However, the biggest annoyance comes from the way they answer questions or should I say dodge the questions. Some, if not all, of the Myanmar diplomats are incapable of saying things in a constructive and cohesive manner. I will give them a benefit of a doubt that it was due to their nervousness or inexperience being interviewed in English by international journalists. Regardless, that is still not a valid excuse. As an official or a diplomat, you have to practice giving speeches and answering interviews as you’re required to represent the country and its leader.

In fact, isn’t that how you make your way to such prestigious position in the first place? Unless of course you climbed the ladders of bureaucracy by the power of cronyism.

Once again, this goes to show the need for radical and systematic change in our leadership.

Way forward

At this point, we can all agree that having the old guards in charge is no longer viable for our future. The time is now for us to think about who we want to have making decisions that would impact our lives and our posterity.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” – Rita Mae Brown

Think of the last time you were disappointed by a decision made by your government. Generally, you’d laugh their incompetence off as a joke but when it keeps occurring repeatedly, you’d have to start asking why such incompetency is tolerated when the stakes are so high. Better yet why are these old people making decisions for those of us younger folks who would have to live with the consequences of their decisions? It is clearly obvious that those at the top don’t want things to change as they benefit from keeping things the way they were so long as they get to keep their pockets full.

Youth Leaders Illustration

It’s about taking the power to make decisions for our future into our own hands and it’s essential to have more young people involved in political and economic decisions of the country. Since younger people will undoubtedly be more incentivized to come up with innovative solutions to tackle pressing issues such as global economy, world peace and climate change as they’re the ones that would have to live with the consequences in the future.

Now we get to the part about at what age should young people be allowed to enter office. To clarify, I am referring to people between the age of 20-40 years old when I say young people. At the same time, I’m not saying appoint the young people the positions with great responsibilities simply because they’re young. They’d have to earn it.

We have to pave the way for the youth that take interest in becoming a leader one day and eventually those at the top will have to step down to make way for a new face. At the same time, young people of our time will have to take initiative to earn their spots. Even now, there are resources (both free and paid) available online for anyone to access and learn the skills required to become a leader politics, economics, and entrepreneurship.

Spring Revolution

We can look at the 2021 Spring Revolution in Myanmar as a clear example. It’s a group of young college and university students that started organizing the protests at the start of Spring Revolution and they are still the one that continue to pave ways towards democracy at the expense of their lives and livelihood.

The majority of those that are on the front line of organizing and carrying out protests are the youth of different professional backgrounds. Young activists in Myanmar are taking the lead in defending the country’s democracy, whereas older generations are more hesitant or are too scared to even voice their opinions online let alone go out and protest. However, we can attribute their fear to their past experiences with the military’s brutal crackdown of the 8888 uprising.

Freedom from fear is the ultimate freedom anyone can attain and if radical uproot of the old ways of doing things is what it takes, then that will have to do.

We need radical transformation in both political, economic, and environmental landscapes. So, let’s start by electing young people into office and hold them accountable.


This morning, I came across a captivating Vice documentary on a new political movement under the title “Undi18” in Malaysia.

UNdi18 is a Malaysian youth movement that was started by students in 2016, and they successfully advocated for the amendment of Article119(1) of the Federal Constitution to reduce the minimum voting age from 21 to 18 in Malaysia.

Syed Saddiq bin Syed Abdul Rahman

Syed Saddiq, age 28, is a co-founder and president of the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA); a new political party that is led by a committee of youth in their late 20s and early 30s. They are making a dent on the old political system by using social media influence and changing the course of political landscape in Malaysia.

Check out the official page of MUDA to follow on their incredible work.

As always, stay safe and stay curious!

Sorry, “my body, my choice” doesn’t apply to Covid Vaccination.

The year is 2021. We’re facing a new battle, the one that involves the spread of wrongful information regarding vaccination, particularly Covid-19 vaccination. The task of sifting through a sea of information for the useful signal that is easily assessable yet mixed up among misinformation on the internet is a monumental undertaking to say the least. Therefore, it leads some people down the rabbit hole of disinformation and conspiracy theories even when the initial search started out with genuine curiosity.

Vaccination is a battle of information and always has been, what is considered right and wrong and how are the information being disseminated. Most importantly who’s there to monitor the information in circulation. These are the questions that cannot be answered.

Now, let’s take a look at this tweet from Steven Crowder that I came across while scrolling through Twitter a couple of days back and it stuck with me.

Alright, let me start by acknowledging the fact that everyone is allowed to have an opinion on any subject and they have the freedom to share it with the world. But when you have a big online presence with millions of followers, you have the responsibility to ensure that the information and ideology you’re spreading does not harm your followers and those around them.

For those unfamiliar with Steven Crowder, he is a conservative podcaster and political/social commentator who became famous after uploading a series of videos titled “Change my mind”, where he would set up a table with two chairs alongside a controversial banner that says, “All lives matter, change my mind.” He would then wait for passersby to engage with him and make their cases and Steven would then rebut with an opposing viewpoint.

Crowder arguing with a college student on a campus

Crowder is a master debater, no denying that. But his comparison of getting an abortion to refusing to get vaccinated is utterly misguided and I’d like to explain why.

Understanding Anti-abortion

Alright, let’s get into the issue with the tweet.

“My body, my choice.”

It’s a phrase synonymous with the issues regarding the freedom for women to have a complete say in what they do with their body, primarily when it comes to abortion. Feminists usually defend an individual’s right of self-determination over their bodies for sexual, marriage and reproductive choices as rights. *

Women, and only women should bear the responsibility of making the final decision on what happens with the embryo they’re carrying in their body. Men should only come into play if the pregnant women choose to discuss it over with their partners. As for me, I would definitely love to talk it over with my partner and go with what she thinks is the best for the relationship.

Let’s dive a little deeper into what the abortion is and why it’s such as controversial subject. Abortion essentially is an act of terminating a pregnancy by removing an embryo or a fetus. Miscarriage is another form of abortion that occurs without intervention and it’s a lot more common than most people realize, as approximately 30% to 40% of pregnancies end up in miscarriage. At the end of the day, everyone has their valid reasons for having an abortion and here are some of the reasons why a person would decide to end the pregnancy.

  • A pregnancy as a result of a rape or an incest
  • A pregnancy with fetal defects
  • An immature pregnancy in which a fetus won’t survive or will suffer after birth
  • A pregnancy that is dangerous or bad for their health
  • A pregnancy with an abusive partner
  • Or just a simple fact that they’re not ready to be a parent yet

One might ask if all of the reasons above are valid, then why are there people against it? Induced abortion has long been the source of considerable debate. These debates are often spearheaded by groups advocating one of these two positions. The group that is opposed to abortion and favors greater legal restrictions on abortion themselves as pro-life, while those who want abortion to remain legal consider themselves pro-choice.

Who’s right and wrong?

Understanding Anti-vaccination

I currently live in a third-world country where Covid vaccine rollout is incredibly slow and abysmal. It’s almost non-existent in some parts of the country. Recently, Myanmar was hit with a third wave of Delta-variant of the Covid infection where millions got sick and many lost their lives. Unfortunately, my eldest sister was one of them.

It felt like a hell on earth for the month of June-August. People were lining up for hours to get their oxygen tanks filled up and rushing to get medicine and medical treatment for their loved ones that are sick. Everyone with a little bit of money is rushing to get vaccinated as the vaccines become scarce and the cases climb through the scale. It was a complete chaos.

Then you look at the news to see people acting like children opposing the mask mandate and vaccination in rich first-world countries particularly in the United States of America and Europe. They usually claim personal freedom as their reasons for not wanting to wear masks and get vaccinated. How ridiculous!

“Personal liberty doesn’t matter when you die.”

– A doctor

When Covid vaccines were first made available to general public, there were claims of nanochips being included in the vaccines so that the Big Brother could keep an eye on yah! Gone are the days when people exercised self-discipline and self-education before making a fool of themselves in public. However, we have enabled great many people with little to no background in science or medicine to project their voices so loud that it overpowers logic and reasons that are backed by scientific facts and findings.

The worst part is that they’re not considering what their actions would do to those around them. One man’s decision not to get vaccinated can have serious consequences. He could catch the virus and unknowingly spread it among his community, allowing the virus to mutate and create a new strain that could become resistant to the vaccines we have at hands. Therefore, making it even harder to eradicate the virus entirely.

Most people that are hesitant to get vaccinated have genuinely fear of getting sick from the vaccines due to the potential allergic reactions that occurs to the body. However, it has not been proven that Covid vaccines could result in permanent damage to an individual’s health. According to CDC, the most common reactions include pain, swelling on the arm to tiredness, headache, and fever for the first couple of days after receiving the injection.

Common Side Effects of Covid Vaccines as stated on CDC

Some people are going so far as to prove that Ivermectin, a medication that is used to treat some parasitic diseases for ANIMALS, can be used to treat Covid. At this point, why not just get the vaccine that has been developed and tested by the scientists in the lab and approved by the World Health Organization and FDA.

Why it’s an absurd comparison?

Yes, in essence the phrase “My body, my choice” applies to both situations. People that are choosing to abort the embryo in their bodies are exercising the same freedom as those that decided not to let someone inject a vaccine into their arms.

But here’s the fundamental difference between the two. A pregnant woman who exercises her freedom by getting an abortion doesn’t hurt anyone else by the act. On the contrary, a person who isn’t inoculated could end up spreading the virus to those they come in contact with and inevitably prolong the pandemic by exercising their “personal freedom”.

Therefore, it’s absurd to draw the comparison of a woman exercising her rights to get the abortion and someone refusing to get vaccinated by using the slogan “my body, my choice”. There is a real impact in the words that come out of the mouth of those with social and political influence. So, the responsibility lies with the influencers that spread the wrong information on the vaccines and thus they should be held accountable for thousands of ICU cases and deaths that resulted from their rhetoric.

I hope this resonate with some of my readers out there. If you have a different view on this subject, I’d love to hear about it. Share it with your friends if you like this and want more of it in the future.

As always, stay safe and stay curious!

My take on the US Capitol Raid

Last night, I saw a video of a woman gunned down in the hallway of the Capitol building. It got me thinking about the series of events that led to such tragic ending.

Americans are known for their patriotism and their love for freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom to carry arms. Believe it or not, America. The rest of the world believe in having the same freedom to think and express without serious consequences as well. So, you’re definitely not alone on this boat.

I genuinely believe that Donald J. Trump is a dangerous influence and should be impeached from presidential office immediately and tried with inciting violence. It’s unfathomable that a sitting US president would tell his supporters to march down to the Capitol building and demand the result of presidential election be amended to his favor.

What do you think would happen if you encourage a bunch of middle-aged white men that are hyped on a genuine yet twisted belief that their president lost the election due to alleged “election fraud”?

I’m not an American, so you might ask why I bother worrying about other countries’ state of affair. Well, I believe it will have serious ripple effect with detrimental consequences if United States of America’s constitution and its democratic values are undermined by lawless thugs. We as outsiders should not sit on the sideline and laugh as the epitome of democracy is threatened.

Trump is the definition of a sore loser and should be recognized as such by everyone. Republicans should be ashamed of their continuous support for this maniacal lunatic while he dragged the democratic vales that US is so famous for and tainted it with his dangerous and conspirative ideology. Trump does not stand for either conservative or liberal values, he stands for his own personal and selfish goal.

Crowd of Trump supporters marching on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021

America is what it is today due to its decades long effort to advocate for freedom everywhere in the world and advance the democratic ideology of the masses. Yes, it’s undeniable that there have been some costly mistakes made by earlier presidents such as the Iraqi invasion and the war on drugs in South America. However, nothing comes close to the level of incompetence Trump displayed during his four grueling years as a president and there are many evidence of that for those that disagree.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

– Stan Lee

We all grew up learning that motto and it stands true to this day. Trump on the other hand does not believe in taking responsibility for anything in his lifetime. He refused to take responsibility for the slow and incompetent response when Covid-19 hit the coast of America and now he won’t take responsibility of the chaos he unleashed upon the Capitol building by his QAnon thugs who acted with his blessing.

As the tragic and horrifying event unfold right in front of millions of Americans and international observers, we need to keep in mind we really is responsible for the damage that’s caused to the American values and hold the culprits accountable regardless of their rank and influence.

Remember! America first, not Trump nor any Republican officials that tapped into the violent nature of their “misinformed” followers.

Embracing confusion

Decision making and confusion go hand in hand. One cannot be accomplished successfully without first addressing the other. As adults, we make hundreds if not thousands of decisions while we’re trying to get through the day. Most of the decisions we make on a regular day are based on our intuitions and are therefore automatic. We wouldn’t stop to think too much of our decisions unless they’re deemed either important or are unfamiliar to us.

Embracing Confusion Cover Art created by me

Recently I got myself into hot water with my employer due to the poor quality of the decisions I’d been making at work. Initially I found it incredibly frustrating every time I ran into such a situation and would usually come to a conclusion that was either self-defeating or irresponsible.

For example, I would blame it on the work environment or the circumstances I was in, instead of trying to figure out the root cause of the mistake. Which in my case happens to be that I make assumptions way too often when it comes to things I’m not certain of. It was a big revelation for me when I first learnt what the real cause of the problem was.

It becomes easier to come up with a solution once you have clarity over the confusion you have of the problem you’re facing. To help us achieve that consistently we can create a system that can be integrated into our daily habits.

“It’s not what we don’t know that gets us in trouble. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

-Mark Twain

Understanding failures

In life, we’re genetically predisposed to fail as we learn to navigate our way to achieve bigger and bigger goals. By and large, we learn the most from our failures. However, our first natural reaction when people fail is to cast blame and assume that it’s the failure of their intelligence, character or the lack of motivation.

In addition, we have these unchallenged beliefs about ourselves that we’re perceiving reality accurately. That our perceptions are not only accurate but valid. If a mistake is obvious to us, then it must be obvious to others. However, all it takes is a moment of reflection to realize that none of that is true.

This sort of behavior is most common with leaders and managers who have years of experience which help them build a reliable mental model and framework to assess any given situations. In a way, it’s unfair to call out an individual on their mistakes without first understanding the logic behind it.

In essence, a mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process and unconscious beliefs on what the world is like and what it should do for us. Therefore, mental models are something that we progressively design and test to help us understand our environment better. It’s our responsibility to update, improve and expand our mental models so that we can go beyond rational explanations of our experiences.

We would all like to have a warning bell that rings loudly whenever we are about to make a serious error, but no such bell available, and cognitive illusions are generally more difficult to recognize than perceptual illusions. The voice of reason may be much fainter than the loud and clear voice of an erroneous intuition, and questioning your intuitions is unpleasant when you face the stress of a big decision. Observers are less cognitively busy and more open to information than actors.1

Embracing confusion

How often do you find yourself in situations in which you’re confused about the action of the other party? More often than not, we fail to make an effort to address our confusion right when we notice it, either due to laziness or fear of confrontation and potential consequence of social awkwardness.

In fact, confusion is indicative of the fact that you’re having an experience that’s different than what you expected. That confusion is necessary to start to make sense of the world, yourself and the connection between the two. So much of what we do when we’re confused is to tell ourselves stories to make ourselves feel better, which is one of the worst things we can do.

Addressing these confusions can be a lot of work. It requires intrinsic motivation and willpower to stop and look at what’s really going on. However, it’s invaluable to understand the confusion for us to work together as a team or create meaningful relationships with people you care about.

There are two aspects of our life such confusion can creep into and create a mess, unless we take action to address it. Here are the reasons why you should!

Personal aspect

One of the best ways to address the confusion is to understand how it arises in the first place. We as human beings have expectations of the people that we interact with, whether we’re aware of it or not. We usually get confused when those expectations are not met.

It’s incredibly important to address the confusion instead of forming internal narratives, which in most cases could be false, to make sense of our own confusion. Most relationships fail due to the lack of clear communication and unwillingness from either party to address the confusion and get clarity.

We’re good at addressing the immediate problem instead of actually addressing the root of the problem which is poor communication. In consequence, it leads to misunderstanding which left unaddressed will further fuel doubts and mistrusts between each other. Therefore, a lack of clarity in communication leads most relationships to fail.

The best way to avoid falling into this trap is first to invest time and effort in building a clear communication channel between each other at the start of a relationship. Be explicit about the expectations you hold of the other person and be willing to address the confusion when they were not met.

When you do address the confusion, be open-minded enough to listen and think about what you could be missing. Most importantly, conduct it in a way that makes the other person feel enlisted in the process because it’s not an accusation, it’s an attempt to discover what’s true for both parties.

Professional aspect

Confusions are prevalent in the workplace just as they are in our personal lives. Aside from addressing the confusions, there are ways you can conduct yourself to achieve the best possible result.

At work, try to design your day like a series of experiments instead of a series of tasks. Try different approaches when it comes to executing the tasks and conducting meetings. By the end of the day, you will have many results some of which will be bad and some good. Then you can reflect on how the bad ones resulted in such a way and make mental notes to come up with a better approach next time.

As previously mentioned, most managers make the mistake of assuming that people make mistakes due to their failure of intelligence, characters, and the lack of motivation. People are not lazy. They have dreams, ambitions, and aspirations. The most important thing as a manager is to focus on clarity, not control. Invest in your clarity before you can try to help others get clarity.

According to Jeff Hunter, here’s what clarity looks like for.

Enterprise Clarity Model

  1. Goals – be explicit about the goal of the organization
  2. Measurements on getting there – have a clear barometer to measure the progress
  3. Diagnostic (Feedback loop) – have a clear statement on what the employees can expect. You can’t improve without a feedback loop. Be more explicit about company culture and acceptable individual behavior.

Feedback vs. Criticism

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of feedback? I believe it’s fairly common for the vast majority of us to mistake criticism as a proper feedback.

There’s a commonly accepted belief that criticism is worth more than compliments. The phrase rings true on a surface level: however, it becomes muddier if we dig a little deeper on the type of criticism we’re talking about.

In general, criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.

The resentment that criticism engenders can demoralize employees, family members and friends, and still not correct the situation that has been condemned.2

So, what’s the alternative to criticism? That would be a feedback loop. So, here’s how you give it and receive it according to Jeff.

When you first notice someone makes a mistake or breaks an agreement that was agreed on earlier, you need to work out your confusion. You need to have an explicit concept of what you think is a good standard to uphold.

Afterwards you need to talk about your experience of the situation, whether it’s good or bad. You need to explain to the other person about your confusion, be as transparent as you can while not assigning any blame. Then you need to figure out what they experience.

Look at the difference between the standard and what actually happened. The gap between those two is the gap of performance and that is the feedback you need to give.

Make an effort to provide feedback whether the situation is positive or negative. You need to address what went right or wrong in a circumstance in an explicit manner, so that the idea of a good standard will stick in the other party’s head.

At a glance, all of this might seem like a great deal of hard work and effort. However, the alternative of not addressing the issue could be too costly. Frustration and hostility would build up between each other, which will eventually lead to a breaking point.

That breaking point would result in two possible scenarios, things will continue on the way they have always been with confusion and frustration in the mix, or you will have to make a decision to end the relationship with the person. None of which is a desirable result. Hence, it’s an invaluable asset to invest in your clarity and try to help others acquire theirs.

With this knowledge in the bag, I hope you will take a step back and address the confusion next time you notice a hint of it growing in a conversation with a friend or a colleague.

Stay safe and stay curious!

***This essay is based on my understanding of an episode of The Knowledge Project podcast in which Shane Parrish and Jeff Hunter discuss the topics of hiring and training new people for a position. I also looked at other books on the topics of human psychology and behavioral science for reference.

I take full responsibility for any mistakes and misrepresentation of facts presented in my essay, the good bits are on Jeff and Shane.

Sex education and censorship in Myanmar

We all have that one thing we wish we knew about sooner in life and most of us would agree that proper “sex education” is one of them. The importance of proper sex education to a young person going through early stages of adult life cannot be understated. I grew up in a conventional Asian household with strict Buddhist beliefs in Myanmar. Therefore, it was unheard of for any children to receive useful advice on how to approach the topic of “sex” from adults.

My parents never sat me or any of my siblings down to have “the talk” either. Most of what I know about sex is learnt through either the internet or from personal experience. I believe my parents never talked to us about the topic of sex as it’s considered a taboo subject in a traditional Buddhist society.

Therefore, I would like to address how these traditions and cultural norms could be stalling the progress of the county in an ever-changing society. Traditional and religious beliefs should never get in the way of learning about the skills that are required to navigate human relationships and manage one’s own sexual health.

“Religion is a natural phenomenon. The concept of religions is transmitted culturally, through language and symbolism, not through genes. You may get your father’s nose and your mother’s musical ability through your genes, but if you get your religion from your parents, you get it the way you get your language, through upbringing.” – Breaking the spell

If we’re capable of teaching our children the abstract concepts of religion at an early age, there is not a shred of doubt that we can definitely teach them the proper sex education which will be more beneficial and have tangible results on their lives.

Sex education in Myanmar

Recently, my home country of Myanmar made a headline over a newly proposed school curriculum which would include the topic on sex education. The announcement drew criticisms from mostly right-wing conservatives and religious folks for its depiction of sexual content and concern over its potential to encourage premarital sex.

I’m completely aware that humans are resistant to any change whether it’s for the betterment of the society as a whole or otherwise. However, it’s a disgrace for full-grown adults to prevent young people from learning something so essential and basic as sex education.

Sex Ed in Myanmar Cover Art by me

The fact of the matter is that young people can easily find more information on the topic of sex online regardless. However, proper sex education taught in school classroom can be thoroughly sorted and tamed to fit the appropriate age group, if it’s done right.

After reading through the whole article and speaking to some of my friends back home about it, I realized that most people are more than happy to welcome the addition of such “sex-education” to a school textbook. So, this obviously is a case where the voices of a fringe minority group are overshadowing the vast majority, who are simply sitting on the sideline.

In addition, most teachers find it uncomfortable to approach the subject of sex education once again due to Myanmar’s long-standing religious and traditional view towards “taboo subjects”. This behavior projected by the teachers will further delay the progress in learning for generations to come. Imagine not wanting to cover the subject of reproduction simply because it makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s an unacceptable behavior and attitude for any smart teachers to uphold.

Silencing the voice

While many people decided to stay silent about the opposition, there was one person who spoke out and his name is Kyaw Win Thant. He’s a 31 years old doctor from Meikhtila who criticized the religious groups for their stance on the introduction of “sex education” to a school setting. His criticisms of the conservative Buddhists were not very well-received.

He was asked to apologize to the conservative Buddhists and their followers at a Buddhist monastery, where a mob of angry people gathered to serve him “the justice”. You can see in the video that people were outraged and ready to inflict harm on someone for speaking the truth about the bad influence of conservative Buddhism.

Kyaw Win That was then escorted into a police van and taken into custody. Here we have a man arrested for his outspoken criticisms online and sentenced to 21 months in prison for insulting Buddhism, which is preposterous!

Censorship in Myanmar

It would be foolish to believe that a country that is so intolerant towards freedom of speech and expression can be labeled “democratic”. In which free democratic society do you get arrested and imprisoned for speaking up the truth? Oh right, in Myanmar!

Over the years, I’ve read countless articles on journalists and activists getting harsh prison sentences for simply stating their opinions or trying to uncover the truth about government mismanagement. Senior military officers and government officials are notorious for suing people over remarks they make on social media and a series of other “cybercrimes”.

This is an abuse of power, plain and simple. It is unethical to arrest someone over an online remark, unless you’re an insecure and egotistical autocrat.

The worst offence is that the government tries to act kind and generous by pardoning wrongfully imprisoned journalists and outspoken activists from prison every year. This seemingly kind gesture doesn’t hold water regardless of how genuine the government claimed it to be. 

What is the point of releasing activists and journalists if you’re going to keep around the ridiculous censorship laws that put them in prison in the first place?

I have never been one who believes in the preaching of any religions. However, I believe that everyone has the rights to their freedom of religion and expressions, even if it means believing in something that’s contrary to facts and science.

Religion was first created with the intention of uniting people on the same goal and belief, not the other way around. We must remember that if we were to keep it around on our journey to making meaningful progress.

Politicians and religious leaders like to use faith as a wedge to divide the people. We must realize that they’re nothing more than rhetoric of people with agendas. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be riled up by religious rhetoric to commit their dirty deeds.

We, as citizens of a country, must strive towards abolishing these outdated laws which act as nothing more than “cheat codes” for those in power.

We must hold them accountable to the same standards and rules that apply to everyone living and breathing in the country.

Ultimately, we have to bring an end to the traditions and norms that would hold the country back from making real progress on the world stage.

Stay curious!

The danger of mass media

We’re living in an era where a vast library of information can easily be accessed with a flick of our fingers. In comparison, we’re consuming more information at a rate that is unrivaled by any of our predecessors, which is primarily due to the advancement in technology and the way we receive news and media.

Although it has become easier to access any information we desire on the internet, many of us still end up with the wrong information due to our lack of motivation to seek the truth. Often, most information that floats around the internet nowadays are little more than repetition of soundbites. Therefore, it’s more crucial than ever before to equip ourselves with some sort of mental tool that would help us filter out the signal from the noise.

Fact or fiction

Last week, I stumbled upon an article on Quora that kick-started this whole essay.

It was about a 14-year-old student named Nathan Zohner who made a compelling argument on how a certain chemical should be banned, due to its toxic nature to human, during his school presentation in 1997.

During the presentation, he managed to convince his classmates by presenting scientifically accurate facts on why “Dihydrogen Monoxide” poses a threat to human lives while listing its many disadvantages. It was so convincing that he got 43 out of 50 students to vote “Yes” on banning the chemical from its everyday use. Dihydrogen monoxide as it turns out is simply an unusual term for water also known by its chemical name H2O.

Of course, it was never Zohner’s intention to ban water! It was just an experiment to show how easily people can be manipulated by skewing scientifically and mathematically proven facts. In fact, journalist James K. Glassman dubbed the phenomenon “Zohnerism” to refer to “the use of true fact to lead people to a false conclusion”.

The point of the story is that we as humans can easily be fooled when things are presented in an unfamiliar way. The scariest part is how common similar events occur, particularly with the news that we receive on a daily basis.

Beware of statistics!

Think of how many times you have come across a news article which utilizes statistics and numbers that convinces the public on a particular topic, only to be proven false much later. Statistics are ubiquitous and persuasive, which is why many businesses, institutions and even governments like to use statistics when it comes to making important decisions.

To quote Nassim Nicolas Taleb, “It is a mistake to use, as journalists and some economists do, statistics without logic, but the reverse does not hold: It is not a mistake to use logic without statistics. Logic does not require empirical verification.”

Therefore, our first reaction when we first come across any article with statistics should be to tell ourselves that we probably don’t know what we’re looking at. As our mind is strongly biased toward causal explanations and does not deal well with “mere statistics”. 

Let’s take a famous case of UC Berkeley gender bias as an example. During a graduate school admission to University of California, Berkeley in 1973, men’s applications were more likely to be admitted than women’s. The difference was so large that it was unlikely to be due to chance.

UC Berkeley student intake 1973

Upon first look, this set of data would raise a lot of eyebrows. The statistics clearly show that men are more favored than women when it comes to admission. However, the numbers tell a different story when they’re broken down into individual departments. As it turns out, women were more likely to apply into competitive departments with low rates of admission such as English majors, whereas men tended to apply into less competitive departments with high admission rates such as Engineering and Physics.

This is a case of Simpson’s Paradox, where the same set of data can appear to show opposite trends depending on how it’s grouped. This goes to show how incredibly misleading a given statistic can look to a layman, especially when the causal relations are not appropriately addressed in the model.

“Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”

– Aaron Levenstein

Heuristics and biases

We as humans are creatures that never stop learning and one of the ways we learn is through trial and error. From a young age, we were taught to learn from our mistakes and make better decisions based on our experience and knowledge from past mistakes, for better or worse. However, it’s important to note that once we have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in our thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws.

Which is why many of us fall victim to biases when it comes to making decisions and/or consuming news and media. In a way, we think with our emotions rather than logic. On top of that, our actions are not quite guided by the parts of our brain that dictate rationality.

Imagine how people can usually be divisive with their reception of a news story when it breaks out. There will be those who are for it and vice versa. It seems as if we are incapable of agreeing on anything. However, it all comes down to where we get our news from as it plays a crucial role in how we interpret the story. There will undoubtedly be a divide between one another when people are being fed different versions of the truth.

Remember that we are swayed by the sensational. Listening to the news on the radio every hour is far worse for you than reading a weekly magazine, because the longer interval allows information to be filtered just a little.

As humans, we’re naturally drawn to easy and simple narratives that help us better understand the situation at hands. On top of that, we tend to look for evidence that supports our narrative when we search for the truth. Therefore, we become more entrenched in our view due to confirmation bias.

Yes, we’re flawed beyond repair by nature. However, there’s a couple of things we can do to minimize the damage. First, we need to acknowledge the fact that we don’t know as much as we’d like to think. The second is to avoid coming to a quick conclusion upon receiving the first set of third-person information and be more open-minded when it comes to listening to opposing narratives.

“Maintaining one’s vigilance against biases is a chore — but the chance to avoid a costly mistake is sometimes worth the effort.” 

– Daniel Kahneman

Why do we believe in superstitions?

(Originally published on 06/07/2020)

We as human beings are creatures of habit and as we all know it takes repetition for any habits to stick. Do you know what else sticks due to repetition? Our belief in religions and superstitions.

For this week I would like to recount a childhood story of mine that involves holy water. I grew up in a country where the vast majority of the population practices Buddhism. So, naturally I was raised with Buddhist customs and beliefs. Although I was never really a big believer in religion, it still played a major part of my childhood life.

As I’ve mentioned in my earlier post, it was only when I turned 16 that I learned to start questioning my belief system, which led me to become an agnostic and eventually an atheist. However, I still find myself struggling to unlearn some of the superstitions that were ingrained in me from a young age.

Holy water

It became a lot more obvious when I noticed this small bottle of mineral water, with its seal still intact, that has been sitting in my room for the past 3 years. The bottle originally came from a Buddhist temple my parents visited when they were here in Singapore for my convocation in 2017. Upon their return from the temple, my dad handed me the bottle and said it was blessed by a Buddhist monk so it obviously contains “holy water”. So, he asked me to keep it with me for good luck and fortune, and I did!

Over the past 3 years, I have moved around a couple of times and I still made an effort to bring that little bottle with me everywhere I went. It never crossed my mind to pop it open and drink it even when it’s the only thing I have left to drink at times. At the same time, I never had the heart to just toss it in the trash. Go figure!

I finally came to a conclusion that I was subconsciously saving it for that one rainy day when I would be down in the dump and I would need saving from a supernatural force.

No matter how much I like to tell people about my atheistic stance on religion, I still catch myself believing in superstitions that I was told as a kid. I still believe to this day that that bottle of water actually contains holy water and that I could drink it to potentially turn my luck around on my darkest day. 

Can holy water fend off nightmares?

In addition, there is another reason why I have such an attachment to the aforementioned bottle of “holy water”. I must have been about 7 or 8 when it happened. There was an incident when my sister and my cousin tried to help me get rid of my nightmare when we were just kids.

As a kid, I used to sleep with my parents but on that particular evening they weren’t home. So, my sisters decided to keep me company since I was afraid of the dark and ghosts as a kid. However, I had trouble falling asleep as my mind kept thinking about ghosts and other horrible stuff kids usually conjure up in their sleep.

I told my sisters that I couldn’t sleep and that I was having nightmares although I hadn’t fallen asleep at all. The first thing my sisters thought of doing was to bring me up to a prayer room, (yes, every Buddhist household in Myanmar has a room dedicated for praying and meditating usually decorated with statues and images of Buddha with fancy lights and flowers), and pray the nightmares away. They brought me upstairs wrapped in a blanket with my elder sister leading the way and my cousin tailing behind. When we made it into the prayer room they both started praying for me so that “the devil” that’s transmitting nightmares into my head would leave me alone and at the end of the ordeal they gave me some holy water to drink.

It’s all very funny in retrospect, but at the time it felt like I was going through a crisis and my sisters were the only people there to get me out of it. I can’t remember exactly whether it worked or not but to this day I remember the incident vividly as it plays out in my memory. It puts a smile on my face every time I think of it.

This got me thinking about how I still cling on to my childhood beliefs even though I stopped believing in god a decade before. Ultimately, what I realized is that you can’t switch off that part of your brain that processes all of your religious beliefs even when you decide to leave your religion behind. It takes years to forget something you learnt to be the absolute truth as a kid.

If there’s one thing you take away from this post, I would like it to be this. Think twice before you introduce any ideology to your kids. Let them grow up to an age when they can decide to pick up any beliefs of their choice.

They would still love you unconditionally despite the lack of religious beliefs.

Being open-minded to the opposition

(Originally published on 29/06/2020)

Can you recall the last time you had a conversation with someone who has completely different opinions on a topic? I bet it wasn’t a long time back. In fact, it’s highly likely that you had a disagreement with someone over something just last week.

It’s a well-known fact that we as humans can’t agree on very simple and trivial things such as whether to leave the toilet seat up or down, let alone other bigger things like how to go about solving world poverty or other significant issues.

Take Black Lives Matter for instance, the vast majority of us would agree that it’s a worthy cause and try to show our support in any way possible. However, there’s also a chunk of the population that carries a differing opinion on the movement for one reason or another.

For those of us in the first basket, it’s easy to come to a conclusion that those who disagree with the cause are racist and backward thinking. You might think it would be inconceivable that anyone could have any legitimate reason to oppose the cause. However, the reason most people come to that conclusion is because we as humans are naturally conditioned to give in to the fast and easy way of thinking which is also known as System 1.

Here’s a quick refresher on the two systems of thinking that were popularized by Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” for readers who are unfamiliar with the topic. You can also check out my review on this book and other similar ones here.

  • System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
  • System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.

Our brains tend to make snap decisions using System 1 and oftentimes those decisions require a lot more thought and consideration. Therefore it would be detrimental if we use System 1 to address the issue about those in opposition of the BLM movement.

We give people little to no benefit of a doubt when we judge them using our System 1 in this scenario. We grab onto the easiest narrative, which could very well be the wrong one, available at the moment and associate it with what’s actually happening.

For instance, those that disagree might have been taken aback with concerns over looting and rioting. There’s a high likelihood that they’re either ignorant or that they misinterpreted the narrative when the issue first came to light. On top of that, seeing the destruction of shops and houses during protests just gives them another reason to confirm their biases for not supporting the cause. Therefore, these people never really got a chance to be convinced otherwise that what’s happening in front of their eyes is in fact a worthy cause.

“Ignorance breeds fear. Because we fear those things we do not understand. If we do not keep that fear in check; that fear, in turn, will breed hatred.

Because we hate those things that frighten us. If we do not keep that hatred in check; that hatred, in turn, will breed destruction.” – Daryl Davis

I would highly recommend this incredibly powerful Ted Talk given by Daryl Davis on his journey to trying to understand the logic and opinions of the people behind KKK, and their hatred towards those that they see as different and inferior.

We’re guilty of judging people wrong the same way they’re guilty of doing the same to us. So, it’s important for us to step back and listen to others’ opinions before we make judgement about them, otherwise it would turn into a vicious cycle of accusation and name calling.

This article is just a recurring thought that’s been lingering in my head for the past few weeks. I would also like to add that I’m not trying to protect anyone by asking you to think about the dilemma some people on the opposite end might be going through.

I would love to hear from you if you have disagreements with me on this topic or any other topics.

Here’s to not falling victim to fast thinking!

The struggle of staying consistent

(Originally published on 30/04/2020)

Do you ever wonder why we run into the struggle of staying consistent with keeping up the good habits or the resolutions we set out at the start of each year? Well, I do and I find it increasingly frustrating every time I catch myself failing to keep up a good habit.

I believe part of it has to do with the fact that sometimes we lose sight of our goal, whether it is reading 15 books or losing 10 kg this year, which allows our laziness to take over and fall out completely.

For instance, I have been trying to gain weight for a few years with no visible result. I’ve maintained a body weight of 60 kg for well over 2 years now. I have been eating healthy and exercising every day. Overtime, I got frustrated to a point where I was convinced that I could never go past this weight limit. However, I realized that I inadvertently built this false belief and a bubble to trap myself in by telling everyone around me that it was impossible for me to gain weight.

Upon coming to terms with my own delusion, I made a promise to myself to put on 5 kg by the end of the “circuit breaker”. (For those of you that live outside of Singapore, “circuit breaker” is a euphemism for a “lock down” Singapore government came up with to prevent its citizens from going haywire.)

After consuming countless dietary experts’ advice on YouTube, I started out by shoving my face with foods that are packed with carbs and proteins. I followed it up with a 20-minute workout routine every evening. Hit me up if you want a copy of my workout.

However, I found out that the discipline and effort you put into your diet and your workout routine does not show for a long time. It took me a whole month of healthy eating and workout to gain 2 kg! That was really discouraging for me which really made me understand how it would turn most people away from achieving the goal they envisioned at the start. I had to remind myself that even though the growth is minuscule, and I will eventually get to the body weight I wanted. It just takes time to show results. However, staying focused on our final goal will allow us to stay consistent. 

On a separate note, I have also been having difficulty with writing consistently as you can probably tell from a lack of blog post for this week. I think part of it comes from the pressure I put myself under.

When I started this blog, I made a commitment to write and post something related to the books I have read every week. It started out relatively easy as I had a few notes written on the earlier topics a while back. So, I always had something to start off on. However, as we all know words don’t write themselves. It takes some levels of mental and physical discipline to sit down and concentrate to flush out the idea you have into something presentable.

On top of that, I noticed myself worrying about the word count. I know it sounds silly to be caught up with something so trivial. Which is why I have been trying to convince myself to pay attention to the quality rather than quantity. I do hope that my writing has improved somewhat since I started. You can let me know in the comments below.

In short, having this self-imposed rule lifted allows me to focus on delivering on my own promise of writing weekly without putting unnecessary mental stress on myself. I am writing for fun anyway eh!

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you’re trying to accomplish. For me it was twofold, to gain weight by eating well and working out. The other is to get better at writing while having fun. Regardless of how hard it may seem at times; we have to keep in mind that the key to achieving great things in life is by staying consistent with our goals.

I still very much enjoy writing down my ideas and opinions to share with the world. I do hope you enjoy reading it just as much.

Stay safe, stay consistent and thank you for reading.