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Professional and Everyday Writing

Happy Easter to all of you!

I thought today’s the 31st of March. I have just come back from a 4-hour chess tournament and am waiting for dinner. It’s nearly 9 in the evening, and I have little mental energy left to do my first day-of-the month’s blog. Thus, I decided to tell you about my soon-to-be-published book instead.

Foreword

The first article I wrote was published in my university newsletter 40 years ago. It was about my 24-hour travel by boat and bus from home to my alma mater. I felt disappointed seeing some words changed and several sentences reconstructed by the newsletter editor. I soon realised that at 16 years old I was just starting to learn how to write.

Ten years later, when my first journal article took a dozen drafts and tough comments from academic reviewers, I just grinned. I even considered it a victory because, at least, it was not an outright rejection and it eventually got published in the Australian Journal of Criminology. Writing is an art and a skill. Some people are gifted by nature and need no or little help to become good writers. Most of us, however, must spend time and energy to harness our writing skills.

Though the evolution of culture and society impacts how we use language, the essentials in writing have remained fairly constant, particularly in formal communication: grammar, verb tenses, punctuation, paragraphing, sentence structure, capitalisation, and tone.

Nowadays, English is spoken widely in countries that have national languages (e.g. India, Singapore, and The Philippines) and not only in Australia, Canada, the UK, and the USA. Nevertheless, standard American and British English varieties remain the main global business and academic references (lingua francas).

The questions and comments of my students, who are adults comprising of public servants, accountants, bankers, lawyers, office employees and tertiary education applicants, have inspired me to write this handbook. They often juggle their professional and personal responsibilities and do not have time to look at grammar textbooks and style guides to write correctly.

Digital tools may help them translate or write, but this does not provide them with sufficient explanations and relevant examples. Consequently, they are likely to make the same mistakes in their writing.

A few years ago, my student told me, “My native English-speaking colleagues behave as if they’re the expert when they aren’t. I’m the registered accountant; they’re clerks and administrative assistants. I always find my correspondence scrutinised for simple grammar mistakes.”

When your grammar is weak and vocabulary limited, you can be perceived as lacking in ability or are inexperienced, which is a harsh and unfair judgement that demotivates and destroys confidence. If you do not want to experience this, you have to learn how to produce clear, concise and coherent correspondence with correct grammar and precise vocabulary.

I hope this book “Clear, Concise and Unpretentious (CCU) – a guide for everyday writing” will help you become a confident and effective writer and communicator.

February – what a month it was!

(The photo above was taken in 2016 in front of the Regal cinema in Brisbane, Australia, where we used to go almost every weekend and saw “The Mission” – one of my favourite movies. I was so glad to know that it’s still open and has kept its 80s-90s atmosphere).

February 2018 was a cinema month for me. I watched thought-provoking and inspiring films based on true stories: “The Post, ” The Darkest Hour,” and “15.17 to Paris.”

“The Post” stars Tom Hanks and Myrl Streep, and it is about the Washington Post’s decision to publish government secrets found in the Pentagon Papers. My favourite line in this movie is “The Way They Lied, Those Days Have to Be Over.”

“People need to be led and not misled. Those who never change their minds, never change anything” – these are just two of the many words of wisdom in “The Darkest Hour.” It is in the 1940’s and Adolf Hitler has risen to power. The European nations, including Belgium and France, are in turmoil; and Dunkirk is in danger including the lives of 300,000 British soldiers.

“15.17 to Paris” is about three Americans (Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler) on their European backpacking tour in 2015. While on the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris on August 21, they tackled a heavily armed jihadist terrorist saving many lives. (There were 554 passengers. The gunman had KM assault rifle, nine magazines and 270 rounds of ammunition, a pistol, a knife and a bottle of petrol. Imagine what could have happened if these brave men didn’t intervene).

The reasons I went to see “15.17 to Paris” were: its director, Clint Eastwood, is an icon in the movie industry; it’s based on a true story; and the three actual guys played themselves (and not Bradley cooper, Chris Pine, Anthony Mackie, or other members of Hollywood’s A list). Hat’s off to these three guys not only to their courage but to their acting as well.

Unlike me, critics are not over the moon with this film. The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/feb/08/the-1517-to-paris-review-clint-eastwood-france-train-attack seen 11/02/18) even stated “the real meat of the film is that mind-bendingly boring holiday: endless beers, endless coffees, endless selfies. No tension between the guys. No real connection either.”

Why does a good film need to have tension and loads of audio and visual effects? I disagree that there’s no connection because these three men have always been connected since their primary education. It was a European trip — France, Germany, Holland and Italy are geographically well connected. (Those beautiful monuments and landscapes brought me back happy memories of our family vacations there). Isn’t drinking beverage part of holidaymaking? For me, the real meat of the story is the composition of love and care (their mothers’ devotion, the wounded passenger warning to his wife, helping the injured, etc.), courage, friendship, politeness, kindness, and surmounting difficulties (as shown during their childhood schooling) = what make life worth living and fun.

We should encourage the watching of this kind of film rather than that of violent and thrill seeking ones. Gradually or immediately, what we see affect our state of mind. “15.17 to Paris” has strong positive moral values and pertinent issues to all of us — as parents, students, teachers, citizens, etc. (In the movie, the teacher recommended the use of drugs because one of them was underperforming and lacking concentration in her class. How about making her lessons relevant and motivating?)

WE are affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last February 14 that took 17 young lives. This kind of awfully heartbreaking crime isn’t linear and simple. He might be mentally or/and psychologically disadvantaged, socially or/and academically inept, or/and financially introuble, and a wrecker or wreaker. However, when something atrocious happens, the society and its leaders have serious questions to answer.

We may not be able to keep an eye on everyone who wants to harm us deliberately or not, but we can choose or appoint decision makers in government, public institutions, business organisations and associations who, primarily, act on our safety and secuirty rather than enriching themselves with wealth and power.

Predicting and forecasting

January has always been an intellectually exciting month for me. My students are eager and thrilled with whatever subject I present for discussion. Perhaps being the first month of the year, which is associated with resolution and starting afresh, they are motivated with most things, including learning or improving their English.

In January 2018, one of the topics that interested them most was predicting and forecasting — two words which are often confused by many native and non-native English speakers.

For me, predicting is a subjective telling of the future based on intuition and personal judgement, which can be biased (sometimes it is entertaining or disconcerting). Whereas, forecasting is done by analysing the past. I predicted that my Aussie nephew would have a wedding in a tropical island where the weather forecast is favourable for outdoor ceremony, reception and party.

The Cambridge English dictionary defines ‘to predict’ (verb – /prɪˈdɪkt/) as “to say that an event or action will happen in the future, especially as a result of knowledge or experience: It’s still not possible to predict accurately the occurrence of earthquakes. [ + that ] Who could have predicted that within ten years he’d be in charge of the whole company? [ + to infinitive ] The hurricane is predicted to reach the coast tomorrow morning. [ + question word ] No one can predict when the disease will strike again” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/predict).

Mediums Craig and Jane Hamilton-Parker have made the following predictions for this year (http://psychics.co.uk/blog/predictions/): “A trade embargo with North Korea will fail, the US will strike at railway line and bridge to disrupt imports. Massive Bitcoin fraud uncovered and thwarted that funds terrorism and war. Terrorists make an airborne chemical weapon gas attack by multiple drones on a European capital city.”

Would you like to try your predicting skill? Who will win the football/soccer World Cup in Russia in June? Who among the world’s celebrities will fall from grace?

The Cambridge English dictionary defines forecast (UK /ˈfɔː.kɑːst/) (US /ˈfɔːr.kæst/) as a statement of “what is likely to happen in the future, especially in connection with a particular situation, or the expected weather conditions” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/predict).
Examples: The economic forecasts are gloomy.
According to the weather forecast, it’ll be sunny today.
“The global economy is set fair in 2018. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently upgraded its forecast for global growth to 3.7%, to reflect the return to health of manufacturing in most of the developed world and China(https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/dec/30 /business-predictions-2018-some-joy-quite-a-few-fearspopular).

If we take seriously the forecasts on environmental and climatic changes , we’ll be worried sick about the future of planet Earth and the well-being of our children and their offspring. As such, we shouldn’t be complacent and indolent when it comes to consuming wisely and less, recycling diligently, and supporting people and ideas that contribute to the sustainability of our global village.

Wishing you an awesome New Year… No resolution only motivation

It’s still the holiday season and being on staycation, I’ve time to read. One of the articles I’ve recently come across is on the science of success and motivation (https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/05/19/the-science-behind-success-and-motivation/#6b62c0c44a81Harvard seen 26/12/17). Mr Eric Barker, writer of the Barking Up The Wrong Tree blog, stated that “If you’re tired and unmotivated, it almost doesn’t matter what other strengths you have. People who do nothing tend to achieve nothing. So knowing what motivates you can be critical to success.” I agree with him.

Quoting Prof Teresa Amabile’s research finding that the feeling of progress in your efforts is the most motivating factor in life, Barker advises us to focus on “small wins.” I share his view on this: it is better to work gradually and a step at a time toward meeting our main challenge than to deal with massive issues head on then feel like we’re not getting closer to our goals and are failing.

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within, i.e. yourself. Individuals are motivated because they want to be accepted, honoured, independent, loved, powerful, respected, or wanted.

Extrinsic motivation comes from the outside, and the most often mentioned motivating factor for working hard is money. However, many studies have shown that money is not the main source of happiness. If I were one of the respondents, I would have definitely revealed the same thing.

Years ago, an Australian friend brought to my attention a research done by Dr Adele Eskeles Gottfried, retired professor of educational psychology at the California State University at Northridge. She had surmised that children with parents who encouraged independence, inquisitiveness and effort had higher intrinsic motivation and achievement, and these have long-term effects. Dr Gottfried even said that teaching children the desire to learn is as important as teaching them academic skills.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. This down-to-earth idiomatic expression means that you can provide people with an opportunity or an advantage, but you can’t force them to do something if they don’t want to.

Since intrinsic motivation is primordial to success, how can we have this? I am motivated when I feel I am doing something that is part of my overall goal and wellbeing; or it contributes to the good of other people, especially to my family and friends. My motivation is maintained, or even increased, when my performance is favourably recognised. It’s alright to be proud of what we achieve.

I don’t get money from blogging, but I do it because I enjoy writing. I am passionate about sharing my ideas and experiences with others. How about you?

Understanding what motivate us can have immediate and lasting positive effects. By doing what motivate us, we are more likely to live a healthy, peaceful and happy life.

If you want people around you to be motivated, then be intrinsically motivated yourself. Motivation is contageous: values, beliefs, actions and behaviour can be transmitted and facilitated.

All the best.

Apologies go a long way

Two weeks ago, commuting by bus, a woman in her late 60s placed her two heavy-looking bags on the seat in front of me and remained standing. I moved to the window seat and motioned her to the one I just vacated. She declined thankfully and explained politely that her back hurt and couldn’t sit down.

The next 25 minutes were like being in a cinema watching a terrible community drama. With full of emotion, she narrated how her daughter’s motorcycle accident caused their family un-describable pain and hardship. Her daughter was only 17 years old (this was nearly 20 years ago) and went for a motorcycle ride with a male friend of her age in the countryside not far from their home. The driver took off leaving her on the ground bleeding and bruised. She got home by crawling and limping, and stayed in the hospital for several months. This devoted mum said with watery eyes «If that coward didn’t leave her alone and she had medical attention right away, she would have recovered earlier and better.”

I asked her what happened to that “male friend”. “He now has a good job and in a relationship, but my daughter lives with me because she can’t look after herself. I wish I had brought them to court; but at that time, I was just glad she’s alive. I did admonish him saying that if she had died, I’d have killed him.”

Did he apologise? No… “Of course not.”

Why didn’t he? How about his parents? Why didn’t they apologise or talk him into doing it?

Apology goes a long way, and there are many ways to show you’re sorry.

According to Dr Guy Winch, saying “I’m sorry” has psychological ramifications and elicits fundamental fears, either conscious or unconscious, that non-apologists desperately want to avoid. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201305/5-reasons%20-why-some-people-will-never-say-sorry seen on 30/11/17).

Dr Winch further explained that:
* Those who don’t apologise (non-apologists) have trouble separating their actions from their character; so when they did something bad, they must be bad people. Then, if they were wrong, they must be ignorant or stupid. As such, apologising is a threat to their identity and self-esteem.
* Apologising might cause guilt and shame, and the latter is a more toxic emotion than the former. Non-apologists worry that their apology will lead to more accusations and conflict. They worry that by apologising they would assume full responsibility and relieve the other person of culpability. “If arguing with a spouse, for example, they might fear an apology would exempt the spouse from taking any blame for a disagreement, despite the fact that each member of a couple has at least some responsibility in most arguments,” Dr Winch said.
* Non-apologists are often comfortable with anger, irritability and emotional distance, but they are threatened by emotional closeness and vulnerability. Contrary to their assumption, however, opening up is “often incredibly therapeutic and empowering, and it can lead them to experience far deeper emotional closeness and trust toward the other person, significantly deepening their relationship,” Dr Winch added.

I’ve seen and heard how a simple “I’m sorry” had prevented a quarrel, mended a broken relationship, got rid of sorrow and pain, helped someone move on, and improved exchanges. As a parent, saying sorry is a good example for our children, and this has a far-reaching social implication.

Saying sorry is a strength and not a weakness, and a necessary interpersonal skill. A failed or undelivered apology hampers forgiveness and can cause long-term grudges (and even vengeance).

The holiday season has arrived and the year 2017 is nearly over. I wish you and your loved ones safe and joyful celebrations, and may you will have peace, good health and happiness throughout 2018.

Cheers!

Is queuing (or lack of it) influenced by our culture?

I arrived at the bus stop 5 minutes before the scheduled departure time. I was pleased to see my former student and we chatted while queuing. My smiling turned into frowning when I saw two women placing themselves before the more than ten persons already in line.

I was shocked not only because they jumped the queue but that no one said anything. Less than a minute later, three women did the same thing. I whispered to my student that it was unacceptable and we should say something. He turned red and apologised on behalf of the French people in France.

I often witness queue jumping (or cutting) in France and was a direct victim of it several times. I haven’t forgotten the first time I experienced this. Coming from Australia, where falling in line for everything and in everywhere is a natural behaviour, my first year in France was quite a shock. While queuing in a local bakery, a well-groomed woman bypassed me and 5 other persons. Stunned and a bit angry, I put together a few French words alerting the man in front of me. Unfortunately, he said “ça va, j’ai le temps” (it’s all right, I’ve time). I couldn’t believe what I heard. It wasn’t a question regarding time! It’s about respect and courtesy!

The female queue jumper didn’t apologise and walked out proudly, as if she was the centre of the world. I was so disappointed that I gave a minute sermon to my two-year-old son (who was in his pram) on respect, discipline and social manners. He understood nothing, of course; but, I knew there was at least one person in that bakery who worked out the message I tried to impart.

For me, falling in line for goods and services is about fairness and civility, as popularised in the adage “First come, first serve.” When this norm is broken, there’s individual disgust that can lead to social disharmony. There have been incidents of individuals hurting each other because of perception of fairness related to queuing.

I’d also experienced something related to queuing that was as annoying but not so straightforward. While at the cinema, a woman queued for her daughter and her friends. I didn’t expect it and was taken by surprise when she left and wished the girls a good time. Is it right for a person to hold a spot for another (or a group)? How about paying someone to do it for us?

In western countries, like the UK and Canada, standing in line while waiting for goods and services in shops, government offices and everywhere is an expected human trait and behaviour. In France (also a western nation), however, this seems to be more of an individual prerogative.

Italy is another western country where non-queuing is a cultural phenomenon. As The Local (https://www.thelocal.it/20150410/my-italian-habits-that-foreigners-just-dont-get seen on 15/10/17) has stated, “We’re not into queuing. We don’t queue, we just stand close to one another until we see an opportunity to overtake you. But for Italians, it’s perfectly normal! Arm yourself with a lot of patience, or download a game on your phone – and don’t get offended by nudges, they most probably didn’t mean it.”

In India, Shefaly Yogendra has this to say: “Queues are for societies that at least have a pretence of egalitarianism. India is hierarchical and none misses a chance to impose their authority over the next person, the commonest phrase being — Do you know who I am?” (https://www.quora.com/Why-are-people-in-India-generally-disrespectful-of-forming-straight-lines-when-queueing-up-for-something seen 15/10/17).

For queue believers (like me), line jumpers or by-passers/cutters are annoying and unpleasant; so, what shall we do?

(I’m posting this from Cap d’Agde in France where I’m participating in a 7-day international chess tournament. So far, I’ve more losses than wins; but this doesn’t matter as what’s important is how I play and progress. The best part of this event is the nightly game between Karpov/Russia and Vaisser/France).

Age discrimination or something else?

During the last weekend of August this year, I was in Paris and spent an evening promenading in Champs Elysées. On the famous Avenue Foch, close to the Arc de Triomphe, there was a trendy looking nightclub that caught my attention. There was more than a dozen male security guards in black outfits who scrutinised the acceptable and non-acceptable entrants. I observed inquisitively two male and a female staff letting some people in while refusing others. After some time deciphering their decision-making behaviour, I asked one of the bouncers, “How do you decide who’ll get in and not?”

He answered, “I don’t speak English.”

I commented, “Yes you do. Quels sont les critères que vous utilisez pour décider qui sera autorisé à entrer ou pas ? »

He responded, « C’est une boite de nuit privée » (This is a private night club).

I stood speechless trying to understand what a private nightclub was.

For me, a nightclub is an entertainment premises that has a bar, a stage for live music, one or more dance floor areas and a DJ booth, and operates late into the early morning. I know that nightclubs use bouncers to screen prospective entrants and they don’t admit people with informal clothing, e.g. jeans and t-shirts (those who don’t comply with their dress code). However, these were not the type of club goers I saw refused at the Le Duplex.

What about private clubs? A private club can be an incorporated organisation whose members contribute to the club’s funds that are used to pay the operating expenses, and it is generally governed by state statute. It can also be unincorporated whose proprietor owns the venue and operates the club for profit. My understanding is that a private nightclub is exempted from civil rights law, so discrimination based on age is out of the question.

France and other members of the European Union adhere to the elimination of all forms of discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation and age. The prohibition of discrimination is required in both public and private sectors, including access to and supply of goods and services intended for the public.

In blogs and websites, it is revealed that le Duplex’s clientele is mainly young. What is “young” when life expectancy continues to increase and in developed countries the average age is over 80 years? Those refused entries didn’t look over 50 years old to me. Even if they did, don’t they deserve to enjoy the music, party atmosphere … and nightlife?

Did I witness age discrimination that night at Champs Elysées?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/34401457/these-are-the-rights-you-have-when-you-approach-a-nightclub-door (seen on 17/09/17) discloses the following:

“The Equality Act of 2010 says that when someone provides you a service, even if you don’t pay for it, you must not be discriminated against because of race.
It also stops discrimination on the basis of “protected characteristics” such as disability, sex, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, age and religion.
If you feel that you have been unfairly discriminated against then you can seek help from the Equality Advisory Support Service. You may be able to take them to court and claim damages. In 2010 we did have a case based on race and sex and they recovered £15,000 damages and their court costs,” equality lawyer Ciaran Moynagh told Newsbeat.”

Age discrimination in nightclubs, however, is not easy to prove. As well, since they call themselves “private clubs” they reserve the right to let in whoever they want to maximise their revenue. Obviously, they are not going to tell you that you’re too old. They’ll find other reasons or not give you any – it’s their prerogative.

I’ve heard about the case of Richard Sleeman, a 62-year-old sports journalist, who attempted to sue a Sydney nightclub for age discrimination. The court ruled against him as the reasons for his exclusion were in line with the authority provided by the Liquor Act (he appeared drunk).

If you’re over 55 years old and in Champs Elysées, visit the Le Duplex (not smelling alcohol, not behaving like a drunk, not arguing with anyone, and well-dressed). Let’s see if you get in.

The power of public opinion is sometimes more effective than legislation in ensuring a fair and equitable society.

No swimming, no sunbathing but a memorable summer holiday

You’ve probably heard about the simplicity and generosity of Polish people; well, I’ve been a recipient of these admirable human traits. I recently spent a week in Gdansk in the company of a cordial and considerate Pole and her mum.

Gdansk is one of the five big cities in Poland with about 470,000 inhabitants. (I’d like to visit its capital, Warsaw, one day). This country, which is rich in mineral and agricultural resources, is often referred to as “ex-eastern European nation” when geographically it lies entirely on the north European plain and is in the central European time zone. It’s one hour ahead of standard Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in the winter months, and two hours ahead from late March to October due to daylight saving time.

I’ve been told by my hosts that winter in Poland is very cold and summer is not-so-warm. I agree with them concerning the later; I haven’t experienced the former yet. I was there in the middle of August but always carried a jumper when I went out. I was lucky to experience several sunny days promenading in the famous Royal Way which included the Old Town Street, where Polish kings used to parade; the Golden Gate; the Torture House; the Prison Tower and Neptune’s Fountain.

The majority of Poles are Roman Catholic, so there are churches and places of worship in almost every corner and street; I went to half a dozen of them. Some Poles belong to the Polish Orthodox Church and various Protestant denominations, such as the Lutherans. Of course, there are also members of minority religious groups.

One of the highlights of my trip was the visit to Westerplatte, where the first battle in the invasion of Poland took place that marked the start of the second world war in Europe. In September 1939, German naval forces and soldiers assaulted the Polish Military Transit Depot (Wojskowa Składnica Tranzytowa or WST) without warning. The German battleship sailed into the free city of Danzig on a ‘courtesy visit’ but had planned to launch an assault on 26th August, which was postponed by Hitler. It was difficult for me not to be sad and angry looking at the photos of the atrocities, but it was also a moment to admire this symbol of resistance to an invasion. Several nights after I had left Gdansk, I still thought of the 182 men (armed only with machine guns and mortars) fighting heroically against a much stronger and better-equipped invader of 2,600 men with planes and battleships for over a week.

Another moving experience for me was the visit to the Solidarity Museum, which has a monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970. Inflation and destabilising economic conditions led to protests and crackdowns. Anna Walentynowicz was fired from work at the Gdańsk Shipyard on 7 August 1980, five months before she was due to retire, because of her participation in the protest. Subsequently, Solidarity was born on 31 August 1980 at the Lenin Shipyards. In September 1981 at the Solidarity’s first national congress, Mr Lech Wałęsa was elected president. However, the government attempted to destroy the union with the martial law of 1981, and several years of repression followed. During these years, in Australia (though I knew almost nothing about Poland), I participated in public meetings and fund-raising events to support the shipyard workers and their families. In Gdansk, I was nearly in tears seeing photos of Australians who were involved significantly in these operations. The contributions of other countries and individuals are also exhibited in the museum.

The roundtable talks between the government and Solidarity-led opposition produced a semi-free election in 1989, and a Solidarity-led coalition government was formed in August that year. Poland was the first country in central and eastern Europe to break out of state communism.

According to the UN World Tourism Organisation and World Economic Forum, the most visited countries in 2016 were 1. France, 2. US, 3. Spain, 4. China and 5. Italy. Some sources ranked the UK 7th while others placed it on 8th.

I believe it is more important to know why you’re going to a particular place rather than the destination per se, and these are some of the considerations:

Purpose – to relax, to shop, to improve our cultural and historical knowledge, to have an adventure, to visit friends and relatives, etc.
Budget – how much we want to spend affects our transport, accommodation, food, activities, etc.
Environment (cold or hot weather) – beach, city, countryside, amusement parks, snow fields/skiing resorts, etc.

Wherever we are and whatever we do, let’s be respectful of local traditions and customs and be open-minded.

Every ending has a new beginning

Last July 8, I attended a retirement party; and like most farewell gatherings, it was filled with joy and sadness. The honouree was a gentle, kind and caring person who had helped many people, including me. There were always cakes and sweets on her desk for anyone who needed a boost on a hectic day. I often had it out of ‘gourmandise’ (greed). I miss her and her chocolates, and it’s strange not to see her grin anymore.

Everything has an ending; however, this ending has also a beginning. Today may be your last working day, but it’s also an opportunity to start something you have been wanting to do for a long time, such as going to the gym, reading a book, jogging, travelling or relaxing on a sofa or hammock, etc.

The passing of time is inevitably fast that no one is far from any ending. Most situations that herald the end of something, like retirement, retrenchment, graduation, leaving home, holiday, relationships, entertainment or sporting events, mean ‘change.’ The majority of people are anxious about changes because of fear of a possible loss, uncertainty and anxiety (though 90% of these worries don’t happen). We should consider the end of any event or situation as a change that has a silver lining even when it looks sombre.

With any change, positivism is the key. Our thoughts, emotions and feelings affect our body. While positive thoughts and emotions encourage calmness and physical activity, negative thoughts inhibit peace and efficiency. Positivism involves restructuring our perceptions and thinking process so that any problem or negative situation, such as change or end of a situation, is accepted as having benefits or as a stepping stone to something better. After all, change is the only constant in life.

Optimism is contagious. Optimistic individuals, even those who aren’t with us anymore (and aren’t related to us either by blood or ethnicity), continue to have positive effects on us. For me, these are:

Mother Teresa (1910–1997) lived a life of poverty to help improve the conditions of others; her devotion and compassion inspired many people to care for the poor, sick and needy.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884– 1962) was an American politician, diplomat, activist and First Lady of the United States from March 1933 to April 1945. She was a supporter of the rights of women and helped draft the UN Declaration of human rights.

Nelson Mandela (1918–2013) spent 20 years in jail for his opposition to apartheid in South Africa; but upon his release, he showed forgiveness and reconciliation to his former political enemies and became the first black president in 1994. (While living in Australia in the 80s, I joined many rallies and peace marches in protest against apartheid).

Luther King (1929–1968). You surely know the “I Have a Dream” speech Mr King delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. This is just one of his many philosophies and beliefs that have influenced by thinking and action. My other favourite is “Darkness can’t drive darkness; only light can do that. Hate can’t drive out hate; only love can on that. “He was, and still is, an inspiring leader of groups and movements for more equal society and for non-violent civil rights actions.

According to Ms Judy Belmont (mental health author, motivational speaker and psychotherapist), the ten essential habits of positive people are:

• They don’t confuse quitting with letting go. They don’t relinquish responsibility (i.e. quit) but let go (i.e. take action to stop and move on) of things and situations that aren’t any healthier for them or have negative influence on their lives.
• They don’t just have a good day, they make a good day.
• For them, the past stays in the past.
• They’re the most grateful people. “They focus on the pot of gold that awaits them every day, with new smells, sights, feelings and experiences. They see life as a treasure chest full of wonder.”
• They’re energised by possibilities (opportunities) rather than stuck by their limitations.
• They don’t let fears interfere with their lives.
• They smile a lot.
• They’re great communicators.
• They believe that if they live long enough, there are times for great pain and sadness. (They’re realistically optimistic)
• They don’t blame others and consider themselves as victims in life as they’re empowered (i.e. having control of and power over their lives).

Let’s stay positive..
All the best!

Health and well-being

Last June 19 – 22 was Well-Being Week at the European Parliament and there were exhibitions and information sessions held to inspire and help people to be healthy and happy. June 21 was Music Festival not only in France and Luxembourg but in many parts of the world, and it made many people joyful. June 22 was UN International Yoga Day and it highlighted the useful contribution of yoga to humankind’s healthy lifestyle that is harmonious with nature. In Luxembourg, the 23rd was a public holiday as it was the country’s national day filled with festivities, food stalls, concerts, fireworks and merrymaking.

These were different events, but had similar goals, which were to inform, entertain and encourage people to relax and be peaceful– important for our well-being. When we are happy and peaceful, we are stressed-resistant and our immune system functions favourably maintaining a healthy body and mind. My adult students recently did a class project on health and well-being, and concluded that “Healthy workplaces are positive and positive workplaces are healthy.”

You may argue that achieving a work-life balance isn’t easy as it doesn’t only involve you and there are issues beyond your control, such as a demanding job and/or boss. Rightly so, however, this one person (YOU) has choices. We can have positive daily work experience in the midst of deadlines, not-so-caring supervisor and uncooperative or annoying colleagues. At home, relationships can be improved by having open communication, by being honest and respectful, and by showing more empathy and understanding. We have different levels of optimism, but even a half-empty glass has a space that can be filled. If everyone contributes to filling this, it does not take long for it to be full again.

On the global level, The World Economic Forum (Matthieu Ricard https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/09/5-ways-to-improve-the-well-being-of-the-world/) has identified 5 ways to improve health and well-being: Increasing support to mental health (addressing mental ailments account for only a small part of the health budget of developed nations); Cooperation (need to move to the next level of partnership to face the many challenges of our times. Solidarity and reciprocity that nurture harmonious relationships); Caring economics (“economy must exist to serve society, not to be served by society. It must also benefit society as a whole”. There should be a pragmatic action to achieve a fair economy and long-term harmony); Promoting altruism (“Happiness and satisfaction are measured in terms of a generation, encompassing our life plan, our career and our family. Whether or not we are happy depends not only on external conditions but also on the ways in which our mind interprets these conditions as happiness or misery”); A new economic harmony (“a situation that guarantees everyone a decent way of life and reduces inequality at the same time as ceasing to exploit the planet at such a drastic rate.” Material abundance doesn’t equate to happiness and well-being.

My students entitled their class project “You only live once” — living to the fullest in terms of being healthy and happy, but without excesses. Did you know that the global consumption of alcohol was 6.3 litres of pure alcohol per person ages 15 and older in 2015, which was equivalent to 3 litres of beer (4 percent alcohol) a week? The highest consumption was in Europe and Central Asia (10.2 litres of pure alcohol per person a year); and lowest in the Middle East and North Africa (0.8 litres). (http://datatopics.worldbank.org/sdgatlas/SDG-03-good-health-and-well-being.html).

As you may know, too much alcohol drinking can take a serious toll on our health and well-being. For instance, it can weaken our immune system hence making our body susceptible to diseases. It’s summer time here in Europe and it’s a real temptation to grab a cold beer or softdrinks. The former is tonic but can also cause ill-health. According to the Harvard School of Public Health (www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthydrinks/focus.html), the long-term effects of artificially sweetened drinks on weight and health are unknown. Thus, if you drink these, be reasonable! Water is much cheaper and absolutely good for our body – about 8 glasses per day. You can, of course, quench your thirst by drinking coffee and tea without sugar or cream.The Harvard School of Public Health has also revealed that even 100% fruit juice should be consumed with moderation (no more than a glass a day) as though it has vitamins, it’s also high in calories.

Take care.. Enjoy your summer!