Civility, respect and responsibility

It was a beautiful sunny morning; unlike the previous three months, it was neither raining nor snowing. At 7:30 in the morning, there were already more than 20 cross-border commuters lining up for the public transport. On the same street “Place de la liberté”, there was a local bus waiting for the traffic light to turn green. We watched in disgust as four teenage girls opened its window and threw empty cartons of orange juice that landed in front of the queueing passengers. I got out of the queue and picked these up then gave them a disappointing look wondering whether they realised that they had just exposed publicly their uncivility. When I returned from the nearest bin, their bus had left and mine had arrived, and no one uttered a word.

I didn’t think twice; picking up that litter was an instinctive reaction. I didn’t expect or want recognition from anyone; however, if I see you removing a piece of rubbish left lying in a public place, I’ll definitely give you some words of encouragement. Littering is hazardous for our health and environment.

During my first two years in France, while in parks and playgrounds with my toddler, I used to pick up wrappers of snacks and boxes of juice and put these in the bin while asking myself whether it was the kids or their parents who littered.

Whose responsibility is it when children litter: parents or society?

We, as parents, have an immense responsibility and opportunity in educating our children to be respectful of people, properties and our environment. Our words and actions help shape our children’s values and behaviours. If they deliberately litter, we must tell them why this is unacceptable. (When my son was 3 years old, he said, “Mummy’s bag is a fridge and a bin” because I had water, snacks and fruits every time we went out and kept all wrappers till we found a garbage bin). If the parents litter, their children are likely to do the same, and this is a societal problem.

Is the onus on the society (i.e. governments, school, association, neighbours, families, etc.) to ensure that children don’t litter?

Although we learn values and behaviours from our parents, our society and cultural environment play an important part in making us “who” and what we are. If our teachers, politicians, relatives and friends reinforce the message at home that littering means being disrespectful and irresponsible, we grow up with an attitude that is averse to littering; otherwise, we get confused and may not appreciate the importance of collective duty of care for our global planet.

According to an Austrian activist living in Sri Lanka, Ms Carolin Baumgartner, different cultures have different attitudes towards nature. She reasons that in Europe and the USA there is waste management (bins everywhere, garbage collecting and recycling plants) unlike in Sri Lanka where there’s a lot of garbage throwing, plastic burning, turtle eggs eating or dolphin killing.

It’s not only the children and those in developing countries who litter. Sometimes, I take umbrage to the roadside litter, which is mainly recyclable plastic bags and beverage containers, in some places in Italy and France. Whether littering is cultural or not, it should be stopped through education at home and at school, effective government policies and programmes, and community involvement.

She lived with purpose and meaning

Today is International Labour Day; and in the 80s, Barbara and I used to have a stand of leaflets and Trading Partners’ products on May 1 to advertise and raise money for development education in Queensland. Three weeks ago, I received a very sad news about Barbara, and I will surely miss her.

I go Down Under whenever I can to be with family and friends and celebrate special occasions. Amid Barbara’s hectic schedule caring for her sick son and other commitments, she came to my 50th birthday party in my sister’s house in Brisbane, and we had a memorable time.

Even if I had known, I would not been able to attend her funeral because of my work and family situation in France. I’m writing this not only to appease my deep sorrow of losing someone who did a lot for many socially and economically disadvantaged individuals and families, but because she was an exceptional person – a role model and an inspiration, especially to those involved in local and international charities and aid agencies.

The Sydney Morning Herald has published an article about Barbara’s many humanitarian endeavours, particularly as the first national president of the Save the Children Fund and past chairperson of the Refugee Council of Australia. (The photo above is from this article).

I knew Barbara as a work supervisor and a friend. She helped established the then Queensland Development Education Centre (QDEC), which is now called Global Learning Centre, and was its chairperson for a considerable period. As its foundation coordinator, I often talked with her about projects, networking and fundraising. She would spend time and money to raise awareness among Queenslanders on the interconnectedness of our developed and developing nations and the real causes of poverty. Other founding committee members (Beatrice, Mike, Jenny, David, and Wayne) got on so well with her that we always met our objectives.

She was truly interested in me as a person, and she even invited me and my husband to dinner parties in their home. She respected every person she encountered and made them interesting.

In Queensland, in the mid-80s and 90s, Barbara and I (through QDEC/GLC or other committees she was involved in) would organise or participate in rallies, public meetings and workshops aimed at making our world more just, peaceful and environmentally-friendly. Unfortunately, the causes that Barbara stood up for remain today (as our world has become even more complex and divided); and we need more people like her – generous, understanding, resilient, and active. I’ll always associate the Queensland GLC with Barbara Young who lived with passion, purpose and meaning.

Last month, two other influential women passed away. Ms Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and an ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, died aged 81. Ms Barbara Bush, the former US first lady and mother of former US president, died at the age of 92.

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.