Let people know your achievements!

At the exam panel meeting two days ago, I  learnt that a student-teacher in my fulltime group obtained Distinction in Coursework. This is a remarkable achievement, because only about 3% of all PGDE students will obtain this honour. After the meeting, I emailled the student-teacher immediately to convey the good news to her. I told her that she would be given a special Distinction certificate, which she would personally receive from the Dean during the graduation ceremony. I reminded her to cite this honour in the cover letter when she sent out job applications.

The student-teacher was rapturous on hearing the news. But she replied: ‘Paul, you earlier told me to cite my passing all the LPAT papers at one sitting in the cover letter. Now, you’re telling me to cite my Distinction award, too. Would I look arrogant if I did that?’ My reply to her is: ‘This is the 21st Century. What’s wrong with telling people your achievements if you have earned them through hard work?’

Yesterday, my colleague Professor Icy Lee, casually remarked over lunch that she had just been informed of her obtaining the University’s Research Excellence Award. She was of course very happy about that, but at the same time, she wouldn’t want to spread the news. She didn’t want people to think that she was not humble enough.

I need to go back to the Analect to check, but if I remember correctly, as early as two thousand years ago, Confucious repeatedly urged us to be humble about ourselves and our achievements, as though ‘modesty is the best policy’. But that was two thousand years ago.

Yes, there are braggarts in any circle, but bragging and publicising one’s achievements are not the same thing. There will always be people with a sour-grapes mentality, who dislike us for making our achievements known to the world. But we need not bother about their feelings. As long as we have made an achievement through hard work, we have every right to tell others about it. In fact, our true friends, and those who value exellence in work, will appreciate our spreading the word.

So, I told Icy that she doesn’t need to have any qualms about letting other people know that she has got the Research Excellence Award, which is conferred on less than eight scholars among the entire academic staff at CUHK. In fact, she would be shortchanging her friends if she kept the news to herself.

To practise what I preach, I have just told my friends on Facebook that the book co-authored by Dr Benjamin Au Yeung and me will come out soon. Many of my FB friends have ‘liked’ that announcement. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. And I am sure that they have truly welcomed the news.


Would you rather love, or be loved?

It’s the perennial question, especially for women, I guess. Of course, I’m talking about romantic love.

Many people, especially women writers, have expressed that being loved is a greater bliss. It brings utmost contentment. Only a handful of very lucky people can stay being loved for a long time. It requires luck because while you can choose whom to love, you cannot force people to love you back.

Yet, once in a while, you come across women, or women writers, who claim that they would rather love, than be loved. For me, this is interesting. While loving unconditionally is a noble act, the problem is that I think that we have a stronger psychological need to be loved,  than to love.  Of course, we also have a psychological capacity to love. But as Erich Fromm has pointed out, to love requires a lot of mental effort. How long can we ordinary folks sustain that effort? On the other hand, the feeling of being loved brings with it long-term contentment. In a sense, it is ‘easier’ to be loved, than to love.

Even when it is romantic love, how long can we sustain that unconditional effort? Or you may argue, effort is not in question here. It’s chemistry. You just can’t help loving each other. You just can’t help it.

Fine, but psychologists have all pointed out, confirmed by our own experience or our observations of countless cases, that this chemistry, this can’t-live-without-you fever, is short-lived. Again, we can’t help it. It is in our genes that this chemistry is short-lived. Six months on average. A year if you’re lucky. Afterwards, it is conscious effort that will hold two lovers together.

Then, why is it then once in a while we hear people, especially women, claiming that they would rather love, than be loved, and that to love is a greater bliss?

I have no training in psychology. I guess on a certain psychological level, we want to (need to?) glorify ourselves; we want to think of ourselves as someone special, someone great. This special person will love unconditionally, even when the person she loves does not love her back.

And I think there is a certain beauty about this unconditional love. So for example, I do find the scenario depicted in the last pargraph of Ko Wai Yin’s article below (Apple Daily, March 3) beautiful, even though I doubt how many women can ACTUALLY attain that stage. Or you may argue, it is exactly because few of us mortal souls can reach that stage, or even want to reach that stage, that we find it beautiful.



  • (高慧然)

By the way, at this moment in time, I believe that the only kind of love that has the capacity of coming very close to 100% unconditional is parental love. Erich Fromm has said the same!

Redoing what we have undone; Reliking what we have unliked

Many of us will know that one way to learn to use a software programme is to explore it on our own, by trying out and experimenting with the various functions. During this process, we will make mistakes, but making mistakes while exploring a piece of software can be a good thing, because we can always learn from our mistakes. And computer technology provides us with a great incentive for experimenting, and even for making mistakes: it gives us the ‘undo’ function.

This is a marvelous invention, because we need not fear making mistakes. In real life, it’s a different story. Mistakes can be costly. And very often, there’s no going back. As a result, most of the time, we’d rather play it safe, or stay in the comfort zone. “If I could undo this career decision!” “If I could undo this chapter of my life!” “If I could undo my choice of undergraduate major!” “If I could undo this relationship!”

Hang on! Now undoing a relationship can be done easily, on Facebook.

The word “unlike” was recently voted as the Word of the Year 2009 by the American Oxford Dictionary. You see somebody’s message or picture on Facebook, and immediately you decide to like it. You click on “Like”; voila, you have declared your liking for the message or picture.

A few hours later, when you re-visit the message or picture, you think that well after all, you don’t really like it that much. You can change your mind instantly, click on “Unlike”, and voila, you don’t like it any more.

Well, I’m not a social psychologist, and in any case, I’m an old-fashioned middle-aged person. I’m the least qualified to say what this instant Liking and Unliking say about how modern folks relate to things and people. (Notice that ‘unlike’ is not the same as ‘dislike’. To dislike requires mental effort; to unlike … well you just don’t like it any more.)

I can only say that once I like someone or something, it will take quite a bit of time to like them less, or to stop liking them, and this process will take place gradually. I’m unable to voluntarily unlike someone or something that I have liked.

How many people use the “Unlike” function on Facebook? If the answer is “very few”, why do they attach this function to every post?

Now, not only can you unlike someone or something at the click of a button, you can even “unfriend” someone by simply hitting the word!

Very soon, we may have “unteacher”, “unstudent”, “unspouse”, “unbrother”, “unsister”, “uncolleague” …. you name it. “I don’t like you for a teacher, so I unteacher you.”

Even the syntax is telling. You “make friends with” someone; but you simply “unfriend” them. “Making friends with” (3 words) someone is a longer process; “unfriending” (1 word) someone can be instantaneous. (Of course one day, English may have “I friend you”, since it already has “I unfriend you”.)

But perhaps I shouldn’t be too pessimistic. You can unfriend someone any time you like, but you can always “refriend” (another Facebook jargon term) them later. Soon, Facebook will give us “relike”.