When the book I co-wrote with Eugene Tee, Mindfulness And Emotions, was published in 2019, I dedicated it to four women who were great influences at different stages of my life. Writing that dedication was the easiest part of producing the book, except for having to leave out many other women who inspired me through the years.
My mother Mari was first on the list. She died in 2010, aged 55, after a short illness and had been a strong, resilient woman all her life. The year before she died, she finished a half-marathon without training to help raise money for charity. And because someone said she couldn’t do it.
She wasn’t perfect, and we had our conflicts, but my mum was the epitome of “mind over matter”. Well into her 40s, it remained difficult for male relatives to beat her at arm-wrestling. This included cousins of mine who were captains in the British Army! She taught me the importance of asking questions and thinking about who we are and what we could do with our lives. She would tell me, “You can do anything you set your mind to if you work hard for it”.
A primary school teacher, Christine Donohoe, instilled in me an early love of reading. She was strict but always kind and showed her students the joy of learning for its own sake. Mrs Donohoe encouraged us to become better versions of ourselves, and for the right reasons.
Years later, our paths crossed during the Scottish independence referendum and she was that same kind woman who made everyone feel welcome in her presence. I was 16 years old when she taught me. Her kindness and generosity showed the importance of paying it forward and helping others.
Pauline Taylor was a lecturer at my college who continued to mentor me when I graduated and became a journalist, doling out much-needed guidance. Pauline died in 2019 and was remembered by many of her media students as “an inspiration whose legacy is found in so many of her former students within the industry”.
She taught me the value of being respectful toward others without being obsequious: “You’ll meet all kinds of high-profile people in the years to come. Respect them as you’d respect anyone else, but never forget they’re just people.”
Last (but by no means least) is my aunt by marriage, Ivy Fernandez – a woman who could have mingled quite easily with the strong Scottish women of Glasgow whose strength was matched only by the size of their hearts. Ivy's sharp wit and keen sense of humour would also have found an easy home among those women.
Like any matriarch of the family, she possesses the ability to keep everyone in check and will be first in line to help whoever is in need. Her example continues to teach me the importance of being true to yourself and what it means to be a good listener. That said, everyone listens when Ivy speaks; in this regard, we’re all well-trained.
Today, March 8, 2021, is International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is “Choose to Challenge”. None of these women shirked a challenge, possessing the wisdom to pick their battles well. That’s what makes them great.
A special mention should go to my mother-in-law, Audrey Lim, who, while unassuming, has the enduring strength and patience of a saint. Her only failing with me was when she tried to teach me how to make cookies and I failed, miserably. We all have our imperfections, and hers is trying to teach a son-in-law who is far better at eating baked goods than he is at making them.
Each of these women have given so much to so many, it’s impossible to know where their influence will end. Often, I find it difficult to live up to the best of them that I’d like to see in myself, but I am forever grateful for the blessing to know and learn from their examples.
It’s often said that “behind every great man is a great woman.” In truth, in front of any man of worth are several women who guide him. Imagine the world we could have if we encouraged more young women to cultivate their natural strength, creativity, intelligence, and resilience. Imagine a world in which it’s commonplace for young women to grow up and decide where their place should be, rather than to be told where it is. Entire societies would be lifted, poverty would be ended, and the world would benefit enormously from the minds of more brilliant women. It’s up to all of us to rise to that challenge and help make it happen.
Sunny Side Up columnist Sandy Clarke has long held an interest in emotions, mental health, mindfulness and meditation. He believes the more we understand ourselves and each other, the better societies we can create. If you have any questions or comments, email email@example.com. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.