Hidden gems in our midst

  • Opinion
  • Sunday, 30 Nov 2014

We need to look at things and people not only with our eyes, but with our heart. 

I’M usually up early enough to see the garbage collectors at work. They deftly sieve through the rubbish, putting aside items that still have some commercial value.

I have a hunch that at the end of the day, the stuff is monetised and the proceeds shared. There can be cash in trash.

Many of us look at junk and simply see rubbish. Some see junk in quite a different way.

“Some people can see potential in any scrap pile – how a little cleaning and sprucing up can turn a piece of junk into a usable item or even a piece of art,” a reader wrote to me in an e-mail last week.

She wants to cultivate the gift of being able to transform ordinary things into something useful. She added that her mission is to develop interesting lesson plans to teach English to marginalised foreign workers.

I told her about The Star’s very successful Newspaper in Education programme but she said she needed something simpler as her students have extremely low proficiency in English.

“I want to be able to pick up anything – a menu, a postcard, anything – and be able to develop a lesson out of that. How cool. That way, there will never be a shortage of lesson materials ever again,” she said.

What she shared resonated with me. How does one take something quite mundane and make it exciting? How does one see the extraordinary in the ordinary?

When it comes to our perception of people, I believe the first step is to get rid of our emotional baggage and prejudices, especially with regards to physical attributes and racial stereotyping. We need to see not only with our eyes, but with our heart.

And we need to refrain from jumping to conclusions. So often we are quick to write people off just because of the way they look, dress or behave. It wasn’t only Simon Cowell who thought Susan Boyle could not sing, if you get what I mean.

Only when we take time to observe and understand people will we truly know their full worth. If we are in too much of a rush, all we will see are pieces of coal, instead of unpolished diamonds.

My friend Anas Zubedy shared with me recently how he hired a staff who was not proficient in English and then sent her for language training to help her improve.

Rather than lament about why thousands of graduates are unemployable because of their poor English, he thought he should make a difference by empowering at least one employee with English proficiency.

We all expect things to be perfect when they are delivered to us. But there is great joy in taking something with all its imperfections and crafting it into a work of art.

When I first stepped into the working world, I didn’t have a degree and my grades, even at the HSC level, were far from impressive.

But along the way, doors opened for me and many people helped me, mentored me, and most importantly, believed in me. You see, not everyone saw me as junk.

> Executive editor Soo Ewe Jin salutes parents of special children who fully love and embrace them – they teach us what perfect love means.

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