TWO weekends ago, I made an appearance in Penang for TEDxWeldquay. I was extremely nervous. People think that it's easy for theatre actors to present themselves in front of an audience, but being able to hide behind role-playing is very different!
I've never done my own talk before, so it was an intimidating task to try to cohesively link a plethora of thoughts, and finding appropriate visuals to accompany my points. I ran it through my head in the morning and on my drives home from work, adding things in, throwing things out, making sure it kept sounding better.
The day arrived, and it was a full house. I took a deep breath, smiled at my audience, and shared with them my experience at Shaolin Kung Fu School. Various people came up to me after the event and commended me on my talk and how inspiring it was. A friend said she was on the verge of tears. From what I gathered, I didn't fare too badly.
After the event, another speaker Jason and I were taken back to our hotel, and we had a quick bite in a neighbouring cafe, talking about the eventful afternoon. Jason was curious to know more about my kungfu pursuits.
“What kind of martial arts experience did you have before going to China?”
“Oh, I didn't have any.”
His glare had the grip of a Russian pro wrestler.
“That's insane! Why didn't you mention that in your talk?”
“You mean... It wasn't obvious?”
“No! That would have blown people away!”
I sat there, gormless.
“Oh my gosh, I didn't know why I didn't think of it!”
“I know where you're coming from, but don't worry, it was still a great talk! It is not easy to take ourselves out of character, and see things for what they are.”
His words were unassuming, but it ended up being an important, multi-faceted lesson I took back about my first experience as a speaker.
My re-emergence from China into the 'real world' over four months ago came with a realization of how self-centric urban culture is. I don't see it as a purely bad thing. I've seen people coming into their own with the aid of social media, providing accessible avenues for a voice they never knew they could have. I see myself as one of those people. Becoming more and more visible to the public eye, I appreciate the avenues of self-expression I've been granted to connect with a large audience.
However, I am also observing the act of self-love veering into non-constructive paths, when attention becomes an addiction, passive aggression spirals into 'trolling' and an unbalanced sense of righteousness overshadows the blessings of life.
We stress on the desire to stand out, to pursue our personal goals and put one's happiness above all others'. These are great messages. But I also think that these deserve to be complemented with messages promoting detachment – the act of not thinking, feeling, or even representing yourself. Putting ourselves into the shoes of others should not just be applied to antagonistic situations, but as a habit of objectivity, to keep the lines of communication as transparent and sincere as possible between others and within ourselves. I'm quite certain that widening our vantage point beyond the self would make a lot of the emotional complications that sneak into our lives become avoidable altogether.
This is not to say that I have mastered this myself. I let 'being myself' get the better of me that day in Penang. Not only did I make assumptions about what was known about my own life, I also found myself becoming remorseful about my presentation. The more I thought about it, the more I tortured myself thinking about the things I could and should have done to make it better.
It is important for everyone to cultivate a sense of individuality, but I believe that finding a healthy one involves a living equilibrium of staying sensitive to others without becoming sensitive about it. It involves staying curious about what others know or don't know, what they are thinking or not thinking, accepting praises without letting it inflate the ego and hearing criticism without lashing back. All this would encourage us to chill out when we should, talk little when it matters little, and stuff the information we put out there with all the fullness and meaning it can possibly hold.
Jason was right in saying that it is not easy to see things for what they are. Truths can be hazy and we are born to be influenced. What may be a good start is being aware that there is always a bigger picture, a picture designed to tell us things that will bring unbelievable clarity to our lives. It sure sounds handy, and I reckon it's worth the peek.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own