It may be a dream afraid of waking up, or it may be a dream coming to realization in the next morning.

Friday, December 21, 2012

For Those Who Are Skeptical

Hindsight Bias, or Knew-It-All-Along phenomenon is a social cognitive error where people think they actually have knowledge of the outcome of an event long before it happens. Ali and Farah suddenly decide to get a divorce after a 2-year marriage? You knew it all along. Prime Minister A wins in the most recent election? You knew it all along. The economy faces the most devastating era in the decade? You knew it all along.

I don't want to talk about this generally, rather I want to talk about this in the context of people who don't believe in Psychology, who think that Psychology is just a common sense. They claim that most of what Psychologists study involve things that we can predict on our own. They will say that they knew it all along when Psychologists said that studies show that people are less likely to help when there are more people in the place where the emergency happens. They will say they knew it all along when Psychologists reported that symmetry is one of the major factors of attractiveness. If these people knew it all along, then why is there a need for psychology and psychological studies?

The reasons I outlined below:

1) Bell curve in statistic (or the normal distribution)

When Psychologists conduct a study, they would like to know how the curve in the graph looks like. The most usual curve that they are more likely to find out is the normal distribution along the graph - or as they call it the bell curve. The bell curve is when a distribution of individuals' scores is even, creating a curve that resembles a bell.

What does this mean? This means that Psychologists do not claim on extremity, they acknowledge the fact that there will always be: 1) events that are likely to occur, and 2) events that are less likely to occur, but could occur nonetheless. Take a look at the picture of a bell curve above, the one in the middle is event that is more likely to occur, and the extreme ends are the proportion of events that are less likely to occur. So, the aim of psychological studies is to inform you which event/outcome that would most likely to occur when a behavior is performed. So, the phenomenon that help is more likely to be offered when there are fewer people in an emergency place is the event that is reported from psychological studies that is located in the middle of the bell curve. The end extreme might tell you that even when there are fewer people in the emergency place, but someone decides to help anyway. So, it's an exception. But it's less likely to occur depending on various factors.

2) Our "knowing it all along" is a 50-50 chance of being correct

When you have an assumption in your mind of how things would be, you have a 50-50 chance of your assumption being correct. And when you find out that your assumption is actually correct, this is where you profess so gloriously, "I knew it all along, I don't know why there is a need to study this..." But when you are wrong, you either lie and say that you knew it all along too, or you just keep silent, trying not to put your wrongness into spotlight.

Rather than making a random assumption and waiting for your 50% chance of being correct, Psychological studies make an informed decision by looking at the bell curve and see what event that is more likely to occur. When the outcome is what is predicted to occur, then it is not them knowing it all along, it is informed. But when the outcome is not as predicted to occur, then there must have been other factors that chip in. For example, event when you found out that someone actually decides to help even when there are fewer people in the emergency case, there might have been a personality factor, personal factor, or environmental factors that lead to the decision of that person to help. So, this leads to another study that can help in future decision making. The point is, it is always informed and does not come from "gut".

So, these are the reasons to convince you skeptics out there that psychology is a legitimate science because it uses legitimate and rigorous research method to study about something. It might be about the everyday life, but psychology is the distinction between assuming and predicting.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kids Are Smart When You Let Them

Last week I was baking cookies for my family. As usual and expected, my 6 out of 8 nieces and nephews were very excited that they got to eat some double choc chip cookies soon. they'd check in on me and the cookies every now and then to see if they could eat some if the first batch was done baked. So, I gave them the whole first batch for them to finish and as soon as they were done eating the cookies, they were expecting the second batch like flies swarming all over bad meat (bad methapor, but they did seem like flies - running around back and forth). After the third batch, I asked them to stop eating because apparently I haven't got any and I want some too, and also I need to pack some for my brother and sister who would come later and also I need to keep some for the other two nephews who were not home for later. But there was this one niece of mine who we call Sabrina who would not understand the meaning of "no" and keep asking. Because she's making this cute face that my other niece and nephews couldn't make, she was an exception.

Then, I baked my fourth batch and Sabrina came to me with me holding a hot pan of freshly baked cookies. I warned her that it was hot and she distanced away for a second then came back and I had to warn her again. Of all my nieces and nephews, she'd be the most courageously strong. She'd be the one to just lift up a hot bowl of cooked noodle when she's hungry, or stand very closely to the road to get into the car, etc. And this time, she couldn't wait and just went to me and wait beside me for her cookie. Then, her arm got burnt by the pan and for the first 5 seconds, we didn't know. We didn't know because she wouldn't scream or cry like other normal small kids - mostly because she didn't want to get scolded by us for not listening to what I told her. Then, my sister noticed that her arm got red and the skin peeled off and then we knew she got burnt.

This is Sabrina, who is a sucker for posing in front of the camera...

After holding it back, she finally cried very loudly. We knew that it was so painful because she was just a 4 year old kid. We did everything to calm her down and she just wouldn't shut up. But interestingly, looking at her fellow nephews and niece playing in the other room, she slowly calmed down and hesitantly joined them to play together. I scolded her a little earlier, just to show her that when I told her something, I meant business. But now, looking at her slowly regaining her spirit and sanity, I felt sorry and regretful. Then, I asked her to join me going out for a ride to buy something my mother asked me to.

Then, I asked her in the car (in Malay of course), "Sabrina, why would you touch the pan? You know that it's hot right?" She just nodded slightly with her unhappy face. Then, I went on and on about when I told her something, she needed to listen. After that, she said two things that broke my heart. First, I offered her a cookie I brought along and she refused saying, "No, I am scared of getting burnt again." This shows how easy for kids to be sensitive to "traumatic" events. And then, she continued, "It's my fault, because I didn't wait for you to give me the cookie..."

I was surprised. I didn't even say anything about waiting, or patience or anything like that. But she had the ability to reason and realized that if she had waited for a bit more, she'd not get burnt. It broke my heart because all this while we thought that we needed to remind her again and again in the aftermath of getting burnt because we wanted to make sure that she got the message, but she got it just fine. She understood her behavior and this is something even most adults couldn't do.

Do you remember my post about even when we don't realize it, we are actually progressing? Kids do too. But we, as adults, keep forgetting that kids also have their own capacity to understand the world and understand how it works. Although they need guidance from adults, but when you let them and when you ease down on the restricting, they could actually exhibit potential more than we would have expected. And then, you can be proud as I am a proud uncle of Sabrina.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Just-World Hypothesis

So, finally today I had the opportunity to return back home after a while in the university and usually at home, I watch drama on the TV that my family watches everyday. And when I finally got the chance to settle down and sit in front of the TV, I grunted when I found out that they were watching an Indonesian drama about a lady who was abused by the villagers resulting from an evil influence of another evil lady. I am usually OK with Indonesian movies especially the Islamic ones because sometimes they address issues that Malaysian films rarely do like the effects of tsunami, a journey of an Islamic scholar who found love, and so on. But this is one of those drama programs that have this lazy writing with the clichéd "good guy got abused then suddenly miraculously, bad guy got into accident and then begged the good guy to forgive him."

I mean, it's noble to give the message that patience is a virtue, but for the guy to be abused, just sits there and waits for miracles, and then suddenly the bad guy is involved in an unfortunate incident that leads to a miraculous change of evil personality to a saintly one is just too over-the-top for me. I mean, this is the classic example of just-world hypothesis - a concept coined by a social psychologist to describe the erroneous kind of thinking of someone who believes that good people get good things and vice versa. In another way of putting it, the world always works in a way where justice will always restore moral balance.

Just imagine, the good lady in the drama just went along with the abuse. When she was asked to take her small business elsewhere, she went away and took it elsewhere, when she was asked to move out of the village, she did just that and of course the bad guy was happy until the latter got into an accident and became poor while the good lady became rich and the role is reversed. Don't you think it's a an easy way out to solve a large-scale conflict? It's a lazy writing, isn't it?

Not to mention that you are giving out the ideas to those naive gullible individuals out there that patience alone can be enough to assure you a good life. No need for efforts or good planning to get what you desire in life. No need to do things you don't want to just because it's a requirement to get what you want. No need to be heartbroken because the the obstacles seem to be bigger than you can handle. Now I'm starting to sound like I'm ranting.

And then after the drama, suddenly there is a behind-the-scene for a new self-professed unique Malay film called "Strawberi Cinta". As if "Karipap-Karipap Cinta" is not a gag enough. Ugh....

Sunday, December 2, 2012

We Are Actually Better Than Yesterday

Have you ever wondered how your life is in static state - not moving forward and not progressing. You believe that whatever you do, you'd be back to the beginning point, where you had zero. If you do ever feel that way, try to reminisce about your past, preferably a long time ago where the memory is so blurry it almost felt like it didn't happen. One way to do it is by singing in to your email and go to your very first email that you received when you first used that email (of course to do this, you need an email that you have used for a long time). You will be shocked at how different you might sound, how you could actually think, "Wow, is this me? I sound like an idiot!" And you quickly realize that you have gone a long way now - that you are actually better.

I did this just now and coincidentally I was wondering yesterday if my life was actually in a better condition now. When I was going through my emails, I was suddenly moved spiritually to go to my very first emails and boy, do I sound like a kid who asked about the availability of a certain candy in a candy shop. I sounded very immature, childish and, well, embarrassing. And then, I looked at my emails now, and I realized I have gone  along way in my life journey.

I believe that even when you're not trying, your mind is psychologically engineered to be better. You are equipped with the ability to learn from your errors and mistakes, and be better than how you do it today. Just imagine when you are better when you don't realize it, how better could you be when you consciously put your efforts to it? This is the difference between successful and unsuccessful persons. They are mindful of his or her own self and are aware of what he or she is becoming, while others just sit back and wait for miracles.

I believe the first step to becoming mindful to your existence is to be thankful. I admit, sometimes I get lost in my own insecurity and feeling of inadequacy that I forget how lucky I am right now. I don't have to mention in what ways I am so lucky, but we all have our own things to be thankful for, especially YOU.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Malaysia Should Promote Itself Internationally

This is the statement of argument between my friend and I with my friend being the "pro" arguer and me being the "cons" arguer. It's not that I don't want my beloved country to be known internationally, but we have to be realistic right now. The right question we should be asking ourselves is, does Malaysia deserve to be acknowledged internationally?

Our debate is mostly centred around the promotion of Malaysian films, along with other cultures and traditions. I don't think it is a problem to promote our cultures, I'm sure a lot of Malaysian travelers to other countries have already done that well. I remember Aslam who went to Japan to study "promoted" kain pelikat, and my another friend who went to United Kingdom cooks rendang for his White friends, and a lot more other instances. But when it comes to our films, I gagged.

Of all the Malaysian films in 2011 and 2012, which film can you show oh-so-proudly to the international audience? I can say Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa and KL Gangster to have achieved international standard, but others I doubt so. My friend in USM forced me to watch Hantu Bonceng and it was the worst cinema experience in my whole life. It was literally the worst film I have ever seen. The writing was all over the place, the characters were irritating, and although the title gave the impression that there would be a "bonceng" (passenger) ghost, but it appeared around only one-third of the film and the rest was just hillybilly-ness resulting from lazy writing and terrible comedic attempts throughout the film. But what surprises me is that it actually made profit 7 times more than the original budget. Perhaps there was Zizan in it. But all of people I knew who went out of the cinema would complain how bad the film is.

Not just Hantu Bonceng, the Malaysian films have tries so hard, but failed miserably, to combine horror and comedy, and many other just focused on horror. Seriously, why Malaysian writers like horror so much?? Nothing wrong with horror, but there are other genres you know. Films like "Alamak... Toyol!", "Rasuk", "Tolong, Awek Aku Pontianak," made me feel embarrassed to be a Malaysian.

What I am trying to say is, consider other possibilities in terms of genre, writing direction, and target audience when producing a film. Not all Malaysians like comedy and/or horror, especially the ones terrible written!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Importance of Being Agricultural

Read this:

KUALA LUMPUR 25 Jun - Malaysia mengimport bahan makanan bernilai RM221.81 bilion sejak 10 tahun lepas. Timbalan Menteri Pertanian dan Industri Asas Tani, Datuk Mohd. Johari Baharum berkata, kebanyakan komoditi yang diimport tidak ekonomik untuk dihasilkan dalam negara kerana kos pengeluaran tinggi di samping iklim yang tidak sesuai. "Kumpulan komoditi makanan yang diimport adalah keluaran bahan makanan diproses, bahan makanan ternakan, buahan iklim sederhana, sayur-sayuran dan bijirin. "Antara makanan yang kita import ialah koko, kopi, teh, susu, gandum, epal, oren, ubi kentang, salad, beras dan tepung," katanya ketika menjawab soalan Dr. Siti Mariah Mahmud (Pas-Kota Raja).

Artikel Penuh: http://www.utusan.com.my/utusan/Parlimen/20120626/pa_04/Malaysia-import-makanan-RM221.81b#ixzz2C9IbLOnc © Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd 

220++ billion?? I am surprised to see this. One who is familiar with Malaysia being a country that is packed with its own kind of food would be surprised and shocked to see the number. What do we import? Golden chocolate? 

Disclaimer: This is not a political post nor would I want to mention or advocate for any political party in here. I'm just merely putting my agricultural and economic cap for this post.

I discussed this with one of economics lecturer yesterday (he is not my lecturer, but he is also a committee member for the upcoming International Social Work Conference 2012). And our conclusion made me open my eyes and see how important it is to have a part of your land to be reserved for agriculture. No matter how much industrial you are and rich you are, food will always come first. Just imagine, being a rich country, then suddenly the countries you import food from have a strike, or just don't produce food anymore, or you have a conflict with the countries leading the leaders to stop exporting, you are screwed. You would have to contemplate cooking your money into a soup. 

What surprises me more is that we also import the food that we also can grow in here like rice, beef, and fish. This worries me, because with Malaysia trending towards an industrial nation, agriculture is gradually diminished. And the news I included above quoted that the things that we import are the things that are not "economical". Well, while some food cannot grow in tropical weather like Malaysia, others grow very well. And I don't think cocoa and coffee are unsuitable and uneconomical. I know a local farmer in my village who grows his own coffee beans and make his own coffee blend that he sells in local groceries. 

This is where research is important. My economics lecturer claims that when it comes to research, Malaysia is way backward. I happen to agree. We need to have a strong research culture in Malaysia. Events like conferences should be more advertised and open for general public, rather than the academics or ressearchers or practitioners. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Religiosity and Spirituality

Today, I had a discussion with one of my lecturers, and this lecturer has a pretty strong stand for the focus of religion in professional social work practice. He has made a lot of points that have their merits and his argument that social work practitioners nowadays might have abandoned the aspect of religion that might be a key to an effective intervention. But there is one statement that he said that made me want to argue back, "If people have a strong religious routine (e.g. going to the mosque/church, making a prayers, etc.) in his life, would he have all the problem that social workers have to deal with nowadays like homelessness and poverty?" That was when I thought that he might have become a little bit simplistic.

I cannot deny the importance of religion, and personally religion is important in my life. But growing up, we know that life is not that simple. Life is not a fairy tale where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Simply, life is not a fairy tale. I believe that being a professional practitioner in any field, one must know that a human's life is the result of multiple factors, and attempting to pin down events of an individual's life on a single cause might be a little bit too naive. Juvenile delinquency is a perfect example. Some "religious" people argue that if these youths have a strong religion, they would not resort to such lifestyle. Well, now answer this, why are there still some young people who come from religious family and still turn to be delinquents? This is because factors of juvenile delinquency is so many that I'm sure some of them have not been studied yet by researchers in this field.

This is when I would like to point out that there is a distinction between religiosity and spirituality. For me, religion is a source of spirituality, but it's not the only one. Have you seen some atheists that might be a better person than some people who claim to be religious? Yeah, that is because they have a stronger and better spiritual self. I would like to define religiosity as a way people have a relationship with a greater power who they depend on for strength and serenity, while spirituality is the faith, strength, and serenity that one has. So, in a way, spirituality is a result of religion, and it can be a result of multiple other things, like gratefulness, temporal happiness, or positive view on life.

Religion is, no doubt, one of the strongest source of spirituality which can help in overcoming life's challenges, but sadly religion has been a justification to some unfortunate things, and this is where we can see that religion is actually a tool, rather than a result. Events like terrorism, racism, ethnocentrism, discrimination and some other show us that some people could abuse the privilege of having a religion.

So, for me, you make a prayer to be stronger when you are facing a difficulty, NOT to miraculously and suddenly get out of your problem. The second one is why some people always blame religion when nothing good happens to them. This is because they don't understand that while we have pray, Islam, and I'm sure other religion too, urge us to make efforts and have tawakkal (surrender) for it. Sitting and praying all the time does not count as efforts, it is laziness. After all, who says that only prayers are ibadah (a religious act)? Islam has said that doing good things such as feeding your family, gaining knowledge, eating, doing sports, etc. can also be ibadah.

So, I am calling all of you, and me because sometimes I forget too, to never abuse the definition of religion that we have. Religion is only beneficial to you when you know how to embrace it in your life, but saying, "Oh, Islam asks me to do this..." when you want to go to a mosque for a month, leaving your family behind starving and penniless until your family is a suitable target for a welfare service in JKM, and your son rebels by using drugs, then, this might seem very religious, but this is not spiritual, this is not a good Muslim at all, or a Christian, or from any other religion.

Be moderate, as Mufti Ismail Menk said in a Fiqh Convention I attended earlier this year. Be religious, be spiritual, also consider worldly affairs in your life.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Year of Marriage

2012 - It's the year where almost 70% of people I know closely in my life got married/are getting married/are getting engaged/got engaged. It's also the year in my life where the matter of marriage seems to be heavily featured. Almost 80% of the conversations I had with them involved something about getting married. If my life were a TV show, this season would be themed on marriage.

Any one of my friends who read this might have known already that my heart is set not to get married. Aslam, my best friend (who is also getting married in December), told me that he had always wondered why he had such friends who seemed to be married with their career, and it included me. Career has always been an important aspect of my life, perhaps because it's the one thing that I'm sure I can own and hold on to very tightly in my life. If I am careful and strong in my grip, I'd just have career as the one thing that I am fully satisfied.

Then, another one of my friends, after I poured my heart out about all of the people I know are now married,  asked me a rhetorical question, "So, isn't it now the time for you to settle down and find a wife of your own?" He has a point, but he doesn't know the whole story. I am not trying to makes excuses, but when it comes to finding a life partner, things are more complicated than usual - and I would like to admit that it might be more complicated than an average person's mission in finding a life partner.

What I need to do is figure things out as I venture through life. I just hope when I finally have everything figured out, it's not all too late.

Monday, October 15, 2012

One Extreme Hating Another Extreme

I was reading this news after being shown by one of the professors at my school and I just can't over how many there are idiots who just hate Islam in the name of "no violence", "freedom of speech," or even very specifically, "Islam is terrorism." I get it, terrorism is an unfortunate event and I myself seriously abhor that kind of extreme point making. No matter what religion you are, if you use violence to shove your belief down other people's throat, you are not and should not in any way affiliated with any religion - especially Islam because it is indeed a religion of peace.

The one thing I don't understand is that while these people seem to claim that they hate extremism, they are also on an extreme side, just the opposite. Burning the Holy Quran, making an offensive film about Islam, and the Prophet, insulting Islam on the ground of freedom of speech, drawing cartoons insulting Prophet, all of these are just ways ignorance works. While it is true that some people, no matter what religion they are, can be extremists and use extreme measures to force people to accept their beliefs which is a form of ignorance, but to generalize these people to others who are peace-loving and just plain innocent is another kind of ignorance. So, it's beating ignorance using ignorance, which wouldn't result well.

I am just surprised that after Blacks are finally accepted in the mainstream, and females are now treated as equal and males, and other minority groups who used to be treated unjustly are now progressing towards a new fair and balance modern world, bigotry seems to never pass a group of people who are called "Muslims". Because of an action of a few, Muslims in general are regarded as violent. Don't believe me? Go to websites that collect supposedly funny posts from various people around the world like 9gag and HugeLOL and see how people abuse the privilege of voicing their own opinions.

I just wish this stops someday. It's getting tiring each time...

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The First Step

You probably have heard this advice on procrastination, "take the first step then you'd find yourself following through..." This is my own version of the advice, but you get the idea. This is quite true. Often time when I am back from a holiday or a long trip and return to school/work, I would find myself very difficult to restart my routine and work. When I went to Sabah for 6 days and returned this week, I took 4 days to finally restart the thesis-writing process that I stopped before going there. Usually, in the past, when this happened, I took advantage of the "take the first step" advice and I usually would follow through. Once I took the first step, I found myself feeling guilty if I lived a day without doing even a little of writing. But, now I realize there is a new matter to handle, how do you get to do the first step? Honestly, I can't remember how I did it in the past.

But, one theory says that we keep delaying the inevitable because of our fear about how much to be done and that we might figure out something along the way (Barth, 2011). This makes sense, because when we are triumphed by the feelings that we might not get anything done because there's too much of them, we secretly wish for a miracle. Maybe someone might come in our way and be kind enough to offer help. Maybe in a day or two, we are told by our boss that the work is no longer necessary to be handed in. Maybe that, maybe this. But, you know deep in your heart, it's not true - well, it's more likely than not to the untrue.

Barth outlines several suggestions as to how we can take the first step. First, she says that perhaps our anxieties to take the first step might be warranted after all. Listen to your fears and listen to what your mind is telling you. But if it is something you have to do now, then, ask yourself, what constitutes the 'real' first step in terms of your tasks. For example, for me to start writing my thesis after stopping for a week, opening my laptop might not be a first step, but rather 1/10 of the first step. What I need is to open the document and write the first sentence. I did that and suddenly the motivation to start writing pours in and I find myself writing for 3 pages in 2 hours.

Barth also emphasizes on supports by your family and friends. Of course this is true too. But for me, what is more important is that you know your tasks well and you know what you should do to be able to start. It's understanding your tasks and get familiar and be acquainted with it.


Barth, F. D. (2011). Taking the First Step. Extracted from Psychology Today - http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-couch/201107/taking-the-first-step

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sweet Revenge

How do you know when a revengeful act is worth it? Well, that's it, you don't. For me, revenge is like any other desires like eating, sleeping, or shopping. You think that doing a desirable act would make you feel good, but afterwards, you end feeling even worse than before. Consider an example when you're fasting in Ramadan. When it is time for you to buy food to break the fasting, you think that you would be able to finish all those foods, and they look very delicious. But as soon as you have crossed your limit, and you realize there are still more foods left, and you feel so bloated and so close to vomiting out all the excess in your stomach - you realize, it was a bad decision after all.

I've had my fair share of revengeful act in my life, and the exact same thing happened. None of them made me feel good afterwards. But, what makes the pre-revenge feeling so strong? Why even after learning again and again that it doesn't make us feel good, we cheat away and still be able to convince ourselves that "this time, it is different"? Psychologists from Germany, Ernst Fehr and Simon G¨echter, suggested that revenge (like eating and sleeping and having sex) is an evolutionary behavior. It is evolutionary because, 1) without it, it is assumed that the society will collapse, 2) we grow up watching/being taught at/believing/being brainwashed by our environment asking for retribution everytime a transgression happens. It's like, when something bad occurs and we don't do something to "correct" it, there's something wrong with us. Although it can be a bad thing sometimes, we still keep it as part of our value system.

So, when it's part of your life, you do it because you believe it's okay to do it, until you realize you do it excessively that it is not okay anymore. It's like eating, again. You eat because we eat to survive, then you eat and eat and eat until you realize you should have stopped 4 plates ago. You try to get revenge, and try and try and try, until your acts have gone so far that it doesn't only hurt the person you have revenge at, but also yourself and possibly other people you care about.

So, I guess it takes a strong and really determined person to know when to stop before it gets worse. The willpower needs to be trained to taught so you have the vigilance and the wisdom.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

We See What We Want to See

So, yesterday I was having a chat with my neighbor. But first, let me describe you how he is. He is energetic, very well-traveled, is now considering getting married, about to finish his masters, and quite intelligent. He has black hair, and quite a thick beard, and he is from Maldives. He has a small figure and likes to laugh. When I first met him when I just registered for a room beside his, I had this feeling that he was in his 20's. Because of that presumption, he looked young, added with the young-related characteristics that I described above. But yesterday, when we were talking about passport, I was taken aback when he finally revealed his age after all this while, "I am actually 34..."

I couldn't be more surprised. Not at my false presumption, but at how quickly his face and stature changed before my eyes. Right after he told me that, I suddenly could see his 34-year-old skin, some of his gray hair, and he suddenly talked like his age. I couldn't unsee what I saw last night and the young impression that I had on him earlier was gone forever. So, I thought, it's amazing how we can trick our brain into seeing what we want to see.

This is the difference between sensation and perception. Sensation is registering the data that you get from your environment into your senses. Perception is more of a brain's work - it is to translate those data into a more meaningful form. So, those descriptions I mentioned above, those are the data of this guy registering into my eyes, I saw that. But to believe that he was in his 20's, thus making him look younger because of my belief, that's perception.

When I took Intro to Psych in my bachelor's, our class did not make Sensation and Perception as part of our reading. But the little reading I did when I was teaching it in one university, made it worthwhile to know this basic thing that happens to all of us. How amazing Psychology is?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Friendship Again

I don't know why I need to keep posting about friendships - perhaps it is one of the most constant matters that I have to deal in my life. Apparently, the more I learn about friendships, the more I don't know about them. The more I am experienced in handling friendships, the more dazzling they can be. It is like the levels have been upped just because I passed the earlier test. It's like a freaking game, with puzzles that I need to solve to ensure that I survive at the end.

I wrote a post about how we need to earn friendship, and some time later, I wrote about how we need to accept our friends as a whole, then we need to find friends who can support our identity. For this one, I would like to ask you to listen to Christina Perri's Distance (I know it is about love of two lovers, but I can totally see this being applied in friendship setting). From my perspective, the person who sings the song says that she has to keep a distance because her efforts to tell her friends that she loves them goes to waste. Apparently, there is no mutual feeling between them. The friends might be nice to the person, but niceness doesn't equal to closeness.

Have you had a friend who makes you feel like an ugly used rag? They'd remember you, listen to you, ask about you, when only they need to. They would easily, for example, tell you to cancel a lunch, or purposely forget that you ask her about something. For them , this might not be as impactful to you as they thought it would be, "He wouldn't mind," is exactly what they thought. Obviously they don't know you enough because some of you might think of a simple lunch as a big important friendship "event". Yes, some of you are lonely that way.

If you are lonely that way, you might be hurt. You might feel as if you are a used rag where you are used when only you are needed. You'd be thrown away to the side just because you are no longer of use anymore. Is this friendship?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Not-So-Positive Positive Stress

Tomorrow my sister is getting married and while it should be a happy day, and it is for most part, it is also a day that proves positive stresses can also have backfiring effects on the affected person.

Some academicians categorize stresses as negative or positive stresses. Negative stresses are stresses that result from unfortunate events such as death, divorce, etc. It is reasonable to assume that negative stresses produce strains on our minds and body negatively. Only those with effective coping style could prevent these stresses from negatively affect their psyche and health. Positive stresses, on the other hand, result from events that are desirable - such as weight training, planning a holiday, and getting married. One would assume that positive stresses, while also have strains, produce a lot more good feelings. What do you feel when you are about to be married, for example? It must be good kind of anxiety, and euphoria, right?

Marriages are a universal culture, yet they are experienced very differently across places and ethnicities. Malaysia is a collectivistic country, thus we would be able to expect collectivism to be expressed by people involved in a wedding event. In a collectivistic culture, members are expected to cooperate with the community, to share ideas and exchange opinions among another. It is common for parents to exercise their authority in deciding what shall happen in a wedding of their children. Relatives also get together and sometimes help with decision. But what does this make the bride or the groom in terms of the decision making?

While collectivistism can be measured in a community as a whole, it is acknowledged that different person shows different level of collectivism. Also one individual has both collectivism and individualism expressed in different times and context. But I believe marriages are very personal, despite being in a culture that appreciates cooperation with other community members - therefore, the bride or the groom would be more likely to be more individualistic when it comes to their own wedding event.

This is what happened to my sister, she has to endure with the different angles of opinions, feedback, and even demands from different people. This positive stress has cost her negatively, mostly because she feels like she has lost some control over her decision making ability. We could and would expect this to happen, and I believe it happens in almost every wedding event in a collectivistic culture. So, understanding from both sides would be necessary to ensure smoothness. Coping styles, education on (or simply telling about) privacy, and communication are important components to healthy adjustment.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


So, like last post, I would like to begin with quoting several phrases about happiness, except this time, the phrases sound so common I don't know where they come from. Phrases like "Happiness is a choice," or "Happiness is a journey, not a destination," or any phrases that imply that happiness is as easy as wearing a hat actually, for me, mislead us from what happiness really entails. Look at "Happiness is a choice" phrase. If it is a choice, do you think many of us would choose to be unhappy? How about a phrase that asks us to "look at the bright side". I think that is pretty selfish. That person is inflicted with one of the pains in his or her life, and you ask that person to look from another angle? How ignorant is that? Glass is half full, instead of half empty? How if that half-full glass can't even begin to feed that person's children? Do you see how selfish that supposedly inspirational phrase is?

I don't think happiness is such an easy phenomenon. When you feel happy, there is this combination of feelings that you have inside that is so addictive. The feeling that makes us feel like this world is so beautiful and our life couldn't be more precious. So, what makes people unhappy? Is it because they choose not to feel like this world is so beautiful and their life couldn't be more precious? Happiness is, again, not a choice. Consider a case where a person who is lonely. Don't you think it's ignorant to say, "Look at the bright side. You are now not tied down by anybody. You are free! You can enjoy your independence!" Well, if I was that person who is said that to, I would do what Batman did to Robin in this comic..

If a person can't be happy until he meets his love life, or have a fulfilling career, or make amends with his best friend, then, happiness for them is when they achieve what they set their heart to. So, happiness is subjective. Rather than being cheesy about what happiness is, try to define happiness in a more personal level and help them achieve it, or cope with it in a less impersonal way. That's more important, don't you think?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Marshmallows and Juvenile Delinquency

Are you familiar with the famous marshmallow experiment by Walter Mischel in 1972? I have talked about this in another post, but in this post I would like to relate this experiment and its implication on juvenile delinquency. In this experiment, the researcher put children in a room with a marshmallow in front of them. Mischel told these children that they could eat that one marshmallow now, but if they could wait until the experimenter returned, they would earn another marshmallow. The findings showed that less than 40% of the children actually waited for the other marshmallow. According to Mischel, this phenomenon called as "delayed gratification" has a major implication on the cognitive and personality development of these children. 

Children who could wait for another marshmallow were described by their parents to be more confident and assertive, better in self-control, and more intelligent. What is more interesting about the findings too is that, when the children were presented with an object of gratification in front of them, and they were given a choice of refraining if they want more of this object, it caused a dilemma that caused this feeling of frustration, especially when the marshmallow was in front of them. So, the coping mechanism they used to refrain from eating that one marshmallow gave an understanding on individual differences in handling frustration. Some created a mental distraction by playing with their hands, some even attempted to sleep, and some others spoke to themselves. All these showed that children, even without guidance, are able to produce their own ways to control themselves. 

So, relating to my current interest, does this have a similar implication on adolescents who have the tendency to be delinquents? Do adolescents who have a less efficient self-control strategies are more likely to commit crime just to satisfy their current gratification? Are adolescents who could manage timely reception of rewards more likely to have a stronger defence against delinquency?

I a intended to conduct this research, but it might take quite some times. When I have done with the research, I'll definitely share the findings with the world. But this makes an interesting research findings, doesn't it?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Willpower Is Overrated

"If there is a will, there is a way..."

"If you can dream it, you can achieve it..."

"Impossible is nothing..."

These are among the popular phrases that emphasize on the power of will and dreams as a drive of a person to do anything. We grow up being taught that success only comes to hardworking people. Only those who make effort will reap the benefits. And only those who work for something that will achieve the result that they are dreaming of. Sure, it's a virtue that we need to instil in every individual. But, for me over-emphasis on willpower can create sense of hopelessness, especially when we don't consider that while willpower is powerful, environmental factors can be too.

Psychologists have acknowledged the fact that environmental or external factors are major factors to the development of a human being. Things like personality, aggression, helpful behavior, shyness, extraversion, and many more have both internal and external roots. Consider an example that someone is socially awkward and has difficulty making friends. The society would more likely to lean towards the notion that that person chooses to be shy and chooses to act on the shyness, so nothing should be blamed but him- or herself on the event of the person having less friends which results in loneliness.

This is called Fundamental Attribution Error.

This error is when we always consider personal reasons to be the cause of someone's behavior, ignoring the possible external factors that might chip in to the very behavior. Consider again the case of the shy person. There is a possibility that the shy person lives in a culture where self-independence and confidence is so valued that anyone who doesn't have that is alienated from the society. This shy person might do something to socialize, but coming from the said culture, the person whom this shy person approaches doesn't seem to reciprocate - resulting in the shy person to feel unrewarded with the effort. Again and again, slowly the motivation to change deteriorates, until finally the shy person succumbs to the situation, and be shy forever.

If you want to help this shy person, for me, the worst thing you could say to him or her is, "You must have the willpower! Without it, of course you'll go nowhere!" While willpower is a factor to the person's success in behavioral change, there are a lot of environmental factors (e.g. supportive friends and family, or an appreciative culture) that can help in the transformation.

I have focused heavily on a case of shyness in this post, but do remember that fundamental attribution error can happen in any instance, and it is one of the causes to difficulty in behavioral changes.

What do you think would our religion say about this?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Definition of Friendship

Recently I had a discussion with one of my colleagues and how he was dissatisfied with current situation of friendships in his life. He is not Malaysian, so it is logical for him to be a foreigner here and to expect closer relationship with people of the same nationality in here. But, instead, he felt like he was alone here and that he did not really maintain close friendship with the people of his nationality. The reason why he felt so was that whenever he ever needed a friend, his friend would always be busy.

So, I asked him what his definition of friendship was. For him, to be together, and to eat together, to hang out together, that is not his definition of friendship because everyone could do that. His definition of friendship entails being there for him whenever he is struck with real life problem such as a death of a family, or a difficulty in struggling in Malaysia.

I guess his definition of friendship is quite different than mine. I wrote an entry before, titled "Little Friendship" and I argued that to have a meaningful friendship with someone, we rarely need dramatic event to give us the realization of who our real friends are. The little things are always enough - remembering to invite this one person for lunch, saying "hi" followed with a personal greeting or a sincere "how are you doing" in FB, or anything that makes us feel appreciated and that someone actually remembers us.

Of course this is not the sole factor, but I believe the little things are often the starter to a more meaningful friendship because the little things provide the "comfort platform" for you to be more open and personal in your friendship. That is my definition of friendship.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ramadan and Our Culture

It's Ramadan again! As usual, this time of year, Muslims will try their hardest to make sure that they benefit from this month as much as possible. They fast everyday, go to the mosque every night for Tarawih, try to do more charity, try to be less bad-mouthed, and try to instil virtues in heart. But sadly, there are also some Muslims out there who make fasting nothing more like a cultural celebration. And I think this is a major problem in Malaysia.

Fasting is not just about withdrawing from eating and drinking, but it's about refraining your whole body and mind from sins and bad things. Whenever it's Ramadan, TV and radio will always wish you, "Happy fasting!" But do you think when they wish that, they actually say that in full perspective of fasting in Islam? I have seen some Muslims who fast because it's cultural to do so, but at the same time, abandoning the obligatory prayers. My father also comments about how people keep praying congregationally for Tarawih (which is good), but they seem to abandon the obligatory ones.

Tarawih is also usually just very festive in the first half of Ramadan and after that, you can see that praying lines in mosques are slowly and gradually reducing. So, I was thinking that, making changes is not difficult, what's difficult is maintaining it. I'm not just speaking about others, but also about myself. I hope we all have the heart and strong mind to make self improvements and maintain those improvements even when Ramadan ends.

So, I would like to take this opportunity to pray that in this Ramadan, we will be blessed with strong and persistent faith, strong and persistent motivation to act on that faith.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to Love Yourself

We have always heard that in order to be loved, we need to love ourselves first. So, how do you love yourself? I don't think this is an easy thing to do, because saying, "I love me, I love myself" again and again seems a little inconclusive. You can do something everyday but it doesn't mean you love it, right?

Ken Page, in his article in Psychology Today titled, "How To Love Yourself First", says that self-affirmation can work, if it is also supported by affirmations given by others. According to this author, what we need in order to love ourselves is to see that other people also appreciate a certain part of ourselves that we feel insecure about. For example, you are insecure about your shape. You keep saying you are beautiful again and again and again. But if at the same time, others say that you have a less-than-attractive shape, or that you could be much better in terms of weight, or similar words implying that you are not beautiful, your self-affirmation can be defeated.

This, again, emphasizes the importance of searching for good friends who can simply accept us the way we are. Ken Page says that, while it is not wise to create a false self, it is understandable when various other people reject our true self and then we feel forced to create a false one. More and more we feel and are rejected, we keep our true self inside, creating a wall between people and us. The trick is to find a person who you can feel absolutely safe with sharing your true identity. But for me, this is the hardest thing to do. No wonder despite self-affirmations, some of us keep falling in the pit of self-hatred so often than not.

Sharing our true identity with a trusted person can be a tricky thing to do. 1) How to find that trusted person? What if the wall we have built is so high, even ourselves can't tear that down? How can we invite another person to see our true self then? 2) What if our true identity is something of a cultural taboo? What if sharing our true self will make it more likely for people to abhor you, even your family?

It turns out to be more difficult than we thought to love ourselves, right?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fear of Crime?

A 2010-2011 survey by TNS Research International commissioned by PEMANDU (Performance Management and Delivery Unit) showed that fear of crime among Malaysians have reduced. The sample for the research was randomly selected from Malaysian population who are above 18 years old. According to them, this is a reflection of how well the police have done their job and how well they have made sure that the Malaysian people feel "safer." But I think , there's more important notion to look than fear of crime.

1) Reduction of fear of crime is not an indication of the reduction of number of crime cases. By definition, fear of crime is different than the actual probability of being victimized. According to research, people who are more probable to be victimized have less fear of crime than people who are less probable to be victimized. As a result, while one group lives in fear, the other group lives freely with the chance of being robbed, or injured, or more unfortunately, murdered, is actually higher. So, shouldn't we deal with that than measuring fear of crime? I'm not saying fear of crime is not important, it does have its own psychosocial implications. But we have been focusing one aspect of criminality and victimization, we forget to share the concerns with other variables that can be as pertinent too.

2) The conclusion made by the statement by TNS that this reduction of fear of crime reflects the performance by police can be premature. While it can be true, but fear of crime is contributed by a lot of factors than police performance. It can be personal victimization (which is not generalizable), neighbourhood characteristics, and also mass media. People who watch a lot of crime films, for example, and have high sensitivity towards exposure to criminal behaviors can have their fear of crime affected. So, again, it is inconclusive and further research needs to be done.

3) The sample was claimed to be randomly picked according to state proportions. But nothing is mentioned if they consider places that have been "black-listed" because I think to live in a neighbourhood that has high rate of crime can affect their level of fear of crime. Should we generalize the level of fear of crime in, say, a crowded Petaling Street to the people who live in a calm breezy village in Penang? There are reasons why some places are have higher number of crime cases than other, and these should be considered in drawing any implication.

So, for me, I've learned that almost nothing is contributed by one factor. Every event in the world is influenced by multiple agents, only what differs is the degree. What influences more than the other. This includes fear of crime, victimization probability, crime rates, and many more. Researchers who have the intent to publicize their findings as a way to back-up a PR stunt need to realize this.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Blaming Others

Yesterday, I attended a postgraduate colloquium and various people including supervisors and ex-students share their experience and talk about GOT (graduating on time). One speaker that GOT my full attention was the director of ISDEV, Professor Dr. Muhammad Syukri Salleh. ISDEV is a division that gathers various students and lecturers who are interested in Islamic studies.

In his speech, I could see that he emphasized a lot about two things, 1) the importance of always coming back to our Creator, 2) and the importance of always having good friends.

He said that there are a lot of factors contributing to why sometimes we feel difficulties that seem to never stop. The challenges that inflict us seem to get stronger everyday, and we get weaker. The first that we need to notice is our attitude: Do we blame others a lot? Or do we blame ourselves? When we start pointing fingers to people other than our own selves for the suffering that we have, one by one the doors to solving that problem will be closed. So, he recommends never to blame the rain, or a problematic friend, or an angry supervisor - if you have the will to work it out, God will open the door of resolution for you, one that you might not quite expect it. So, by looking at our own selves for the problems that inflict us, we automatically start the self-reflecting state that can actually enhance our spirituality. So, in short, it's important to go back to who created you, which is God.

He has methods for PhD students under his division who are struggling to complete the dissertation. In his division, the students are required to have weekly meeting where they will discuss about their progress and at least socialize. This is important because during doctoral education, the main person you'll ever meet in regular basis is your supervisor, the rest you will spend alone in the library or at home/room. If you are a sociable person, then you might go to the mosque to pray congregationally, but then, that is if you have friends who also pray congregationally in the mosque. PhD students practically lose many sociability resources that usually come from co-curricular activities and attending classes for undergraduate students. So, by holding these weekly meetings and other various social activities, PhD students will get more supports. So, this way, stresses and pressure can be handled more effectively.

He calls his methods heart-to-heart supervision, and I believe that this method can help students manage their progress alongside their colleagues and friends. PhD journey shouldn't feel alone, yet most of time feel like it is a lonely journey. So, the things to remember, return to who your Creator is, and go get some good friends whom you can do some social activities ever now and then.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Humanity in Customer Service

When I was working as a customer service officer in Kelana Jaya, I did a horrible job. You could ask any of my fellow workmates and they can confirm that. To be perfectly honest, the job bored me, which might be one of the reasons why I sucked at that job. But, after thinking for a while, there might be another reason why. It might be due to my lack of "humanity" in my service.

Any other good customer service officer would tell you this: that to be good in this job, you need to treat another call as a call from a human being, not another call to solve. Imagine you are sitting at your desk right now, waiting for a customer to call for whatever reason he or she has to. Then, the phone is ringing and you quickly adjust the microphone of your headphone to be near to your mouth and you answer, "Hi, this is *whatever company you're in*. I'm Taufik. How may I help you?". Then, the person tells you his or her concern, and in your mind, you will try to find the best way to solve any problem this customer is facing. You are rushing to solving the issue because apparently the more efficient you are, the less time you take to handle a call. While the issue might be solved, but you might be missing out the psychological aspect of the call that can help you deal with the similar issue in the future. Take a look at this example.

Customer Service Officer (CSO): Hi, this is XY. I'm Ali. How may I help you?
Customer: Oh, yesterday I was trying to redeem the points that I have in my account but I couldn't seem to do it. Is there a problem with my point card?
CSO: Can you tell me exactly what happened ma'am?
Customer: I don't know exactly. I was with my husband in your shop, and I saw this book, titled "Political Animals" that I would like to have. Then, when I tried to redeem my points, the card kept being rejected by the machine. I asked the cashier to do it again and again, but he kept asking me to call this number. So, I'm not sure if you could help me.
CSO: Oh, according to our system as you keyed in your ID number, your card has been blocked. I can just unblock it for you and you can start redeeming in about half an hour ma'am.
Customer: Oh, thank you!
CSO: Is there anything else I can help ma'am?
Customer: No, thank you!

The issue is solved right? But then, the interaction could have gone a little different, starting from the moment the customer told the CSO about the book she would like to have.

Customer: I don't know exactly. I was with my husband in your shop, and I saw this book, titled "Political Animals" that I would like to have. Then, when I tried to redeem my points, the card kept being rejected by the machine. I asked the cashier to do it again and again, but he also kept asking me to call this number. So, I'm not sure if you could help me.
CSO: Oh, the book is fantastic ma'am. I can see why it would frustrate you that the card would choose this time to make an issue.
Customer: I know! I have been following this author since his debut in 2004. I mean, my husband could have easily paid for it, but I've been loyal to your bookstore, so I really would like to see my loyalty being appreciated by me being able to get something free once in a while.
CSO: Well, I do understand that ma'am. It feels like a gift, especially when it's something that you like. Well, here's what I will do. I will unblock it so you could start redeeming in about 30 minutes, that is if you have the time today. Would you like to make an order for you so the next time you could just pick up a copy of the book as a way for us to apologize for the inconvenience?
Customer: Oh, that would be fantastic!
CSO: It would be my pleasure ma'am. Is there anything I can help you with?
Customer: No, I think that would be all. Thank you!

Can you see a little hint of empathy in the second set of interaction? Not just the issue was resolved, the customer was happier because you took an extra mile to help her and you actually rephrased her frustration. Well, obviously I didn't do this when I was a CSO, but learning to be a social worker really shows me how to talk to people sometimes. There's a lot to learn, maybe I can share with you more in the future!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Human Contact

"Basic human contact - it's bigger than any idea. It takes you outside yourself. It's more comforting than word. Without it, we die. Sometimes it's not enough, sometimes it's enough for now. Contact grounds you. It brings you back..."

I was watching this second episode of Saving Hope, a new medical drama (let's talk about how I so have time to watch all these when I should be busy burying myself with thesis work later), and it talked about the possibility that human contact, or specifically human touch, could bring you back to life if you're in a coma. Watching this well-made scene, I couldn't help but remember one story when I was having a bad fever.

It was a long time since I had my last fever and it reminded me that it didn't feel good at all. I was just back from the convocation in Penang for my master's degree, and for some reason, my body was failing me, when I could bat fever before it would become worse at any other times. I was shaking and no enough amount of blankets I could have that night that would take away the coldness. My mother gave me two pills of aspirin earlier and she said that tomorrow we'd go to the clinic first thing.

But, later that midnight, she went out of her room, and she checked up on me. I was still shaking, but I was also half asleep. She leaned toward me and touched my head, and rubbed it several times. It is the nicest feeling you can have when you are sick - to be touched, especially from someone you love. Then, she went ahead and changed the wet cloth above my head and rubbed my head again. Not much later, my fever started to go away. Little by little, I started to feel the heat caused by the blankets that I wrapped around myself. Until I completely recovered the next morning.

I didn't realize it, but I do remember how nice it was to be touched when I was in need of someone to take care of me. That's it, human touch is more than a physical gesture, it's a symbol. When done right, it can be an effective way to show someone that you love him or her. I think that's why it could replace aspirin to give the comfort.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A PhD Journey

On 5th of June, I was finally registered to be one of the PhD students in School of Social Work in Universiti Sains Malaysia. It was a busy week, so I could not really update my blog and give opinions on certain psychological issues that I'd be usually be doing in the past. I have already met my supervisor and tomorrow I will be meeting my co-supervisor, someone who has the expertise in the field of criminology.

My thesis will be focused on the concept of restorative justice. Perhaps I will be talking a lot more about it in my future posts. But for the sake of an introduction, restorative justice is a revolutionary system of criminal justice where rather than alienating the offenders from society, we try to bring them back in, along with acknowledging the rights of victims in a process of a criminal conflict resolution.

I hope I would learn something out of this and I do certainly hope that something can be made out of my thesis, and it might become a real policy in our country. It is because I believe in the concept and I believe if implemented in the right way, we can benefit from it, especially the offenders and the victims.

So, please pray for my success. Ameen.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Denial Prayers

"Ahmad is in love with a girl named Fatimah, and nothing he wishes that much other than marrying her. Sadly, the feelings are not mutual, though Fatimah keeps her friendly attitude toward the man. As the result, Ahmad's family is concerned over the fact that Ahmad is reaching his 30's but is still not married. Thus, Ahmad's parents set him up with a nice girl, Aishah. Though Aishah is a girl every man would dream of marrying, Ahmad knows that feelings can't be forced, and his heart is still loyal towards Fatimah. Until he becomes thoroughly devastated and hopeless over his unrequited love, he begins to consider the fact that he just has to marry Aishah and gets this over with. So, he says yes to his parents and Ahmad's family starts the wedding plan right away. In the midst of the planning, Ahmad's hope to be united with his love is up and down - and many of the times too he thinks that until he is actually married, he still has a chance to be with Fatimah. He prays and prays so Allah would make Fatimah has a change of heart and would actually love him in return..."

The story above is fictional.

My post here is nothing about wedding and love or anything related to this. This post poses a question I have been attempting to answer these past few days. At what point of time do your prayers are a  hope or a sign of denial? Though it has been confirmed that Ahmad would marry Aishah, Ahmad keeps his hopes up that anything could happen and Fatimah might actually fall in love with him. The thing is, my question is, Ahmad's prayers, are they hopeful or are they actually denial prayers?

We Muslims have been taught that Allah's power surpasses anything. He can control weathers, the earth, the flow of the life, and also human hearts. So, by this logic, praying that there is a chance Fatimah might accept Ahmad as long as there is time. Allah certainly has the power to change Fatimah's heart. But to judge by the standard of this realistic world, Ahmad is being in denial that Fatimah would not accept him, he keeps having the "fake hope" that anything might happen. So, again, the question is, when is it time to stop praying and start realizing that you need to move forward?

I don't have the answer to this and I hope some of you do. I am currently experiencing the similar situation like Ahmad's, except mine is related to my choices of universities for PhD. What I'm sure is, perhaps this wise heart will know for itself if it's time to stop praying and move on to what is available.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fairy Tales (Part 2)

In part 1, I talked about how fairy tales stand apart from other kinds of stories we call as fables or myths. Fairy tales have certain unique characteristics that enable them to possess the ability to guide children within their own imaginative capacity. In this part-2, again referencing to Bruno Bettelheim's "The Uses Of Enchantment," I will give an example of a popular fairy tale to show how it addresses a child's conflict in its own empathic way. The story below is written in my own language.

The Fisherman and the Jinny 

"Once upon a time, there was a fisherman in the sea. In the calm sea, he cast his net four times. The first cast gave him a dead donkey, the second a jar filled with sand and mud, and the third was just broken glasses. However, the fourth cast gave him something that he did not foresee finding - a copper jar that contained a huge Jinny. The Jinny was not friendly and kind. All he wanted to do if he was released was to kill the person who released him out of the anger of being trapped for so long. Trying to save his life, the fisherman thought how this beast could be defeated. The fisherman asked, "Oh Jinny, you are a big creature! Are you sure that you came from that very small copper jar?" The Jinny assured the fisherman that he was from there, leading the fisherman to challenge him to fit right back in. When the Jinny did so, the fisherman quickly capped the jar back and threw it to the sea where it belonged."

The fairy tale above tells the story between a huge beast and an ordinary man. Logically, a man with his strength would not be able to defeat a huge beast physically. But he instead used his wit and intelligence to outsmart the Jinny. At last, the Jinny was defeated by his own idiocy.

The fairy tale acknowledges the very fact that in every child's life, there will be a "beast" that he or she would want to get rid of. Be it the parents, a bully at school, a teacher, or anyone whose physical attribute would defeat the child's. The Jinny's desire to kill the person who releases him is not within the logical sense. In our world, the more a person is trapped, the more he or she is grateful when released - but this is not what happens in a child's mind if that child feels entrapped for a long time. What a child feels would be revenge and resentment because it takes someone too long to release him or her. When someone finally reaches out to him, he lashes out.

To a person who doesn't understand, this child will be treated as one who rebels and needs to be punished, but to a person who does will try to put him- or herself in the child's shoe and how egocentric and single-dimensional a child's mind is. As Bruno explained in his book, we cannot expect a child to be able to explain his feeling and say things like, "I'm angry because..." Even half the adult population cannot truly understand themselves why they are angry most of the time.

The fairy tale, if read to the child, can give him or her a sense of direction in imaginative form what and why he feels that way. The story can be empathic to the child's inner need and conflict. Not just this fairy tale, others like Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jack and the Beanstalk all have their own purposes and certain conflicts that actually happen in a child's life. For you parents out there, start reading for your children fairy tales and let them run their imagination and fantasy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fairy Tales (Part 1)

I already made a post about this book I am reading, "The Uses Of Enchantment." It is a book that talks about how important fairy tales are in children's life - because it is a means for them to seek meaning to their own existence. In this first part of 2-part post I am going to talk further about this point. I will talk about some of ground rules fairy tales need to be like in order to have the effects.

1) Because children's mental processing is very simplistic, fairy tales characters need to be one-dimensional. If one character is evil, then he or she needs to portray as an evil character throughout the whole story. This can give the children clearer choices of what they need to act and behave were they in the same situation.

2) Fairy tales sometimes have non-human characters that have human-like qualities like communicating and having desires. The author asserts that stories like "The Three Little Pigs," "Beauty And The Beast," and some others that have non-human characters acting like humans conform to how a child thinks, fantasizing, and imagining better than other kinds of stories.

3) One significant difference between a fairy tale and a fable or a myth is again the human qualities possessed by the characters. By "human," the author means it is not overmoralistic and heroic like the Gods in Greek myths, for example. Characters in a fairy tale is also presented with choices where one of the choices is always so more tempting and distracting from the main goal. They will think about it, and sometimes even act on it, but they quickly revert back to what brings them to the journey in the first place.

4) Traditional fairy tales are told verbally, unlike modern tales that use pictures and graphics to aid the storytelling. By only telling the stories verbally, children are left with their own imagination on how the stories go on. They can freely imagine how the characters look like and how they continue to walk on their journey. By using pictures to aid the storytelling, children's fantasies are restricted.

5) Fairy tales are not afraid to use extreme points of cases to be the integral part of the stories, and by this, the author means to use cases where supposedly only adults could comprehend - like a death of a loved ones, being lost, poverty, being adopted, an abusive parent, etc. The author believes whether or not the adults like to expose their children to the adult matters, children still face them everyday and they need a means to handle with them.

There are more characteristics and rules that make fairy tales as what they are. But these are some of the important points to note when talking about how fairy tales should be like. Modern stories are very light and only deal with limited conflicts that adults think children could only handle. But we must recognize that children also have conflicts and they need a guide as to how to manage them, and fairy tales can do that.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

You Can't Absolutely Know Until You Are There

Stanley Milgram shocked the world with his experiment that found that humans were actually easy to destroy a life - as long as they are put under confinement of an authority. Prior to conducting the experiment, Milgram asked a number of people, including ones who are familiar with the field of psychology, if they could go as far as killing someone if put under the pressure by the authority. Majority of them were confident that they would not, that they would have the capability to stand up for what is right and actually disobey the command of the authority. But the experiment yielded 65% as many people who actually "killed" another human being because the experimenter (who acted as the authority) asked them to do so.

I already talked about Milgram's study on destructive obedience, but one thing I would like to point out here is the study done before the actual obedience experiment - the survey. It is amazing how sure we are when asked about a hypothetical situation. This is called as Illusory Superiority. Illusory Superiority is a term coined to describe individuals who believe that they better than what is expected. They often overestimate their own performance, ability, skills, and sense of right and wrong. When Milgram asked the individuals if they could kill another person if asked by an authority and they largely said "no," while what really happened was 65% of them actually could, they exhibited Illusory Superiority.

Perhaps Illusory Superiority is related to empathic ability - not to another person, but to a hypothetical future. When we put our own selves in the hypothetical situation, we fail to really feel what we would feel in that situation, leading us to overestimate.

Lesson of the say is that we need to really consider several factors before making any rushed conclusion about what we would do in a hypothetical situation because this is beneficial in a number of ways. I also believe if you are careful when it comes to this issue, racism, prejudice, unexpected failure, and a lot of more could be prevented.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Professionalism Is Maturity

Have you ever noticed that your boss seems to be in favor of a certain employee yet he still manages to look professional doing it? Have you ever noticed how much professional your lecturer seems yet a student fails and he saves that student and another fails and he lets the student be. Have you ever noticed that one of your authority figures who has been in various professional situations and who has been trained to practice professionalism still "laughs to the other member's joke louder than yours"?

Growing up studying in higher learning institutions, I've been taught that various situations in a workplace and relationships with our work colleagues require us to be and act professional. I used to denote, and I still do, that professionalism can sometimes be too overrated. But lately, my experience dealing with some people who work in a workplace that oozes professionalism tells me that professionalism always seems to be temporal, and very very inconsistent. This is not an overrating, this is professionalism used in practices for the sake of its hype and trend, rather than for its advantages and importance of use.

My idea of professionalism is to treat all your employees equally, regardless your personal feelings (positive or negative), if you are a boss; or to not let unnecessary emotional ventilation to people who do not have any personal relationship with you; Or to not mix personal feeling with professional ones (if you happen to work in the same place with your wife, for example). But I believe that to totally eradicate personal relationships in the same work setting can have its own drawbacks (e.g. not to talk to your student in the hallway, to have the belief "it's my student's job to text me, not mine," my employee should not sit in the same table with me, etc.). In addition, a workplace or a learning institution can work better and more smoothly if everyone understands each other in a more personal level, rather than limiting knowledge of your colleagues/employees/students to only names, staff no., and the division he or she is put under.

But I digress, my original point in this post is that of all qualities professionals need to have, I believe that one of the most important ones would be have consistent treatments across individuals who work in the same setting. Sadly, from my own observations, a lot individuals who proclaim themselves to be professionals still practice backstabbing and favoritism - which is often sugarcoated by their use of the word, "professionalism" in many communications. And these people the same ones who have the professional experiences, and necessary training to show them that the opposite that they need to do is the opposite.

So, my conclusion is that true professionalism is not measured by how high your qualifications are, how many papers you have written, or how credible and reputable your university was. Professionalism is maturity and one of the only ways to nurture true professionalism is self-awareness and responsibility. I have perceived better professional personality from a person who only holds a degree than a guy who has a doctorate from an expensive university.

I am still learning and with my aspiration to be an effective educator in my field, I hope I am not inflicted with the disease that makes me want to use professionalism to cover my own way of being biased.

Monday, April 23, 2012

It's A Busy April

If you notice, I have only updated one post in this month, which is the lowest if you consider the fact that April is almost ending. Well, my life has been pretty hectic this month; with my sister's engagement, and my convocation, and being sick right after convocation, and some other stuffs that occupied 70% of my free time).

I have nothing significant to say in this post, just one thing that I realized about my life lately. I notice that revenge is only sweet before it is acted out, and to reply an evil act with kindness always feels bitter in the beginning. But in the after-event, revenge always leaves you feeling remorseful, or at least bad, and being kind makes you feel surprisingly satisfied and content (which is not what you supposedly feel before an event).

You might wonder why I am talking about this. Well, just know that some people have blossomed into a person I never knew they could before. In the meantime I have more substantial thing to say later, these are some of the snapshots  in the recent convocation.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Is It Absolutely Your Choice?

I once heard one of my acquaintances said, "I hate it when people blame the others on what would be their own doing."

He's probably right, but I would say that the statement is equally judgemental and immature as, "Others should be blamed on what happens to us..."

While the latter probably comes from a behaviorist, the former comes from someone who employs humanistic views of life too much. As we learn throughout school, we know that extreme and singular utilization of perspective when analyzing something is not encouraged because life is always complicated and multifaceted. I won't talk about the second statement because we learn about that repeatedly growing up. My focus is the first statement, which can be unfair to many out there who find themselves stuck between individualism and collectivism.

We all know the power we have to choose who we want to be, to do what we want to do, and to act what we desire. This is what humanistic psychology asserts, that individuals have the freewill to choose. But much to our dismay, a lot of what we do are the results of the environmental influences - and often we do not realize it. Let me list down some of the social psychological phenomena that happen to us that can counterargue the extreme emphasis on the power of freewill.

1) Social conformity - When confronted by uniform decision from others, we often change our behavior or attitude to conform to that decision. You hang with five of your friends at a cafe, and you are trying to decide what you want to order for dinner. One friend suggests that you order a combo meal where all six of you can eat together, but you don't want that. You want a single meal where that meal belongs to you, only to you. But the other four friends agree to him and now they look at you to know what your decision is. If you are in the real situation, I would say you are pressured to conform to the decision of others and agree to order the combo meal.

2) Destructive obedience - We all know the power authority has upon us, but do you know to what extent the authority can exercise that power? A study by Stanley Milgram, which findings shocked the world, our obedience to the authority can be as destructive to the point of taking someone's life. What it requires for us to obey blindly is just the sign of authority and the belief that whatever we do, the consequences will be faced by the authority, not us. Now, ain't that something a freewill wouldn't do?

3) Bystander Effect - Kitty Genovese, Wang Yue, Ilan Halimi, and many other unreported cases where these people were dying but none offered help. The most disturbing part is that there were a lot of witnesses in the emergency place but the person was left dying on his or her own. The most famous theory to this phenomenon is that when we are surrounded by a a good number people, we always believe someone would step up and help the person. But it's not always the case, and what usually happens is that everybody thinks that and no one actually helps.

These are just among the famous instances where our freewill almost does not matter. What about the case where a wife who won't leave her abusive husband? Or a bully victim who commits suicide? Or a person who has troubles making friends because he has an emotionally crippled family? These are real cases and we often use the simplest logic, that they choose to do it, to explain why it happens. Our behaviors and actions are always the product of the interplay between our own decision making and the influences by the environment. Perhaps the first the society needs to have is awareness, then real change can happen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Children, Children, Where Art Thou?

Malaysia has been flooded with kidnap cases (well, being "flooded" would imply massiveness, but we can never be so "few" with kidnap cases). From Nurin, to Sharlinie, to some others, including the poor young girl named Nurul Nadirah, who was torched alive.

I still remember one discussion with my friend when I was undergoing my bachelor's studies, and he presented an idea to tackle this issue - controversial, yet might be effective. My friend hypothesizes that part of the reason why a kidnapper kidnaps a child is because of the satisfaction it brings when it becomes a national news, when it appears on the front page of major newspapers. To the mind of the kidnapper, gaining fame this way is an achievement - perhaps from the underachieved childhood that he or she experienced earlier.

So, what my friend proposed in that very heated discussion is that one way to bring the kidnapper out in the open is to, well, not to bring him out in the open. By silencing the media, and by not publicizing the particular case at all, it would make the kidnapper feels as if what he or she has done is not a big deal, and we can imagine this can upset him or her. If there is one thing most offenders share in common is that they all can experience nervous breakdown if there is one hiccup in their plan.

I'm not sure if this would be effective at all, but don't you think it's research-worthy? Don't you think it's something that we can look into? Whatever it is, I just hope that all parties in this country play their role to reduce or prevent kidnap cases at all, including the public, and the parents.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Positivity Bias

Positivity bias is a cognitive bias where older people have the tendency to recollect memories that are pleasant rather than the counterparts. It is observed among the older people, but I believe it also happens to younger people. Consider a girl who broke off her engagement to a guy she loved truly because of some reasons. Give her some times, and ask her to remember back the time she was with his ex-fiancee, you'd more likely find her thinking, or remembering about the good times rather than the reasons why she broke if off int he first place.

Positivity bias might be considered as a bias, or an error of human cognition, but for me it has its own advantages. Let me tell you a story of me spending a fortune on a delicious muffin. I went to a convention that was held in PWTC. As usual, places like PWTC are places where foods are way overpriced just because of the reputation. When I was walking around inside, I saw a food stall, at which there was a basket of scrumptious muffins, big and looking fluffy. Those muffins were sitting there practically asking me to come over and have a bite. I approached the stall owner and asked how much would one muffin cost. Much to my dismay, it was RM7 per muffin. I went to more expensive bakeries before and that was the most expensive muffins I had ever set my eyes on.

I immediately experienced cognitive dissonance, the conflict between the "you want it, so have it" thought and "that muffin is not worth my RM7". So, my solution was to buy it, of course, and I enjoyed that muffin right away. It was, as I guessed, as delicious as it looked. But still, a little part of my heart ached because of the imbalance payment to a little piece of food.

So, now, today is a couple of months after that very not-a-big-deal experience. Whenever I look at any muffins, I'd remember about the one overpriced muffin I enjoyed in PWTC, and much to my surprise, most of what I remembered was how delicious it was, and the money I spent on it was way back of my mind. I had no regret, in fact I think I'd only regret it if I didn't buy that muffin. So, I remember the one cognitive error I read about earlier, "Positivity Bias" and can't help but to be impressed how very purposeful everything is in the world.

So, perhaps Positivity Bias serves as a bias especially when you lack the skill to learn from the history, but it also serves as a way for you to enjoy life and the decision you make. Like Betty's father said to her (God, how much I miss this show...), adulthood is not about making the right decision, but about dealing with the decision you make. How can you deal with it until you can see silver lining of it right?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Once Upon A Time

I just bought a book, "The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales" with the book vouchers government so generously gave to Malaysian students. Funny, they decided to give them now. Hmm. Well, I digress. Let's talk about the book.

According to the author, the search for the meaning of life begins as early as childhood. However, it's just the method and ways of understanding that are different. While adults actively search for the meaning of life by relating to the purposes and goals, children view the meaning of life as the way to differentiate between good and evil.

Fairy tales offer these children just that. While being simplistic (that people are either good or bad, and that people are either beautiful or ugly, etc.), they successfully tell children what this life has to offer. According to the author, this is why fairy tales often deal with the unspeakable miseries, such as the death of a parent, poverty, losing one's love, because, well, it is life after all. Though they rarely could verbalize their view of life effectively, they still cope with various life's problems - just like adults.

Try to compare the traditional fairy tales with the modern children literature. The author argues that modern children literature are aimed at entertaining or informing, or both, and they are also very shallow. Children, in social sciences, are considered as minorities and in scientific inquiry, there are certain ways to communicate and study minorities. One thing that modern science fails to understand that is that children have the cognitive capacity to understand the world, although not as expressively as adults, but they have their own language - and fairy tales, are their language.

As a result of that assumption, people tend to have "gentle" and "easy" ways of communicating with children, and this is reflected in the designation of modern literature. Modern children literature always deal with problems that are "childish" and that seem to be easy to face - fighting with a friend, or the consequence of stealing a cheap snack, or failing in school. But fairy tales tell stories of life and death, loneliness, and those life challenges that we presume only adults could comprehend.

For those who are in search of an interesting, academic, yet understandable, yet leisure-ish book, "The Uses of Enchantment" is one good choice for you.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hopeful Songs

Lately, we have all heard at least once a song that depicts a broken heart. Adele, for example, won a number of Grammy awards for her album that is full of melancholy from a broken relationship. But, there are also some songs that give you hope and the light that future will be much better. Let me suggest some.

1) Maher Zain - Insha Allah.

I cannot agree more if someone says that this song inspire him or her to feel hopeful because there is "He" up there to watch over us. Religion has been shown to be an effective coping mechanism in times of difficulties and this song is just about that. It's about when you can't just seem to depend on anything, you know that there is God, who loves you more than you yourself do.

2) Christina Perri - A Thousand Years

Say what you want about this song, and despite the fact that this is a theme song for a movie that everyone seems to hate, I have a personal interpretation which I think would not astray much from the intended meaning. I believe that the lyrics are about a person who would not give up love, even when he or she has not met the other half. "A Thousand Years" tells us, as I see personally, that the person believes when the time is right, love will come, and he or she has prepared enough love for that.

3) Fun. - We Are Young

This song has everything about being a youth - that you cannot prevent from making mistake at least once. But when we are young, it's also a time when we learn and learn and learn, until we are adults with wisdom. This song asks us to embrace "youngness" and find friends who can "bring home" when we feel like falling down.

4) OneRepublic - Good Life

What is more hopeful than a song that sees this life as a good life. OneRepublic admitted to some screw-ups in the lyrics, but at the end of the day, whatever screw-ups there may be, this life is still a good life. This is optimism to the core.

5) OneRepublic - Marchin' On

I don't know why, but OneRepublic's second album is filled with positive songs - and "Marchin' On" is one of them. It calls for the need for us to move forward and force ourselves to "swim" to the better place. The song is right - whatever happens, we keep moving forward, and here we are, surviving! We keep marchin' on, mostly because we have this automatic faculty inside our mind that picks us up. My most favorite piece of lyrics is, "There are so many wars we fight, there's so many things we're not, but with what we have, I promise you that, we're marchin' on..."