22 April 2006

On Youth Empowerment

I have decided to write a little more about the student conference.

My own speech was on youth empowerment. It wasn't a topic that I'd chosen - it was something that the organisers had asked me to speak on. In a nutshell, my basic message was that:

    (1) youths in Singapore can achieve great things of their own choice; and

    (2) to do that, they must learn to disbelieve and distrust all those forces in society which tell them that they can't.

And as examples of such forces, I cited their parents, their teachers, their principals, their future bosses, and the government.

I further argued that none of these forces necessarily knew anything better than the youths themselves. That's because the wisdom of these forces is based on experience, and experience is always based on the past, but past experience doesn't necessarily count for that much in a world that is always rapidly changing, always rapidly evolving.

(Any sensible person who has ever had to work for a stupid, older boss will instantly know what I mean.)

"No one has all the answers," I boldly declared. The implication being that since no one has all the answers anyway, youths should feel entitled to jump into the deep end, innovate and do things their own way.

I might be wrong, but I sensed that the reactions from the audience were quite mixed. Some of them were fascinated and inspired by this Mr Wang fellow on stage who confirmed their long-held suspicion that indeed, they were cleverer than their parents and teachers.

Others however looked somewhat dismayed and shocked by the suggestion that their beloved parents and teachers could be stupider than themselves, and that the traditional, conventional ways of doing things might not be the best.

And there were yet other students who simply didn't seem to believe that they, mere youths, could actually be capable of great things. It was with this third category of students that I felt a sense of disappointment.

Today, thinking about my speech again, I realised that if it had failed in some way, then a good explanation for its failure lies, once again, in Myers-Briggs (it's uncanny the number of things Myers-Briggs can explain things).

Under the Myer-Briggs classification of human personality types, I am an INTJ. And my speech turned out to be a classic reflection of the INTJ's thinking patterns. Click on the hyperlink and in the very paragraph, you'll see that they say this about INTJs:
"People with INTJ preferences are relentless innovators in thought as well as action. They trust their intuitive insights into the true relationships and meanings of things, regardless of established authority or popularly accepted beliefs. Their faith in their inner vision can move mountains. Problems only stimulate them--the impossible takes a little longer, but not much."
Because I am a "relentless innovator", the past experience of more-senior persons does not impress me much. I'm not interested in the past, I'm interested in the present and the future, and how to find new ways to make things better.

And because I have such deep "faith in my inner vision", I have little difficulty rejecting "established authority" or "popularly accepted beliefs". In other words, I easily recognise stupid ideas for what they are, even if they come from supposedly "respectable" sources like parents, teachers, government etc.

Furthermore, as an INTJ, my tendency is not merely to believe that it is possible to achieve great things. As an INTJ, I constantly expect great things to be achieved:
They place a high value on competence--their own and others'. Being sure of the worth of their inspirations, INTJs want to see them worked out in practice, applied and accepted by the rest of the world; they are willing to spend any time and effort to that end. They have determination, perseverance, and will drive others almost as hard as they drive themselves ....

... INTJs have an inner world rich with endless possibilities that, when combined with their Thinking-Judging preferences, gives them a drive toward constant improvement of everything. Indeed, these are the "better idea" people of the typological world. Everything--words, plans, designs, ideas, even people--has room for improvement. In the INTJ's eyes, even the best can be made better.
Alas, in making my speech, I forgot one very basic thing. Not everyone is an INTJ.

In fact, INTJs are statistically the rarest kind of human being in the Myer-Briggs system. So most of the students in that lecture theatre would not have been INTJs or even one of the more closely-related types like INTPs or ENTJs (all relatively rare as well).

No winder there seemed to be students who seemed sceptical when I told them that they could achieve great things.

Damn. If I'd realised this earlier, maybe I could have found some other way to package the message.

Please, folks. Don't sell yourselves short. All of us are capable of great things. All of us have so much potential that most of it will remain untapped for our entire lifetimes. The only real question is - how much of YOUR potential do you want to try to tap?

You're 17, 18, 19 years old. At your age, there are already people in the world who have won Olympic medals; obtained their university degrees; graduated as doctors; written award-winning books; made millions as top fashion models; played in the World Cup finals; or become the Dalai Lama.

"17, 18 years old .... so long??
I was a millionaire by my 10th birthday."

You may never go that far in life, but couldn't you go half as far? Or a quarter as far? Maybe one-eighth or one-sixteenth?

Don't be mediocre. You've got one life - since you're going to be here and the time will pass anyway, why not DO something with your life?


Anonymous said...

what a bore ... I am not sure what my mbti is ...maybe i am a classic case of something too, then again maybe I am not!

Anonymous said...

In some American universities, all new students are encouraged to find out their MBTIs and they are then given study advice based on their MBTI type. Many MNC employers require new employees to know their MBTIs too. It's a very important piece of self-knowledge for personal growth and improvement, as Mr Wang seems to understand very well. Good for you, Mr Wang.

Anonymous said...

Scientific skeptics such as Robert Todd Carroll, author of The Skeptic's Dictionary, have presented several potential problems with the MBTI. The opinion of the MBTI in academic circles is often so low that it is dismissed as pseudo-psychology. It only features on some academic curricula as an example of a bad test. It is not taught as part of Master's level programs in Psychology at any Australian University.

Neither Katharine Cook Briggs nor Isabel Briggs Myers had any scientific, medical, psychiatric or psychological qualifications. Isabel Briggs Myers had a bachelors degree in Political Science. The theory of psychological types created by Carl Jung was not based on any controlled studies —the only statistical study Jung performed was in the field of astrology. Carroll argues that Jung may not even have approved of the MBTI, quoting, "My scheme of typology is only a scheme of orientation. There is such a factor as introversion, there is such a factor as extraversion. The classification of individuals means nothing, nothing at all. It is only the instrumentarium for the practical psychologist to explain for instance, the husband to a wife or vice versa." Further, Jung's methods primarily included introspection and anecdote, methods largely rejected by the modern field of cognitive psychology.

The MBTI has not been validated by double-blind tests, in which participants accept reports written for other participants, and are asked whether or not the report suits them, and thus may not qualify as a scientific assessment. The MBTI has also been criticised on the two measures of any psychometric test: validity and reliability. Test retest reliability is considered to be low, with test takers who retake the test often being assigned a different type. Validity has been questioned on theoretical grounds.

As well as questioning the scientific validity of the MBTI others have argued that, while the MBTI may be useful for self-understanding, it is commonly used for pigeonholing people or for self-pigeonholing.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang is in danger of pigeonholing people or self-pigeonholing.

Anonymous said...

Indeed there are some who regard Carl Jung as an idiot. Others regard him as the father of modern psychology.

I guess God, MBTI and the everyday phenomenon of falling in love have one thing in common. None of them can be proven scientifically.

Anonymous said...


Almost all of psychology is basically pseudo-science. That doesn't mean that it's valueless or unreliable.

For example, most of economics is pseudo-science too. That doesn't mean it's valueless or unreliable.

Frankly, I seriously doubt if human personality can ever really be studied in a "Karl Popper" scientific way, the way one might study a plant or a rabbit in a laboratory. But it certainly doesn't follow that any attempt to seriously study human personality is therefore worthless. On the contrary, I think such attempts are very important; in fact the practical importance is so much more obvious than, say, scientifically studying the birth and death of stars or the content of the atmosphere of planet Jupiter, or whatever else those NASA scientists are up to.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I dunno much about psychology or Myer Briggs, but I agree with Mr Wang's main point that most young people can achieve a lot more with their lives than they're currently doing ... (actually that's probably true for most people, young or not).

Lots of limits that we face are placed on us by ourselves, that's no good, and I think Mr Wang's message helps to remind us not to do such things to ourselves. Thanks, Mr Wang, I always enjoy reading your blog, and you're making me think of some useful & ambitious things I wanna try to do for myself.

Anonymous said...

the last few paras in the entry are inspiring, though i have to say, the examples given are not seemingly appropriate, cos its not everyday one can win olympic medals, play in world cup, become dalai lama (?!) etc.

you should compare our youths with the youths in other countries and open their eyes and mindsets of what youths can really do, when they put their mind to it. =)

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang didn't ask you to achieve any of those examples. He asked you if you can go half as far, a quarter as far, or 1/16th as far.

You may not be able to win an Olympic medal, but if not,

can you win a SEA Games medal,

and if not, can you win a national medal,

and if not, can you make it to your school team and do well at that level?

That's already a worthy challenge for most students ...... And most of them can't even get that far, won't even try because they already believe that they can't make it.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, Mr Wang, I wonder whether your message is realistic. My impression from your blog is that you're a very smart & talented person, but then let's not forget that the average Singaporean is ... well, just average. And while it's nice to aim high and all that, maybe the average Singaporean is just destined to be .... average.

So I am not that surprised that some of the students gave you the blank look. They must be the average-ly talented ones, and they know it. That's life. You got lucky, they didn't. :P

Anonymous said...

The Myers-Briggs test was spot on for me (INFP).

Another useful one I've used is the Enneagram (I'm type 4!). You can read more about it and take the test here:


(it's pretty uncanny)

Anonymous said...

Can you rephrase your afterthoughts on the conference? Before, you believed that all youths were capable of great things and should disregard naysayers, so much so that you were confident about giving a talk on it. But just after one interaction with youths, you believe that only people with certain personality types are capable of this? Does that mean that everything is in our genes and there's nothing our conscious mind can do to change our instincts if we are categorised as any other type than urs'?

Surely you must have a solid understanding of youths and their capability to change the world. If you've never had to handle a large group of youths before, how can you effectively convince them?

And a key defining characteristic of youths are that they are cynical. Whatever their personality type, whatever the subject matter, they are suspicious and undoubtedly question authority. Don't believe? Read the blogs of under 20-yr olds.

It's only later in life that we learn to be more humble, and to listen to the suggestions of others'.


Anonymous said...

Every study I've seen shows a different demographics distribution. I was told that being INFP pigeons me with 4.4% of the population.

This study of 22,000 sample size shows INFP at 11.4% as well that ENTJ at 2.2% being the rarest.

Where you take your sample size can determine the distribution, the culture, the society etc all helps to shape our personalities as we learn and grow.

It's like those studies that say salt is good, salt is bad, wine is good, wine is bad. It is not a science, it is statiscal probabilities.

Lastly, just try to have fun with it. On the silliest levels, they work like horoscopes! If you have a trait you don't like, I do believe your will power and willingess to change will help you achieve it.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I forgot in my last comment that "this study"'s results can be found here:


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Anonymous (8:40pm):
You're right, you ARE a bore.

Anonymous (10:49 pm):
You're quite right, actually, and I'm acutely aware of the dangers especially of self-pigeonholing.

In fact, I even feel that one way for people to grow & improve themselves is to attempt to transcend their own personality type, eg if you're an INTJ, learn to look at the world, sometimes at least, as an ESFP, and if you're an ESFP, learn to look at the world, sometimes at least, as an INFP etc.

Ironically, that very line of thinking of mine - about how people can grow and improve and transcend themselves - is very INTJ. :P INTJs are endlessly interested in the quest to grow and improve things & people. Damn, I just can't escape myself.

Sentosa Gal:
All the best to you .... And you have really grasped my point, on the 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 idea ... Point is to keep challenging yourself to grow and reach for higher things ...

A Youth:
I considered that, but you see, the thing is, in the end, I decided that for my speech, I didn't want to tell the youths what specific dreams they should be chasing. I wanted to leave it up to their own imagination.

If I were a conventional school principal, I would say, "You should dream of scoring straight A's and getting a PSC scholarship." If I were a conventional parent, I would say, "You should dream of becoming a doctor or a lawyer."

But I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to say anything along the lines of "You should dream of doing _____________." It's a blank that I think is very important for young people to fill in for themselves.

Anonymous (12:37am):
I know what you mean, of course, but I think you also know what I mean. The average person also has huge amounts of untapped potential. Which means he probably can go a lot farther than he is doing. Perhaps "above average" persons are just average persons who have just tapped a little more of their own potential.

You're most welcome. And on your question of practicality, I would say - don't take the burden of the whole world on yourself. You do what you can, you do what you think you should, and you move on to other things in life. If you have sowed some seeds, some will grow and in time produce their own seeds, and other people will come along as farmers and gardeners.

Read my post again. I was referring to the way I presented the speech and how it might not appeal to people of all personality types;

I was NOT saying that only people of certain personality types can achieve great things. Please DON'T be so insulting to the human race.

My speech, as it was presented, probably had instant appeal to most students belonging to the "NT" family of personalities, especially the "NTJ" cousins, INTJ and ENTJ (examples of ENTJs being Lee Kuan Yew & Bill Gates; two great disrespecters of conventional authority).

But as I said, the speech could have been repackaged somewhat and thereby been made more accessible to a general student audience.

I also made it clear (in fact, I mentioned it right at the start) that I was merely offering my own opinions on the topic, and they were perfectly entitled to agree or disagree. In fact I invited them to consider whether they should distrust my message, ("distrust" being the exact word I use), just as I invited them to consider whether they should distrust the messages which their parents, teachers, principals, the government etc regularly tell them.

"... If you have a trait you don't like, I do believe your will power and willingess to change will help you achieve it ..."

Haaahahaaha! You do realise of course, what an INFP statement you just made. As an INFP, you are constantly engaged in the improvement and examination of your own inner ethics and values.

An ENTP would more likely say, "But there's nothing about me that I don't like. I'm genuinely nice and very likeable."

An INTJ would more likely say, "I must analyse my un-likeable trait, brainstorm for ideas to remove it, and draw up an action plan to remove the trait by 30 June."

An ESFJ would more likey say, "It doesn't matter that I don't like this trait about myself, as long as other people don't mind this trait about me."

An ESTP would more likely say, "No time for this sort of introspective self-analysis ... I need to get some real work done!"

Anonymous said...

And Mr Wang is a boar ... haha

Anonymous said...

"My own speech was on youth empowerment. It wasn't a topic that I'd chosen - it was something that the organisers had asked me to speak on. In a nutshell, my basic message was that:

(1) youths in Singapore can achieve great things of their own choice; and

(2) to do that, they must learn to disbelieve and distrust all those forces in society which tell them that they can't.

And as examples of such forces, I cited their parents, their teachers, their principals, their future bosses, and the government."

And let's say your kids say they want to have sex at age 13, they should distrust you. Good luck to your kids!

Anonymous said...

Kudos on the observations, Mr. Wang... lol!

And what's with these cowardly anonymous comments? But even if they said who they were, how do we know it's really them? There is no such time in history that I know of where so many people love to be disassociated with their given names.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Heheh, they're just confused people. Fancy thinking that having sex at age 13 is the achievement of a "great thing".

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be surprised if Mr Wang gave his children a thorough lecture in sex education at an early age, made sure they understood all issues, and then gave them the freedom to make their own choices. This is taken from Mr Wang's link about INTJs:

"As parents, INTJs' relentless pursuit for self-improvement becomes a model for their children as well. They encourage a child's independence and self-sufficiency, the sooner the better. What may be seen by others as uncaring or unaffectionate is, to INTJs, the ultimate in caring; teaching their children to stand on their own.

The situation may best be illustrated by the way in which an INTJ parent likely teaches a child to swim. An INTJ parent may allow the child to dive into deep water that other parents might consider risky--all the while supervising intently--in the name of learning how to swim. Other types may stick to shallower waters, wanting the child to feel more comfortable in the learning process. To the INTJ, the issue of comfort or fear is irrelevant. What's important is learning how to swim."

Bernard Leong said...

Mr Wang,

A research study was done recently by a Fulbright scholar and I advised on the project. We sample 100 students from various schools: top schools, neighbourhood schools, JCs and Polytechnics, and we ask a series of questions which was done for US and UK youths in their views in entrepreneurship and achievement. We based the metrics on a study callibrated by the Cambridge-MIT Institute. At the end, we found that most attributes such as hardworking and curiousity are shared in SG youths compare to those in the US and UK. The statistic that show up very prominently is the lack of ambition in Singapore youth as compare to their counterparts.

I have pointed this out many times before. I have not seen young Singaporeans dare to dream about winning Pulitzer prizes, Nobel prizes or any top awards associated in the field of study. A cause of this I believe that is lacking in our youth is the fire in the belly.

Best regards,

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Freud's Friend:
Hahaa! As a matter of fact, I did do that to my little kid in the swimming pool when he was very young .... Mummy, however, was furious!

Thanks for your comment. More food for thought ... Maybe it's not so much an MBTI problem, but a Singapore cultural problem ...

I suddenly remembered an old post of mine (September last year) on the same theme. What I said about youths being able to achieve great things is something I really believe in, not something I said for the sake of making a speech. My old post is entitled Come On, Everyone. SHINE. Click to read.

Anonymous said...

Haha Vince Chan, you are funny!Vince Chan said...

"And what's with these cowardly anonymous comments? But even if they said who they were, how do we know it's really them? There is no such time in history that I know of where so many people love to be disassociated with their given names."

I am not even sure Vince Chan is who you say you are in this case. besides, Mr Wang may not be even be Mr Wang. But I don't think he is cowardly. Haha!

Anonymous said...

I think if all 13 year old think like you, we won't have problems in schools. The sad truth is that some young people do think "having sex at age 13 is the achievement of a "great thing" and something they can brag about. The nos increase as the age increase to 14, 15, 16...

I think the point that was made is that while I agree with you that youths in Singapore can achieve great things of their own choice, it is not always true that the benefit of parents, teachers, principals, and other people of authority are "stupid.

And don't be disappointed that one day you find that your children are really stupider than you.

Please Mr Wang, these people you taled to really have a right to looki "dismayed and shocked by the suggestion that their beloved parents and teachers could be stupider than themselves".

Sometimes you know, it is not true.

Anonymous said...

I read Mr Wang's comments:

"Heheh, they're just confused people. Fancy thinking that having sex at age 13 is the achievement of a "great thing"."

And suddenly, I saw the irony:

"After the event, I found my mind drifting into more philosophical kinds of questions as well. In a very odd way, I suddenly felt more sympathetic to Lee Kuan Yew. The generation gap is not an imaginary thing, it is very real, and sometimes you really have to make some major leaps inside your head to see things the way another generation sees them.

Lee Kuan Yew tried, he failed, he's out of touch, and maybe we shouldn't blame him. If anything, blame it on Father Time. It's tough."

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Possibly I put the point too strongly across - sigh, another INTJ mistake:

"INTJs are among the most independent of the sixteen types. Their theme song may be "My Way." As with other NTs, this independence often gives them an aura of arrogance that makes in-depth relationships develop slowly. At both work and play they can often seem aloof and sometimes argumentative. For INTJs, such behavior is simply the result of their attempt to stimulate the world around them. They can be stunned, even appearing hurt, when others accuse them of being distant and seemingly uncaring, but it is, ironically, the INTJ's caring that has been the source of the provocation. They may even seem surprised at others taking offense when their motivation was fostering improvement. Again, as with other NTs, INTJs learn by arguing, part of their continuing quest to understand the universe. The problem is that an INTJ's "friendly discussion" may be seen by others as hostile, even obnoxious behavior."

Still if I have opened their minds just a little, to consider the possibility that parents, teachers, traditional authority, aren't always right, then I think I accomplished something important.

During Q&A, a Chinese female student asked me, "Isn't it important to respect and preserve our traditions?" and my answer was, "It all depends on the tradition. We should keep the ones that are useful and fearlessly discard the rest. If one particular tradition had not died out, your feet would be bound and deformed, and you wouldn't even be able to walk straight."

But no doubt there was a time in history when parents were horrified when their daughter told them, "I reject your command, I think you're stupid, I refuse to obey you, I will not allow you to inflict such pain on feet." Personally, I think that the daughter did the right thing.

Anonymous said...

I believe that you do need to be at least a little bit of a rebel in order to achieve great things in life. If you just do exactly what you're told, you just end up being exactly mediocre, ordinary & average.

When Mr Wang talks about disrespecting authority, he's really talking about the courage to think out of the box; to take the road less-travelled; to defy convention and create something new; or to attempt to achieve something which society tells you is a dumb idea because you'll surely fail.

To use a simple, local example, I bet there must have been many times in national swimmer Joscelin Yeo's life when her parents said: "Aiyoh girl, you'd better quit swimming lah, and concentrate for your PSLE/O-levels." And she defied them, and went on to achieve sporting greatness.

Anonymous said...

As with all statements, you have to qualify them.

Advice to ignore all words of warning that come from older people would be as useless as advice to listen unquestioningly to what older people say.

Let me tell you that ALL youths, be they Asian or Western, question authority. So you have to stop pigeonholing us Asian youths.

With age comes wisdom. Everything else being equal, a person is probably wiser at 25 than he was at 15. It would benefit a youth to be able to analyze what older people/teachers/the government tells him, and extract what is useful. As with everything else, discretion and commonsense is the key.

Anyway, Mr Wang, I feel that you do contradict yourself. Remember this post you wrote?



Anonymous said...

"To use a simple, local example, I bet there must have been many times in national swimmer Joscelin Yeo's life when her parents said: "Aiyoh girl, you'd better quit swimming lah, and concentrate for your PSLE/O-levels." And she defied them, and went on to achieve sporting greatness."

Or maybe there were parents who encouraged her, and fetched her in the morning at 5am to go to the pool for her training and then fetch her to school, and then fetch her to training again for, God knows, how many years.

I think I understand Mr Wang's intention to talk about travelling the road less travelled, and thinking out of the box. But parents and teachers are not the ones that are always there to halt their growth.

Mr Wang says this:
"Some of them were fascinated and inspired by this Mr Wang fellow on stage who confirmed their long-held suspicion that indeed, they were cleverer than their parents and teachers."

If only that was always true.

Don't put down parents and teachers. Mr Wang seems to know of 1 good teacher: "Rhordan Wicks" and i don't think Mr Wang is always cleverer than his parents, just because he has good or probably even better qualifications.

Yes, we should not sell ourselves short. But you need not put people down so as not to sell yourself short. Sometimes, we can learn from experience.

As the world change rapidly, maybe we sghould ask ourselves what are the things we should keep for these are the things we value.

L'oiseau rebelle said...

Although I haven't taken the Myer-Briggs test in recent years, I do believe that I'm an INTJ as well.

Sometime in my teenage years I figured out that many people in authority are either
(1) well-meaning but living in a different world,
(2) abusing their authority, or
(3) abusing their authority under the pretense of being well-meaning.

I think the "I can't" attitude is a lot more insidious than you make it out to be. A large part of it is caused by the education system and the overemphasis on exams. Really, what's the point of school exams that are 10 times harder than the O or A-Levels? So that we get demoralized and work hard? Many of my friends, who are hardworking and intelligent students, turn into mush on the day of the exam. "I can't do well in this exam."

Also, the mantra that exam achievements translate into all other achievements (and its corollary - poor exam grades means you're stupid and/or lazy) is demoralizing to the majority of people who aren't blessed with the innate talent to write exams. It ain't fun being told, directly or indirectly, that you're lazy or stupid for many, many years.

L'oiseau rebelle said...

That said, I'm still very surprised that a fair number of my Singaporean peers at my university have apron strings that stretch halfway around the globe. Even after 2 or 3 years of college.

And some are very uncomfortable when I rant against incompetent professors.

And sometimes the forces that you speak of have adverse effects on the dreams of youth. Like parents who are unwilling to fund these dreams. Dreams do cost money, after all, and sometimes it's not as simple as "you can put it off a few years while you work".

Anonymous said...

For those anonymous folks who made mentioned of the fact that they doubt I am who I am. Visit my sites, I never shy from revealing myself or having a picture around to show it.

Part of the fault of these anonymous comments is the fact that blogger.com makes it so easy to be in the shadows. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. You are entitled to yours as do I.

I'm not interested in a flame war, but if you guys are kids, its sad that Singapore has degenerated to such, I'm glad that I grew up in Singapore but experienced living in the Western world too. Sometimes I simply can't stand the protectionism that goes into kids these days displayed by Asian parents. If you can't laugh about yourselves on that fact, that I'm not sure if you are Singaporean at heart either.

Anonymous said...

youth avenue participant:

hi mr wang, I was among the people who heard your speech. I am impressed by your messages. However, I feel that religion ranks among the major influences among youth today. if we must challenge those in authority, be it our parents, the government, teachers, etc, why not start with religion?

i feel that more than the government or our parents, religion tends to push forward its view as the absolute truth and youths tend to accept what they hear in church (especially in church) as the truth. if we must "must learn to disbelieve and distrust all those forces in society which tell them that they can't", we should first start with religion.

religion has been a taboo topic for too long, its time we start challenging the religious practices and codes that bind us and stop linking spirituality and morals with religion.

with regards to your speech itself, perhaps examples go a longer way than repetition of the message. we heard you saying that we should question those in authority, yet i do feel that the message would have come across much clearer if say you gave more examples of instances where we should have questioned a government decision, balanced with examples that show that the government does make some right decisions as well. to me, that would have made your point much clearer.

just my 2 cents. thanks for a great speech.


Anonymous said...

oh, i'm an intp by the way, if it makes a difference. though i remain largely skeptical of such measures. i prefer to view them as indications of the areas we should work to improve rather than measurements of who we are.

thanks again.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

In case you're in any doubt, I didn't go there making any absolute statements. I said that parents, teachers, authority etc may not always be right - I did not go so far as to say that they are always wrong. The problem, as I see it, is that Singapore has a strong tendency to put too much trust in authority and conventional wisdom.

Our society does not suffer from too much disobedience, rebellion, risk-taking and non-conformity - we suffer from too little disobedience, rebellion, risk-taking and non-conformity.

That's finally led to a situation where even the government is worried - about the lack of entrepreneurship; the lack of creativity; the lack of innovation.

And you cited one of my old posts, and claimed that I contradict myself - how so? I cannot see it. It is a VERY conventional thing to aspire to be a doctor. Which traditional source of authority did Devi have to defy in order to enter the medicine faculty? Parents, teachers, government ...? I cannot see it.

Thanks for the feedback - yes, perhaps I should have used religion as an example too; the reason I did not is probably that I didn't think of it while preparing for the speech. :P

I know that I did not give enough specific examples during the speech. In fact I had earlier contemplated providing a list of examples to think of, including:

1. whether you (ie students in the audience) should be aspiring to be doctors, lawyers, accountants, professionals, just because your parents and teachers tell you so?

2. whether you should aspire to be entrepreneurs, just because the government encourages you to do so?

3. WHY should long hair not be allowed in school? WHAT is the rationale?

4. WHY should students not be allowed to have handphones in school? WHAT is the rationale?

5. WHY should JC students have to wear uniforms to school? WHAT is the rationale? Why don't poly students have to do it?

6. WHY should you not be able file a complaint to the school if you find that a teacher is consistently uninteresting and incompetent when conducting lessons? You ARE paying fees for the teaching services, you know.

7. Where DOES parental authority actually stem from? Actually, any two persons can become parents if one has healthy sperm and the other is ovulating at the right time. That in itself can't make parents worth respecting. WHAT qualities or attributes make parents worth respecting? What if YOUR parents lacked those qualities or attributes?

For certain reasons, I chose not to give those examples - I guess I didn't want to predispose students towards a particular position on any of those points. Because, as I'd said, the important thing is that you must learn to THINK and JUDGE for yourself ... the important thing is NOT to agree with Mr Wang's views on this or that or this or that specific issue about parents or teachers or the government.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Heheh, don't take it so seriously. :)

It is a necessary feature of free speech that hecklers and nonsense-spouters will also manifest themselves.

And Mr Wang's blog supports free speech. So expect the hecklers and nonsense-spouters to show themselves here too ... Sometimes they're even funny. :)

Anonymous said...

In choosing to become a doctor at this age, Devi is taking a risk, which is what you want to encourage. It's not financially feasible, it defies convention, and most old people would frown upon it. Basically the gist of your talk is to seize the day, and Devi did.

Anyway, how have you taken risks, and could you share with us how you're an example of an empowered youth, and what great things you've done in your life? I'm sure you have an illustrious career, but when we talk about achieving great things, I think it means the benefits accrue to others as well.

Afterall, you are a lawyer, your rice bowl is secured, with your brains you'd be highly effective if you decide to fight for the rights of women, or children, or marine animals, but you're evidently not doing so.

Just out of interest, you have a preoccupation with allowing handphones in schools. Are hps allowed in court?


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

As I said, personally I just did not find Devi's story inspiring. I also said that others might have a different view. And some people did.

Not all risk-taking is inspiring or laudable. For example, I might go tapdancing in the middle of a busy road with lots of cars and taxis whizzing by. That is taking a risk - it also seems to be extremely pointless to me. What do you think? Is this also one of those points that you'd like to argue about until this post once again has 70 comments?

For goodness sakes ...

On your other point, I was INDEED thinking of using some examples from my own life. On the other hand, no doubt some of my usual detractors would then accuse me of being arrogant and boastful. That unfortunately is the drawback.

Anonymous said...

I thought that how this very topic came about already shows one example of Mr Wang's contributions to society.

Taking time off on a working day to speak at a students' conference and encourage them to dare to dream and strive for greater things in life ... and to answer their questions on current affairs at the Q&A session ...

Isn't that a kind of contribution? Mr Wang is not a GP teacher, you know, he doesn't have to do this.

Anonymous said...

I'm just pointing out that you contradict yourself. You have to deliver a consistent message about what you believe in.


Singapore Calamari said...

Just hope that your statement "not interested in the past" is not 100% literal.

Cos looking at history of mankind, one thing that strike anyone obviously, is that throughout time, people all over the world makes the same mistakes.. over and over again.. in innovative ways..

Just hope you are not the type to innovate more ways of committing the same mistakes.

Or wasting your energy reinventing the same wheel.. if you reinvent a better wheel, it's fine..

Anonymous said...

Like Mr Wang said, Vince, relax!! If you cannot even take something like this, better don't engage in intellectual discussion!

Anonymous said...

Haha, Mr Wang can't help disdaining the past. He's an INTJ - the INTJ mind is geared towards the future and how to improve things.

It's the Guardian family of personalities (ISFJs, ESFJs, ISFPs, ESFPs etc) that fear change, honour tradition, love the past and want things to stay the same forever.

Unlike the SFs, INTJs have no interest in the past because what's past is past and the INTJ knows he can't change it. INTJs are change agents at heart; their joy in life comes from manipulating the present to build the future they want to see.

Whenever you see big changes happening, there's a good chance that an INTJ is there somewhere. Or an ENTJ. These two types are the Gods of Change in the MBTI system.

Anonymous said...

I think you drifted off, chris choo. The post isn't something I dug up from the attic, it's a February post, isn't it? And Mr Wang still stands by this.

I take issue with the fact that Mr Wang is asking teens to scold their teachers for being uninteresting, and in the same breath, he's saying that a change of career by a confident woman is "stupid". A risk-averse culture is one in which people don't respect people for doing things out of the ordinary, and even pass judgment on their actions. You've got to pity our youths, one moment the motivational speaker is saying that they should experiment and question everything that the "forces" tell them, the next moment our society is criticising Khoo Swee Cheow for self-actualisation, and even the motivational speaker himself thinks that some risks are stupid.

The thing about risks is that there's always a probability of failure. The greater the risk, the greater the reward.


Anonymous said...

"Our society does not suffer from too much disobedience, rebellion, risk-taking and non-conformity - we suffer from too little disobedience, rebellion, risk-taking and non-conformity. "

I think if you want to improve our society's attitude towards risk-taking, we've got to stop judging people.

Why would the average person do something rebellious, disobedient, risky and non-conforming, if the local community is going to be abuzz with how seemingly stupid his actions are, and everyone is counting the ways in which he may fail?


Anonymous said...

Go, Mugster! Tapdance in the middle of the road & get killed. I'll clap for you.

Duh ..... You make the stupidest arguments.

Anonymous said...

No, I think Mugster makes a lot of sense!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

There are thousands of teachers in Singapore. Anyone with common sense will see that it simply can't be the case that all teachers are good. In fact, statistically, it MUST be the case that some teachers are highly incompetent.

For example, there must be some teachers which don't prepare their lessons properly; come late for class; mumble in class; can't be bothered to mark homework punctually; do not know their subject-matter well; are not interested in their students; do not like to answer students' questions etc.

The point is -

what do you do, if you are the unfortunate student of such a teacher?

In the working world, if you were attending a training course, the answer is very clear. You give feedback to the course organiser, you say why this course sucks, you go back to your organisation, and you tell your Department Head not to waste money or any employee's time again sending anyone to a course conducted by that highly incompetent instructor.

If you are a JC student - what do you do?

Grin and bear it? And prepare to fail your A-level because you effectively had a teacher who was as good as having no teacher?

Is it not a legitimate avenue to make a complaint to the school principal, providing feedback saying that this teacher SHOULD mark your homework and SHOULD come on time to class, and SHOULD teach?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Again, don't get distracted. The main point is not about incompetent teachers and whether students should complain about that. See my earlier comment. This was only one of seven examples to illustrate the main point.

The main point is that in Singapore, we err too much in accepting authority and obeying authority - so much so that even when that authority has gone clearly wrong, more often than not we can't see it; we don't see it; we dare not challenge it; like lemmings over the cliff we still follow and obey.

Most JC/ITE students would not even CONSIDER filing a complaint against the teacher - even if the teacher was highly incompetent. There could well be many good reasons why a student chooses NOT to file a complaint, for example, out of compassion he decides that he does not wish to affect the teacher's career -

unfortunately the most likely reasond for a student not to complain are:

(a) he's scared of authority (the thought of talking to the principal makes his knees shake);

(b) no one else has ever complained about a teacher and he's afraid to be the innovator, the leader, who does it for the first time (he just wants to follow the crowd);

(c) he has been conditioned to accept whatever the system throws at him (it's a totally alien idea to him that he might actually have the power to influence the system, get some honest feedback to the teacher and improve the quality of education for all the students involved).

Anonymous said...

6. WHY should you not be able file a complaint to the school if you find that a teacher is consistently uninteresting and incompetent when conducting lessons? You ARE paying fees for the teaching services, you know.

Mr Wang, that's not being innovative and different, you'd just be behaving like the average Singaporean parent who files complaints at the slightest thing. If you think this doesn't already happen, please bear in mind that a principal (a good, dedicated, principal) stepped down because he hit a student with an exercise book. There are no lack of students who are trigger-happy with the complaint button, so you don't have to worry about students being at the mercy of lazy teachers.

And that tap dancing example provided by our resident genius has nothing to do with another of his examples I provided.

My stand is, and has always been, that we have to qualify our statements, which Mr Wang has done in later comments. To just tell teens that everything their parents/teachers tell them is wrong would be silly.

ChrisChoo: Thanks for understanding what I'm trying to say. I don't KNOW for sure if the lady is confident, or if she's making an informed decision,but that's the thing that permeates our society, isn't it? Why should we judge? I just find it so ironic that Mr Wang will mention gays who left singapore because of the judgment they get, yet he too labels judgment on other people's decisions.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang was talking to, and about, young people, in their teens, and their incompetent teachers.

He was not talking about parents who obviously do not need to regard their children's incompetent teachers as "authority".


Anonymous said...

"The main point is that in Singapore, we err too much in accepting authority and obeying authority - so much so that even when that authority has gone clearly wrong, more often than not we can't see it; we don't see it; we dare not challenge it; like lemmings over the cliff we still follow and obey."

Don't worry. Although Mr Wang talks like this, he dares not challenge it, or choose not to challenge it, because the system here provides him a very good living and earning big bucks. He will just drama drama here so as to look good.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

One aspect of your flawed thinking is that you think that distrusting traditional authority necessarily means challenging it and kicking up a fight. This may or may not be the case.

For example, I did not like being in a combat unit during my NS days but this did not mean that I proceeded to AWOL or fight with my superiors. However, I also did not blindly accept my fate and simply allow two years of my NS life to be wholly dictated by the system.

I decided that I wanted to do interesting work and learn interesting things during my NS. So in a most unconventional & innovative way, I simply decided to do some research about SAF/MINDEF, and find out what kind of SAF/MINDEF job would be most interesting to me, an NSF. Having found that out, I decided that I wanted that job. Next I manoeuvred myself exactly there and had a great time.

When some officers at my old unit found out what I had done, they were furious. Too late. I waved my posting letter at them, said, "Goodbye, Sir" and left.

This is a small example of youth empowerment. The attitude is the key. You don't just let things happen to you; you make things happen - the way you want them to happen. You won't always succeed, but you can try.

You have to act unconventionally to achieve an unconventional result. If you merely think and behave just like most other people, you will simply end up like most other people - eg as an infantryman charging up and down SAFTI hills firing blanks at imaginary enemies. You may be satisfied with that - you may even be proud to do that - I didn't feel that way, so I decided to do something about the situation; and I did.

Mr Anonoymous (Thursday, April 27, 2006 9:12:09 AM), whoever you are, I invite you to consider your own present circumstances, and if there's anything you're unhappy or dissatisfied with, to think about how you could address and solve that. You mention that Mr Wang is earning big bucks - are you jealous? Would you like to earn bigger bucks yourself? Can you think of any conventional ideas to achieve that? If you cannot, can you think of any unconventional ideas?

Here's one - just go to your boss and say, "I would like to be promoted as soon as possible. Tell me what I can do to prove that I deserve promotion." Would you do that? Most people dare not - it certainly flies against the traditional ways that Asian employees feel compelled to behave. I did that in a previous job, in my 3rd month on that job. The boss was startled, but she told me what she thought I could do to show that I deserved promotion. I did those things, and I was promoted 7 months later (my 10th month in that new job). This is a true story - my behaviour was very unconventional, but then if I behaved conventionally, I'd probably just be promoted at a conventional pace, like a conventional employee.

I have achieved national standards - winning national awards, competitions etc - in two completely different hobbies of mine. How? It simply comes from the mindset that although society wants you to follow its rules - to conform, and to be perfectly ordinary, average, conventional, traditional and mediocre- you DON'T always have to follow those rules. You DON'T have to be perfectly ordinary, average, conventional, traditional and mediocre.

Even a simple thing like blogging - this blog is not even one year old yet. Why is it so popular? Why is it that so many of you keep coming back to read it? Why do so many of you send emails and leave comments to say you love my blog, it's so interesting, you learn so much from it, you've gained such insights? Why does the press mention the blog so regularly and why do journalists & students keep wanting to interview me about this blog? Is it because Mr Wang obeys authority and keeps reciting to you safe, conventional, traditional, unoriginal, boring ideas that teachers, parents, government have always been telling you about?

Anonymous said...

Stop putting down your parents, teachers, government and who have you. I think your parents don't appreciate it, especially since they contribute greatly to your growth

Andrew said...

Hi. I'm an ENTP (Enneagram 3) and I understand your need to innovate. And your understanding of intuition. Those that lack the intuition to see MBTI is correct, we can only feel sorry for. Some things can be known to a certain type of person without direct hard facts to back it up. It even made me think - maybe we could get early validations of theories by asking the right kind of MBTI type of people experienced in the subject what they think. We could even get statistics on this - how often they are right about a theory. Then we could really say to them in a language they understand, "look - my personality type is right on intuitive cases like this 90% of the time". This would satisfy those that need black and white facts.