Commentary

“You’ve Got This” with Margie Warrell
By Elaine Chan
May 26, 2020
 
A best-selling author and global leadership expert how has spent the last 25 years working with organizations such as NASA, Google, Shell, Salesforce and the UN Foundation, Margie Warrell found herself challenged to the core when her husband was diagnosed with the coronavirus in mid-March.  
 
In her latest book, entitled, You’ve Got This!: The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself, she shares insights from her personal and professional experience helping people to navigate uncertainty better and to emerge from it better off.  
 
“Our brains are wired for certainty – we like to be able to make plans on a future that we can predict… to see patterns… to know what’s coming. However right now, it’s impossible to predict the short term future with any level of confidence,” Margie says.
 
In the midst of so much uncertainty, we must double-down on what lays within our control – building our innate resiliency to respond to our challenges and find ways to thrive amid the pressure. She likened resilience to a rubber band, explaining that even when it’s stretched or pulled out of shape, it quickly returns to its original best shape. “So we need to prioritize those activities that will enable us to bounce back to our ‘best selves’ -faster and with less stress.”  
 
During our webinar, Margie shared some concepts from her book in four key points.
 
Firstly, prioritize what empowers you. That is, schedule into your daily routine the “rocks” that empower you – those activities that help you feel stronger physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. “Unless we prioritize the rocks that help us feel more positive and purposeful, the smaller stressors (‘sand) can crowd out our days and overtake our minds with negativity.”   
 
Secondly, ground yourself in self-certainty. When so much around us is uncertain we must look within for the certainty we can’t find elsewhere.  Using the metaphor of “when the storms blow in oak trees, many trees will put down deeper roots”, Margie invited us to ground ourselves to internal sources of security that lay within our power. “The more we focus on that, the more constructively we can respond to all our challenges, and the better we’ll come out of this period,” she explained.
 
Thirdly, be kind to yourself. Compassion is often directed at others, but we are often very hard on ourselves when we fall short of achieving the high standards we set for ourselves.  According to Margie, research has shown that when we can extend compassion to ourselves, it allows us to get over our mistakes faster and evolve to be braver in how we live our lives.
 
Fourthly, choose faith over fear. Margie explained that often we suffer more from our fears than we do from the source of that fear. So while it’s important to face the harder realities around us, we must also retain optimism for the future and ‘have faith’ in our ability to emerge from this time stronger and wiser.  “Faith that the dots will all connect doesn’t change our problems but it transforms our relationship to them,” said Margie.  
 
We do that by not getting pulled into ‘fear-casting’ but rather taking ownership of what we focus on and “challenging our doubts and fear-filled stories we are spinning ourselves,” she said.  “If your inner narrative is just stressing out, change it to one that makes you feel braver.” 
 
At the end of the session, Margie summarized the four key takeaways into four questions:
 
1. What’s one thing that, if you did more of, would make you feel better? 
2. What ‘power virtues’ (character traits) would you like to embody during this time?
3. If you're going to be loving to yourself today, what would you do?
4. What are you focusing on right now to be more courageous?
 
A Q&A session followed after her talk, with Margie providing insightful advice to Club Members on how to help their family members, in particular, their children. Overall, it was a fruitful time, and thanks to Margie, we left feeling inspired and charged up to be more positive and courageous. We’ve got this, Margie!
 

Singapore Media and Policy Through the Eyes of PN Balji
By Richard Hartung
May 25, 2020
 
PN Balji, the former editor of Today and the New Paper, didn’t pull any punches when he talked with Club members about media and policy in Singapore on May 25.
 
The media follows the government line and has to be mindful of the politics, he said. Editors carefully make sure that stories are within boundary markers, and any reporter who potentially crosses an ‘out of bounds’ marker once will be watched carefully to make sure it doesn’t happen again. In an example of how carefully editors are controlled, Balji said that an editor who dared to include stories about opposition politicians and even put an opposition politician’s photo on Page 1 of The Straits Times during the 2011 election was quickly replaced. The result, he said, is that The Straits Times is seen as propaganda in neighboring countries and the wider world.
 
Moreover, many in Singapore are fearful about giving information to the media and people don’t want to talk to the media. Many journalists have thus become what he calls “press release journalists” who simply reformat press releases from the government or companies and turn them into articles in the newspaper. Control by the government is so tight that it is stifling, he observed.
 
The result is that it can be difficult to get an independent view of news in Singapore. Sources he reads for news include Rice Media, Academia SG and the South China Morning Post, which has a team covering Singapore and provides insights into activities here that the local press may not cover.
 
While he has not sought to inject himself into the local media since his retirement in 2006, he has continued to advise media companies, write stories, and gather information from a variety of sources. Today, he said, there are two extremes in media. One is mainstream media such as The Straits Times, which says the government is right. The other is online media, which says the government is wrong. “My intention is to walk the middle line,” he said, by analysing the stories, leveraging his institutional knowledge of the landscape in Singapore, gathering the facts, and writing stories that provide balanced views about what is really happening in Singapore. His recent book, Reluctant Editor, is designed to preserve his institutional knowledge of the media.
 
Hearing these insights and a multitude of others, ranging from the impact of Lee Kuan Yew on the media and how editors were influenced decades ago to the state of online journalism today, and whether the Singapore media has covered COVID-19 appropriately, gave participants in the session a behind-the-scenes peek into journalism here and a deeper understanding of how media and policy actually works in Singapore. 
 

Kindness Amidst Covid
By Richard Hartung 
May 19, 2020
 
While we know intuitively that being kind is good and helps the community, Dr William Wan, General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM), said it has physiological and cognitive benefits as well. Members who participated in The Club’s webinar with Dr William Wan heard stories of kindness and gained insights that can make their lives better.
 
One of the kindest people he knows, William said, is Professor Tommy Koh. Tommy always looks for the good in others, is continually gracious, and treats everyone from students to world leaders with respect. Yet it is not only famous people who are kind. One of his neighbors is sewing dozens of face masks to give away for free. Two doctors he knows are putting their lives at risk on the front line to help others. And a taxi driver offered free rides to people in need.
 
When we get upset, William said, we should slow down and step back from our anger. If we do become angry, we should also try to reconcile with the other person before the sun sets.
 
To create a culture of kindness, he suggested, we should go back to basics. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Smile. Treat others with respect. And recognize the individuals, whether they are servers and cleaners, who are doing essential work, or corporate leaders. When the circuit breaker ends, we should be especially mindful of the need to be kind. 
 
For inspiration and information about kindness, we can read books or head to the SKM website (https://www.kindness.sg/) to get positive stories, ideas, and tips on kindness. 
 
At the end of the session, William shared three takeaways can make a difference in our lives. First, always try to be better. By becoming your better self, you’ll make a difference. Next, be sure to reach out to and recognize others, so that you make a difference in their lives. And finally, be authentic in everything you do, making kindness part of your life in an authentic way so that people know your actions are genuine. 
 
As an example of graciousness, he even gave participants his phone number so they could get in touch to follow up.
 
The session gave excellent insights into the importance of kindness and how we can make being kind part of our everyday lives. 
 

 
Conversation with Senior Minister of State Dr. Janil Puthucheary
At The American Club Singapore
By Richard Hartung 
March 31, 2020
 
 
The American Club’s *REACH Conversation on Covid-19 with Senior Minister of State for Communications & Information (MCI)  and for Transport Janil Puthucheary (SMS Janil) gave members of The American Club a unique opportunity to participate in a discussion with a senior government leader, albeit virtually.
 
As the moderator for the discussion, it was fascinating to see how quickly the session came together and how the preparations behind the scenes actually work. The Club received approval on Friday, March 27 for a Zoom webinar with SMS Janil and the session was quickly scheduled for March 31. The announcement to Club members went out on Saturday and we quickly reached the capacity limit of 100 on Zoom. Club staff worked on the arrangements over the weekend, and by midday Monday we were prepared for a test run. Everything went well and we were ready for Tuesday. At the last minute, though, SMS Janil notified the Club that he would have to participate remotely. The team pivoted quickly and adjusted some of the plans.
 
By early afternoon on Tuesday, 10 people were in a room at the Club making sure that everything was ready. Four people from REACH were in constant touch with their colleagues and SMS Janil, three technical staff had the Zoom arrangements set up and three of us from the Club were there to handle the discussion and questions.  
 
From the moderator’s perspective, a screen was set up right in front of me so I could see SMS Janil and it was almost like having him in the room. The key difference was that there were 9 people behind the camera scurrying around to make sure technology worked, colleagues at MCI were updated and questions from members went to an iPad at my table.
 
Members sent in a multitude of questions and, while there wasn’t time to answer every single one during the session, SMS Janil responded to the vast majority.
 
The hour for the discussion flew past quickly. While multitasking between getting questions ready and listening to the answers and watching for queues from the team behind the camera made the session challenging, three aspects stand out.
 
First, SMS Janil took all of the questions head-on and responded to everyone. While he didn’t have all the answers, since policies for areas such as reopening borders have not been decided yet, he didn’t pass on any question, regardless of how challenging it might have been. Second, he reflected carefully on the questions and provided insights on some of the frameworks or philosophy behind policies rather than just giving an answer. When asked about societal practices that may need to change or the balance between saving lives and restarting the economy, for example, he challenged the question and looked at how broader issues were at stake. And finally, he was willing to be quite personal. He used his background as a doctor to consider whether telemedicine would work, for instance, and he talked about the advantages of being able to conduct meetings digitally from home as well as the challenges of gaining weight while he’s out less and eating more.
 
The feedback from the session showed that Club members found it insightful and useful. They liked the format, got answers to questions, and appreciated the interaction with a senior government leader. The Club found the experience superb as well and is looking at using this session as the launchpad for more Zoom webinars in the near future. 
 
*REACH (Reaching Everyone for Active Citizery @ Home) is the national feedback and engagement unit of Ministry of Communications and Information.