How can we teach appreciation?


A few days ago, I went out with an ex-colleague who interestingly pointed out that some of our students do not quite know how to appreciate. “They gave the least in return.” He said, and this random remark echoed alongside the deep recesses of my own mind.

For more than a year, I had avoided speaking about it because it just wasn’t something you could talk about openly, this, lack of love and appreciation from your own form class. It was somewhat embarrassing even, for did you expect your students to adorn you with gifts and words of thanks?

Teachers’ Day came and went by last year, and I remembered … not receiving any card nor words of thanks from them. Yes some individual students were really sweet and bought us some flowers and chocolates… All very arbitrary and random thoughts put together because of the festivity of the occasion.

This year, my birthday also came and went, and the class was disappointingly more interested in having their own cake and party. I don’t mean that they ought to throw me a birthday surprise but I had at least hoped they would remember and not expect me to throw them a celebration.

This episode does not stand on its own. I bought a cake for the class last year. A boy said “What cake is this? It’s not nice.” They would always be thinking about what could be done for them than what could be done for others. It feels that whatever we have done for them, most of the class is happy just being at the receiving end of things.

If not for the comment my colleague gave, I probably would have avoided even thinking about it. I cannot figure out if theirs is a matter of not knowing how to show appreciation, or of appreciating others. If it is the former, we could show them strategies and ways to spread kindness and thanks. But if it was the latter, how can we teach the younger generation to be thankful and not assume that things should go in a particular way as planned? Life is not going to present challenges to them all nicely decked with a red bow.

I think parents and schools need to look at this issue and take action to reinforce the good values of sharing, caring and giving thanks among the young people. Perhaps we should be more strategic and thoughtful in rewarding our students when they do well. A friend once mentioned that we reward too easily for things they should be doing, perhaps because our expectations have fallen that low. It doesn’t give students any reason to want to do better than they are, not so much because they cannot, but because they don’t need to.

My school has a merit/demerit point system which helps to indicate a student’s conduct in school for the semester. We were told at our level meetings that we should remember to be more generous when awarding students with merit points. We arrived at this proposal to award students without any misbehavior with some points. I clarified this with the level Dean who said yes to this definition: that we reward students who behave as they should. I don’t know whether we hear sirens when we look at it that way, but I know I didn’t like the idea. Students become in the habit of asking to be rewarded for something nice they did. Even if we want to encourage it to become a norm in life. Does it actually work to inculcate such habits of kindness in students? I have my doubts.

Perhaps it is also the way we market ideas and programmes to our students. When we tell them “this is a great opportunity!” and “we believe in you!”, I think we are essentially telling our students that we think they are great, and they are fantastic, and they should be a part of it because they deserve it. I think sometimes we present them too many opportunities and we forgot that we have also inflated their ego enough. As far as I can remember, opportunities to represent the school, go for conferences, or participate in trainings were privileges my peers and I would look upon with admiration and envy. Nobody would wave them at you and coax you to participate by inflating your ego time and time again. We would be yearning secretly for a chance to be a part of the programme, and if we had the chance, it would be something almost sacred we never for granted. Maybe we coax the students too much, and give them too many opportunities they think they have a right to choose. They withdraw from competition when the commitment surpasses what they are comfortable with, they shrink back and fear to follow through.

This brings us back to the issue of self- entitlement that characterises children today. When will we stop reinforcing this sense of self- entitlement in our own children?


Don’t Call Me

I have a confession to make. I avoid all calls on my hand phone – whether they be anonymous or otherwise – with the sole exception that they are friends I want to speak with at that point in time.

I don’t think the hand phone created this tendency. I think it provided us with the option of not picking up phone calls at times we consider inconvenient. When my friends call me at an inconvenient time, say, during a TV programme or when I am preparing a cup of coffee in the kitchen, I have the choice of switching my mobile to silent mode in order to stop it from interfering with my usual method of business. It will magically stop ringing and vibrating, and give me a sense of respite at knowing I can choose when to give the caller my attention. If at all.

I think we have grown to abuse the convenience of the phone. From ignoring calls when I am truly held up in the kitchen, or in the washroom, or in a conversation with a friend, I have come to ignore calls when I don’t feel up for it.

Yes, you heard me right. When I don’t feel in the mood to speak to you, I can easily ignore your phone call and then conveniently put up the excuse that I was caught in the middle of something and your call came at a bad time – shifting the responsibility of me answering my ringing phone, to you, the caller, to time your calls perfectly. I feel all (or most) responsibility is absolved when I tell the caller that “I was busy, sorry I missed your call.”

We have a reason, and a pretty valid one, on our side. That is, hand phones should not be a distraction to our lives and we should not disturbed just because we have unlimited access to our electronic gadgets. We have the right to protect the privacy in our lives and if I want some peace and quiet when I am watching my drama on the TV set, I should have the option to make you call me back again or text me. Yet, I wonder if we use this reason too often it has lost its persuasive value. Have our lives become so full of distraction itself, we shun communication with others because we dislike hearing their voices?

I think only we ourselves will know the answer.

Happy Notes


In light of the recent dissonance among Singaporeans about CPF and CPF blogger Roy Ngerng, we may tend to view anything on the open web with a shifty eye. Is this permitted? Is this comment right? Should this be said? Yet, amidst this cloud of distrust and doubt, I think it is important to recognise the value of social media as a platform to share happiness and graciousness in the world.

I don’t know about you, but I feel uneasy whenever acts of defamation or flaming is committed online. When a stranger posts a scathing comment on a friend’s status update on Facebook, or when someone bombards a business with bitingly harsh criticism on Facebook, or when a shadow is cast over another’s reputation, because we boldly tap on the extensiveness and power of social media to forward our agendas.

What about when others use social media to share happy things? I remember sending ONE, a chamber choir, an email commending them on how their performance was honest and moving – and made me feel such strong personal emotions when I was in the concert hall for the first time in a long time. It gave me the opportunity to look into myself, and engage in a window of contemplative reflection. It didn’t just make them feel good – it made me feel good as well. The act of complimenting or thanking someone, simply for a good experience, made me glow with even greater happiness.

Recently I ordered some prints and a cement stack (to display my photographs at my new workstation) from SPS (Social Print Studio). This quirky and fun team is committed to producing high-quality prints and products with fabulous service. The cool thing was when I zipped open the packages sent to me, there would always be a pretty sticker label and a contact card, and/or some small personal touch (a stamp, a memo note) thanking me for being their customer and sharing in their joy of creating such beautiful prints. I was intrigued by their website and how fun and down-to-earth their work environment seemed to be. It made me jealous. But more importantly, I also sent them an email – hoping to share how happy their enthusiasm for their craft made me as a customer across the world feel.

The joy of sharing happiness through the web did not stop there. Within a few hours, I received a reply from them, thanking me personally for the feedback and offering 50% off the next shipping costs. It made my day. :) These were real people who did not just take in my positive feedback and hope I would continue to return as a customer. They really responded to me as their valued customer, something that seems long lost.

This has reaffirmed my belief that we should keep using the Internet as a platform to spread the happiness to others. :)