Open Letter: Daniel Gulati on How Facebook Makes Us Miserable

Posted on December 13, 2011 
Filed Under Life, Social Media | Leave a Comment

Dear Mr Daniel Gulati,

I disagree with your inferences in HBR that Facebook Is Making Us Miserable .

Your three points are:
1) comparison mania
2) time suck
3) less “real-world” relationships.

Naysayers have been providing the same reasons about any new technology for centuries — blaming railways, cars, radio, recorded music, the phone, TV, video, computers, the Internet, mobile phones, Twitter — now even iPads — for supposedly making us all “miserable”.

Let’s face it, we aren’t any more miserable today than we were in the 18th century. (In fact, Steven Pinker goes so far as to argue in The Better Angels of Our Nature that violence has declined and that we have never lived through more peaceful times as we do now).

I doubt if Facebook makes us any more miserable, suicidal, violent, sick or depressed, than we were before 2003 and making that inference by extrapolating from small-sample research is just wrong.

Here are my three counterpoints:
1) Comparison mania: People have been “keeping up with the Joneses” for ages and painting a better picture of your life than it actually is is a human weakness that existed long before the Internet came along.

2) Time suck: Our media diet now includes print, music, photos, videos, movies, email, tweets, social network updates, etc. FB is just another tool we’ll adjust to.

3) Less “real-world” relationships:
A relationship improves only if you work on it. When it’s mediated through screens, it doesn’t make it “unreal” or less “rich” as having “in-person meetings.”

We live in both worlds – online/offline, virtual/real – some us have found the balance, a few of us haven’t. Our relationships have the potential to be more varied in degree and diversity than even before. You make it as rich and as close as you want it to be. How can that possibly make you more miserable?

Julian Matthews

Simon Sinek: Start With Why

Posted on October 21, 2011 
Filed Under Brainfood, Customer Service | Leave a Comment

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” Simon Sinek

Motivational speaker and writer Simon Sinek believes he’s codified the reason why some individuals and organisations are so inspirational. He calls it the world’s simplest idea — The Golden Circle.

It comprises of three rings with WHY in the centre, HOW in the middle ring and WHAT on the outer ring.

“Every single person and organisation on the planet knows WHAT they do, 100 percent. Some know HOW they do it — whether you call it your differentiating proposition, your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organisations know WHY they do what they do.

“And by WHY I don’t mean to make a profit. That’s a result. By WHY I mean ‘What’s your purpose?’, ‘What’s your cause?’ ‘What’s your belief’, ‘Why does your organisation exist?’ Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?

“The way we think, we act, we communicate is from the outside in — from the clearest to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and inspired organisations, regardless of their size or industry — think, act, communicate from the inside out…”

1. More Sinek videos at his YouTube channel
2. The TEDx talk that kicked it off.
3. His website and blog.

Oprah Winfrey on validation at Facebook Live

Posted on September 14, 2011 
Filed Under Life | Leave a Comment

Oprah Winfrey spoke with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, at the social network’s live event on Sept 8, 2011.

Here are parts of the transcript of her thoughts on legacy, validation and what it means to touch others after 25 years and 4,561 shows.

“Every person that you encounter in the space of your life — and (if you) impact them or affect them in anyway — that will be your legacy. And when you have a life like me or you (Sandberg) and you have a lot of reach and you impact a lot of people — and as I said on my last show — everybody has their own show.

“And your Facebook page, you get to have as many friends viewing your show as you can. Everybody, every day you are creating the show that is your life and every person you impact you leave a heartprint — or not. And that heartprint for every person that you touch, that is your legacy. So that when you leave the planet, every person that has been touched by you that is your legacy.

“I can’t even wrap my brain around what that is. I don’t know what that effect has been. I am just aware that in every moment and space and in every encounter that I’m making an impact whether negative or positive or indifferent or not.”

Watch live streaming video from facebookguests at

“Every time you really SEE somebody…(and) everyone is just looking to be seen.When you see your kid acting out, or if you acted out yourself — and I learnt this on the 7th or 8th year of the Oprah Winfrey show — that everybody is looking for the same thing.

The common denominator in the experience of humanity is that we all want to be seen, we all want to be heard. Every argument is about that. Every argument is about: ‘Did you really hear me?’ You probably said that yourself: ‘You’re not hearing me. (shouts) YOU’RE NOT  HEARING ME!’ Because you want to know – ‘Do you hear me?’ and ‘Does what I say mean anything to you. Does what I say have any value to you? Do I hold this space of meaning for you. Do I matter?  Do I matter to you?’

“So when you’re upset with your husband, your boss, you’re upset with your friends, or your children are upset with you, it’s because what they’re really feeling is — ‘Do I  matter?’ All arguments go down to that base level.

” ‘Does this matter to you? You don’t even care,’ you probably heard someone saying that: ‘You don’t even care. Do I matter?’. In all the years of doing the show, and I have interviewed everybody…Still trying to get OJ. I just want him to tell me that he did it and I’ll be happy. I just want him to say that he did it.

“But anyway, in all the years whether I was interviewing rapists or murderers…I remember interviewing a guy once who…at the prison, I was interviewing him between the bars and he had murdered his twin daughters and at the end of the interview, the guy who murdered his twin daughters said to me: (whispers) ‘Was that okay? How did  I do?’

“At the end of the show I did with Beyonce, Beyonce in all her Beyonce-ness says, ‘Was that okay? How was that? How did I do?’

“That’s what everybody wants to know: ‘Was I okay? Am I okay? Am I okay with you? Is this going well? Is this okay?’

“Everyone wants to know that in your life in one form or another and your ability to give them the validation that says: ‘Yeah this is okay. It’s all right. Yeah, you really matter.’…If you can do that in your personal relationships, particularly with your children and your spouse, the people who are closest to you, you will be a success in your relationships.

” ‘Cause that really is the bottomline. The common bond (knocks fists together) that holds us all together: ‘Do I matter?’ ”


What’s your story?

Posted on September 9, 2011 
Filed Under Brainfood, Social Media, Storytelling | Leave a Comment

Trey Pennington, a popular social media speaker died from his own hand on Sunday morning beneath an oak tree, near his church at Greenville, South Carolina. He was 46, the father of six children and grandfather of two grandchildren.

Understandably, there is an outpouring of tributes online of his sudden loss. (1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 )

I never knew Trey but discovered him only through those tributes. His poignant last tweet resonated with me as it did with many.

Trey’s death coincided this week with the demise of a Malaysian TV journalist, age 41, who was shot dead in Somalia while on a humanitarian mission and the sudden death of a schoolmate from my year who had an apparent heart attack at 48.

Death seems to hover over my professional and social circles, like a dark cloud, a constant reminder of my own mortality. (On Sept 10, 2011, my dad would have been 92, this is the first year we will not be celebrating his birthday.)

Wallowing in my own selfish concerns, I tried this week to stay positive and digest Trey’s spirited philosophy and enthusiastic approach to his profession.  Here’s my attempt to glean something from his numerous videos, blog posts, podcasts and tweets — online artefacts through which his legacy lives on.

By all accounts, Trey was the quintessential Southern gentleman who was passionate about social media, generous with his insights and an influential leader in the online community.

Trey had a respectable 111,000 Twitter followers, he had a blog and an online radio show and was active on Google Plus, Facebook and Linkedin. He was credited with starting or helping start ten Social Media Clubs:  eight in the southeastern United States, one in the United Kingdom, and one in Australia. He also co-founded Like Minds (a social media conference that launched in England and had events planned this year in Milan and Dubai) and the Social Story conference.

In his presentation at Social Slam 2011 in April he said:

“Never before have we had so many ways to make contact with strangers and nurture them into advocates. There is a three-fold human hunger fueling this explosive growth of social media and it is creating the age of opportunity for those willing to embrace it. No 1. We all want to be heard/seen, No 2. We all want to be understood and No 3. We all want to know our lives count.

Trey related how he came to this “beautiful” understanding when he met Amanda, a 11-year-old, at a disability school. Amanda was diagnosed as non-communicative, non-verbal which meant whatever she felt inside — her thoughts, her hopes, whenever she was hungry or afraid — she couldn’t verbalize. One day, Amanda was learning to use an adaptive communications device and she pushed a button and the computer said: “I have something to tell you.” He replied: “Okay, Amanda what do you have to tell me?” Amanda looked down at the device, then up at him again to make sure he was listening, she then pushed a button that said: “I love you.”

“Obviously this was an incredibly rich moment for me to hear her expression of affection,” he relates. “But what was more profound, was what I saw in her face — her entire countenance changed; everything about her being completely changed when she realized, for the first time, somebody else understood what she was feeling. What has this got to do with social media? How ever you are using Facebook, all of us have a bit of Amanda in us. We all have a yearning for somebody to see, someone to hear us and someone to understand us…”

Trey was a consultant for politicians and often times, he said he was faced with a client who was obsessed with  “getting the message out”. Trey’s take was to flip it and get the message IN.

Politicians, he said,  needed to say, ‘I see you and I hear you now.’ They needed to follow people back on Twitter and listen to what they said.  In one example, Trey relates how one politician took his advice, absorbed all the anger and animosity online, accepted and acknowledged his followers’ gripes and, over time, those hate tweets dissipated into friendlier banter.

Trey believed there’s “a world out there engaging on social media, just hoping someone would notice them.” All we need to do is listen.

“Who am I now; why am I here (existentially AND on social media); what do I have to offer are great starting points for engagement.”

Trey often quoted Zig Ziglar on this: “You can have everything in life if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want. It’s not about you, it’s about them.”

Towards the end, Trey distilled the core of his understanding in a devoted exploration of the idea of the social story.

“The story is more powerful than the brand,” Tom Peters.

Trey believed today’s online yearnings are just a reflection  and amplification of  what storytellers have been doing throughout the ages.

“The Storyteller sees Story as a gift that has been given and grows in value as it is given away. He sees the relationship with his Audience as one of doing everything for their benefit. He is totally focused on their experience right now. He sees to minimize himself so that Story and the Audience would have the pre-eminence. When you boil it all down, the Storyteller simple sees the world differently. And there in lies the huge opportunity for us today to challenge the assumptions about the way things are, the way things should be and the way things can be.”

Two books he cited that shaped his thinking were Annette Simmons’ The Story Factor and Doug Lipman’s The Storytelling Coach.

An excerpt from the first chapter of  The Story Factor distillates the idea of the story as core:

“People don’t want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith – faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell. It is faith that moves mountains, not facts. Facts do not give birth to faith. Faith needs a story to sustain it – a meaningful story that inspires belief in you and renews hope that your ideas, do indeed, offer what you promise. Genuine influence goes deeper than getting people to do what you want them to do. It means people pick up where you left off because they believe. Faith can overcome any obstacle, achieve any goal. Money, power, authority, political advantage, and brute force have all, at one time or another, been overcome by faith.

“Story is your path to creating faith. Telling a meaningful story means inspiring your listeners — co-workers, leaders, subordinates, family, or a bunch of strangers — to reach the same conclusions you have reached and decide for themselves to believe what you say and do what you want them to do. People value their own conclusions more highly than yours. They will only have faith in a story that has become real for them personally. Once people make your story, their story, you have tapped into the powerful force of faith. Future influence will require very little follow-up energy from you and may even expand as people recall and re-tell your story to others.”

This animation suggests the extreme way in which we are immersed in Information over Story: Red Riding Hood as told via infographics by Tomas Nilsson:

Slagsmålsklubben – Sponsored by destiny from Tomas Nilsson on Vimeo.

In this tweet exchange with Jay Baer, Trey was asked whether social media would be helped or hurt by widespread corporate adoption?

His reply: “Intriguing question. Humanity will be helped by wholesale adoption of a ‘social media’ mentality—’My neighbor 1st’ mentality. Don’t know that we need to shield social media. Also don’t know if corporate America can handle social media. Besides, social media will probably get better as more and more people and organizations get on board.”

On the impact of stories on social media, Trey concluded:

“Social media helps shine a spotlight on old-fashioned humanity — we make meaning through stories. A storyteller doesn’t have a ‘point to make,’ nor is he focused on ‘ROI,’ or even his own end-game: he focuses on audience. The storyteller lives to help the audience create their own experience; that IS the reward and that’s enough. Social media swings wide the doorway to co-created experiences that can be easily shared with others.”

Trey Pennington exemplified the life of the selfless storyteller. He gave meaning to many people’s lives, despite his tragic end. Who doesn’t need a little validation in their life every now and then?

Maybe we all need to hear to each other’s story too. So what’s your story? Tell me, I’m listening.

Trey Pennington shared TJ Thyne’s fable called Validation on his June 13, 2010 blog post.

The secret powers of time

Posted on September 6, 2011 
Filed Under Life, Time Management | Leave a Comment

The above RSA animation of Professor Philip Zimbardo’s talk sheds light on time perspectives and how it affects our work, health and well-being.

He peppers it with interesting examples, including the oft-repeated marshmallow experiment, and how your social status, pace of life, your religion, where you are located geographically and even the lack of seasons influences your perspective of time and therefore who you are as a person, how you relate to people and how you act daily.

It’s an important question to ask yourself: Are you past-, present- or future-oriented?

The original, extended 41-min video and this second shorter video from TED clarifies his points.

Further reading:
1. Sean at Cosmic Variance recently posted “Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Time”, digesting the ideas presented at an inter-disciplinary conference on the nature of time
2. Derek Sivers blogged about Zimbardo’s The Time Paradox and took notes.
3. Read the first chapter of The Time Paradox

Reflections on Amy Winehouse, dead at 27

Posted on July 25, 2011 
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Amy Winehouse didn’t look like you or me. She didn’t play to type with that throwback beehive and ‘I’m scary’ eyeshadow, a faux diva that you wouldn’t stand next to at a party.

But it was that song and that distinctive voice that drove her into our lives:

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said ‘no, no, no’
Yes I’ve been black but when I come back you’ll know, know, know
I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab but I won’t go, go, go

She was that glorious one-of-a-kind singer that seemingly came out of nowhere. We cheered her frank defiance, it appealed to our inner rebel, tilting against higher authority figures, drowning out the drone of parental righteousness.

Five Grammys and many other awards later, at 23, Amy was on a bullet train to infamy and we all knew it. Sudden fame is such a destructive force and we’ve seen this telemovie before.

Stuck on a treadmill of troubled performances, between alcohol and drug binges, spiralling in and out of control on an endless loop, fuelled by Jay-Zish remixes, can the singer separate herself from that song when concert-goers scream for another encore of you-know-what.

Were we all partly to blame, then? When we want a piece of that glitter called fame and it shatters before us, do we just fade to black, walk away, find the next, new shiny thing?

Or do we ask ourselves why we, as a society, cannot intervene when we can see the descent and destruction and the solution that is oh-so-obvious.

When a man in Oslo, Norway wakes up one day and decides to shatter the lives of everyone around him, we lament that it could not be predicted.

It is McVeigh, Mohamed Atta, the Unabomber, Virginia Tech’s Cho Seung-Hui and the Columbine killers all over again. Loners, isolated from the mainstream, invisible not only to us but even to those closest to them. Or perhaps, ignored out of our sheer helplessness.

But when we see the stars dying before us, does it suffice for us to just sit back and watch them flame out? Are their lives as worthless as an iTune download, lost in the shuffle? As flippant as a retweet: R.I.P Amy Winehouse?

When I awoke that morning and informed my daughter of Amy’s loss, her instant comeback was that Lindsay Lohan was next.

Precocious cynicism, or just simple predictable truths as seen through a 12-year-old?

We don’t need to be prophets of doom to see the unravelling of a life before us.

“I’ve known for a long time that my daughter has problems. But seeing it on screen rammed it home. I realise my daughter could be dead within the year. We’re watching her kill herself, slowly. I’ve already come to terms with her dead. I’ve steeled myself to ask her what ground she wants to be buried in, which cemetery. Because the drugs will get her if she stays on this road. I look at Heath Ledger and Britney. She’s on their path. It’s like watching a car crash – this person throwing all these gifts away,”
Janis, Amy’s mother in a 2008 interview.

A website belittling a life with the gift of an iPod belittled a life with the gift of an iPod

Well, who’s next? Should we take a poll and vote on it? Will this crowdsourced list help us then alleviate the obvious?
Will we able to intervene where others can’t?

Can we?

No, no, no.

Sordid final hours of a troubled star: Amy Winehouse had ‘bought ecstasy, cocaine and ketamine’ on the night before tragic death
Amy Winehouse – Rehab
Last performance, Belgrade 2011
Amy Winehouse – Wikipedia

The Timberland Story by Tim Sanders

Posted on February 15, 2011 
Filed Under Life | Leave a Comment

Timberland Story

A moving and inspirational story from Tim Sanders from his book Saving The World At Work.

Video: The Timberland Story by Tim Sanders
Excerpt from book

10 cool and inspiring inventions

Posted on February 14, 2011 
Filed Under Invention | Leave a Comment

Been sifting through the inventions lists of 2010 and came across some gems. Here’s the short list.

1. Autonomous bionic robo-penguins and air-penguins that float around your lobby. Quite enthralling.

2. Piano stairs. This is an initiative of Volkswagen and its agency DDB Stockholm that came up with the Fun Theory that you can change the behaviour of people by turning the most mundane tasks into something enjoyable. Great to see the original idea replicated in Auckland, New Zealand and Melbourne, Australia. Other ideas at the dedicated website include a) the world’s deepest garbage bin b) the bottle bank arcade c) the scratch mat and d) the Wiki traffic light. On a side note, Coca Cola came up with its take on the fun theory ~ a happiness vending machine.

3. In 2011, Sugru is going to become as common a word as Blu-Tack and Play-Doh. Sugru is like modeling clay but when exposed to air turns into a tough flexible silicone overnight. The company is touting it as the ultimate hacking material offering the layman a chance to fix or re-purpose things as he/she sees fit. The website offers a gallery of ways fans have used the versatile product. According to the Wikipedia entry, inventor and former sculptor Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh of Kilkenny, Ireland conceived the idea for the substance and worked with FormFormForm, a “ninja team of inventors and material scientists”, to come up with the moldable, adhesive and self-curing silicone elastomer now trademarked as Formerol. Caution though, one user has pointed to a possible allergic reaction to the product or its colouring..

4. The Looxcie wearable camcorder looks like a spaceship of Star Trek’s Federation fleet. It hooks over your ear and leaves your hands free for those times when you may need them for some other activity (ahem!).

Can see it being really useful for recording breaking news events eg. running for cover when faced with angry pro-Hosni Mubarak goons. Other applications including using it for rock climbing, mountain biking, water-skiing and recording an interview subject who is about to flip a plane and using a handy mirror to switch back to see your own petrified face.

5. Square is a tiny magnetic card reader that turns your smart phone into a credit card processor. Sounds like an ideal app for on-the-go merchants who may have to leave in a hurry eg. pirated DVD salesmen. Square received another round of funding and a speculated US$200m valuation early this year, and may be another winner for Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.

6. The driverless car from Google is a godsend for every parent turned child-chaffeur/transporter slave. Considering we parents break our backs and sometimes clock 100km daily just driving the kids around the city, this is something we really need today! Where do we send the cheque Larry and Sergey?

7. Synthetic life. In May 2010, pioneering geneticist J. Craig Venter and his team announced that they had created a new bacterial genome and used it to reboot a cell.

Venter described the synthesized cell as “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer,” which doesn’t bode well for those of us who didn’t believe Arnie when he famously said “I’ll be back!“.

Venter said his team had also inserted four hidden messages as watermarks into the synthetic bacteria for others to decipher. One is an explanation of the coding system, the second is a URL address for those who crack the code to go visit, the third is a list of names of the 46 contributors to the project and the fourth is a series of famous quotes including “To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life,” from James Joyce’s A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man..

8. iReal Book App. Described by Pandora founder Tim Westergren as the “backup band in your pocket”, the iRealBook iPhone app has hundreds of bass, drum and piano tracks of the standards, pop classics and then some. A great tool for musicians and wannabes according to this reviewer, below:

9. The Dyson bladeless fan. British inventor Sir James Dyson is best known for the bagless vacuum cleaner, currently manufactured in Malaysia, which went through 5127 failed prototypes before meeting success. The bladeless fan is safer, easier to clean and has a cool factor that makes one want to go out and buy one right away.

10. The personal robot. Cynthia Breazal’s TED presentation was fascinating and holds a promise of what is to come.

Time magazine’s 50 best inventions of 2010
Best iPhone and iPad Apps of 2010

The three men in my life

Posted on December 8, 2010 
Filed Under Life | 2 Comments

And the three men I admire most…
…They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died. ~ Don McLean, American Pie

Life is hard. Then you die. I always liked the finality of those two sentences. Six words that made sense. But lately, since I lost my dad at 91 and two close friends at 45, I have started to re-think those words.

My father and my friends Pako and Ravi never seemed to show that life was hard. It may have been hard for the people who loved them especially at the end, but it never seemed that life took a toll on their day-to-day living. Life, in fact, seemed “easy” for them.

They seemed to have discovered the one truth that few people acknowledge. Life is transitory.

You cannot wrestle it to the ground and put a choke hold on it and say, “I’ll say when it’s over, dammit!”.

Life passes you by even when you are too busy working, worrying, getting depressed, crying over losses, ranting and worst of all: WHINING.

I don’t remember my dad, Pako or Ravi whining. For whining about your life or lack of it is the ultimate sin. We do life injustice when we moan about our work, our spouses and kids or opposingly our single life, our material wealth or lack of it, our houses, our cars, our health, our relatives ~ ourselves.

It is a waste of time. It drains you of your energy. It tires you and throws you into a vortex of worthlessness.

Here are three people who floated through life without seemingly a care in the world. They lived for today. They had found a nirvana here on earth that most of us whiners may never realize before we die. We pine and pray for a heaven beyond this earth that doesn’t exist; creating our own hell, awaiting our own grim reaper.

I lost my father and a true friend Ravi in the space of 10 days this year. I lost Pako over five years ago.

There is nothing in the world that can prepare anyone for the loss of people who are dear to you. You feel the slice of a cold blade in your heart but nothing gushes out, just emptiness and pain.

I found myself tearing up when I was behind the wheel in the middle of traffic. There was no solace in bed at night. The words of every song on the radio resonated and tugged me deeper into melancholy.

I would get flashes ~ like tiny movies playing in my mind’s eye, memories that were so vivid, I could clearly hear their voices, see their smiles, feel their presence.

My father was rushed to hospital on Oct 22 after what was believed to be a stroke.

That night, I spent a night by his bedside. They had tied his arms to the bed rails so that he would not pull against the tubes in his arms. My dad was still able to talk but he no longer could control his bowels and had to suffer the indignity of wearing adult diapers and a catheter.

His health had deteriorated over the last years of his life as a result of the hard drinking and heavy smoking, both of which he had quit for over a decade. He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, causing his breathing to be laboured. He would stay awake all night long, and need reassurance from my mother and eldest sister, who bless their hearts, shouldered the brunt of his constant care.

My paternal grandfather had died in a hospital, apparently, the family story goes, from being given the wrong medication. As a result, my father lived with a real fear of hospitals ever since. When he was persuaded to go, because his symptoms had become so severe, he would often make a “sudden recovery” in front of the attending physician just to get out of a night’s stay there.


My dad was a photolithographer. I never understood what that meant except that it had something to do with maps and dad worked for the government at the Survey Department from his late teenage years until he retired.

When asked by my teachers what my father’s occupation was, I was so proud that at the age 8 or 9, to be able pronounce it, spell it and then differentiate it from a photographer, when the teacher mistakenly tried to correct me. “No, he works on maps at the Survey Department,” I would say adamantly, a fact I knew, because on numerous occasions he took me to the office where I would play for hours near his “enormous” work table.

I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say ~ Mike & The Mechanics, Living Years

That night, my father awoke repeatedly. He was disoriented and still thought he was at home, shouting out the names “Jane! Jane!” (my mum) and  “Irene! Irene!” (my sister) to an open ward of patients. I tried to calm him and say,”Dad you are in hospital,” but it didn’t seem to register.

He didn’t seem like the typical stroke victim either, with paralysis on one side, or slurred speech. I held his hand and he gripped me back – sometimes so tightly it hurt.

This reassured me more, I believe, than it did him. My dad was never the cuddly type. I don’t remember being hugged by him. As I grew older, and when I reached over to hug him during my visits, he would always proffer his hand instead and say, “Bird flu, bird flu”, to avoid the embrace.

Dad adhered to the stiff-upper-lip resoluteness of his Queen’s English upbringing and was a bit of an anglophile, despite being of Ceylonese descent, and having spent only a few short years in Britain.

But dad was such a gregarious person after a little inebriation. He used to use the word “incorrigible” on others, but I now realize it applied to him best – but in a good way, there was a rascally streak in him that we, his children, may have all inherited.

Dad used to sing at all our family gatherings, along with his two younger brothers the late Uncle Douglas and sole surviving male Kanagasabai and incredibly witty Uncle Cyril. They were a riot with their bawdy and teasing songs – the lyrics of which I remember only in snatches “Around the corner and under the tree, a Bengoli maiden made love to me…” and “If I were a bachelor boy and if I were to marry…”

He always had an appreciation for the old standards by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and the ilk and I remember he also had an odd penchant for Boney M’s Christmas Songs which he would play on endless repeats during the season.

He would often illustrate to anyone who would listen how the music of the present day has devolved by suddenly singing out loud “Who let the dogs out….woof, woof, woof, woof,” barking as we rolled in laughter.

It is late now, most of the patients in the ward are asleep. Dad is gently tapping on my hand with his fingers. There is a machine in the distance going off at regular intervals – theet, theet, theet. Dad’s tapping falls into exact sync with the beeping machine! I imagine that somewhere in his mind music is playing. And he is happy.

At one point in the middle of what I think is sleep, my father suddenly says: “What floor are you on?”

I am caught by surprise, in mid-sleep myself. I know we had told him we had moved to our own apartment, after many long years in rented terrace houses, but he had yet to visit.

“10th floor,” I replied to which the retort came quickly back: “Too high! Too high!” and then he faded off to sleep again.

Later in his hospital stay, my sister related how my father had asked for the wheel chair for the sole purpose of going to the 10th floor. He was on the 9th floor, the top-most floor in Selayang Hospital, so did he mean he wanted to finally come visit or was he ready to go to his maker?

After a fitful night, my mum and eldest sister returned the next morning to the hospital ward to relieve me. I returned home to try to catch up on much needed sleep.

Sometime mid-day on Oct 23rd, I awoke suddenly and checked my phone. There were 4 missed calls. But they were not from my sister but from a friend who was on holiday from Australia.

When I reached him he was in tears. I was told a close mutual friend of ours Ravi, who we called by his petname, Baby, was dead at 45 years old.

It was a shock. Ravi had been to my apartment for his first time only days before and gave his blessing. Now he was gone.


Ravi was the complete opposite of my dad by the fact that he hugged everyone. But Ravi shared my dad’s warmth, friendliness and generosity to anyone, even strangers he met for the first time.

I got to know Ravi after he showed up at the uni his elder brother, Ragu and I were in. Even though he was from a different uni he acted like a freshie asking – mostly women – to be ragged. The ladies adored him.

But I really got to know him when he met a nasty accident and ended up bed-ridden for months in hospital. I dropped by each morning to cheer him up ~ but turns out the happiest guy in hospital was Ravi. He had patients around his bed playing cards or just laughing and sharing jokes, forgetting the dreariness of being cooped up in a hospital ward. Despite his foot looking black and blue and ripe for an amputation, Ravi never showed an iota of concern ~ even though I guessed he must have been hurting inside.

I would sometimes bring him breakfast, before heading off to the drudgery of work, and it turned out Ravi always cheered me up, listening to my whining about my job, instead of me offering a sympathetic ear to his pain.

In the end, Ravi lost half his foot, but it never showed in the fullness of the man he was for the next two decades of his life.

It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share

And the load
Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother ~ by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell, popularized by Neil Diamond and the Hollies, He Ain’t Heavy

The party never really started until Ravi showed up. And he always made an effort to show up when I asked him to. He always showed he cared. He hugged me like a lover parting for the last time. Or a friend, perhaps, who knew his time was short and made every effort to acknowledge our closeness.

He called me every year just on the stroke of midnight, the first minute of Jan 22, to wish me happy birthday. I was told I was not the only one accorded the privilege of a Ravi birthday call. He must have made a lot of calls in his life. He had many friends who would’ve filled an entire calendar year. I guess it was part of Ravi’s style to remind us all to be thankful of every year we lived.

My friend and I are driving to his apartment after receiving the shocking news. I get lost trying to recall the route, making instinctive rights and lefts. He is on the phone trying to get directions when I overhear him say the name of a hospital. I turn to my right, and there is the exact hospital he mentions!

We drive to the entrance, park and head to the mortuary. We know some unexplained intervention has brought us here early to greet the body of our friend Ravi.

A police truck pulls up shortly after. Ravi is in a black body bag. The police drag his body off the truck and unceremoniously dump it onto a gurney like they were dragging a sack of rice.

Inside, my friend and I are called in and the black bag is unzipped. Ravi is lying there, in familiar shorts and sleeveless t-shirt, and all our doubts of his mortality are confirmed. We both break down. I cry his name out loud, as if to will him back.

His hands are drawn criss-cross on his chest. There is red ash on his on forehead. He looked as peaceful as a saint, almost a hint of a smile on his lips. I knew then that he was gone.


I met my friend Pako when I thought he would make a good interview subject for a news story. I was in Tioman Island covering the sailing regatta for a magazine and noticed he was the only Egyptian in the field.

Pako was tanned and tall and physically the person you would expect to be a sportsman. But he surprised me by also being articulate and erudite and proceeded to enlighten me on the state of humanity and the environment.

Pako was part Egyptian and Austrian and showed the good looks of a person of mixed parentage. When I met him he was the dive instructor of the resort, but he also seemed to have a chip on his shoulder of not matching the doctorates that both his father and grandfather held.

He had applied to all the Commonwealth countries to do his PhD in English, and only Malaysia replied. He signed on to do his doctorate in history in University Malaya, then asked the taxi driver where the best dive spot in Malaysia was and was told it was Tioman island.

He easily secured a job as a dive guide, given his experience, when he arrived at the resort.

A few months later, after the regatta I met Pako in the city. We struck up a friendship that lasted till the day he left us.

Pako taught me that life was too short to be bemoaning our fate. He was constantly curious, his eyes lighted up like a child at discovering new things and he always showed a hunger for new knowledge, questioning dogmas and iron-clad “truths” ~ debates that took us late into the night, after many a beer.

Pako was a physical man who earned his living by showing hundreds, including us, the wonders and beauty of life from where we came from ~ the depths of the oceans ~ but he was cerebral and constantly thinking of new ideas on land ~ ideas he promised to turn into a book.

In the end, he did write a book, with the help of a friend, on his beloved Tioman, the island he called home for most his life in Malaysia.

Hey, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend?
People can be so cold.
They’ll hurt you and desert you.
Well they’ll take your soul if you let them.
Oh yeah, but don’t you let them.
You just call out my name and you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again ~ Carole King, popularized by James Taylor, You’ve Got A Friend

Pako collapsed one day back in Egypt. His wife, Susanne, told us it was brain cancer. He survived the first bout through an operation and therapy and we got to see him back again in Malaysia and shared some great meals and laughter together.

I never forgave myself for not visiting him in his native land. He spoke so often of wanting to show me his Egypt ~ through his eyes. “I am from the desert, we sleep under the stars!” he said, the first time he was offered the couch of the living room, much to our amusement.

Like my dad and Ravi, Pako never showed anyone that life was hard. Life dealt them some hard blows. But they seemed to roll with the punches and get on with it. There was too little time to bicker and moan and whine.

Few of us understand that truth. We spend too much time on trivialities, obsessing about little things, being anal and inflexible in our ways.

Yes, life needs constants and some consistency, but life also teaches us to enjoy the ride and go with the flow.

The three men in my life taught me life isn’t hard. Life is actually easy. Or, at least, they made it look easy.

Laugh, be curious and be generous with your time with others. And be a little bit crazy. It may be the only antidote you have against the insanity of this world.

Life isn’t hard. Take it easy. Then you live. Really live. And then you die.

Take it easy, take it easy
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels
drive you crazy
Lighten up while you still can
don’t even try to understand
Just find a place to make your stand
and take it easy ~ The Eagles, Take it Easy

Case study: WWF Malaysia

Posted on September 22, 2010 
Filed Under Non-profits, Social Media | Leave a Comment

Anita Devasahayam of Trinetizen Media has written a case study about WWF Malaysia for the latest Social Space magazine, produced by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation, Singapore Management University.

The paper focuses on the non-profit’s use of media tools to champion its advocacy efforts.

The Malaysia chapter of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-M), like most non-profits, operates on tight resources and struggles to gain attention for the work it does.

It must contend with issues of relevance, credibility and strategic use of media to deliver its conservation message in a world saturated with media messages.

WWF-M currently runs over 70 projects ranging from saving endangered tiger and turtle species, to protecting the highland forests, rivers and seas. The projects are funded through a combination of grants, donations, sponsorships and fund-raisers.

Although WWF-M had the support of big brand names such as Boh Plantations, Honda Malaysia and HSBC Bank Malaysia, there were concerns that the projects did not receive sufficient media coverage and were not reaching the desired audience – namely, the larger public interested in the environment and ecology.

According to its 2009 annual report, corporate sponsors contributed over RM1.91 million in 2009 compared to RM2.15 million in 2008 in financial support to WWF-M, a drop of almost 11 per cent from 2008 to 2009.

Conversely, donations from individuals over the same time period rose by 16 percent. Donations from individuals accounted for 38 per cent of the organisation’s total revenue.

Recognising that a shift had occurred in its source of funding and support and more was needed to engage individual donors from among the Malaysian public, WWF-M was prompted to review their media strategies to meet this objective.

Although mainstream media played a significant role in spreading news pertaining to WWF-M’s activities, twice as many articles were written in the media from 2000-2004, as compared to 2005-2009, though there was an overall increase in the number of conservation issues in the latter period.

One contributing factor to this change is the general increase in access to the Internet across Malaysia over the last decade.

WWF-M recognised that it would have to work with newer media channels, while at the same time coming up with innovative strategies to engage traditional media platforms, to ensure their message reaches the larger public.

The results of a survey, targeting senior journalists and editors at local newspapers and broadcast stations, were also eye-opening and gave WWF-M an impetus to change the way they pushed their agenda via the media.

The survey identified three key areas that WWF-M needed to address in order to advocate their message of conservation, strengthen their relationship with their current stakeholders and cultivate the larger public in this media saturated environment.

The three key areas were:

  1. simplify the message;
  2. cultivate media relationships;
  3. ensure that their voice is heard despite the unfavourable media environment.

1. Simplify the Message: Give Me Something Fresh and Easy to Understand
For example, survey participants stated that stories tackling dwindling numbers of leatherback turtles or threatened forest fauna due to intense logging were “typical and usual”, “old”or “recycled.”

What was perceived as urgent or significant news by WWF-M was not viewed as news by the media.

WWF-M’s press releases also tended to be technically complex, with little or no effort to craft the issues in a manner that would be understood by lay-persons.

Furthermore, the alarmist tone that often characterized the press releases issued by the organisation did little to increase its credibility, even among reporters who were conversant with conservation issues.

Some reporters characterized WWF-M press releases as hyperbolic and occasionally inaccurate.

2. Cultivate Media Relationships: Give Me Someone to Talk To
The media stated that it had trouble keeping up with changes in the WWF-M’s communications team. The communications team of the WWF-M also failed to engage with the media on the presumption that the strength of their brand was sufficient to draw attention to the various causes. Mainstream media members generally felt the onus lay with WWF-M to keep editors and journalists apprised of internal changes and new developments.

3. Ensure Their Voice is Heard: Speaking Up Over the Noise
WWF-M was also affected by the economic downturn in the 2008-2009 period. Appeals for donations in the public domain became particularly challenging as a result. WWF-M’s appeals for coverage in broadcast media also revealed that the industry has shifted its emphasis to focus more on poverty, disabilities and unmet social needs. With limited air-time available, conservation and environmental issues were given less coverage through such media platforms. WWF-M needed to work harder to make their issues relevant, timely, and just as important than other matters the media was covering.


WWF-M’s TX2 tiger conservation campaign used an integrated approach combining offline marketing activities such as tiger-face painting and online appeals and outreach efforts via social networks.

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