On social expectations, norms and more.

Having been brought up in an Asian society and having lived in Singapore for all my life (i.e. 24 years), I have learnt a lot and of course, am still learning.

My travels have opened my eyes so much, that I’m thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had, despite them being limited. I’ve been to Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Australia, New Zealand and Turkey, so far. The memories I’ve had in New Zealand, for instance, have faded away since it has been well over 10 years (you all should know by now, that I suffer from memory loss). As for Australia, I was there again for about 20 days last May and it certainly were the best days of 2011, maybe even my life. (I’ll be doing a separate entry on this, so look forward to it!). Nonetheless, despite my agenda for every travel being different, each country has given me many takeaways. Aspects of the country to fall in love with, as well as, things I absolutely detest that I might not be revisiting them anytime soon, or ever for that matter. Some incidents have humbled me, some have angered me.  But, all of them, have played a pivotal role in shaping the way I think.

The mindset of almost all Asian countries is pretty much the same. Although, some countries are much more developed than the rest, be it in terms of GDP or the basic needs of an individual being met or the job market,  we are pretty much are in the same boat. Society has over time, developed so many social norms that we inevitably fall prey to the groupthink mentality. The younger generation (i.e. Gen-Y) tries to break free from it. Some succeed, some fail. Some migrate to solve the issue, some are tied down with responsibilities here. Some accept the mentality and try to work around it, some get angered, frustrated and all they do is complain. I’m a firm believer in Gandhi’s, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” It might take decades, let alone centuries, if at all, for the Asian mentality to change and embrace change, creativity and differences. But, we need to put a step forward. Every one of us.

I’d like to share a few issues with regards to Singapore, at least, that irk me.

Starting with schools, ministries claim that they welcome creativity and yet students are stifled with acquiring knowledge from textbooks. We ingrain into them at a very early stage that studying is a positive trait and should be cultivated. It should be learning, not studying. We focus on doing well in tests, examinations and what-not instead of ensuring every kid learns something new a day. How often when choosing subject combinations or schools for that matter does one take into consideration the passion and interest of the student? We choose subject combinations based on what we perform better in and which will help us get into a lucrative industry when we enter the working world. We let our passions die by channeling all our energy into what we are supposed and expected to do (i.e. academics). There is no room for creativity, for discovering areas of study that interest you and you want to dwell on. You are forced to keep up with the tide by keeping in pace with every 2 hour lecture block you sit for. You get sidelined if you fall back and soon you’ll find yourself struggling to pass, let alone do well in the subject. How many people are looked up to, for choosing to pursue their passion instead of accumulate salutations behind the name? We place such high importance on paper qualifications that we tend to measure a person’s worth by what he has studied rather that what he knows. It’s really sad. Just sad. Of course, there are avenues like Singapore Sports School, Lasalle College of the Arts, Nayang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and Shatec. But how many success stories do you hear about from here? One or two maybe? Whereas, year in, year out, there is a nationwide buzz when PSLE, O-level, A-level results are released. Each year someone outdoes the previous year’s topper and inevitably becomes the attention of every media channel.   What happens to students who do well in schools mentioned above? Are they second-class achievers for choosing an ‘easier’ alternative?

So, next, when you’re done with approximately 16 years of receiving formal education (since almost everyone is a degree holder these days), you are expected to secure a lucrative job before you even graduate. It has virtually become a norm, for you to ask a graduate or soon-to-be-graduate, “Where are you working/going to work?”. It is almost as if it’s expected for you to immediately contribute to labour market to put your acquired academic knowledge to the best of use, otherwise you might be deemed as deviant or even weird. What happens if a degree holder wants to spend a year travelling? To mountain climb? To learn yoga? To paint? To play the violin? You’re just weird, period. Yes, it is becoming a common trend among Gen-Y’ers to do just that. Precisely why, Strait Times published an article on April 1, 2012 about the younger generation of today taking time off to pursue passions or venture into a different career path altogether. So yes, this trend is being acknowledged. But, my question is, is it truly accepted and embraced? How many employees would like to hire such ‘fickle-minded’ fresh graduates? How many companies offer such flexibility in terms of ‘time-off’ to employees so that they can return back to work with more vigour and zest? Of course, the daring ones or the financially comfortable ones, tender in their resignation and are prepared to venture down the unknown road not knowing what to expect. The rest, simply put, suck it in, and continue with their 9-5 job that they drag their feet but hold on to just so that monthly bills can be paid.

Following which, a couple of years into the labour market, the next inevitable thing to do is get married and start a nuclear family unit. Your kids then get thrown into this cycle and it continues on. We are conditioned to think that marriage is happiness and vice-versa. What happens to homosexuals amongst us, for instance. The gays and lesbians. Are we really ready to open our closed minds or do we keep telling ourselves we are open and ‘try’ to include them? And for a woman, if you’re in your mid 30’s and if you have never been married, society confirms, without a second thought, that there is some biological problem with your body that forbids you from giving birth and hence, explains your luck, or lack of rather, with marriage.

Last month, reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage, gave me a lot of insight to marriage. I especially loved Chapter 2 of the book: Marriage and Expectation. Especially, this story from the chapter.

“I had a friend from college who deliberately narrowed down her life’s options, as though to vaccinate herself against overly ambitious expectations. She skipped a career and ignored the lure of travel to instead move back home and marry her high school sweetheart. With unwavering confidence, she announced that she would become “only” a wife and mother. The simplicity of this arrangement felt utterly safe to her–certainly compared to the convulsions of indecision that so many of her more ambitious peers (myself included) were suffering. But when her husband left her twelve years later for a younger woman, my friend’s rage and sense of betrayal were as ferocious as anything I’ve ever seen. She virtually imploded with resentment–not so much against her husband, but against the universe, which she perceived to have broken a sacred contract with her. “I asked for so little!” she kept saying, as though her diminished demands alone should have protected her against any disappointments. But I think she was mistaken; she had actually asked for a lot . She had dared to ask for happiness, and she had dared to expect that happiness out of her marriage. You can’t possibly ask for more than that.”

It made me think a lot about how sometimes, our expectations lead to our disappointments. Yet, we fail to realise it is our expectations that need to be altered. We blame society for shaping our mindset as such, instead of  looking inward to see where the fault lies. Do we bring these expectations upon ourselves or does society play a part? Or is there some other factor playing a part in this?

How ready is our society to accept ex-offenders? Don’t you see a person in another light if you find out he/she is from the Yellow Ribbon Project? Stereotypes are formed with regards to ex-offenders that ‘a leopard never changes its spots’. So, are we really as willing and open-minded as we would like and aspire to be? Do you see a heavily tattooed person under the same light as a person without any tattoos/piercings?

Are these norms and expectations part of culture? Or is culture the convenient excuse used to rationalize such thoughts and behaviour?

Juxtaposing this with America for instance, society, at large, welcomes the outliers. There is room for creativity. Differences are celebrated instead of frowned upon. As Steve Jobs said,

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With regards to this issue and a lot more, I’d like to introduce to you, Kayla from Gen Y girl. She talks mainly about the work force, the barriers, the obstacles, the challenges ahead.

I take full credit for all that I’ve written here. But, I can’t be held responsible for what you interpret them as. If you have views with regards to this, I’d love to hear. You don’t have to agree with me. We can agree to disagree. After all, I’m all for embracing differences. Cheers!

N, you might be a reason behind this muse. So, like 0.031% credit to you. 😀