Friday, August 25, 2017

Zen on the MRT (and other related stuff)

Two other bloggers have already blogged about their thoughts on the recent spate of train faults. As I have some time today, here are my thoughts on the matter as well.

There are many things to fret about in life. When we were young, we fret over our grades. As we grew older, academic grades ceded its importance to career prospects. When we reach a marriageable age, our responsibilities and priorities shift yet again. Once we start a family, our lives does not just revolve around ourselves alone. It has to take into account our parents, in-laws, spouses, and our kids. Besides trading some concerns for a new set of concerns, we also take on other worries into our lives. Some of these concerns are perennial, they wither our psyche over the long haul. Others are daily hassles that are pointedly acute, pricking us awake from the mundanity of our daily lives.

The repeated pricking is being felt. More are awakening from their slumber and their rage is palpable. Amidst the furor, I came to realize that there is a silent minority. They are unfazed and totally nonchalant about the whole thing. They go through the same experience, yet they seem to suffer none of the negative repercussions. Why is this so? I scratched my head and then I realized why.

They have managed to come to terms and accept the uncontrollable and control the controllable. This is not limited to just one facet of their lives; it permeates their being and guides the way they respond to negative stimuli in their lives.

Will increasing your heart rate in utter indignation accelerate the repair of the train? Will joining a community of keyboard warriors engaging in grotesque mud-slinging ensure that you get to your destination faster? As is often the case, the negative emotions will feed on one another, ballooning it out of proportion. The silent minority knows that this is not good for their psychological health, and they stay away from such people.

What could be done, they have done (bringing a book to read, taking the off-peak train, taking alternative transports, etc). What cannot be avoided, they face it stoically (train break down and the cabin doors are closed). The ability to distinguish the former from the latter is critical. In the former, there is a range of options that are available to them; they are free agents who could pick from any one choice. Conversely, there is no room for maneuvering in the latter (pun not intended).

I see the exact same thing in school previously. The smart students secure their honours year supervisor way ahead of time. They discuss about the potential topics and their respective constraints. They think of logistic issues that might impede the smoothness of data collection and so forth. They submit their research proposal to the ethics board way ahead of the deadline.

Meanwhile, the easily-triggered ones freak out over the ethics board's "slow response." Guess what? Will any additional ounce of worrying lead to a prompter response? Well, they could have submitted their proposals earlier, since that is one factor that is squarely in their control.

At a personal level, I am learning. When faced with negative stimuli, I think of alternatives. If there is no cost-effective alternative, I just accept it. Most of the time, negative stimuli just makes our schedule slightly more uncomfortable. In the grand scheme of things, they are just sio dai ji (teochew for small issue).


  1. Unintelligent Nerd,

    Yes, focus on what we can control - HOW we react ;)

    Duringn my last year in Athens, strikes were common place.

    First I started to go to work 1 hour earlier than normal. This way, I have time to make alternative arrangements like taking the bus or taxi, if there's a strike by the train workers.

    Then both the taxis and bus unions also joined in...

    I discovered I can walk 75 minutes to work!? Lucky it was Autumn and Winter so no big deal. Summer I would melt...

    Train delays in Singapore? Compared to Athens, its indeed sio ka dai ji  ;)

    1. Hi SMOL,

      To reframe it in a positive light, you had 75 mins worth of exercise! :D

      Btw, how will you be able to tell whether it's business-as-usual or no need to work when there's strikes?

  2. Well said!! Apparently, most humans tends to use their heart more. This also caused them to be more emotional when dealing with situation and at the end of the day. What they know is not the solution. But just the problem.

    1. Hi Sleepydevil,

      We can choose how we react to situations. React positively for the positive vibes! :)

  3. Hi Unintelligent Nerd,

    I like your last statement. I treat everything as "sio dai ji". One will definitely be happier that way. Too many things beyond our control, not point fretting over them :)

  4. Investing in the long run is like a modern MRT ride . There will always be pauses, delays, annoyances and emotion and occasionally good runs (which are usually forgotten).

    Know how to tune out the noise and emotional discomfort and you will live a more fulfilling life!

  5. today i stepped into the mail office wanting to ship stuff out and was turned back because they closed 5 mins ago which was consequential for my plans -- naturally i got pissed yet knowing full well i could have done better by better planning my day.

    as with many anecdotes i can think of... the ability to act or process data dispassionately makes managing things in general a lot easier.

    unfortunately not every human are wired to be stoics and will have to come to terms or reconcile with the emotional build-up that may come and go.

    1. Hi H,

      It's a lifelong journey. We are all learning.

      I do get irritated/frustrated as well. Just have to learn to recognize it faster and keep it in check.