July 29th, 2015

Blowing the whistle

Exposing an injustice or an unnecessary practice may seem frivolous and puts the ‘informant’ in a bad light, but it usually brings about positive outcomes in the long run.

LET’S face it. Most of us teachers have at some point been unhappy with our bosses.We’ve said some unflattering things about their directives and the way they’ve run the school.

These expressions of dissatisfaction are usually done behind their backs, during a break, over a cup of coffee with colleagues in the school canteen or when you meet after a particularly stressful day.

Call it an airing of grievances, letting off steam, unwinding, or just de-stressing but we do it all the time. Perhaps it is even a little therapeutic.

Whenever teachers congregate the topic of conversation inevitably turns to school matters.

We talk about our classes, subjects, students and things that are going on in the school.

Someone may bring up the topic of a directive or instruction from the school authorities which has caused general dissatisfaction.

Soon everyone joins in and begins declaring how the move was a wrong one and how badly the proposal would affect teachers and schools.

Then, someone else who claims to be more knowledgeable about education policies speaks up on how our bosses have got it all “mixed up”, and are not handling things the way they should.

Either they have misread instructions from the “top”, or chosen to selectively ignore parts of it especially where it involves the welfare of teachers.

By now everyone is feeling a little indignant that they have to adhere to something that was never intended for them by those higher up in authority.

There is more venting, and more comments are made about incompetence and bad leadership and words like “megalomania” and “autocratic” are thrown in.

Although the teachers may feel a little better that everyone is now feeling as indignant as they are, they know that they will still need to adhere to the instructions.

After all, they tell themselves, it is no use protesting.

They know that their annual performance appraisals may be affected if they fail to comply.

More speculations

At the back of their minds, they know of teachers who have been given raw deals, or even transferred out of the school because they were too outspoken about their feelings on certain directives from the authorities.

And then the news about the anonymous letter comes.

In bits and pieces and from hushed tones, the teachers get the news that someone has written a letter to the very “top” regarding the state of affairs in the school and implicating the school leaders.

Nobody knows for sure what the contents of the letter are, what really was said and the names that were mentioned.

Everyone however, wants to know. For one of the very rare times, teachers actually look forward to attending the “special emergency staff-meeting” that is announced.

There is much whispering and speculation about who the whistle-blower could be.

At the meeting, there is an air of excitement and anticipation.

Several emotional speeches are made, a few tears are shed and declarations of sincere intentions are made.

Teachers are reminded by those above them that it was only for the welfare of the school and the students that certain rules were enforced.

Forgiveness is sought for misinterpretation of intentions.

They are also willing to step down as the interest of the school is of utmost importance.

At such an expression of heartfelt sincerity, someone rises up and vehemently professes the full support and backing of the entire teaching staff for their superiors.

The person or persons who had written this letter ought to be ashamed of themselves, they say, for putting the school in such a bad light.

Other heads nod in agreement and voices are heard expressing disappointment against the action of the whistle-blower or informant.

Some of them are the same people who had protested the loudest against school policies during the “venting-of-feelings” session earlier.

While all this is happening and people are voicing their opinions, there would be a few who remain entirely clueless and completely unaware of what has been going on.

These would of course be the same teachers who were totally engrossed with their teaching duties that they had no time for what else was going on, or even for an independent opinion. But then again ignorance has its own set of blissful advantages.

What is ironic about the whole scene is how tables are sometimes so quickly turned when the whistle is blown. I have seen it happen many times and in different situations both inside and outside of the school setting.

Shifting the blame

Instead of focusing on the issue that has been brought to light and dealing with it, the attention is turned to the one who “told”.

Quite suddenly, the actual injustice or offence seems to be less serious than the act of exposing it.

The expressions of regret that are made by those directly involved are also often more about the fact they were found out, rather than a genuine feeling of remorse.

It has never ceased to amaze me how people can sometimes overlook or downplay the enormity of a transgression, and instead shift the blame on the one who has exposed it.

Perhaps it is a form of denial; The feeling that if something that is not quite right in the system is not spoken about, then it doesn’t exist.

There is a difference between exposing something that is fundamentally wrong and mere snitching.

At no point do we want to encourage tattling or telling tales either among our colleagues or our students.

But when there arises a situation where something is dreadfully wrong, when there is an injustice or abuse, then as educators, we need to be the first to come forward with the truth and encourage our students to do the same.

Over the years, many things about my students have come to light just because someone informed me.

There was a time many years ago when a student informed me about her classmates who were offering social escort services to older men in the neighbourhood.

I remember the girl who told about her friend who was being abused by her stepfather.

Then there was the boy who came forward and told us about the drugs and gang-recruitment activities that were going on in school. No, we don’t encourage our students to tell tales but we want them to be able to know when it is right to blow the whistle.

Even if motives for exposing or informing are sometimes selfishly motivated, it is the issue itself that is really important.

Once the truth of a situation has been established, and if something needs to be done to put it right, then we should get on with that task instead of focusing on the one who “told”.

Najib shows he’s in charge

IT was a shocker — that is the most apt word to describe the Cabinet reshuffle.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak delivered a stunner when he axed Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin from his posts of Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister.

In the news: Najib announcing the Cabinet reshuffle at a packed press conference at his office in Putrajaya.— Bernama

It was a major Cabinet reshuffle, far more drastic than anyone had expected. The velvet gloves have come off and the Prime Minister is tightening his hold on the Govern­ment as well as Umno.

Power in Umno goes hand-in-hand with government positions and Najib has learnt well from the great Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in wielding the powers of incumbency. The move was all the more dramatic coming so soon after the “Cheras speech”, during which Muhyiddin had criticised the handling of the 1MDB issue.

The ripples were greatest in Umno because Muhyiddin is also the party’s deputy president and the last time the No. 2 in the party was chopped was in 1998 when Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim lost his job.

As far as Najib was concerned, his deputy had crossed the line one time too many. Najib had told his Cabinet many times not to jump the gun or to pressure him over the 1MDB investigations. He had also told them that they were free to resign if they did not agree with his policies.

“I thought Muhyiddin was asking for trouble when he said all that stuff in Cheras. Why blast it all in the open again?” said Kapar Umno division chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah.

On hindsight, Muhyiddin’s salvos at the Cheras Umno division meeting on Sunday night was the last straw for Najib. They were no longer on the same page and one of them had to go.

Najib met the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Monday morning and informed Muhyiddin of the decision hours before the announcement.

The tough guy in Najib has finally come out. He also chopped Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, who was a long-time loyalist until he decided to join forces with Muhyiddin. He is said to have taken Shafie’s betrayal to heart because they go back all the way to Najib’s years as Umno Youth chief.

“He is showing that he is the one in charge, so don’t mess with him,” said Wan Hakim Wan Mokhtar, the assemblyman for Air Putih, Terengganu.

But the shock over Muhyiddin was somewhat off-set by the new Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is very popular in Umno and has made a difference in crime and security since being appointed Home Minister.

It is a huge promotion for this charismatic and unassuming man, whose parents were religious teachers in Bagan Datoh, Perak. His loyalty to Najib was proven in the way he stood by the No. 1 in these troubled times. The fact that he is keeping his Home Minister portfolio will make him a powerful No. 2.

Not everyone will be happy with the reshuffle. Some will see the new Cabinet as a team of “yes-men” who will be afraid to question the boss. Others say it is long-overdue, that Najib has been too nice and even too soft with his team. He allowed some of them to run circles around him and they are glad he is finally cracking the whip.

Will the chopping of Muhyiddin and Shafie lead to an all-out war within Umno? They can still give him a headache, but they would lose their clout without Cabinet posts.

Many are expecting them to now openly align with Tun Dr Mahathir to step up the pressure on the 1MDB issue. There is also no telling how this will play out at the Umno divisional AGMs, which started last weekend and will continue through August.

But, said an Umno insider, Najib may have pre-empted them. New ministers Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said (Prime Minister’s Department) and Datuk Salleh Said Keruak (Communications and Multimedia) are expected to play “fighting cock” roles in Johor and Sabah respectively.

Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid, the former Kedah mentri besar, is also expected to checkmate Dr Mahathir’s son Datuk Seri Mukhriz in Kedah.

The new deputy ministers include many new faces who will be groomed for the future. Among those who stand out are Datuk Johari Ghani (Finance), Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed (Home) and Senator Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki (Religious Affairs).

There is no denying that the reshuffle is primarily aimed at shoring up Najib’s position especially in Umno. He is fighting for his survival and he is not only up against a very strong Opposition, he also has to contend with Dr Mahathir.

“He needs a team he can trust and that can support him through thick and thin,” said Wan Hakim.

Last week, when Dr Ahmad Zahid sent out invitations to his Hari Raya open house on Aug 4, some reporters had joked that the Umno crowd would swarm the event because they see him as the next Deputy Prime Minister. It happened sooner than they thought and his Hari Raya do is going to be super-crowded.

Politicians come and go and Dr Ahmad Zahid’s time has come.

Top 10 ways to combat procrastination

What do Malaysians have in common, besides the love for nasi lemak, football anddurians (well, almost)?

Hint: We tend to wait until the last minute before filing our taxes, paying our summonses, submitting our work reports (and claims), RSVP-ing a wedding invitation, etc. Generally, we all have a tendency to procrastinate until the 11th hour.

To be fair, it’s not just confined to our country. The culture of procrastination is actually quite a universal human behaviour. Joseph Ferrari, a pioneer of modern research on procrastination, found in 2013 that 20% of the population identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. For other interesting statistics on procrastination, go tohttp://tinyurl.com/mnz5pnq.

How do you combat procrastination? Here are our top 10 ways.

1 Create a (visible) to do list

Write down the things you’ve been putting off doing in a to-do list. Go through them and prioritise them according to urgency and importance. With the variety of apps readily available to help you organise your thoughts, there shouldn’t be excuses not to use a to-do list. If you have the tendency to avoid checking your to-do list in your mobile devices, we strongly suggest you keep a notebook (containing your list) handy. Alternatively, paste your to-do list at strategic spots where you can be reminded (or haunted, if it has serious repercussions to your key performance indicators) on a daily basis.

2 Set a time frame

A to-do list remains as it is if we don’t bind the items with a set of measurable values or a time frame. For example, instead of just writing “contribute articles for Lifehack.org”, write “contribute one article for Lifehack.org every month”.

3 Be mindfully present

In the age of 24/7 Internet connectivity, there are gazillions of things out there seeking our attention. From real-time news to frequent updates on social media, our attention span has been greatly reduced. You must have had your share of experiences when you lose your train of thought while working because of incoming WhatsApp messages about random things. After reading or responding to it, it takes you some time to get back into the “groove”. One good advice is to put these potential distractors far away, so you can be mindfully present for what you initially planned to do. Put away that phone if you must!

4 Multi-task NOT!

Do you find yourself “killing many birds with one stone”? Are you talking on your Cisco phone, sending a Telegram message on your smartphone and reading your Gmail simultaneously? A 2013 Stanford University study has found that multitasking greatly decreases performance at work, wastes time and is bad for your brain’s cognitive control in the long term. The fact remains that your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. So, stop multitasking.

5 Divide and conquer

We sometimes procrastinate because a task is just too complex and we don’t really know where or how to start. In computer science, the divide and conquer algorithm works by breaking down a problem into smaller sub-problems until these become simple enough to be solved. Likewise, “divide” the complex task into smaller achievable tasks before you “conquer” them little by little.

6 Find an accountability buddy

It takes a lot of discipline to combat procrastination on your own. It is then highly recommended that you look for a buddy to whom you will be answerable. This buddy will occasionally ask about your progress and add “pressure” on you if you slack in the tasks you set out to do. If your buddy has his or her own set of goals, you can work together to motivate each other.

7 Just do it!

It is often said that the first step is always the hardest. This includes your first public speaking engagement, your first facilitation for a training, your first article for a newspaper, etc. In this regard, reframe your mindset to live up to Nike’s “Just do it” tag line. An effective way to start something you’ve been procrastinating is to allocate 10 minutes of full concentration on the task. Start small before you gradually increase the amount of time for focused work.

8 Take short breaks

If you are really uninspired while working on a task, take short breaks in between to refuel. Give yourself about 10 minutes to play Candy Crush on your phone, chill at the pantry area, listen to your favourite song or just talk to someone. And don’t even think about treating this privilege of taking short breaks as an excuse to procrastinate your work further, okay?

9 Tweak your environment

Your workspace plays an important role in how you work towards starting (and completing) your long-overdue tasks. It will either spur you on or demotivate you completely. Check whether your workspace is well ventilated, spacious, well lit and comfortable before making the necessary adjustments. For example, you often focus better and think more clearly in a clutter-free and tidy workspace. Imagine an ant-infested desk – surely you’ll not be able to work comfortably and peacefully!

10 Celebrate little successes

Scott Friedman, chief celebration officer at Friedman & Associates and a faculty trainer with Leaderonomics said that we sometimes don’t celebrate enough. In his own words, “celebrate” means to acknowledge the good work of a person and the milestones achieved along the way. For every procrastinated task completed, why not treat yourself (and your accountability buddy) to a nice meal or a movie, to keep you motivated to take on the next task?

Do you drag yourself to work every morning?

Does this sound familiar to you? “I hate my job! I am dragging my feet to work every morning and I don’t really care about anybody at work!”

This expression or ones similar to this is often preceded by feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, boredom, and many other negative emotions.

Find meaning in what you do. Here's how!

I have often heard this expression among friends especially when they hear about my excitement regarding my job and how I find meaning in what I do.

They regard my situation as “lucky” because I enjoy work. However, instead of “being lucky”, I was determined and patient to find work in a field that I could be passionate about.

It is often difficult to find meaning in what you do for a living. Many factors contribute to this difficulty such as financial concerns, poor workplace location, demanding management, personal burnout and many other stresses.

During a time when the economy is not doing well, one might feel the need to accept any offer that “puts food on the table”.

So why is it important to find meaning in what you do and how can you achieve that? This could potentially be a long process, mainly because finding a meaningful job could be a “waiting game”.

At the same time, I think that there are many ways to find meaning at your workplace even if it does not fit your job description exactly.

Nurturing the joy of being at work

But why is it important to find meaning in what you do? I believe that finding meaning means figuring out your passions, your interests and something that stirs up excitement in your everyday life.

What better place is there to exercise these interests than at work where we typically spend eight hours in a day. This does not include travel time!

Imagine spending an hour-and-a-half in traffic only to arrive at a location that makes you feel depressed and demotivated, and having to do that five days a week. To me, that is a miserable idea.

I believe that when you are passionate about your job and excited by it, many other positive things will follow.

You would start to think of creative ways to not only do your job, but to also make the working environment a fun and comfortable “second home”.

One person’s joy and positivity could be contagious! Your co-workers could become close friends or even be considered family.

By having this bond with the people you work with, there would be a lot more understanding and cooperation in the working environment, which would eventually create a meaningful workplace.

It sounds so blissful, doesn’t it? But, getting to a position where one can find meaning in doing what he or she does at the workplace is a journey.

Personally, I think it helps when the person already knows what he or she enjoys or is passionate about.

It could be anything from working with a specific population or community of people, working with animals, working in a Fortune 500 company or even working in the civil service.

If we can identify our passions and interests early on in our careers, it would be able to guide us in our choices or even motivate us to work towards having the “job of our dreams”.

Imbuing passion into work

However, if you are already in the workforce, you can still take time to reflect on your interests and passions.

Find out where your talents lie and check to see if your abilities can be used in your job. Once you have uncovered these, you can try to align your work with your passion and make a difference in your working life.

For example, if you find that your passion is in giving back to the community, you could find out if your company does any community work and contribute in that department.

However, if your interests or passions are not available in your company and if looking for a different job is not an option, volunteering is always a possibility.

There is a huge number of non-profit organisations that would value your contributions. In this way you could still feel a sense of fulfillment by doing something that is meaningful to you.

Perseverance has its reward

Earlier in the article I mentioned that I was considered “lucky” for finding a meaningful job that goes hand-in-hand with my passion. In reality, it was a long process, which included months of frustration and exasperation.

I knew my passion was working with children and youth, and my interest was in the field of counselling.

But, I was still lost in job-hunting and was pressured to find a steady job in order to live a comfortable lifestyle. Many people thought I was being picky but I knew that I needed to work in an environment that would be meaningful to me.

So instead of waiting around for the “perfect job” to come, I began working in jobs that were closely related to my passion.

I started off by teaching young children, moved on to a centre providing therapy for adults and finally ended up in a job that allowed me to work with children and youths as well as provide therapy on a part-time basis.

At this point, I would consider this as my “perfect” job because it encompasses my passion and interest. It was not an easy journey but I have found meaning in what I do and that creates an excitement within me.

So don’t be afraid to take time to reflect on the things that would help you jumpstart your day. There is always a way to find value in what you do, although it may not always be an easy path to take.

There may be moments of wanting to give up and feeling demotivated, but the joy and peace that you will achieve in doing what you do is truly worth the hardship. So instead of saying “I hate my job,” won’t it feel nice to say “I’m working for my passion”?