Monday, December 25, 2006

Checklist For Daily Living

Christmas is a time of reflection. It is a useful period to think about what was good in the past year and what could have been better.

While I am Hindu, I have been attending the Saturday novenas in Novena Church or Church of St Alphonsus, as regularly as reasonably possible, since I was 16.

It is one of the few places in Singapore where I find peace, away from the hustle and bustle of this busy city.

In reflecting about the year, I have applied a series of questions called the "Examination of Conscience", which are printed in the last few pages of the book for Saturday novenas.

The book, Novena Devotion To Our Mother of Perpetual Help, can be purchased at Novena Church.

I have adapted some of these questions for my own use. I believe it is a useful checklist for all persons, regardless of their spiritual leanings.


1. When making important decisions about my way of life, who have I put first?

2. Who have I really trusted, especially in times of difficulty?

3. Is my heart set on money, on my own amusement at any cost?

4. Do I pray each day, spend time with those that I love, and am thankful for what I have and enjoy?

5. Who do I see in others, even in those who have hurt me?

6. Do I love others as much as myself? My family, my friends, my working colleagues, my classmates, my next-door neighbours, people I meet each day?

7. Do I use people for my own ends and advantage?

7. In my family life, do I really try to fulfill my responsibilities, as father or mother, as husband or wife, as son or daughter, as brother or sister?

8. Do I make my home a happy, loving and peaceful place by being accepting, understanding, tolerant and forgiving, giving others consideration and supporting them in their personal difficulties?

9. Have I been faithful to my husband / wife?

10. As a parent, have I done my best to provide for both the spiritual and material needs of my children?

11. Do I use other people? Do I use their bodies for my sexual gratification? Do I respect them, as I would my own family member or a loved one?

12. Do I empathise with others, especially the suffering, the sick, the poor and the aged?

13. Do I spend time and money on the less fortunate? Have I forgotten to help victims of oppression or poverty?

14. Do I do my fair share in working for the good of my community and contributing in some measure to the good of the whole society?

15. Do I selfishly stand aloof and neglect all appeals for help? Do I avoid getting involved with the people at home or at work?

16. Do I do nothing about obvious injustice suffered by others?

17. Am I honest when talking about others? Do I build myself up while I tear others down?

18. Am I prejudiced, making fun of others who are different? Other races? People of other religions? Those who disagree with me? Those I dislike for no reason at all?

19. Have I failed to share my positive beliefs and experiences?

20. Do I intentionally break the laws enacted by legitimate authority? Do I drive dangerously or recklessly? Have I driven under the influence of drink?

21. Have I been truthful and fair? Have I deliberately deceived others? Judged or condemned them rashly? Injured their reputation by lies about them? Have I revealed secrets and broken confidences?

22. Have I stolen the property of others or planned to get hold of what belongs to another?

23. Have I made restitution of what I have wrongfully taken and made good their loss?

24. Am I grateful for the way I am or do I belittle my particular gifts or talents?

25. Do I mistreat my body with drugs and alcohol or overwork? Do I get enough rest and recreation?

26. Do I make my own decisions with the help and guidance of others?

27. Am I a good and loving friend to others? Do I use others for my own well-being? Am I self-centred and egoistical, thinking only of myself?

28. Do I waste money on frivolous things? Do I share what I have generously with others?

29. Do I appreciate what I have, count my blessings or harp on my mistakes, failures, focus on my shortcomings and limitations, wallow in self-pity?


The reader perusing the above checklist should bear in mind that the questions in bold have been amended to enable me to personally apply it to my unique circumstances as a non-Catholic.

The rest of questions in the checklist are the same as what one would find in the book for Saturday novenas.

If you would like the original list of questions, please do purchase a copy of the book for Saturday novenas from Novena Church, 300 Thomson Road, Singapore 307653. I am sure your contribution will help the church to continue its good work.

Dharmendra Yadav

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Explore Solutions Beyond Restoring CPF Cut

Outgoing chief of the National Trades Union Congress, Lim Boon Heng, has been lobbying for higher Central Provident Fund contributions from employers for middle-income Singaporeans.

He has argued, "We hope that the Prime Minister and the other Cabinet Ministers should be hearing this favourably. We hope also that the employers would consider this seriously and support this, because workers have made sacrifices in the past few years and since, generally speaking, they're doing well, then they should reciprocate the actions of the workers of the past by doing the small restorations to the CPF."

Employers are being encouraged to increase their level of CPF contributions from 13% to 16%.

Lim Boon Heng has suggested, "We should do this gradually, so we shouldn't ask the employers to straight away raise it to 16 per cent but maybe somewhere in between. The timeline would depend on whether we get consensus and support from the employers and whether we also get support from the government."

Some years ago, these level of contributions, which use to be higher than the present 13%, were reduced to help Singapore be more competitive and to enable it to attract investments needed to create jobs.

These threats continue to be relevant, even in these good times.

And, suppose, if the Singapore economy were to return to its dark days, will one have to resort to the CPF cut again?

Interestingly, the outgoing Chief Executive Officer of NTUC Income, Tan Kin Lian, has argued, "There is some discussion in the newspaper on the need for the employer to increase the contribution rate to the Central Provident Fund. The final outcome is not significant in financial planning. It is clear that the CPF is no longer the sole source of funds for retirement."

Perhaps, there are other ways of rewarding employees in these better moments.

For example, when the employers' CPF contributions were cut years back, my own employer decided to reward employees by giving them one month of paid leave every three years.

Another solution could be for employers to do a one-off top-up of CPF contributions when the employers are doing well, much like how the annual wage supplement operates.

The labour movement can explore solutions other than the restoration of the CPF cut.

Dharmendra Yadav

Friday, December 15, 2006

Why I Write But Not Always Right

Recently, a position I took has sparked off a robust debate in the blogosphere.

A friend today wrote an e-mail to me to say "not often I think you [are] right", and agreed with a point I had made in another e-mail.

I responded and shared some quick thoughts with him.

First, I don't claim to always be right on everything I share. Opinions, even the so-called "balanced" ones, are often subjective.

Second, I don't write for people to agree with me or to be seen as relevant.

At the end of the day, I will be bored by the staleness that such agreement or relevance brings.

Instead, in expressing myself, I would like to see my views tested.

I rather people disagree with what I express. It is the best way of knowing one's views are being acknowledged, mulled, debated and disputed.

This, as a process, has enabled me to revisit my own views, revise them where needed, and grow as a person.

This is also one the reasons why I value those friends - all of whom are, quite frankly, my mirrors - that subject my views to their numerous and rigorous tests.

So reader, please let me write and, please do feel free to tell me when and why I am not right.

Dharmendra Yadav

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Reader's Question: Get In Touch

How do I contact you?

Easy, e-mail me. You will find my e-mail address under the sub-header "Contact" in my profile.

I will respond to your e-mail within 7 days, depending on how long it is!

Dharmendra Yadav

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Singapore Not Just Story Of One Old Man


On National Day, an interview done about a decade ago with the late Chief Minister of Singapore, David Marshall, was released on a blog. It was inundated with comments from readers.

What was disturbing was that some of the readers said they did not know who Marshall was. He was not only one of Singapore's finest legal minds but also contributed many years to public service, especially in promoting Singapore's image in Europe as ambassador to France.

It was even more disturbing that some thought he was a trouble-maker silenced by our Government, and one who never had good things to say about the achievements of the People's Action Party leadership.

This is far from the truth; at many points in the interview, Marshall emphasised how impressed he was by the performance and integrity of our Government, even as he felt there were things that could be improved in society.

This experience is not an isolated one.

Some older folk have shared how some young Singaporeans are under the impression that the success of modern Singapore is the legacy of one individual: Its longest-serving former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The success of independent Singapore was not the work of one person but, in fact, the legacy of not just a group of excellent leaders but also a cooperative, hardworking citizenry.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong touched on this problem during the National Day Rally in August.

He said: "This year, several of our first-generation leaders passed away ... Many Singaporeans didn't know these people, what they had done. They didn't know that Mr Rajaratnam wrote the pledge or that Mr Lim Kim San was the reason that we all have homes in HDB flats."

Yes, we are at an unfortunate point in our history, where many of independent Singapore's movers and shakers have left us or faded from active public memory.

There is a critical need to capture and share some of the contributions and views of the many individuals who made Singapore what it is today.

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong acknowledged this at Tanjong Katong Secondary School's 50th anniversary celebration last week.

"The Government is partly to blame for this state of affairs," he said bluntly.

"The leaders did not believe in glorifying their place in history. They did not name streets, MRT stations, buildings, stadiums and parks after their colleagues who have died.

"I think we should do so from now on, so that Singaporeans can remember the pioneers, philanthropists, social workers, leaders and others who had made a difference to the lives of Singaporeans. This will make the history of our nation alive for Singaporeans."

PM Lee had also offered some solutions to dealing with this problem: National education in schools and getting parents and grandparents to share stories about Singapore's history with their grandchildren. Unfortunately, more young persons today are being brought up by maids rather than their parents or grandparents.

PM Lee did recognise that many are spending time on the Internet finding information by "googling" things.

And, here, perhaps lies another solution: To expand the information available online on the Singapore story.

In adding to the public picture of the Singapore story, every citizen has a role to play, not just schools, parents or grandparents.

The Singapore Heritage Society is already playing a pivotal role with its online People's Encyclopaedia of Singapore History, and its recently-published Book of Singapore's Firsts.

The National Heritage Board, too, recently published the Singapore Encyclopaedia. Describing it as a work in progress, board chairman Professor Tommy Koh welcomed Singaporeans' input.

Some effort has already been put into capturing the legacies of some of our founding fathers. Groups such as the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies are taking this work further by commissioning biographies about them.

But independent Singapore is not just the legacy of these founding fathers. The Singapore story had its fair share of founding mothers, contrarians or even "villains". Their stories, too, need to be shared.

One example is the late war heroine Elizabeth Choy. In his tribute to her after her death in September, President S R Nathan remarked: "We have lost a truly remarkable woman and a shining example of courage and compassion."

Unless more effort is made to better share such tales, the Singapore story is at risk of becoming patchily remembered, or remembered as only one man's legacy.

Dharmendra Yadav

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Blogs Should Self-Regulate


With Malaysia contemplating tough Internet laws to control bloggers, and controversy in China over the move to get bloggers to register their real names, it looks like some governments are prepared to challenge popular wisdom and attempt to bridle the Internet.

And no wonder, with an estimated nine million blogs in cyberspace and one more born every 7.4 seconds, according to The Scientist magazine.

Before state regulators step in with the heavy hand of the law, should the blogging community pre-emptively introduce some form of self-regulation?

There is reason for authorities to take seriously the growing power of blogs. Last week, it was reported that an online survey by Microsoft found that about half of Internet users in Singapore think blogs are as trustworthy as mainstream media.

Politicians have acknowledged the need to engage this growing cyber-constituency and begun using blogs to communicate their thinking on issues of the day.

The power of blogs has also created unique issues for our law enforcers. The zero tolerance policy on negative ethnic and religious content has seen a handful of individuals convicted or warned, while the recent proposed amendments to the Penal Code — if passed — would give our police and state prosecutors more teeth to deal with offending blogs.

Yet, for all this, few preventive steps have been taken in Singapore to help bloggers stay out of trouble. Whatever has been achieved so far has been piecemeal.

In August, the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University held a workshop to help bloggers write in a lawful, responsible manner, covering basic issues of copyright, defamation and so on.

Some employers such as IBM provide their employees with guidelines relating to their personal websites or blogs. My own employer in the financial sector has a similar policy. Recognising that what employees share on their personal blogs can reflect on the organisation, it gives them tips on how to write constructively and stay within the limits of the law.

Unfortunately, the use of such policies are limited to the larger organisations. What of the larger proportion of bloggers employed in smaller organisations, or who are self-employed or students?
At a conference last week, director of British Press Complaints Commission Tim Toulmin suggested that "blogs and other internet sites should be covered by a voluntary code of practice similar to that for newspapers in the United Kingdom".

Such a code could provide avenues for "people angered at content" to seek redress.

Meanwhile,, which is linked to the Online News Association in New York, has proposed a Bloggers' Code of Ethics which it encourages bloggers to use.

The code lays down best practices for bloggers to "be honest and fair", to "minimise harm" and to "be accountable". This is modelled after a similar code for journalists created by the Society of Professional Journalists in the United States.

Perhaps these are ideas that the Media Development Authority can look into. Or even better — given bloggers' instinctive aversion to anything state-prescribed — perhaps local denizens of the blogosphere could get together to evolve their own self-regulating code.

They could take their cue from the Media Bloggers Association (MBA) in the US. This is "dedicated to promoting, protecting and educating" its members; supporting the development of "citizen journalism" as a distinct form of media; and helping to extend the power of the press — with all the rights and responsibilities this entails — to citizens.

The MBA, one blogger argues, does valuable service by "helping to shield bloggers from intimidation and frivolous defamation lawsuits, a problem that has been getting worse recently".

Perhaps the Singapore Press Club can play a similar role, if it amends its constitution to appeal to a wider category of citizen journalists — although it would not be surprising if its leadership prefers to focus its resources more on full-time journalists in the mainstream media.

A more obvious route is for bloggers to form their own association. There are already informal channels for collaboration among bloggers, which they may wish to take further. Some got together to organise the Singapore Bloggers Convention last year. Another fruit of collaboration is, a blog aggregator featuring current postings from the local blogosphere.

There is an increasing need for bloggers to stand up, represent and self-regulate their own community more formally. This is also ideal. Otherwise, like other media, blogs may soon find themselves under closer scrutiny by media regulators in Singapore.

Dharmendra Yadav

Monday, December 04, 2006

Experiencing Experiment With Health

Over the past 5 years, I have put on the pounds. Sometimes, I find that friends, who I do not meet as regularly, don't even recognise me!

I often used to blame this personal state of affairs on the lack of time. I also used to set myself health goals but would soon abandon them afterwards.

Mahatma Mohandas K. Gandhi has written in his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth: "No matter what amount of work one has, one should always find some time for exercise, just as one does for one's meals. It is my humble opinion that, far from taking one's capacity for work, it adds to it."

In another book, Key To Health, he elaborates, "Like the mind, the body must also be kept well and usefully occupied, so that the fatigue of the day may lead to refreshing dreamless sleep. As far as possible, work should be in open. Those who for some reason or the other, cannot undertake physical labour, should make it a point to take regular exercise. In my opinion, a brisk walk in the open is the best form of exercise."

A newspaper in India, The Hindu, has observed, "Mahatma Gandhi had believed that he would live to be 125. In a life packed with crowded events and noted for its ceaseless toil, struggle, and self-denial, he took reasonably good care of his health... His zest for life and energy were remarkable for a man of his age, but not surprising in one given over so strongly to rigorous self-discipline."

I decided to take some responsibility for the state of my health this year. I got a very strong reason when I returned home one day and found myself struggling to climb the stairs to my flat on the second storey of a building.

In this regard, I had set a goal early this year of completing the quarter marathon (10 km) before the year turns - a goal that I had kept postponing for some three years.

In April this year, I completed about half of a quarter marathon in under 45 minutes.

I achieved my goal last weekend when I finally completed the quarter marathon on Sunday, 3 December 2006, in under 90 minutes - my first time participating in the Singapore Marathon, a part of the Greatest Race on Earth series!

I have brought back three key lessons from this experience:
1. Exercise liberates!
2. Surround yourself with friends who are supportive; especially those willing to run with you and treat you to breakfast afterwards!
3. Get a strong reason to be responsible for your own body.

And so begins my own experiment with health.

Dharmendra Yadav