Yesterday I was invited by a friend, an aspiring teacher, to attend an event organized by a group of interns at Food For Thought @ Singapore Botanical Gardens. Food For Thought is a restaurant/bistro/cafe with decent food at decent prices, especially so when it is situated right in a tourist attraction. When I left the military, I had spent some time working there as a waiter and sometimes a barista. It was my first employment experience, and the people there were more than welcoming. Perhaps without this stint I would never have given a chance for my enthusiasm for pastry to flourish.
More than a food provider, the restaurant is a subsidiary of The Thought Collective, which in turn comprises a number of other social enterprises with the vision to “build up Singapore’s social and emotional capital.” While it first seemed flighty to a cynic such as moi, I have come to see such people and organizations can be the catalyst of change. At the very least, it is somewhere to start.
The title of the event was “Is it foolish to be a repeat student?”. I had doubts if being a repeat student was a prerequisite to attend the event. Fortunately, while people with repeat-year experiences were the majority, there was a fair share of others present with open minds, seeking to learn about different perspectives. My friend and I were separated as they had allocated seats to different tables. Yes, tables, with chairs around them, instead of having all chairs facing the screen. I had supposed that my role last evening was merely as a member of the audience, but it soon dawned upon me that “group discussions” made the event. Mr Tong Yee (one of the directors of organization), called upon each group to share their experiences of repeating studies, and for the non-repeats, to share something about failures in their lives.
For a while, my thoughts raced to pick out a particular failure in life that affected me very much. Losing an game of chess? Unable to reproduce experimental results? Or not getting a perfect grade? I couldn’t find one to share. Not only do they seem trivial to me now, they would seem absurd to the people around my table. Admittedly, I am pretty self-conscious, about my achievements. While my friend introduced his background in all honesty, being a scholar and a student in Oxford, I avoided speaking about myself and focused on the topic in general, and listened more than I spoke. It felt as if I was ashamed of my achievements, but there was no reason to.
At the end of the day, success and failures are arbitrarily defined by individual perspectives. They refuse to be relative. You cannot compare one’s failures with another’s. One can fail a major examination, another falling short of a perfect score, but their sense of devastation could be paralleled. And there is little consolation in telling the latter how there are many others doing much worse that him/her.
At present, I could feel the brunt of my failures, not academically, but in many other areas. Perhaps the focus of the event blinded my consideration for whatever lies beyond grades and school. I have failed terribly, elsewhere. But more often than not, we value grades and certificates more than anything else. That should change.