Category Archives: personal and social development

Murphy’s Law

In my last month’s blog, I mentioned a fun run/walk to raise money for our local cancer foundation. Well, it was a success with over 1,600 participants finishing with gusto under the rain.

My Greek holiday was almost perfect till I got to Luxembourg airport. The airline company concerned emailed me this message: “After having contacted our legal department, we would like to inform you that you do not have the right to mention one of our employees nor our departments nor our Airline in your blog.” I wanted to write about my experience to warn travellers of unforeseen misfortunes, alert them of their rights, and contribute to making our society fairer (not to tarnish this company’s reputation).

Can an experience or true statement be defamatory?

“If a statement is actually true, then it cannot be defamatory”, according to the EU-funded manual on defamation. Freedom of expression is an individual right which is connected to the individual’s freedom of conscience and opinion (Article 19 of the UDHR and the ICCPR, and Article 10 of the ECHR).“ The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has made this point repeatedly: Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of such [democratic] society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man. Subject to Article 10(2), it is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society”. (https://www.mediadefence.org/sites/default/files/resources/files/MLDI.IPI%20defamation%20manual.English.pdf.  Produced by Dr Richard Carver, Oxford Brookes University, for a series of defamation law workshops for lawyers and journalists in Europe under the auspices of the Media Legal Defence Initiative and the International Press Institute, and funded by the European Commission and Open Society Foundations.)

On 4 September 2019, our flight arrived in Luxembourg more than 30 minutes late and without my check-in suitcase. We were supposed to land at 10:00 PM and be at home at 11:00 PM; however, by the time we had finished registering online the claim for our lost luggage, it was almost midnight. Since the last bus for home, i.e. Thionville – France, was at 11 PM, I rushed to the train station; unfortunately, the train had already left. I proceeded to a nearby hotel thinking of staying there for the night, but the price prevented me from doing this. I was prepared to stay at the airport hoping that I would get my luggage the following early morning. However, I was told by the airport staff that I couldn’t as it would close in 10 minutes (i.e. at midnight). To cut the story short, I took the taxi home as it was cheaper than staying in a hotel (35-30 km – average evening rate 145-150 euros).

The next day at 1:00 PM, I got a call saying that they found my suitcase. To my surprise, it was just slid in a quarter-opened door with only the arms of the person visible to me. There was no explanation nor apology; not even a face to say “hello”. I felt like a non-human being. As well, the suitcase – which was a birthday present from my sister in Australia last April (only 4 months before this incident) – had been damaged.

I contacted the airline’s Claims and Customer Relations Department, and they responded promptly but with un-sensitivity and lack of customer care. According to them, my suitcase, though damaged, can still be used; the flight delay was less than the minimum hours required for compensation; and the luggage was returned less than 24 hours.

I do not have relatives and friends to bother at 1 PM to pick me up 30 km away. When I travel, I have a budget and bring just enough (including a pre-paid credit card) to avoid unnecessary spending. I was lucky to have 150 euros leftover that evening. Imagine if I didn’t? Hitchhike? Sleep outside the airport’s ground, on the bench somewhere, or …? Murphy’s Law – something could have gone wrong.

ActionAid’s survey on street harassment found that 75% of women in London, UK have been subjected to harassment or violence in public. A French study found that 100% of more than 600 women surveyed across the country had faced sexual harassment on the transit system. (http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/resources/statistics/statistics-academic-studies/). Though violent crime is rare in Luxembourg, it does exist. It doesn’t have to be a violent one to have a lasting devastating effects on individuals and their families. Murphy’s law – if something had gone wrong that evening, who would have been responsible?

I received a negative response from the airline company though the European Court of Justice (CJEU) has established the concept of ’damage’ as both material and non-material (e.g. emotional). (https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/ecc-net_air_passenger_rights_report_2015.pdf). Regulation (EC) 261/2004 applies in cases where a flight is cancelled or delayed and the Montreal Convention establishes that it is the airline’s responsibility when a consumer suffers economic loss or damage due to a flight delay or damaged luggage.

I’ll keep you posted…         

Yes to healthy anger but no to violence

On February 19 (Saturday morning) while grocery shopping in our local supermarket, I heard a woman yelling. Since it sounded like she was only an aisle away from where I was, I pushed my trolley aside and had a look. She was pinching and hitting a young man in his early 20s, and I couldn’t believe how calm he was. Was it because there were several of us witnessing it?

I was worried that the young man would eventually lose his temper and fight back, so I hurried to the checkout and asked the cashier to ring security. Some minutes later, two sturdy men arrived and said that they saw it on their camera and thought it was just “problème de couple”. The young man approached and told us that the angry and violent woman had left.

While queuing to pay for my purchases, however, I heard loud voices again. The young woman came back with her two mates, and the safety of the young man bothered me. I turned my head right and left hoping to see at least one of the guards, but they were gone. My nervousness lessened when I noticed that the man was walking towards the male staff at the information/shop entrance. Then, there were piercing voices, but I could only see the staff’s work uniform because of the dozen people around them.

We all experience anger. Although it is a normal and healthy emotion, it can be a problem if we can’t keep it under control. It is everyone’s responsibility to control anger; and if we can’t do it on our own, we should seek help. Verbal and physical harshness or brutality is never a solution to anger; as the adage says, “Violence is a weapon of the weak”. Whereas, non-violence is the ammunition of the wise, e.g. Mohandas Gandhi’s (October 1869 – January 1948) peaceful resistance against the British rule in India that led to latter’s independence in 1947.

For me, that young man at the supermarket is wise and strong; otherwise, he would have responded with a fist, especially as it wasn’t a slight provocation. He avoided destructive anger and exerted the effort to override his emotional mind.

A week after that incident, I heard on the French radio that in the Netherlands people smash cars as an anger management strategy. Thus, I checked it out for this article and found there are companies in Amsterdam that provide this activity for individuals and groups. Participants smash cars to bits at scrapyards with an array of demolition weapons, such as sledgehammers, baseball bats and golf clubs. According to the radio announcer, this has been a success and is a growing market in Europe. I do get angry sometimes but feel don’t need to break things. This is what I do:

• Breathe in slowly and relax as I breathe out. It calms me down and enables me to think more rationally.
• If the anger takes place in an enclosed place, I get out and go for a walk. The light physical exercise and fresh air relax me. (I’m not a stressful person. However, if you are, these activities can surely help you: yoga, running, swimming and meditation. I have a friend who indulges on chocolates when stressed. Although she maintains that this works and eats only dark ones, I don’t think it should be a long-term or regular solution).
• Go to the gym once or twice a week which helps me deal with impatience, irritation and anger.
• I don’t drink alcohol and smoke. What I need to improve is my sleeping habit. I go to bed no earlier than at 11 PM and don’t switch off mentally till midnight getting only 5-6 hours of sleep, which is inadequate.
• Watch movies (mainly those based on true stories or facts), write and read.
• Discuss my feelings and views with my trusted friends to get a different perspective on the issue or situation.
• Quarrels and anger are always started by words and the meaning attached to these. For instance, I get upset when the phrase “it’s not fair” is used to describe my decision or action because I believe that this is not the case.

Always and never are often used exaggeratedly or falsely, e.g. “You’re always late” and “I never get compliments from you”, and these annoy me. Therefore, they are included in my speech only when it is really the case, i.e. always – all the time or on all occasions/never – not at all/not ever/at no time.

We can’t have everything we want, and this is not the reason to be angry and/or violent. As Simone de Beauvoir had said, “I am awfully greedy; I want everything from life. I want to be a woman and to be a man, to have many friends and to have loneliness, to work much and write good books, to travel and enjoy myself, to be selfish and to be unselfish… You see, it is difficult to get all which I want. And then when I do not succeed I get mad with anger.” (January 1908 – April 1986; French writer, intellectual, political activist, social theorist and had a significant influence on feminism and feminist theories).

However, “holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned” – Buddha.

Therefore, “it is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses” – William Arthur Ward (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201208/25-quotes-anger).

Yes to healthy anger but no violence (destructive anger)!

Urban vs rural … even in chess

After 12 draws in classical games, Norwegian Magnus beat American Fabiano Caruana 3-0 in the rapid match in London two days ago (29/11/18) retaining his world chess champion title.

This year’s Moselle (France) Regional Chess Championship was held in Bliesbruck from November 1 to 4. Unexpectedly and unfortunately, only a quarter of the usual 80 chess enthusiasts turned up. I felt sorry for the organisers who evidently spent enormous time and resources to make it happen successfully. The main reason I heard was: Bliesbruck is out-of-the-way place. At least one person phoned and asked for the number of registered participants and when he found out that there were only 20, he said “There aren’t many, so I’m not going there”. If everyone had that mentality, there would not have been any tournament.

The newly renovated venue was spacious and well lit, has all the necessary amenities, and is situated in a green surrounding with ample playing fields for the children (e.g. football, basketball and tennis). The playing equipment and materials were comfortable, and everyone was made welcome. It’s an ideal place and condition for a chess competition. But, where were the other players?

Bliesbruck is a small French village located in the north-east of France, in the district of Sarreguemines which has a population of slightly over a thousand. For me, it was an opportunity to be away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

There are more than 20 chess clubs in Moselle; if each club had sent at least 2 players, the organisers would not have been disappointed.

Nevertheless, it’s a memorable tournament because everyone was very friendly, and no one looked stressed and unhappy. The referee was always in a good mood mingling with the players before and after the games. The strong players, including last and this year’s champion Mr Stephane Vignale, were accessible to everyone and generous with their smiles and advice.

The mayor of Bliesbruck came thrice during the tournament. Thus, it was not surprising that his speech sounded sincere. He spoke about his admiration for chess and the people who can play chess, including his childhood friend and family members.

The Sarreguemine Chess Club President, Mrs Marie-Christine Schumucker, and her devoted friends prepared awesome home-made cakes and meals. The cocktail (fruit juice, wine, champagne, sandwiches, cold meat, etc.) after the ceremony was well presented and more than adequate.

There was a community atmosphere, generosity of spirit and friendship during the 4-day tournament.

Chess is the best sport to exercise our brain. Playing chess might not tone our muscles but has a lifelong mental health benefits. Relevant officials, clubs and their members, schools and community organisations should ensure that the playing of chess thrives not only in urban centres but in towns and villages.

Globetrotting, sensible tourism

The 29th of September was a fantastic Saturday. It was sunny, which was ideal for outdoor activities, and peaceful. My friends and I opted for a 10-km walk that brought us to scenic, quiet places in three borders (France, Germany and Luxembourg).

We left our dwellings at 1:30 PM for the French village of Contz-les-Bains where we joined the 60 men, women and children eager to do the bush hike. The weather was conducive, the company was great, and the organisation was flawless. Above all, I felt close to nature, especially with the absence of “western” toilet.

Considering that there were some steep and sloping areas, we did fairly well. We got to our destination and came back in one piece feeling proud and wanting to do a similar undertaking soon.

What impressed me most was the Saint-Jean-Baptiste chapel, which was built in the first half of the 15th century and whose choir is classified as a historical monument. We passed by Stromberg, which used to be a place of exploitation of gypsum and dolomitic stones. We also stepped on grounds that lead to a village known for the Schengen Agreements which got rid of borders in most of Europe.

After the walk, I had the opportunity to talk with the organiser, who gracefully explained the principle and modus operandi of “Just Boarded”. I liked what I heard. They organise small adventures that respect the environment and give fair remuneration to everyone involved, particularly the local hosts and guides. In short, for me, it’s a sensible tourism in which you are a responsible traveller and not an insensitive tourist.

With concerns about overtourism and drive for health and fitness activities, this sort of holiday, weekend getaway or day trips is a positive action not only to our wellbeing but also to the sustainability of our planet.

According to the CNN, travellers should think twice about visiting these following places as their number of tourists have increased significantly and there are risks to their ecosystem: Isle of Skye, Scotland; Barcelona, Spain; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Venice, Italy; Santorini, Greece; Bhutan; Taj Mahal, India; Mount Everest, Nepal-side; Machu Picchu, Peru; Galápagos Islands, Ecuador; Cinque Terre, Italy; and Antarctica (https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/places-to-avoid-2018/index.html).

“Tourists who come to Nepal look at terraced fields and see their beauty but remain blind to the hard labour they extract from tillers.”
― Manjushree Thapa, Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy

(I’m writing this article while in Sarreguemines for the annual Moselle regional chess championship. I did 2 games today and still 7 to go till Sunday.)

Foosball – football’s/soccer’s cousin

Foosball international competition in Rouen, France in May 2018

Table football (EU/UK)/ table soccer (Australia/USA), which is also known as foosball, is a game for everyone (i.e. irrespective of age, gender and physical attributes). Playing foosball is a fun way to reunite with family, friends and colleagues. It brings out the competitive spirit in the players while making them mentally alert thinking of wise tactics to win the game. Therefore, if you want to be physically and mentally challenged, try foosball.

“Since this game involves the art and skill of coordinating your hands and eyes as well as keeping the body active, it is perfect to be done by all especially by people suffering from arthritis and brain injuries. In addition, foosball is a great rehabilitating sport for people with joint and bone problems. Aside from helping people in recovering from brain injuries as well as in joint and bone problems, foosball is not as tedious as other games and sports, thus, it does not cause too much pain on their part.” (https://foosballtablereview.com/benefits-and-reasons-to-start-playing-foosball/seen on 1/07/18).

Foosball is based on football/soccer, where 2 or 4 players try to hit a small ball into their opponent’s goal by turning rods with wooden figures then kick the ball downfield. Unlike football/soccer, there are no unified rules in foosball, i.e. there are different explicit regulations, styles of playing and table used in different countries. The Europeans generally use the Bonzini table (e.g. the Fédération Française de Football de Table in Rouen organised the World Series Bonzini in May 2018 — photo above) and emphasise quickness and skill “finesse”. The Americans have been using the Tornado brand for more than 30 years and focus on power and speed (I saw them play this way at Rouen last May).

While football/soccer is widely-known to have begun in 1863 in England, the origin of foosball is not clear. There have been some write ups pointing to its German history back in 1891 (foosball became its national competitive club sport the 1960s). So, foosball is most likely a German translation of «Tischfußball”.

In France, many brasseries and bistros have a table for foosball. Brasserie is an informal open restaurant that is often noisy and serve drinks and simple menus (e.g. soup, burgers and croque-monsieur). Whereas, bistros are small, intimate, and low-key as are they generally family-owned with the monsieur “the man/husband” as the cook and the madame “the woman/wife” as the manager of the cash registry and dining; or vice versa. In other European countries, particularly in the UK, foosball tables are found in pubs (derived from “public house”), which are drinking establishments fundamental to the Anglosphere culture. Since drinks are ordered from the counter and served by the bartender, it is a kind of bar except that it also serves simple meal/food.

Whether in brasseries, bistros or pubs, foosball enthusiasts eat, drink and play before, during or/and after their meals and drinks. You can hear a lot of laughter, cheers and sighs. Foosball can be an individual or collective game. It builds camaraderie, promotes fitness, and gives a sense of individual and team achievement. Some tournaments are held to raise money for good causes, such as to fund projects for sick and homeless people.

I don’t drink alcoholic beverages but go to brasseries, bistros and pubs for family and social outings, including watching foosball games. These places serve tea, coffee, fruit juices and water.

Schools and social/community centres should have foosball tables to provide diversity of choice when it comes to sports and entertainment. This will make foosball more accessible to those who don’t have extra money to go to brasseries and pubs; as well as prevent exposure to alcohol drinking.

She lived with purpose and meaning

Today is International Labour Day; and in the 80s, Barbara and I used to have a stand of leaflets and Trading Partners’ products on May 1 to advertise and raise money for development education in Queensland. Three weeks ago, I received a very sad news about Barbara, and I will surely miss her.

I go Down Under whenever I can to be with family and friends and celebrate special occasions. Amid Barbara’s hectic schedule caring for her sick son and other commitments, she came to my 50th birthday party in my sister’s house in Brisbane, and we had a memorable time.

Even if I had known, I would not been able to attend her funeral because of my work and family situation in France. I’m writing this not only to appease my deep sorrow of losing someone who did a lot for many socially and economically disadvantaged individuals and families, but because she was an exceptional person – a role model and an inspiration, especially to those involved in local and international charities and aid agencies.

The Sydney Morning Herald has published an article about Barbara’s many humanitarian endeavours, particularly as the first national president of the Save the Children Fund and past chairperson of the Refugee Council of Australia. (The photo above is from this article).

I knew Barbara as a work supervisor and a friend. She helped established the then Queensland Development Education Centre (QDEC), which is now called Global Learning Centre, and was its chairperson for a considerable period. As its foundation coordinator, I often talked with her about projects, networking and fundraising. She would spend time and money to raise awareness among Queenslanders on the interconnectedness of our developed and developing nations and the real causes of poverty. Other founding committee members (Beatrice, Mike, Jenny, David, and Wayne) got on so well with her that we always met our objectives.

She was truly interested in me as a person, and she even invited me and my husband to dinner parties in their home. She respected every person she encountered and made them interesting.

In Queensland, in the mid-80s and 90s, Barbara and I (through QDEC/GLC or other committees she was involved in) would organise or participate in rallies, public meetings and workshops aimed at making our world more just, peaceful and environmentally-friendly. Unfortunately, the causes that Barbara stood up for remain today (as our world has become even more complex and divided); and we need more people like her – generous, understanding, resilient, and active. I’ll always associate the Queensland GLC with Barbara Young who lived with passion, purpose and meaning.

Last month, two other influential women passed away. Ms Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and an ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, died aged 81. Ms Barbara Bush, the former US first lady and mother of former US president, died at the age of 92.

Professional and Everyday Writing

Happy Easter to all of you!

I thought today’s the 31st of March. I have just come back from a 4-hour chess tournament and am waiting for dinner. It’s nearly 9 in the evening, and I have little mental energy left to do my first day-of-the month’s blog. Thus, I decided to tell you about my soon-to-be-published book instead.

Foreword

The first article I wrote was published in my university newsletter 40 years ago. It was about my 24-hour travel by boat and bus from home to my alma mater. I felt disappointed seeing some words changed and several sentences reconstructed by the newsletter editor. I soon realised that at 16 years old I was just starting to learn how to write.

Ten years later, when my first journal article took a dozen drafts and tough comments from academic reviewers, I just grinned. I even considered it a victory because, at least, it was not an outright rejection and it eventually got published in the Australian Journal of Criminology. Writing is an art and a skill. Some people are gifted by nature and need no or little help to become good writers. Most of us, however, must spend time and energy to harness our writing skills.

Though the evolution of culture and society impacts how we use language, the essentials in writing have remained fairly constant, particularly in formal communication: grammar, verb tenses, punctuation, paragraphing, sentence structure, capitalisation, and tone.

Nowadays, English is spoken widely in countries that have national languages (e.g. India, Singapore, and The Philippines) and not only in Australia, Canada, the UK, and the USA. Nevertheless, standard American and British English varieties remain the main global business and academic references (lingua francas).

The questions and comments of my students, who are adults comprising of public servants, accountants, bankers, lawyers, office employees and tertiary education applicants, have inspired me to write this handbook. They often juggle their professional and personal responsibilities and do not have time to look at grammar textbooks and style guides to write correctly.

Digital tools may help them translate or write, but this does not provide them with sufficient explanations and relevant examples. Consequently, they are likely to make the same mistakes in their writing.

A few years ago, my student told me, “My native English-speaking colleagues behave as if they’re the expert when they aren’t. I’m the registered accountant; they’re clerks and administrative assistants. I always find my correspondence scrutinised for simple grammar mistakes.”

When your grammar is weak and vocabulary limited, you can be perceived as lacking in ability or are inexperienced, which is a harsh and unfair judgement that demotivates and destroys confidence. If you do not want to experience this, you have to learn how to produce clear, concise and coherent correspondence with correct grammar and precise vocabulary.

I hope this book “Clear, Concise and Unpretentious (CCU) – a guide for everyday writing” will help you become a confident and effective writer and communicator.

Wishing you an awesome New Year… No resolution only motivation

It’s still the holiday season and being on staycation, I’ve time to read. One of the articles I’ve recently come across is on the science of success and motivation (https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/05/19/the-science-behind-success-and-motivation/#6b62c0c44a81Harvard seen 26/12/17). Mr Eric Barker, writer of the Barking Up The Wrong Tree blog, stated that “If you’re tired and unmotivated, it almost doesn’t matter what other strengths you have. People who do nothing tend to achieve nothing. So knowing what motivates you can be critical to success.” I agree with him.

Quoting Prof Teresa Amabile’s research finding that the feeling of progress in your efforts is the most motivating factor in life, Barker advises us to focus on “small wins.” I share his view on this: it is better to work gradually and a step at a time toward meeting our main challenge than to deal with massive issues head on then feel like we’re not getting closer to our goals and are failing.

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within, i.e. yourself. Individuals are motivated because they want to be accepted, honoured, independent, loved, powerful, respected, or wanted.

Extrinsic motivation comes from the outside, and the most often mentioned motivating factor for working hard is money. However, many studies have shown that money is not the main source of happiness. If I were one of the respondents, I would have definitely revealed the same thing.

Years ago, an Australian friend brought to my attention a research done by Dr Adele Eskeles Gottfried, retired professor of educational psychology at the California State University at Northridge. She had surmised that children with parents who encouraged independence, inquisitiveness and effort had higher intrinsic motivation and achievement, and these have long-term effects. Dr Gottfried even said that teaching children the desire to learn is as important as teaching them academic skills.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. This down-to-earth idiomatic expression means that you can provide people with an opportunity or an advantage, but you can’t force them to do something if they don’t want to.

Since intrinsic motivation is primordial to success, how can we have this? I am motivated when I feel I am doing something that is part of my overall goal and wellbeing; or it contributes to the good of other people, especially to my family and friends. My motivation is maintained, or even increased, when my performance is favourably recognised. It’s alright to be proud of what we achieve.

I don’t get money from blogging, but I do it because I enjoy writing. I am passionate about sharing my ideas and experiences with others. How about you?

Understanding what motivate us can have immediate and lasting positive effects. By doing what motivate us, we are more likely to live a healthy, peaceful and happy life.

If you want people around you to be motivated, then be intrinsically motivated yourself. Motivation is contageous: values, beliefs, actions and behaviour can be transmitted and facilitated.

All the best.