A few lucky individuals got the opportunity to actually hear the outgoing NUS president give his final speech at the 2008 Commencement. Others (like me) only had the opportunity to read his speech off the net. I found his speech truly touching and anyone who has a bit of free time (its only 6 pages) should read it at http://www.nus.edu.sg/president/speeches/2008/commencement_1.htm
I specially enjoyed this part and he gave me a perspective on things which I was quite blindful till then.
Head or Heart?
Moving on from NUS, you will have many decisions to make. Which job to take? Finding a life partner? Fulfilling family obligations? Pursuing your dreams? Or just toeing the line?
These are questions that have also gone through my mind. Indeed, a younger colleague asked me recently how I made the choices in my life. She was curious about how one might go about making some of the big decisions in life.
I said to her: “For big decisions, it is not enough to think with your head, listen also to your heart. If you want to buy a car think rationally, with your head – you pay daily for it. If you are deciding on a life partner, go with your heart. You live with that person for a lifetime.”
Someone else in the conversation disagreed with me. He said: “Use your head, be calculating and logical for marriage. You know, the passion ends after the honeymoon. Your spouse is someone you have to put up with daily, and pay for dearly. Now when it comes to buying a car, you want to be passionate and follow your heart. Because you aren’t stuck with it for life and it won’t argue with you.”
The question is: Use your head or listen to your heart? Be logical and calculating, or go with your instincts and intuitions? You most likely would have found yourself in situations where your head and heart were at odds. This is the perennial dilemma – the head or the heart?
Then he tries to provide a way in order to strike a balance between these two:
Each time, I have recalled something my mother taught me: “It’s very good to want something, but you must not want something so much that you can’t bear to live without it. To go far, be ready to give up what you already have.” My mother was a Buddhist, and this was her understanding of the principle of non-attachment.
This principle has helped me through life. It taught me to be passionate, but not obsessed; to be determined, but not to define myself by either my successes or my failures. I have learned that non-attachment gives the mental and emotional resilience to get beyond failures and setbacks. You can also enjoy your successes without taking yourself too seriously.
I take comfort in knowing that ultimately, my decisions at each of the crossroads were not held back by the familiar, the comfortable, or attachment to what I might have accomplished.
After reading his speech I am almost convinced how brilliant people (like he or me) think alike. I just hope his future en devours are as rewarding and successful as it has been so far.