Values

As a Chinese Christian growing up, I had my fair share of values being drilled into me. Be it unconditional obedience and respect for elders or to show kindness to my fellow human beings, I am well-acquainted with these teachings that have been highly recommended by many to enlist as my core beliefs. Of those, the most prominent are generosity and humility.

Firstly, generosity-a value so prized it has become part of my holistic education package. The service domain under this co-curricular achievement system ignites passion in the hearts of all youth, sparks student-initiated fund raising events at every school. Six hours of community service a year is a must, not a should. The idea of being generous with our time, effort and money is held in such high regards that schools have only come short of threatening students into it. The multitude of awards and guarantees of higher education institution recruitments beg the question, is it generosity or pretentious flaunts of possessing generosity that society wants to uphold? Generosity means giving something I want to keep to another who needs it. Does anyone need half-hearted and unwilling hands? Does anyone need clicking tongues of sympathy and eyes that gleam with superiority? Smiles that threaten to collapse once backs are turned? While I do believe in generosity, I also believe many of us are taking and not giving, using the needy as our stepping stones to success. Competition was used as an incentive in character building but its rocky foundation has proven to collapse character. As the term itself suggests, character requires building, generosity requires us to have love and empathy, it is unlike sympathy and ambition and takes culture, not lure.

Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, the wine runs out, and the skins are lost.

– Matthew 9:17, the Bible

Chinese humility is infamous for its sincerity, or lack thereof. Loud claims of gratitude towards the Goddess of luck mask undercurrents of internal pride and smugness that one has done better than the other. Mothers pretend to sigh at their children’s mediocrity while vying for them to reign superior in academics, sports, even height and weight. This virtue is essential to being well-liked, popularity is less likely gained by individuals who acknowledge their outstanding strengths than those who merely smile shyly upon hearing praise. I myself took a few years to learn to graciously accept compliments with sincere thanks instead of dodging them like bullets, carefully manoeuvring the conversation away from these perceived minefields. Let us pause to teach ourselves to take pride in our achievements without feeling superior and to take equal pride were the same success reached by others.

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.

– C.S. Lewis, the Screwtape Letters

All in all, as many probably are, I am enough to recognise values and yet not beautiful enough to constantly uphold them in true form. However, it is the thought that counts and by His grace, I believe what is meant to come will come. Amen.

Inspired by a school essay assignment question 🙂 No idea how everyone would receive it but here goes nothing. 

Beauty is Internal

I once had a problem of picking at my looks until they become pockmarked with scars of unhealthy self criticism. To my lopsided eyes (they really are lopsided), everyone’s appearance is a work of art at first glance. Some are kindergarten craft projects adorned with uneven patches of glitter and balls of dried glue, others painted with confident, clean strokes of an experienced, steady brush. Meanwhile, I am the remnants of a foiled piece sulking in the recycling bin. Eventually, I learned to notice and appreciate the unique and beautiful details in my own appearance, though self esteem issues occasionally resurface. However, a certain mechanism of my brain remained, the power to warp faces and nudge them into molds that match the impression I have of their personality.

Internal beauty is not a foreign concept, and yet we tune out at its mention because after all the fuss, statistics still show that better looking people are better paid and get away with more nonsense than the less aesthetically blessed. Numbers do not lie. Plastic surgery prevails and thrives, blades break skin and shovel into flesh in search of the gold this lucrative industry offers. The reflections in society’s mirrors scream of beauty that is external, or lack thereof.

I learnt in descriptive writing that ‘perfectly arched brows frame doe-like eyes with luscious lashes’ could just as easily have been ‘brows painstakingly plucked to perfection arch snobbishly above unnaturally large eyes with pretentious eyelash extentions’ depending on the author’s portrayal of a character. These descriptions dance around in the shadows in our minds, undetected by consciousness and all comes tumbling out when summoned by ink on paper. Beauty is internal because the human mind is able to assign meaning to visual receptions based on conclusions we have made about the subject. 

Our brains still trust body language and first impressions because internal and external sync up to a certain extent. While my right eye may not earn a double eyelid from being kind, both eyes can gain dark saggy bags from exhaustion. Some may argue that the external could be faked, and yet the simple action of smiling makes us happier against our will. A sloppy person maybe learn and become more meticulous as one develops the habit of applying makeup, which requires patience and precision. While the external may be changed, the internal cannot help but evolve to match the surface. Beauty is internal because the external is a projection of what’s within.

I look into the depths of my soul and we are back at square one. My soul is a foiled piece sulking in the recycling bin. My flaws glow luminous between the dark clouds of this depressing reminder that I am a human being, not Jesus Christ and thus my internal does not glitter gold nor explode with immaculate light.

Just my personal opinion 🙂 Hopefully the ending effectively conveys my message that even though beauty is internal, everyone has their own flaws and both internal and external beauty deserve to be shielded from judgemental scrutiny. I am hypocritical and fail to refrain from judgement myself but oh wells. Explored the topic as writing practice out of fear of losing the ability to write. Sorry for the brief hiatus, I was literally at a loss for words in response to the events in my life. Feel free to critique, add on to what I wrote or point out and opposing argument 🙂