Good and Evil

Suddenly I found that I have been back from my travels for ten days. I wrote four letters when I was away, or an average of one a week, which is by my recent records rather frequent. Some of you went to great lengths to tell me you liked them, at least bits of them. Thank you.

I met Stanley Mok in his office yesterday. This is the past president whom some of us called the Service Above Self guy, because he got an award recently from RI with the same title. He introduced me to his colleagues as someone who could write on any subject. I blushed, well almost, as I told the young graduate from my alma mater that her boss was a top class PR man and a white lie expert, also known as bulls**t artist.

Anyone can write; I think J K Rowling said this. I mention her because I had just picked up a copy of her latest and long awaited release – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – from the bookshop before lunch. I actually ordered my copy two months ago when I was walking the bookshop. As I walked in, I was surprised that there was no queue in the shop and that hundreds of copies were stacked up waiting to be sold or collected. Each copy goes out with a custom made paper bag, complete with the release date and the book’s name and cover design – what commercialization and what hype. I asked the shop assistant why the place was so quiet. She replied in an as-a-matter-of-fact manner that most enthusiasts had collected their copies first thing in the morning. I looked at the number of pages it had and found that it was about 160 pages fewer than the last volume. Still, it would be some two days work at least.

I think what Rowling also said was one should read widely before one writes and one should write more to perfect one’s skills and so on. Well, it is almost impossible to fault such universality, particularly when it comes from someone who has made it, and made it in such a big way.

Maybe Stanley was genuine in the fashion he introduced me to his staff. People don’t write as often as before, or not at all. They use the phone or the email, and some would even make a virtue of not putting down their thoughts in writing. Very often, this could have devastating effects. Some people would second guess what each other tries to get across, while others would deliberately take advantage of the situation and interpret the non verbal communication to their own and personal benefit.

I met someone recently who had all the Harry Potter books, except for the Half-Blood Prince perhaps, downloaded on one single CD. I told him that I admired him for his skills and IT prowess. He asked me whether I would like to have a copy. I asked him whether it would be legal and he said he did not know and would not care. In the end, I declined the offer politely, saying that I preferred to read from a conventionally printed and bound book than from the computer screen. He did not insist.

Reading certainly is an acquired habit. Commuters everywhere normally carry some reading material which collectively could reflect the mass culture of a city, which could perhaps explain why an entrepreneur would spend millions to produce a daily for free distribution.

Back to the last ten days. It was a season of handovers for the district and for the clubs as outgoing and incoming leaders extol the virtues of each other in a bid to motivate the membership to do more, or at least more or less of the same. I have always taken the view, which by the way may not be a popular view, that in our organization which is based on service and which preaches Service Above Self, the people at the top have no more authority over anyone else, but rather have the privileges of taking up more responsibilities. It follows that we should respect the office of the person rather than the person himself. This means that regardless of the personal likes or dislikes one has for our leaders, one owes it to oneself and to the institution which we all seek to uphold, support and defend, to support them by virtue of the fact that they are holding those offices.

Throughout the ages, many kings and monarchs had lived as if they were immortal, others as if they owned everything in sight, people or objects, still others had exhausted themselves to conquer land they did not need and people they never felt for. Good and evil could become blurred at times, but the world and the human race live on. As Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) said, “There is evil which does not harm me; there is good which does not help me.” He then went on to ask, “Evil is our enemy; but would it not be worse if it were our friend?”

Lest I am misunderstood, let me congratulate all club presidents, district governors and district leaders for taking up their respective offices. This is certainly a momentous occasion, the start of a new year and the beginning of the second century of service. I hope they will have a good year ahead, understand good and evil, make a lot of friends and take good advice with which they would make good decisions. On advice, let me leave you with another da Vinci piece, “Seek advice from the one who corrects himself.”

Talk to you later.

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