Art and Entrepreneurial Vision

Three things I learnt from Wu Guanzhong about life and art

1. Get Understanding

To cut across anything takes vision and boldness but it also requires understanding and a deep respect for what we are transcending.

 Wu always appreciated the tension between different elements. This is evident in his approach to life and work. In a sense, it is not a surprise that he donated a significant portion of his life’s work to Singapore. He saw in Singapore a nation straddled between the East and West, a melting pot of diverse cultures, Asian and Western, traditional and contemporary, the individual and community, just to name a few.

He said of Singapore, “…positioned between the east and the west with regards to ethics and quality of life; it is close to China, as it is close to the west; the virtues of both sides are concentrated in you.” What an amazing observation.

Understanding Builds Bridges

Wu could preserve the soul of Chinese ink painting even while he introduced the medium of oil and splashed colours to an ancient art form. As an artist, Wu was always respectful of the genre of art he had been trained in. Chinese calligraphy and ink painting have been the visual art forms that had captured for over two millennia, the poetic essence of the Chinese soul, its cultural history and thinking.

“Wu's paintings have the color sense and formal principles of Western paintings, but a spirit and tonal variations of ink that are typically Chinese. Natural scenery is reduced to its essentials - simple but powerful abstract forms.” [2]

It takes someone who truly understands the nature of Chinese art and culture to be able to take such bold steps creatively, to bring seemingly contradictory principles into its art form without compromising or destroying it.

Understanding means being able to grasp the core of an issue and to see the essence of a thing. It allows us to make those intuitive decisions that cut a way through to new seeing. Can we be both liberal and yet respectful of traditions? To be totally open to life and its expressions and yet be conservative? Only understanding can build bridges to a better whatever that we are seeking for. This principle applies to everything.

2. Synthesise Differences

With regards to his work, his piece on Synthesis of Oil and Ink Practices, Wu said:

“[…] Oil and ink painting are like the two blades of a pair of scissors cutting out a new outfit. The two blades may not necessarily be of the same length, and the ways of using the scissors, exerting different strengths, for example, may also differ from time to time. Hence, when I feel that I have come to a deadlock in oil painting, I will choose to paint in ink. However, I will revert to oil when I feel that my dabbling in ink has come to a deadlock.”

Art is a medium that expresses the spiritual through movement of lines and colours. Different mediums are necessary to express different things, however, even then, there are limitations to each art form.

Limitations Become Strengths in Proper Context

I learnt that it in understanding the strengths and limitations of different elements that gives one the ability to synthesize them into a creative force. Wu’s analogy that different elements could be brought together to produce new realities applies only in art but also in our work and relationships.

Wu’s insight is that new realities can be forged into existence when different elements, though limited in themselves, come together in an interplay of different strengths working to create an effect that each by itself, would have been incapable of achieving.

As an artist, Wu crossed over oil and ink painting to make connections that would have been daunting for most, and he did this in bold strokes, which reflects strength of vision and faith.

3. Innovation is an Art

Every functioning team is an innovation that is the outcome of a creative process. It is a body of different parts moving in tandem, like blades of a pair of scissors.

In the realm of ideas and work, no two persons think alike in form, style and structure but when they are able to work together, like two blades of a pair of scissors, they have a power to cut through old thinking and realities. Each role, when it comes to a deadlock, finds a breakthrough through the thinking or actions of another person.

The beauty of this is that the “blades” need not be of the same length nor strength, as long as they are part of a group with a common set of values and beliefs, working towards a common objective. There is power to create powerful new realities, that a person by himself, may never be able to achieve.



One of China’s most respected artists, Wu Guanzhong 吳冠中 (1919-2010), represents five decades of creative oeuvre that has significantly influenced the development of Chinese modern painting, not just through his works but notably through his conception of art. He once said, “After people master the skills, contemplation would replace skills.” His art process was not the process of obtaining a certain art skill or “craftsmanship”, but the process of ceaseless thinking.[1]

In his final years, he donated over a hundred of his precious paintings to Singapore Art Museum (SAM), one of the highest valued donations of its kind presented to a public museum in Singapore. He was devoted to the development of culture, arts and education throughout his life.

My first introduction to Wu Guanzhong’s work was at the exhibition, An Unbroken Line: The Wu Guanzhong Donation Collection (April 9-August 16, 2009) by SAM. I had expected to see traditional Chinese ink landscape paintings from a Master but was instead struck by colours that splashed across traditions. I was simply amazed. Who is this man? I learnt so much at the exhibition and am thankful not only for the vision and beauty of his work but also for his writings on life, art and creativity that accompanied them.


Creativity is Not Linear

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Sawyer Bengtson | Unsplash


“Most business leaders are averse to chaos, are overly linear, and are disconnected from global ripples not directly related to the world of business.”

~ Idris Mootee, Design Thinking for Strategic Innovations

The preference for linearity means people naturally shun anything that seems like chaos or anything that they can’t make sense of, and prefer situations they feel they are in control of, even though it may be a temporal and illusory comfort. Yet more than ever, business leaders need a new and dynamic way of thinking if their business is to survive.

This linearity in thought has a historical link. The Western world is essentially Hellenic in its thought structure, a legacy of Greek logic.

Design thinking, however, is about the ability to see and make meaningful connections of all the different dots in a very complex and fast moving world. This ability to make meaningful connections between different things is a powerful part of innovativeness. Some call this combinatorial creativity.

Linearity or Block Logic?

Design thinking may have been around longer than we realise. In fact, it may be something that the Jews have intellectually practiced for centuries.

Studies have shown that embedded in Jewish culture is a deep reverence for learning and encouragement of explorative thinking. This ability to connect different things together, which to others may have seemed random, has been called block logic by Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith.

“Hebrews often made use of block logic. That is, concepts were expressed in self-contained units or blocks of thought. These blocks did not necessarily fit together in any obviously rational or harmonious pattern…This way of thinking created a propensity for paradox, antinomy, or apparent contradiction, as one block stood in tension — often illogical relation — to the other. Hence, polarity of thought or dialectic often characterized block logic.” (Wilson, pp.150–153)

Compare this to Greek logic.

The Greeks often used a tightly contained step logic whereby one would argue from premises to a conclusion, each step linked tightly to the next in coherent, rational, logical fashion. The conclusion, however, was usually limited to one point of view — the human being’s perception of reality.” (Wilson, p. 150).

Block logic allowed the Hebrews to possess the unusual equanimity to accept paradoxes and seeming chaos—a powerful component in creative thinking.

In the Hebraic way of thinking, a concept belongs to a complex of interactive ideas with a focus on the sum of the whole, content to leave questions unanswered and inconsistencies unresolved. This explains in part the disproportionate number of notable Jewish thinkers, creators and innovators compared to other groups of people. They have been pioneers in every field of endeavor, from science, technology to Hollywood.

This ability to embrace seeming chaos is because at the root of the Hebrew mind is one filled with wonder at the mystery of God. This wrought an intellectual humility in the Hebrew mind as “inconsistencies and contradictions are related to human, finite understanding of the infinite God.”

We Need a New Way

Intellectual humility recognises God’s purpose and intent, and how He has designed things to be. The biblical authors never argue the existence of God; they only assume it. God is not understood philosophically, but functionally. He acts. The word of God was not only nor even primarily an expression of thought; it was a mighty and dynamic force (Boman, p. 58).

Ancient Israel was birthed, as a nation, to bear a heavenly mandate that drew from the covenant that God made with their Father Abraham (Genesis 18:19). Embedded deep in the cultural psyche of the nation is a mission to “bless all the families of the earth,” to be a driver of transformation. The Torah was not only the basis for their constitution, the nation’s DNA, but it was also the day-to-day operational system that shaped their economics, politics and culture.

We need a new way, one that’s smart, human, cultural, social, and agile and that puts innovation at the core of every move it makes. That way could be design thinking.” ~Idris Mootee

It is in this sense that the Jews have shown us what innovation is, operated at a nation level. In their passion to investigate all areas of life, guided by the command to do justice and righteousness, to connect the dots even between the divine and human, they have shown us a way of thinking that puts innovation at the core of everything they do. It’s fascinating therefore to realise that design thinking may have been around a lot longer than we thought.

Thanks for your time! If you enjoyed this article, please like or share with friends.


Thorlief Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, London, SCM Press Ltd., 1960 Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, Eerdmans; 1990 N’Tan Lawrence, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek (Western)Thought (Article)

Genesis 12:2,3, 18:19, Exodus 4:20, Acts 3:26, Luke 1:17, Leviticus 19:33–37

Why We Need Compassion

This is an incredibly brave speech by Monica Lewinsky. In her vulnerability, there is a quiet strength that comes through. It’s a timely message. We need to put compassion back into our culture, to teach it to our young, to click it back into the internet. Every click is a choice, a choice which will determine who we become in the end. ~ Ivy


Highlights from the talk:

Public humiliation has become a commodity

The invasion of others is a raw material efficiently and ruthlessly mined, packaged and sold at a profit. A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame an industry. How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars.

Making money off the back of someone else’s suffering

The more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human lives behind it, and the more numb we get. the more we click. All the while, someone is making money off the back of someone else’s suffering. With every click we make a choice.

A virtual public stockade that has no perimeters

Cruelty to others in nothing new, but online, technologically enhanced shaming is amplified, uncontained, and permanently accessible. The echo of embarrassment used to extend only as far as your family, village, school or community, but now it’s the online community too.

Millions of people, often anonymously, can stab you with their words, and that’s a lot of pain, and there are no perimeters around how many people can publicly observe you and put you in a public stockade.

Stop this culture of humiliation

Gossip websites, paparazzi, reality programming, politics, news outlets and sometimes hackers all traffic in shame. It’s led to desensitisation and a permissive environment online which lends itself to trolling, invasion of privacy, and cyberbullying. This shift has created what Professor Nicolaus calls a culture of humiliation.

Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop and it’s time for an intervention on the Internet and in our culture.

Let’s take responsibility for what words can do

We need to return to a long-held value of compassion – compassion and empathy. Even empathy from one person can make a difference. The theory of minority influence, proposed by social psychologist Serge Moscovici, says that even in small numbers, when there’s consistency over time, change can happen. In the online world, we can foster minority influence by becoming upstanders. To become an up stander means instead of bystander apathy, we can post a positive comment for someone or report a bullying situation.

We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression.

What Is Elegance?

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Priscilla Du Preez | Unsplash

Elegance has something to do with one’s ability to judge the worth of a thing. It’s being able to differentiate what’s really at the core of things and hence the ability to let go of the superfluous. It is the ability to see true value, not the externalities but the Inner worth of a person, for example.

“Worth” has been defined as the level at which someone or something deserves to be valued or rated. However, the value we attribute to a thing requires our judgment, which is influenced by our value system.

In that light, I have seen that those who carried themselves with nobility, born not of riches or status, but of truth and compassion, have an innate elegance about them. An elegance that shines through regardless of appearance or circumstances. It is a very attractive quality.

The ancient Chinese have a word for a person with such qualities. He is called a chuntze, one who is noble. In English it has been translated as a gentleman though it doesn’t fully express it. Confucius, a revered teacher, said that he dared not aspire to be a shengren or the holy one for that is beyond any man, but if he could at his death arrive at being a chuntze, he would be happy. A key virtue of the chuntze is li or righteousness. Not a legalistic kind of righteousness but one infused with compassion and guided by the well-being of others.

Here’s a well written piece on Elegance by Paulo Coelho, which captures the essence of the word beautifully.

Elegance tends to be mistaken for superficiality and mere appearance.

Nothing could be further from the truth: some words are elegant, others can wound and destroy, but all are written with the same letters.

Flowers are elegant, even when hidden among the grasses in a meadow. The gazelle when it runs is elegant, even when it is fleeing from a lion.

Elegance is not an outer quality, but a part of the soul that is visible to others.

And even when passions run high, elegance does not allow the real ties binding two people to be broken.
Elegance lies not in the clothes we wear, but in the way we wear them.
It isn’t in the way we wield a sword, but in the dialogue we hold that could avoid a war.

Elegance is achieved when, having discarded all superfluous things, we discover simplicity and concentration; the simpler the pose, the better; the more sober, the more beautiful


Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation

Design thinking

In the current business world, time given to think and explore is a luxury. Most smaller businesses are forced to be in survival mode, fighting to stay alive from day-to-day in a very competitive environment. Google, however, is known for its whiteboard culture, the envy of other companies. as part of its drive for innovation, its people are given time to draw things out with marker pens, and think.

In a way, Google’s example dovetails with what I had just read in the book “Design Thinking for Strategic Innovations” by Idris Mootee, which highlights the need for a new way of thinking in business.

Design thinking is about the ability to see and make meaningful connections of all the different dots in a very complex and fast moving world. This ability to make meaningful connections between different things is a powerful part of innovativeness. Some call this combinatorial creativity.

Interestingly, Idris points out that this is not about a way of thinking for just a few but for the company as a whole. “Hiring design thinkers is not enough; We need to create design thinking companies.”

Hence the challenge lies in the cultural dimension. Culture, however, doesn’t just happen, it has to be built intentionally. It requires time and a clear focus. It requires investment.

Why would an Internet search company invest so much into its culture? For Google, it is all about one thing: innovation. For Google, this investment has paid off. Google employees have delivered innovative ideas for the company including Gmail, AdSense and Google News.  -Amy Celep, Community Wealth Partners


Design Thinking Applied in the Field

In the last few years, our team has been working on a model for leadership training and community transformation which incorporates design thinking as the engine for innovation and development. Coupled with this is a Midrashic-type of communication system, which allows for our people to do just that.

Scholars have come to realize that Midrash as a form of interpretative expression is not limited to rabbinic exegesis of Scripture.

In his book The Midrashic Imagination – Jewish Exegesis, Thought and History, Michael Fishbane proposed that one of the most compelling and characteristic features of Jewish creativity is its “midrashic imagination.” The practice of Midrash is a powerful way in which creativity is unlocked but it requires a culture conducive to such activities and resources allocated for it. Midrash is the life-blood of innovation and discovery, especially in the field.

What we need now is just time. Time to test our hypothesis and work out an operational kingdom start-up venture so that we have a prototype to showcase.

In the field of agriculture we can clearly see how the adoption of different paradigms create huge impacts for either good or evil. We are familiar with industrial agriculture that has been highly destructive to the environment and people. In the industrial paradigm, the focus is on scale. In contrast, a paradigm based on design thinking, is focused on ecology. Applying design thinking to agriculture would involve the principles of permaculture to understand the interplay of all parts of creation. The outcome would be an abundance that reflects a symphony of life, not the monotone sound of a one-string broken guitar.

With design thinking, even microbes which the human eye can’t see, are considered and recognized for the role they play. And by taking care of even the microbes, we build up an ecology that is inherently sustainable and where every part makes their contribution. Man is task with the most significant role, that of understanding the design for life and overseeing creation.

Boman has this to say of the Hebrews:

Instead of trying to confine Him to limited human definitions and descriptions they focus their efforts on pursuing Him and the character and qualities that determine His makeup. The understanding of the world around them, including God, is to pursue life and God to the fullest, rather than spending time passively trying to define Him. In the pursuit comes the understanding and comes the relationship between the Divine and humanity.

We all have the opportunity to think and live in the way God intended for Man, but it requires humility to study and learn His thoughts on things. This is where God has given us one of the most precious things on earth to guide us, His Torah, the Prophets and Writings. And along with it, a Midrashic culture embedded with the power of Hebraic thought and logic to solve complex problems.

Idris Mootee’s book on Design Thinking has been a conceptual confirmation that we have the right framework and system for developing holistic and sustainable prototype enterprises that empower communities for good.

Leave me a comment, let me know if you found this information useful. Have you applied design thinking in your business or work? Do you have more information on the creative process, hebraic thinking or Midrash?

Let me know …


Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 4.25.48 PMDesign Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School
By Idris Mootee, 2013, John Wiley & Sons

“Design thinking thinking powers strategic innovation.
It can be used to begin at the beginning of an idea or used to unlock hidden value in existing products, services, technologies, and assets – thereby reinvigorating a business without necessarily reinventing it. A disciplined process that can result in significant economic value creation, meaningful differentiation, and improved customer experience.

Design thinking is by nature unorthodox. But it also holds the core capabilities behind innovation.

We are all more connected than we know. Whether its’s business or any other systems-level organizational challenge, design thinking helps us appreciate and make sense of the complex connections between people, places, objects, events, and ideas. This is the most powerful driver of innovation. It’s what guides long-range strategic planning. It’s what shapes business decisions that have to be based on future opportunities rather than past events. It’s what sparks the imagination. And it’s what reveals true value. (p.14)

Hiring design thinkers is not enough; We need to create design thinking companies.

Foreword (Excerpts)

Our world is increasingly complex and difficult to interpret. Multiple forces – technological, regulatory, competitive, and so on – act on a given context to shape the rules of what is possible and probable. Uncovering the most valuable opportunities is increasingly challenging for innovators, especially those using a traditional tool kit. New product development processes typically churn out incremental, me-too solutions when more substantial innovation is needed to capture competitive advantage.

Design thinking helps to anchor innovation on the fundamental drivers of user behaviour, their interactions with the surrounding ecosystem, their interactions with one another.

To embed design principles into an organisation to give it insight into valuable opportunities previously hidden from traditional ways of working.

It provides the framework that encourages a culture of learning and way of working that will enable collaboration, insight, and learning, the allocation of resources to the best opportunities, and ultimately the formation of a more consistent stream of value creation.

This mode of thinking and doing encourages a company culture:

  • Flexibility over conformity
  • Exploration of questions over answers
  • Critical thinking over key assumptions
  • Enablement of teams over organisation structures
  • A focus on doing over studying

This is a different set of capability that is at the core of a company’s growth engine and innovativeness.

Design must allow different factors to coexist in a complementary and symbiotic way.

  • Desirability (product form, user experience, design)
  • Feasibility
  • Economic viability (cost control, efficiency, profit)

Technology exponentially interconnects people, places, and objects in increasingly new ways. Understanding the nature of these interactions both at the physical and emotional level will be required to unlock the value of these complex relationships.

~Erik Roth, Partner at McKinsey, Leads McKinsey’s Global Innovation Practice


Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams defined a mission statement as “a long, awkward sentence that demonstrates management’s inability to think properly.”

We need a new way, one that’s smart, human, cultural, social, and agile and that puts innovation at the core of every move it makes. That way could be design thinking.

Despite pouring millions of dollars into enterprise resource planning systems, however, we can only project three to six months into the future at best with any reasonable accuracy. Why? Because most business leaders are averse to chaos, are overly linear, and are disconnected from global ripples not directly related to the world of business.

This is a Generic Brand Video

I love how poetry has been paired with video to make a statement – ironic as it is, a statement of how bland and cliched ads can be, words on words. 

Stock video provider Dissolve has created a brilliant ad by mocking (what else?) ads.

The company pokes fun at its own business by pairing stock footage with the text from Kendra Eash’s advertising takedown “This is a Generic Brand Video.” Eash’s poem, originally published on McSweeney’s, calls out brands for overusing tropes like wrinkled ethnic men, stop-motion highway shots and skyscrapers.

Dissolve’s resulting video is perhaps the most obnoxiously, on-point cliched ad to every exist.

This is consumerism. This is America. This is…kind of genius. ~ Neha Prakash, Mar 26, 2014

– – – –



We think first
Of vague words that are synonyms for progress
And pair them with footage of a high-speed train.

Is doing lots of stuff
That may or may not have anything to do with us.

See how this guy in a lab coat holds up a beaker?
That means we do research.
Here’s a picture of DNA.

There are a shitload of people in the world
Especially in India
See how we’re part of the global economy?
Look at these farmers in China.

But we also do business in the U.S.A.
Or want you to think we do.
Check out this wind energy thing in Indiana,
And this blue collar guy with dirt on his face.

Also, we care about the environment, loosely.
Here’s some powerful, rushing water
And people planting trees.
Our policies could be related to these panoramic views of Costa Rica.

In today’s high speed environment,
Stop motion footage of a city at night
With cars turning quickly
Makes you think about doing things efficiently
And time passing.

Lest you think we’re a faceless entity,
Look at all these attractive people.
Here’s some of them talking and laughing
And close-ups of hands passing canned goods to each other
In a setting that evokes community service.

And advancement
Are all words we chose from a list.

Our profits
are awe-inspiring.
Like this guy who’s looking up and pointing
At a skyscraper or a kite
While smiling and explaining something to his child.

Using a specific ratio
of Asian people to Black people to Women to White men
We want to make sure we represent your needs and interests
Or at least a version of your skin color
In our ads.

Did we put a baby in here?
What about an ethnic old man whose wrinkled smile represents 
the happiness and wisdom of the poor?

Taken from McSweeneys


The Making of an Idiot Culture

Do you agree?

“We are in the process of creating what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot sub-culture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time, the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal.” – Carl Bernstein -1992

Let me know…

Making Judgment Matter


Picture via True Activist
Picture via True Activist

Does Judgment Matter?

Food is a topic that interests everyone.

Lately the trend has been towards an awareness of what is good and bad in our food choices. Good as that is, however, many of us don’t realize that we are also part of an invisible economic system that is literally killing people in the millions around the world through its agriculture and food production methods. That we do not even question the status quo but accept it as an acceptable and normal part of life should be food for thought.

A Leader’s Most Important Role is Making Good Judgments

Learning to make the right food choices involves making judgments. The ability to make good judgments should not be limited to food but for all things in life.

We are by and large an uneducated lot. Most of us are much like sheep pushed around by what the big corporations decide and instructed by the corporatized media. This is what Carl Bernstein called in article he wrote entitled “The Dumbing Down of America.” Bernstein was one of the two journalists who broke the Watergate scandal and brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

Learning to make good judgments should be something we’re conscious of yet it is something seldom discussed. In fact this was the findings of two professors who researched into the phenomenon of leadership judgment. They found that most people had murky notions about it or thought of it simply as an event. They discovered that “good leadership judgment occurs not in a single moment but throughout a process,” and that the quality of the judgments we make have impacts not only on our lives but also others. 

Our ability to make the right calls has an obvious impact on the quality of our own lives; for leaders, the significance and consequences of judgment calls are magnified exponentially, because they influence the lives and livelihoods of others.

A leader’s most important role in any organization is making good judgments,” well-informed, wise decisions that produce the desired outcomes. When a leader shows consistently good judgment, little else matters. When he or she shows poor judgment, nothing else matters. (Making Judgment Calls by Noel M. Tichy and Warren G. Bennis, Harvard Business Review, October 2007)

Judgment Grows Out of a Process

Their researched also showed that most important judgment calls reside in one of three domains: people, strategy, and crisis. Their findings are summarized as follows:

  1. People judgments—getting the right people on your team and developing up-and-comers who themselves demonstrate good judgment—are foundational. The people around you help you make good strategy judgment calls and the best decisions during the occasional but inevitable crisis.
  2. Judgment doesn’t occur in a single moment but grows out of a process. First is preparation, during which leaders sense and frame the issue that will demand a judgment call, and align their team members so that everyone understands why the call is important. Second is the call itself—the moment of decision. And third is execution—making it happen while learning and adjusting along the way. Good leaders take advantage of “redo loops,” which can occur throughout the process. If you recognize judgment as a process, you have a chance to go back and correct the framing before you move on to the call, greatly improving the odds of success.

This research was done in context of large, complex multi-dimensional businesses running for the bottom-line. The biggest takeaway is that judgment grows out of a process. This means time, effort and growth. If businesses can run aground purely because of poor judgment by its business leaders, what about the greater enterprise of life that Christians have been called to undertake? It is any less onerous for us?

Learning to Make His Judgments

For those who desire to seek first the Kingdom and his righteousness, it means learning to make His judgments. The measure of such judgment is not man’s wisdom of success but guided by what is good or evil. The Word of God is the source code. This requires great wisdom and understanding. It also requires time as learning judgment is a process-led activity.

Quite unfortunately, many modern Christians have perhaps subconsciously outsourced the Bible to “specialists” instead of digging into God’s Word themselves. We live from Sunday sermon to Sunday sermon but life is much more complex than what Sunday sermonettes can deal with. And Christians should be encouraged to ask questions about the world around them in deeper ways than as a mere spectator, much like a couch potato watching the news on TV. For example, if we were to learn how to make judgments in the context of  food, what would our considerations be like? Perhaps some of the questions would be:

  • Why is so much food being made in a plant (factory)? What is driving that?
  • Consider the percentage of food grown on a plant to food made in a plant today, what does that percentage look like?
  • Why are foods still being made in a plant in the way it is when it is a proven fact that it is bad?
  • What does that say about corporations that continue to mass produce food in a plant when they know it is bad?
  • And lastly, why are Christians not asking these type of questions?

Jesus said that God’s people are in a condition where we are pretty much like the blind leading the blind. We have been called to be a people of truth. We must learn how to divide between good and evil so that our judgments of things will lead to right decisions. By right meaning bringing no harm to our neighbours and restoring life where there has been destruction.

If we are as blind as the world, like salt that has lost its saltiness, what use are we then to a world grappling for real solutions amidst great challenges?

The God-given light to man’s path in the world is His word. God’s word is likened to salt. His servants are the ones to translate the Word of God into a usable form that can bless the world. God’s Word (the Torah) provides us the blocks required for making good judgments. We have to dig deep in, like miners mining for gold and silver, like those searching for precious stones. The deeper one digs, the more precious the things that are unearthed. His desire is that man shall have life that satisfies – body, soul and spirit.

Do you agree that we do not have enough understanding of what making judgment is all about and and how it impacts our lives?   Do you have  a story to share on this ? I would be very interested to know what you think.

Let me know…

Burma Through the Eyes of Poets

Eaindra reading her work at the Arts House, Singapore | Aug 13, 2013

When I think of Burma, I think of an almost mysterious country that seems to have been lost in time, punctuated occasionally by news of a military junta and its struggle with the iconic Aung Sun Suu Kyi. Yet there is another side to Burma that we do not realise, one that is invisible to us – the soul of its people, their stories, their words, where the literary culture is a precious part of their life.

Poetry has a powerful way of transcending lines.

Burma/Myanmar has been isolated from the rest of the world for over 50 years and is only now beginning to emerge from decades of strict military censorship. Poetry has always been the most popular form of literature in Burma, going back to the 9th century, and it has consistently been the most censored. Successive military regimes have managed to keep one of the most poetry-rich traditions something of a secret from the world, that is, until recently.

This event will reflect on just how inventive Burmese poetry has had to be over successive generations in order to thrive and what some of the challenges writers in Burma face today.

In a new era of post-censorship, the three key contemporary Burmese poets — all published in Bones Will Crow: 15 Burmese Poets (Arc Publications, 2012) — Zeyar Lynn, Moe Way and Eaindra, will be joined by James Byrne, poet and co-editor of Bones Will Crow — to launch the first anthology of modern Burmese poetry published outside of Burma — and to discuss issues relating to Burmese poetry, past and present, examining how areas such as political censorship and international translation have affected the country’s literary aesthetic over the years. – World Voices presents Burmese Poets, The Arts House, Singapore, August 13, 2013

The genesis of project started in 2006 when James Bryne realised that there was no access to what was being published in Burma, which has operated under a strict regime of military censorship. In that climate, poets had to be highly inventive to avoid censorship. For example, writers couldn’t use words like rose or mother as it alluded to Aung. In 2012, censorship was abolished.

Zeyar Lynn
Burmese poet and publisher, Moe Way

The event gave us a quick introduction to the world of Burmese poetry.  From the classical poetry tradition to the various writing movements that emerged under different sets of conditions in Burma.

In the 1930s, a new movement started called Testing the Times. In the 1950s, the New Writing movement emerged , which was very politicized and leftist. In the 1980s, the Modern Poetry movement, free verse, no structure, no rhyme. It was not considered as poetry by the traditional. Then there came new poetic styles like the Post Modern poetry, the Language Poetry movement and the Conceptual Poetry.

What was interesting to me is how the Burmese poets are defining their own genre and poetic movements.  Zeyar Lynn is considered to be the father of contemporary poetry. As poets who had to struggle for the words, words which we so often take for granted, they convey a special sense of mutual respect for each other as poets and writers.

Moe Way, who is both a poet and publisher, was born in 1969 in the Irrawady Delta. Fifteen years ago, Moe Way worked as a laborer in Malaysia. When he returned home, he saw a gap in the publishing world for modern Burmese poetry, so he started his own press. Circulation for poems is limited.  Famous poets can sell 1,000 books and not so famous ones, 500 books. After publishing 10 poetry books, his money ran out. He had to publish other types of books to supplement his income so that he can continue publishing poetry. Today, the younger generation of poets are coming to him. Expenses could be shared 50/50. He said he will never be able to survive on publishing poetry books but he will go on publishing it anyway.

Eaindra is the youngest poet that evening. Born in 1973 in the Irrawady Delta, she had her first work, As It Were For a Poem, published in 2012. She works as a quantity surveyor in Singapore and is very actively involved in the Aesthetic Life Foundation.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening to hear poetry read lovingly in the Burmese tongue and then hear its translation read with its special nuances captured by James Byrne.

Two Views of Charity

Two articles on the view of charity. The Jewish view and understanding of charity and what charity looks like today in an article by Peter Buffett, “The Charity-Industrial Complex” July 26, 2013, New York Times.


Tzedekah – Charity in the Jewish Tradition

“We are obligated to be more scrupulous in fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedakah [charity] than any other positive commandment, because tzedakah is the sign of the righteous person.” Thus wrote Moses Maimonides (the Rambam) in his Mishneh Torah.

In Hebrew tzedakah means both charity and righteousness. There cannot be one without the other. Yet this usage of the term only appears in the Talmud.

What, then, does the Torah say about charity? “If your brother sinks in poverty, then you shall strengthen him.” (Leviticus 25:35) “Do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your needy brother.” (Deuteronomy 15) “When you reap your harvest, do not pick the [fallen grapes] … or harvest the ends of your field. [These goods] must be left for the poor and the stranger.” (Leviticus 19).”When you lend money to the poor man among you, do not press him for repayment.” (Exodus 2)

Charity expresses a Jew’s duty to their fellow humans. Accordingly, lack of charity is a sin. Sodom was destroyed because of its people’s meanness, said the prophet Ezekiel. And Rabbi Joshua ben Korhah stated: “Anyone who shuts his eyes from the obligation of tzedakah is like one who worships idols.”

Jews may not judge others as inferior just because they are poor. Judaism holds that all earthly possessions belong to God. So a Jew’s worth is measured in mitzvot (commandments) and not in material goods.

The Jewish concept of charity is concerned with the dignity of the recipient. No one should feel beholden to another, or in any way ashamed to receive. In fact, it is sinful for a Jew to refuse charity if they are truly in need.

On seeing a poor man getting money in public, Rabbi Yannai said: “Better not to have given him anything, than to have given and caused humiliation.” In his Eight Degrees of Charity, Maimonides wrote that the seventh degree is when neither the donor nor the recipient knows the identity of the other.

Put these two concepts together, the absolute good of giving and the inviolable dignity of all, and a third conclusion is reached: Even the poor should be allowed the joy of performing tzedakah. The Talmud explains: “When a person gives even a prutah [the smallest coin] he or she is privileged to sense God’s presence.”

Encouraging a sense of charity in others is itself a mitzvah. “They that lead the many to righteousness will be like the stars forever,” says Daniel 12:13. Nor is charity only meant for Jews. The Talmud states that Jews should give to all peoples, because by so doing, they foster peace in the world, tikun olam.

On Yom Kippur Jews say “Prayer, repentance and charity can avert the evil decree.” Giving charity even emulates the Shekhinah, God’s divine presence. As Maimonides wrote “No joy is greater than the joy of gladdening the hearts of the poor, the orphans, the widows and the strangers.”

The eighth and highest degree of charity, wrote Maimonides, is giving so that the recipient becomes self-sufficient and has no more need for charity.

According to Jewish custom, a person should give at least a tenth of their wealth to the poor. Yet Judaism warns that giving beyond one’s means is counter-productive. After all, if they impoverish themselves, how can they give to others?

In traditional Jewish homes it is still customary for there to be at least one tzedakah box where funds for the needy are put. Jewish tradition encourages us to give tzedakah just prior to lighting the Sabbath candles on Friday night or on any other joyous occasion as a way of remembering and doing something practical for the less fortunate.


The Charity-Industrial Complex


Published: July 26, 2013, New York Time online

I HAD spent much of my life writing music for commercials, film and television and knew little about the world of philanthropy as practiced by the very wealthy until what I call the big bang happened in 2006. That year, my father, Warren Buffett, made good on his commitment to give nearly all of his accumulated wealth back to society. In addition to making several large donations, he added generously to the three foundations that my parents had created years earlier, one for each of their children to run.

Early on in our philanthropic journey, my wife and I became aware of something I started to call Philanthropic Colonialism. I noticed that a donor had the urge to “save the day” in some fashion. People (including me) who had very little knowledge of a particular place would think that they could solve a local problem. Whether it involved farming methods, education practices, job training or business development, over and over I would hear people discuss transplanting what worked in one setting directly into another with little regard for culture, geography or societal norms.

Often the results of our decisions had unintended consequences; distributing condoms to stop the spread of AIDS in a brothel area ended up creating a higher price for unprotected sex.

But now I think something even more damaging is going on.

Because of who my father is, I’ve been able to occupy some seats I never expected to sit in. Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left. There are plenty of statistics that tell us that inequality is continually rising. At the same time, according to the Urban Institute, the nonprofit sector has been steadily growing. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits increased 25 percent. Their growth rate now exceeds that of both the business and government sectors. It’s a massive business, with approximately $316 billion given away in 2012 in the United States alone and more than 9.4 million employed.

Philanthropy has become the “it” vehicle to level the playing field and has generated a growing number of gatherings, workshops and affinity groups.

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.

And with more business-minded folks getting into the act, business principles are trumpeted as an important element to add to the philanthropic sector. I now hear people ask, “what’s the R.O.I.?” when it comes to alleviating human suffering, as if return on investment were the only measure of success. Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?

I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism.

Often I hear people say, “if only they had what we have” (clean water, access to health products and free markets, better education, safer living conditions). Yes, these are all important. But no “charitable” (I hate that word) intervention can solve any of these issues. It can only kick the can down the road.

My wife and I know we don’t have the answers, but we do know how to listen. As we learn, we will continue to support conditions for systemic change.

It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.

What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there.

There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff).

Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.

It’s an old story; we really need a new one.


Peter Buffett is a composer and a chairman of the NoVo Foundation.