Author Archives: Aimee Tiu Wu

A Screwtape letter to a doctoral student


My dear Wormwood,

I note with grave displeasure that your doctoral student has decided to pursue her doctorate. Do not indulge the hope that you will escape the consequences from this transgression. In the meantime, we must make the best of the situation. There is no need to despair yet. Hundreds and thousands of these students tried to claw their way out of the doctoral limbo but are still struggling, demotivated and directionless. All the habits of the doctoral student, both mental and emotional, are still in our favor.

One of our great allies at present is the Academic Institution itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the academic institution as a bastion of knowledge but instead a place filled with politicking, fickle-minded and egotistical scholars. Fortunately, this side of academia is quite invisible to these mortals. All your doctoral student sees is the glorious achievement of earning a doctorate, the significant contribution to her field, doors to her future opening widely and her family’s collective pride and joy.

When she goes to class the first day, leverage on her excitement and giddiness and remind her what it was like to go back to school. When she gets to her class, and looks around her, she sees a group of eager, smart classmates. You want to lean pretty heavily on those classmates. Make her mind flit to and fro between each person, making mental judgments and sizing each person up. It matters very little, of course, who sits next to her. Your doctoral student, thanks to Our Father below, is a fool. Provided that any of those classmates say something stupid, or make a foolish impression or seem odd, the doctoral student will quite easily believe that their class is made up of weirdos. At her present stage, you see, she has a vision of the doctoral journey in her mind which she supposes that all she interacts with are highly intelligent and articulate people, but which, in fact, is largely fictional. Never let it come to the surface; never let her interact with people who are truly intelligent, creative and yet deeply humble, low-key and truly seeks opportunities to transform.

Work hard, then, on the disappointment which is certainly coming to the doctoral student during her early semesters of coursework. The Enemy welcomes this disenchantment to occur at the beginning of every human endeavor. It occurs when she picks up her weekly readings and encounters hifalutin words and terms beyond her knowledge. It occurs when she starts preparing and studying for her comprehensive exam. Create opportunities where collaborative work becomes ripe opportunities for differences in opinion and clashing egos. In every milestone of her doctoral journey, remind her of the times she’s missed and given up on her family and social relationships. Keep her focused on the stress of taking out more student loans to continue and finance her education. Guide her into using her time wisely to tackle dead-end research and invest her time on fruitless research leads. And there lies our opportunity to mislead her causing undue anxiety, frustration and discouragement.

I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the hardships of the doctoral journey is well concealed in the eyes of the doctoral student. Of course if it isn’t—if the doctoral student knows that writing the dissertation is like pulling all wisdom teeth and having a root canal at the same time; or her adviser is too overwhelmed to guide her through dissertation completion; or that the department is too hierarchical and political; or her research subjects and methodology are not credible to begin with—then your task is so much the easier. Keep her overwhelmed from having to balance graduate school, work and family. Make everything else hazy in her mind and keep her up most nights so that she will be tired, cranky and unproductive the following day at work and in school. You will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself of seeing her crying in the bathroom with the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Most importantly, keep in close touch with our colleague Malacoda, who is in charge of the adviser, and build up between them a healthy habit of mutual distrust, divergences in opinion and points of view. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your doctoral student that particular tone of criticism which she learned to dislike early on, and let her think how much she dislikes and feels disrespected by her adviser. Let her assume that the adviser knows how critical he is and does it to malign and sabotage their relationship and by extension, the dissertation. And, of course, never let her suspect that her ego and inability to accept criticism similarly puts him off. As she cannot see or hear herself, this is easily managed. Handle her properly and it simply won’t come into her head. She has not been long enough with the academic institution to have any real insight and knowledge of how academia works yet. Keep her in that state of mind as long as you can. But also remember, there lies our danger. If are able to successfully navigate through this initial phase, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.

Your malevolent uncle,

SCREWTAPE

A Screwtape letter to the disgruntled worker


My dear Wormwood,

I was thrilled to hear you have made significant headway with the disgruntled worker and that he’s starting to feel over-worked, unappreciated, demotivated and discouraged. With more calculated planning and timing, this can be a great opportunity to groom him. With the office politics screwing up his mind, we already have an exceptional advantage. A disgruntled worker is the perfect recipe for a deeply divided organization, and an organization’s downfall is our ultimate objective. Without a doubt, guiding your disgruntled worker’s emotions and ensuring that he gets sucked into office politics is the right tactic. Continue the good work in his boss as well. Last week’s public shaming at the conference table was sheer genius. Not to mention the purposeful lack of recognition of the disgruntled worker’s clinching a highly coveted client. A tactic moving forward is to get this managers envious of his current successes and withdraw their support for his promotion.

Sometimes it’s the less obvious things, things his colleagues do not even realize, that we can use to throw him off the most. When he greets them in the morning with a smile, keep their eyes glued to their PCs without acknowledging him. Let him think of it as a direct assault on him as a team member. When they go out to lunch without inviting him or secretly meet to discuss a client’s case, let him think it is because he is not liked and being spurned. Such extreme thoughts may sound ludicrous, but to the disgruntled worker, it can wreck unimaginable havoc on his self-esteem. Your goal is to make him think the organization and his colleagues do not acknowledge him, or even better, that he is JUST another FTE headcount. Create an atmosphere at work where collegiality, respect, innovation and creativity are concealed but envy, suspicion and malice are witnessed daily across all levels of management. Make it second nature for the workers to watch their own backs and protect their behinds.

Keep in mind, that unlike you, he is NOT a pure spirit. Never experiencing what it’s like to be human (oh, that detestable advantage of the Enemy’s!) you may never understand how enslaved they are to the pressures of modern day life. Long ago, I had a patient, a truly admirable credit-stealing manager, who enjoyed art and was a regular at MOMA. One day, as he sat staring at a piece of artwork, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go awry. The Enemy, naturally, was waiting hopefully on his side. In a heartbeat, I saw four decades of hard work and meticulous manipulation vaporizing. Had I lost my head and begun to use argument as defense, I would have lost the battle. And I was no fool. So I struck instantly at the part of humans which I had best under my control, and suggested that it was just about time he pick up his cellphone and grab a drink. The Enemy apparently made a counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what He says to them?) that attending to this realization was more important than looking at his phone. At least I think that must have been His line, for when I said, “That’s it! You need a drink, pal” the patient straightened up and by the time I had added “Let this idea sit for awhile…better check what’s going on at work and go into it with a fresh mind after a drink,” he was out the door. Once he was on the streets of Manhattan, the battle was won clear and simple! I showed him a busy intersection and reminded him that he needed be downtown in 30 minutes, and before he reached the bottom of the steps of the subway, he had shaken off the his earlier reflections. Remember, whatever weird thinking might come into a man’s head in moments of silence and solitude, a healthy dose of “reality” was enough to show him that any ideas about positive change and transformation just couldn’t be true. After all, this world is grounded on notions of survival of the fittest. Years later, he would remember that incident, that lucid moment with the Enemy at MOMA and relegate it as temporary insanity or perhaps brought on by human frailty called loneliness.

Can you begin to see the whole picture? Thanks to our careful cultivation set in motion since the beginning of time, humans find comfort in what’s familiar albeit painful and frustrating, rather than venture into the ambiguous and complex world they live in. Keep reminding him of the mundane things and concerns of everyday life. Above all, do not attempt to use ideas about reflection (I mean, the ones that talk about transforming oneself and the organization) as a defense against his actions. These ideas will positively encourage him to think about change and transformation, these are opportunities he can’t fathom and see. If he must dabble in this leadership non-sense, keep him entertained with pop culture/self-help books; don’t let him get away from that invaluable “real life.” But the best of all is to not let him talk to anyone about true leadership and transformative organizations, but to give him false sense of belief that he knows it all and that everything he knows and he is the result of being driven and committed to his job. Remember, you are there to befuddle him and cloud his judgment and drive him away from the temptation to self-reflect and seek change. One last piece of advice, Wormwood, is to keep the disgruntled worker looking to his colleagues, his managers and his organization for affirmation and self-worth. Then, when they let him down (as they are sure to do), he will be ours to manipulate and torment to our heart’s content.

Your affectionate uncle,

SCREWTAPE

 

Link

Critical Thinking


Critical Thinking

Today, I started an online course called Critical Thinking in Global Challenges taught by Professors Mayank Dutia and Celine Caquineau from the University of Edinburgh. I have always been curious and eager to learn about how to develop critical thinking in young adults and leaders. After listening to the lectures and going through the assigned homeworks, I find myself reflecting on recent events where critical thinking have been necessary. In this highly complex times we live in, critical thinking “is the ability to gather and assess information in a logical, balanced, and reflective way, to be able to reach conclusion that are justified by reasonable argument”. 

As a young parent, I try to be reflective and open about different situations and experiences particularly those that involve childrearing, and other new “exciting” (a.k.a. scary/outside my comfort zone) experiences like transitioning from daycare to preschool, going on playdates, what sport/instrument to introduce first, etc. What does critical thinking have to do with that…you may wonder. I think any issue that tugs into our emotional heartstrings requires us to pause, reflect and critically think and parenting is definitely high on the list. To avoid going too quickly up the Ladder of Inference, or jump to conclusions, we need to think through and understand the issues we are faced with in a logical and rational manner despite situations that are deeply personal.

We live in a very fast paced and information-laden world, where our needs, wants and desires have changed at a colossal speed. At the same time, we are facing some of the greatest global challenges like climate change, public health, global peace and order, sustainable energy, and socioeconomic gap to name a few. Like parenting, being an educator requires one to practice critical thinking skills inside and outside the confines of what know and are comfortable to be “true”. How can we teach and foster these skills in our homes, in our classrooms and in our workplaces? How do we develop individuals to become reflective and critical thinkers and practitioners? I hope that by the conclusion of this class, I would have learned ways to better reflect on my own opinions, test assumptions, identify premises and reasoning, build more solid arguments and formulate better conclusions.

Of course I forgive you!


Like most days, today, I’m rushing from point A to point B, chore to chore with little time to spare in between tasks and errands. Somewhere between the hustle and bustle, the loading and unloading in the car, the running and barely making it, I lost my temper with my 3 year old.

Like any overstretched parents, after a few minutes of calm, guilt washed over me like hot lava. I went to my little girl, pulled her into my arms, looked into her eyes and tearfully said, “I’m sorry. Do you forgive me?” Without hesitation, she hugged me back and replied chirpily, “Of course I forgive you!”.

My heart almost sunk to the ground. In that moment, locked in my daughter’s warm love and embrace, I am humbled, deeply humbled beyond words. My 3 year old, who is as innocent as can be, taught me something so profound today, that even I, have a difficult time understanding and living it at my age.

The lesson learned today, wasn’t just in the words, “I forgive you”, but the resounding “Of course!”. The astounding certainty, the ringing assurance, the unshakable faith- that’s how she has extended her forgiveness to me. As I reflect back on this, and in the days, months and years to come, I will forever be reminded of what authentic forgiveness is.

As the holidays approach, I am reminded, through this experience of what this beautiful season is all about- unfailing Love. Underneath our tree of Love, are gifts of forgiveness, humility, empathy, kindness, generosity, openness and peace. We are all given these gifts, and during this season of joy, let us all share these gifts with one another and let us bring joy and cheer into each other’s souls. And hopefully, we will all find the time and space in our hearts to say to someone, “Of course, I forgive you!”

 

Ideal vs. Ought Self


Week 6 explores the difference between the Ideal Self and the Ought Self. The Ideal Self is our vision, our image of ourselves in the future and is shaped by our core identity, desired legacy, dreams, and aspirations. It is a deeply personal image we draw of ourselves and we keep in a safe place within our hearts. This is the person we envision and the person we see when we close our eyes. The Ideal Self is the person we unconsciously talk to when we dream out loud and share our deepest passion and desires for ourselves. We trust our Ideal Self and we do not feel threatened or intimated by it.

The Ought Self, on the other hand, is the green eyed monster of our Ideal Self. It is who others want us to be or to achieve and often pushes us to towards Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA). For example, when the media promotes celebrity moms back in their pre-baby sizes weeks postpartum, our ought self is being chided for our inability to lose weight months after birth. Or when Mrs. Smith’s son got into an Ivy League, our ought self suddenly feels small and inadequate for getting into a smaller, lesser known institution. Or how about the time Jim landed a big account, and our ought self is fuming for being by-passed yet again?

I recently raged a battle with my Ought Self, when I almost succumbed to its impossible demands and ideals. I felt worn down, beaten and down right worthless. Somewhere between talking to people I love and trust, and prayer and reflection, I had a moment of reckoning. This moment allowed me the courage to tell my Ought Self to leave me alone. When I fought off my Ought Self, I regained a clearer focus of my personal vision and my Ideal Self became sharpened and I felt renewed. Once again, I was in the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA), a space where my mind became more open to new ideas, learning and change and resulted in a very important decision about my career and future.

Looking back, I am deeply grateful for the experience of seeing who I want to be and the person others want me to be (or who I thought other people want me to become). I realize that living the life of the Ought Self is physically and emotionally exhausting. I choose to live the life of my Ideal Self and work towards my vision of who I want to be, craft my life and career around my core values and beliefs and build a future for myself and my family in a way that is aligned with my dreams and aspiration.