Transform Anger Into Solutions

Emma Goh En-ya

I THINK the billion-dollar question we can all agree on is, when will this pandemic end?

While wracking my brains trying to find an answer, I instead stumbled upon a particularly enthralling philosophy called stoicism.

In essence, stoicism can be summarised, in the words of philosopher Epictetus, as “sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy”.

Frequently misunderstood as being determinedly impassive, what makes stoicism exceptionally alluring to me is that it is not just indifference, but a choice to be indifferent. Within that choice, is a wellspring of power.

It is the power to choose to redirect our emotions towards the issues that we have influence over and remain “indifferent” towards the issues beyond our spheres of control. This allows us to transform our anger from an unproductive outburst into a legitimate response to injustice and ultimately, a passion to set things right.

If we harness the change-creating capacities of anger, perhaps even from our armchairs, we will also be able to make a difference.

Meanwhile, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, there are many reasons to be angry — or in millennial lingo – “angsty”.

The freedom that once flowed like tap water has been curtailed, the vulnerabilities within public infrastructure systems have been laid bare and the fissures in our already fractious societies have been deepened relentlessly.

The duality of anger is particularly striking to me. It is at once both a double-edged sword and a unifying and divisive tool. It can resign us to our armchairs or push us to take the deep dive.

As the dark depths of night envelope us, I would like to focus on the illuminating and dazzling nature of anger – its transformative ability and potential for transcendence.

During the 2017 Budget Debate in Parliament, ex-NMP Kuik Shiao Yin cited Ursula Le Guin’s parable, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, from which we learn of a city whose success depends on trapping a weak and wretched child in the basement. She then put forth her call to action for Singapore to move forward together.

“Towards each other. Towards the conflicts. Towards the problems. Towards the solutions. And most profoundly, towards the children in the basement who still long to be free.”

This call to action cannot be more befitting in our present pandemic-stricken context.

It has been said that infectious diseases are blind to barriers of class and while there is much truth in that, we have also witnessed the differential extents of these impacts across various socio-economic groups. We need to convert the latent energy within anger into a productive momentum to move forward and reach out to the underserved.

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Engaging The Vulnerable

At present, I am channeling my previously “armchair-angst” into ENGAGE, a fund-raising project spearheaded by The Rice Company Limited that seeks to empower and encourage vulnerable children and youth during the COVID-19 circuit breaker to minimise their exposure to hunger and domestic conflict as families are forced to stay home.

Unconducive home environments compel these children and youths to return to school to complete their “home-based” learning. As our country halts to a standstill, schools face constraints in terms of resources they can offer these students who return to school. Besides the physical infrastructure provided, these students have to endure hunger pangs and face long periods of disengagement (as they remain in school for most part of the day even after completing their “home-based” learning).

ENGAGE aims to reach out to these students after their “home-based” learning activities, within the safe environment of their schools. The fear rooted in the maxim “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop” is highly palpable and is shared by both parents and educators.

ENGAGE aims to immerse students in a virtual greenhouse through a series of online, live-coaching programmes, ranging from the arts, through coding to e-sports, so as to enable our young saplings to grow and blossom even amidst disruption.

It will also provide these students with hot meals (as many of them are under financial assistance schemes) and a “surprise pack” at the end of the circuit breaker, filled with daily essentials, vouchers and motivational notes from the community.

Beyond the circuit breaker, ENGAGE will work on bridging the digital divide among students and ensuring that underserved students have greater ease of access to digital infrastructure and online resources.

I sincerely urge you to take a few moments to pass on a flicker of hope to one of our participating students by writing a short note of encouragement by April 26th so that it can all culminate into a bonfire of warmth and encouragement in the “surprise packs” that will be passed onto the students by the end of the circuit breaker. 

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