Man, Are We United?

Manchester United, the football team I have barracked for since I was a young boy, lost this week to the bottom-of-the-table dweller. Sheffield United, by all accounts, were not expected to win. After all, they had won just one match at the half-way point of the season. Man United had to win, to cement themselves as title contenders – a title they last won in 2013. Yeah, that is a long time ago, for a great club. But, they lost when they were supposed to win easily. Typical of them. The way they have been playing for the past few seasons isn’t the way true champions play. Unless they think they are playing yo-yo, up and down, and up and down again. The Man United fan club in my chat group is named the Fuanclub – Fuan being the die-hard fan who is the most vocal. The most parochial. The one with the blinkers on, I say. No ifs no buts, a no-nonsense man. To belong in his club, you have to be absolutely biased for the team. You have to be absolutely positive, even when they are losing. Even when they are losing when they should be winning by a comfortable margin. You make an honest remark about a sloppy pass or share the poor stats of Anthony Martial, their No. 9 striker and daggers will fly at you. No negative comments are allowed! NO BAD VIBES, he will shout at you. Well, no one else will dare to be honest with Fuan around. So, all the daggers are aimed at me, an easy target due to my boisterous remarks. The red cards are flashed at me – OUT! Get off the field. NO BAD VIBES, he yells at me. Yeah, I have been red-carded so often I think I have copped a lifetime ban from the Fuanclub. To be fair, the others do occasionally voice their frustrations at certain players or at their lack of urgency and intensity. It may not be far off the mark to say Man United are the most frustrating team to support. They have fantastic players but these young millionaires don’t often turn up to play. They give the impression they need to just amble about for the first half before showing up to kick their opposition after the interval. Fuan is willing to overlook all the negatives of the team – that is what a loyal fan does. But, I am not made like that. After all, I cry out “urghh” in disgust when I write about us humans. The ugly earthlings. Urghhlings. There are so many negatives about humans that the some of the ugly traits appear during a football match. The brutal tackles, some career-ending. The “dives” to win a free-kick or a penalty. The referee whose blatantly wrong decisions that changed the results of a game were so obvious we had to ask if he had been bought by some online gambling consortium. The feigning of an injury to sway the ref’s mind and flash the red card at the opponent. The lazy millionaire players who do not give their 100% in every match.

Fuan is a caring friend. We have been friends since 1965. After the Man United loss earlier this week, he reminded me to be positive. I know, I know. A positive state of mind is not only good for me, it benefits everyone around me also. Who doesn’t want sunshine? Who would walk away from laughter? Who would avoid happiness and a positive outlook? My world will be a better place, he assured me.

First Son suggested yesterday I should change what I write about. After all, “Urghhlings” can only be about the ugly nature of humans. As a writer, if I am only looking at the negative aspects of life and at the ugliness of people generally, will I not miss out on the many positives? Am I not focusing purely on the bad stuff people do or say? Will this constant looking out for negativity in life eventually affect my mental health? But, the truth of the matter is that I do not even need to search for the negatives! They are simply everywhere, every day! I see them often since I work in retail and for decades, I have witnessed the many ugly tricks the customers do to gain a refund or discount or a free replacement.

Am I crazy to be looking at the negatives rather than the positives? I should feel lucky. To have Fuan and now First Son both reminding me to look at the positive side of everything and everyone. Something has to be clearly wrong with me for both to be so forward with me just two days apart. This is serious, I told myself. No one had ever come to me to spruik the benefits of being a positive person. For two people far away on opposite sides of the world and unknown to each other to come forward on the same week to encourage me to be a positive person tells me very loudly that I have a problem. What has happened to me? Why have I become like this? So negative. Have I always lived with this negative mindset? Am I prone to looking at the dark side rather than the bright side? When did I become this cynical? Petty, I am sure someone recently said. Was I born this way? What does it matter – why ask so many questions? Just be aware and change for the better, right? I like to think I’m analytical. Find out when and why I became this annoying person with these unwelcome traits and then nip the problem so I can fix these issues for good? But, I should be careful not to be too defensive or be overly sensitive. It sounds bad that I am considered a poor sport. A bad loser. A toxic person. A grouch. A whinger. That can’t be me! I’m nothing like that. Yet, this is what they say about me. Instead of arguing against them, I chose to accept they were telling me the truth. They were reaching out. To pull me from the black hole they see me in. Have I been so out of touch of my own reality? I have long suspected I am a loser in the popularity stakes, so I told myself there is no need to be popular. There is the story about the man who tried to please everybody and ended up pleasing no one. Yeah, I won’t want to be that person. Popularity is for those who aren’t comfortable in their own skin, I reasoned to myself. Just be myself, be honest, this is who I am. Yet, here I am, finally being forced to look into the mirror today. I don’t like what I see. I am asked to consider that actually I am an urghhling because of my negative attitudes. I am petty and super critical to point out people’s faults rather than praise them for the good they have done. I whinge too readily about their flaws and scoff at their weaknesses. Philip, a friend from my secondary school days left a forum I belong to two nights ago after I insensitively cut him down with some “facts” that challenged the source of his political views. His often-pedalled anti-Biden conspiracy theories and his vexing anti-China rhetoric bristled me. I wrote what I wrote and pressed “SEND”. So trigger-happy, so easy to press my buttons. I felt so rotten I regretted the whole night and lost precious sleep. I was truly disgusted with myself. Why did I not just let him share his views with us without interrupting him? What made me think I should question his views? Gerard, another old school mate who now resides in Ireland, comforted me by phone last night. He was thoughtful enough to call and tell me not to be tough on myself. I had just as much right to share my opinion as the other chap, Gerard said. Thank you, Gerard. You’re very kind to reach out to me to help me wash away my guilt. But it got me thinking again about myself. Why do I let out this unpleasant character that’s inside me every so often? My words are so unpalatable that an old friend would rather leave? Why couldn’t I be nice like the other 95 members in the forum? They remained silent and allowed Philip the space and time to ramble on. No, I had to be that annoying fellow who must “correct” an utterance he thinks is wrong. Now, I do accept that what I think is wrong may of course not be wrong but it doesn’t stop me from “correcting” it. That makes me a lousy friend to spend time with, I do get it. I am fully aware of my character flaws, yet why do I carry on with such bad behaviour? Why can’t I be a better person? It seems so easy, just be nicer, friendlier and kinder! Smile and the world smiles at you. Look out for the positives and everyone will enjoy your company. Be more agreeable. That is happiness, right?! Be more understanding, less judgemental and definitely try to be more forgiving. I have read Dale Carnegie’s very influential book, How To Win Friends And Influence People. So, why haven’t I improved myself? Why aren’t I popular with friends and family? His proposals sounded so easy to adopt at the time. Six easy ways to make people like me. Be genuinely interested in other people. Smile. Remind myself that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound. Be a good listener. Focus on the other person’s interests. Make the other person feel important, but do it sincerely.

I will try and balance my views with some positive things which happen around me. My world is not all negative. Not all earthlings are urghhlings. My blogs aren’t all negative, I defended myself. I write about Murray, my son’s dog! Murray is the loveliest and happiest personality around me. He exudes unquestioned loyalty and implicit trust in me. He teaches me unconditional love and shows unbridled joy at my slightest attention at him. He is a treasure trove of fun to be with.

I think it was my management training early in my career that made me into who I am. We called it “Management by Exception”. We produced reports that highlight the inefficiencies, the deadwood, and the weaknesses in the system. We sought out the bad to fix them and if we could not fix them, we got rid of them. We left the good ones alone – if it ain’t broken, don’t change it. The working cogs of the wheel do not need changing. We said thank you to the good workers, but our focus was always on the negative ones. Good employees received praises and bonuses, but they also heard the honest negative feedback from me. Bad employees did not last long. I think we become that person in our job, and I have been doing mine for a lifetime. Managing by exception invariably means looking out for and focusing on negatives to get rid of in the business. I have become that person who focuses on negatives. This is certainly true even during a football match. I hurl criticisms at the Man United players with the lazy strides, or those defenders whose feet are flat on the ground when the opposition striker scores and especially at Anthony Martial who too often kicks the ball straight back out to his team-mate who had just executed a slick pass to him inside the 18-yard box. I have been my own boss for so long I have become dictatorial. “It is always your way or the highway”, a close relative said of me last week. Sure, I do listen to other opinions, but the final decisions are always mine to make. That must make it very difficult for people close to me to even breathe! Sadly and belatedly, I am realising that is the price I am paying for my “success”. I have become that urghhling whose company no one enjoys. Petty, defensive, depressing. Despicable and therefore, often ostracised.

The Virus And Us III

The morning air is a lot sweeter now. It is 7am. No more petrol fumes for me to suck into my lungs this early in the day. The silence is broken by the chirpy cockatoos and colourful rosellas – the park in front of my house is a lot noisier than any wet market in Asia. The magpies have grown bigger and the distance we keep apart from one another is evidence of our mutual respect. I reckon those big birds can hurt me if they wanted to. Although this was the third week of me working from home, I have not been able to change my body clock to sleep the extra hour saved. I have just made a conscious decision to dress the part from next week on. The slide to anonymity has its advantages, I originally felt. Apart from The Mrs and my 96 year-old mother who has moved in with us since the early days of the SARS-CoV-2 virus making front page news, I am invisible to all others. But when The Mrs begins to treat me as the unwashed, I know the slide has reached the bottom of the barrel of self-respect. She would never bother to ask why I have stopped brushing my hair – the less hair on the floor, the more tolerant she is of me. The meter of her discontent is the frequency of her complaint about my hair. “It stinks! Why won’t you wash it nightly?” She is right, of course. At times, I have had to arrest my own breath. But, a couple of days ago, she said it the very next morning after I had washed it. It made me consider that maybe my hair odour is imagined. All the more reason for me to feel that the slide to anonymity is complete. From tomorrow, I shall climb out from the rut. The first thing to feel nice again is to dress nice. I do not remember if that was said by Dale Carnegie in his book “How to win friends & influence people”. I should read his book again. I am beginning to lose friends again. Two days ago, I used what I thought was already a very accepted word. A word that has not been derogatory for at least a century, surely. Kwailo or Gweilo. Originally deprecatory but it is a common Cantonese slang word for Westerners. As harmless, decades ago, as the Hokkien words “Ang moh kau” or “Ang moh kui” The first two words mean red hair. Kau admittedly can be offensive to some today, as they refer to our distant cousins, the monkeys. Kui or Gui means devil. Manchester United, my favourite football team, calls themselves the Red Devils, so my guess is that “kui” does not offend anymore. Dale Carnegie taught me about the secret of Socrates. We should always begin a conversation by emphasising the positives and the things we agree. But, I forgot to do that. I embarked on a litany of reasons why my Hong Kong friend who hauled me up on using the word “Kwailo” was overly sensitive. He said I am rude and racist. “Do you tell all your Hong Kong friends they are rude and racist?” I shouted. It is incorrect that the world has become so politically incorrect. Dale Carnegie rushed into my mind, and made me apologise quickly. “For those who are aggrieved by this, I say sorry.” The other big contributor to my reawakening is my son’s puppy, Murray. Pre-COVID-19 days, Murray used to share his living quarters with me. We were virtually inseparable, the best of friends. I learned a lot from the pup. He was in my office all day. I worked all day whereas he occupied his time gnawing at a goat horn, or made me play “chasey” round and round my desk with him. Whilst he enjoyed his breakfast and little snacks, I practised Intermittent Fasting. Every two hours, a staff member would take him for a walk around the neighbourhood. None of them refused. Murray is a really powerful magnet to the lovely office girls nearby. When I had my lunch, so did Murray. When I worked, he napped. You see the pattern? Murray never has to work! I could have written Dale Carnegie’s book by just observing Murray.

Principle 1 – He does not criticise, condemn or complain.

Principle 2 – He gives genuine appreciation and wags his tail with love.

Principle 3 – He arouses my affection for him. He smiles and gives me that cute look of his, without any ulterior motives.

Principle 4 – He is genuinely interested in me and is totally loyal.

Principle 5 – He makes me feel important. He gives unconditional love and attention.

Principle 6 – He is a good listener and encourages me to talk.

Principle 7 – The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. Murray never argues with me.

Principle 8 – He never points out my faults. He never says I am wrong.

Principle 9 – He is quick to acknowledge when he is wrong. He will sit by my side and rest his head on my thigh.

Principle 10 – He lets me do all the talking. He lets me think all the ideas are mine.

Principle 11 – He praises (licks) me a lot and makes me feel special.

Principle 12 – He lets me know when I have made a mistake, indirectly. Once he whimpered when his water bowl was dry.

Principle 13 – He teaches me to be an effective leader with clear-cut communication skills. He knows to sit down when I point my finger at the floor.

Principle 14 – He teaches me to let the other person save face. I rebuked him once only to realise it was my fault, and he never embarrassed me about it.

Principle 15 – He teaches me to reward good behaviour generously. He gets a treat every time he responds correctly to an instruction.

It was my eldest son who told me about the idea that people dress nice to feel nice. It was a foreign concept to me. Why would anyone need material goods to make themselves feel good? How we feel and how we feel about ourselves comes from within, right? Our health is foremost and that can only come from the food we eat – the nutrition or lack of will determine everything else about us. Without our health, what does it matter about our happiness and harmony? Our health is not just our physical health of course. We need to look after our mental health and spiritual health too. When we feel good inside, we will feel good outside. Will we not radiate positivity and confidence? Will we not shine with assuredness and contentment? Will we not flash a happy smile more readily when we feel good about ourselves from within? The modern-day experts are trying to spin the opposite. Dress well to feel well. Where is my Pierre Cardin tie? Discarded decades ago, I decided a shop-keeper looks odd with a tie. Where is my Rolex watch? The one from Siem Reap when I last visited Angkor Wat. It was a fake and made me feel like a fake, so it got binned too. Where is my Hugo Boss jumper? I felt it, tried it on but never bought it. Where is my DKNY leather jacket – one of the few things I like about New York? It is probably breeding mould in the wardrobe. Dress nice to feel nice. Sounds nice that I will sound nice. My job requires me to answer the phone – a lot. One of the anomalies of an internet-based business. People still want to deal with a human being when they shop online. I man the live chats during working hours but AI takes over when I switch off. A customer who typed ever so slowly asked if I was a robot. It is the most frustrating part of my job, watching and waiting for what feels like an eternity for someone to string a few short words together. “Are you a robot?” took her more than a minute to type. Only The Mrs would say that about me, I wrongly thought. Now, I realise there is at least another woman in this world who suspects I am robotic. With COVID-19 scaring consumers away from the malls, my online business has, alas, not been affected enough by the social distancing measures being enforced in Australia. The federal government’s Jobkeeper stimulus would have entitled my business to a $120,000 rescue package provided my business revenue drops by over 30%. That’s such an arbitrary figure, don’t you agree? At one point, I was down 25% only! Life’s a bitch, as they say. Which reminds me, in some parts of Australia, life’s a beach. Many beach-goers simply ignored the social-distancing rules put in place to curb the spread of the virus, and insisted on enjoying sun-bathing together in close proximity to one another.

The bread I am making is almost ready. Nothing beats the aroma of fresh bread baking. It is enough for me to break my fast. The Mrs and I are very competitive. But, I have just announced that the breadwinner’s bread is the winner. Sorry, Dale Carnegie. I keep forgetting one of your more important rules – Don’t compare your wife’s cooking! The other smell I love is the petrichor from the first few drops of rain. It never fails to beam me back to my young teenage years in the school field playing football with friends. So long ago. So far away from COVID-19.