Inspiring lessons from Christopher Columbus

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Christopher Columbus was a self-educated man who read extensively on astronomy, science and navigation. He also became fluent in Latin, Portuguese and Spanish.

Lesson 1

The importance of self-education:  There are many who depend on conventional schools for an education. While this is fine, such schools usually nurture students based on subject-specific syllabus and may not cater to the interest of students. Compounding the problem is the fact that all of us are unique and thus, it’s best that we pursue our own interests, especially in higher levels of learning. While universities offer different degrees in their various faculties, they cannot be as diverse as the interests of mankind.

An interesting aspect here is that Christopher Columbus self-educated himself in areas of his interest, such as astronomy, science and navigation. This is probably what caused his eventual breakthrough in his exploration of the world. Along the same vein, we must also educate ourselves in areas of our interest as playing to our passion and interests may well be the only way that we can excel. If traditional education doesn’t permit it, then we should educate ourselves outside schools at our own time and effort. The achievement we attain through pursuing our passions will be well worth the effort.  

Columbus estimated that the circumference of the earth is smaller than its actual size and set about his goal to sail the journey to prove it. His efforts to finance the journey failed to materialize numerous times, where he was rejected by leaders in Genoa, Venice and the English King.

It was only through perseverance that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella approved his expedition, with fundings from the Italian bankers.  It was then that Columbus opened the way to European trading and colonization. His multiple voyages to the Indies pave the way to a vast Spanish colonial empire.

Lesson 2

Perseverance in one’s vision: Christopher Columbus’s tenacity to get what he wanted until he attained it was admirable. His courage to explore and his foresight to travel west all contributed to his massive success as both a traveller and explorer of new lands.

While we may not be as adventurous as Columbus, we can draw a lesson or two from his perseverance to realize his vision. In order to realise our life goals, we need to do what it takes to achieve it, even in the face of repeated failures. Failures are what we steer away from, but it’s failures that will ultimately lead us to success. Such an irony!

On the other side of the spectrum, Columbus has displaced numerous indigenous people, with many losing their lives and culture through an influx of foreigners, and with many falling to diseases introduced by these foreign hosts, which the natives had no immunity to.

Lesson 3

Multiculturalism: In the age of globalization, cross-border travels and migration are common. Such travels facilitate an exchange of cultures and enable us to be more open to differences and diverse cultures. It is an important lesson that we learn.

However, measures have to be taken to ensure that such travels are smooth and amicable, such that harmonious relationships can develop between all parties. With advances in medical technology and transportation, travelling and migration have been made easier. Now it is up to us to develop compassion and understanding on our part to increase our receptivity to differences between cultures and people.

Lesson 4

Development of compassion: There are many who commented online that Columbus – in his exploratory efforts – had displaced many indigenous people and caused many of their deaths through diseases. Slavery is also a commonly discussed issue.

Through both the experiences of Columbus and the indigenous people who were displaced and died, it makes us think about the price of exploration and expedition in those days. Fortunately, in our current times, slavery is already abolished and a higher degree of humane consciousness has already developed in our psyche. Through this spiritual awakening, we have already begun to develop our compassion for ourselves and others as we go about our daily dealings. Let us continue to develop compassion at a deeper level, both for ourselves and for others.

Christopher Columbus was credited with proving the world wrong by affirming his stand that that the earth is round and not flat. Now, this myth has been debunked as we now know that the fact that the earth is round is not revolutionary as many people knew about this in Columbus’s time. It was the size, shape and how much is covered by the ocean that Christopher Columbus made the biggest breakthrough, the most well-known being the declaration that earth is pear-shaped.

Lesson 5

Dare to think different: Yes, Columbus wasn’t the first to think that the earth is round, not flat. But we cannot deny him the fact that he does think of other things that are revolutionary, with the courage to act on them.

Most of us feel a social obligation to conform, especially within the Asian context. While collectivism is beneficial as it encourages collaboration over competition, doing so carries with it its own set of issues, the more serious being falling into the potholes of groupthink, where creative ideas are seldom realised. Daring to think differently is not the same as trying to stand out among our peers. It’s about finding innovative ways to discover new things or solve problems. And there is nothing wrong with that ,if such ideas are beneficial to communities and societies.


Biography Online. (n.d.). Christopher Columbus Biography. Retrieved from:

Lane, K. (2015). Five myths about Christopher Columbus. Retrieved from:

NHD 100 Leaders in History. (n.d.). Facts about Christopher Columbus. Retrieved from:

Psychologytoday. (n.d.). Groupthink. Retrieved from:

Wright, M.A. (2015). Christopher Columbus and the New World. Retrieved from:


Inspiring Lessons from Mother Teresa

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Mother Teresa set a goal to aid the unwanted, the unloved and the uncared for. And she persevered in this goal for the rest of her life.

Lesson 1

Setting a life goal: It is important in life to set a goal for oneself. Some of us might call this our life purpose. This can be a written statement but it can also be a constant visual imagery in one’s mind of what one wants to achieve. Or both.

In its written form, it brings focus and clarity to what we want to do. In its visual form, we can draw on this canvas, to forge and modify as we move along this path of life, adapting to the circumstances and still staying on our goals. When used together, this technique is very powerful in enabling us to stay on course. Mother Teresa have a vision to help the impoverished and she stayed on her life goals all the way through.

Mother Teresa started her career in education and teaching. However, she found a calling in helping the poor and wanted to help them directly. With this decision in mind, she dedicated her life to serving the impoverished and the destitute.

Lesson 2

To serve: True happiness lies in servitude, in helping others in their times of need.  In recent years, numerous researches have verified this. While leading others has its own value in contributing to economies and societies, serving others has the benefits of being truly happy. We can serve others whenever time permits, by volunteering our times in charitable societies in whichever capacities that we deem appropriate. Helping others is in fact, a way of helping ourselves. 

In her line of work, Mother Teresa did not comment on the political and economical structures that could have resulted in the poor that she was serving.

I see somebody dying, I pick him up. I find somebody hungry, I give him food.” She said. “He can love and be loved. I don’t look at his color, I don’t look at his religion. I don’t look at anything. Every person whether he is Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist, he is my brother, my sister.

Lesson 3

Universal love: Mother Teresa expressed unconditional love towards others, and chose not to delve into political commentary and economic stratifications of societies.

Once cameraman who filmed Mother Teresa for a documentary told her that he would not do that for a million dollars. “Neither would I” was her reply, exemplifying the high regard she held for serving with love, not money. This is a beautiful story.

Having a capacity for loving others unconditionally, accepting flaws in people, and being dedicated to one’s endeavours contribute substantially to our success in life, business and relationships. If we are unable to achieve this presently, remaining diplomatic is still a viable way to smoothen conversations and enhance relationships with others.

“I do not agree with the big way of doing things. To us, what matters is an individual,” Mother Teresa once wrote.

Lesson 4

Start by helping others in small doses: There are some who feel that helping others need to be of a large or massive scale. While this is admirable, it is not feasible at times.

Helping others can be one person at a time. Most teachers would probably agree with this. Much as we want to help others, the type of help rendered, their receptivity to our help, the timing when we help are sometimes beyond our control. And in the process to help, we might get dispirited when things do not work out or when others reject our help. But our intention to help others should always be there, one person at a time (as this is much easier and achievable). We just need to figure out the how once we have already figured out the why (see lesson 2 above). 

In her effort to serve, Mother Teresa was tireless. There was once when a new Sister was put off by a dirty restroom. When Mother Teresa heard of it, she rolled up her sleeves and cleaned it personally.

Lesson 5

Persevere and focus on the doing: There are many of us who are thinkers, which is all fine and good since “people who fail to plan, plan to fail”. Nevertheless, there must come a point when we must act. If not, we will often keep on procrastinating.

Mother Teresa exemplifies this quality very well when she concentrated strongly on the doing regardless of the circumstances. In fact, it has been said that she was more focused on serving others than concentrating on her leadership style. Being a thinker is great. But being a doer is divine.


Bio. (2017). Mother Teresa Biography. Retrieved from:

Encyclopedia of World Biography. (2017). Mother Teresa Biography. Retrieved from: (n.d.). Guardian: Protector portrait of Mother Teresa. Retrieved from:

Reilly, K. (2016). 10 of Mother Teresa’s most powerful quotes. Retrieved from:

Richard, S.P. (2017). The daily prayer of Mother Teresa. Retrieved from:

Inspiring Lessons from William Shakespeare



William Shakespeare

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In 1605, William Shakespeare dealt in real estate, purchasing areas of land near Stratford for 440 pounds, which doubled in value over time – earning him 60 pounds per year.

Lesson 1

Passive income: Many people recognise William Shakespeare as a playwright but few know him as an investor, where his passive income from land investments freed up time for him to work on his literary masterpieces. It is interesting that the concept of passive income is not new and that it has already existed in the early 1600s.

The act of penning plays were restricted and confined without the conventional style which does not align well with the story’s plot and character. William Shakespeare adhered to the conventional style but with a freer flow of words, and improvised the rest.

Lesson 2

Innovation and creativity: William Shakespeare was innovative and creative in the ways he penned his literary works. He demonstrated a certain kind of knack in aligning with the existing writing style to cater to the expectations of audience while tweaking a small aspects of it to engage them.

Most of us prefer the conventional and the tried and tested. Thus, new products introduced into the market should meet the expectations of its consumers with slightly enhanced features to attract them further. Entirely new products introduced into the marketplace that do not conform to consumer’s initial expectations are seldom successful. William Shakespeare understood this well.

William Shakespeare spent most of his time in London ,writing and acting in his play.

Lesson 3

Dedication and focus: Dedication and focus are two attributes that contribute substantially to one’s success and Shakespeare lived it. Sometimes, solitude is required for a masterpiece to  materialize. It is rather well known that numerous successful people often attribute solitary time to themselves before they create their masterpieces, regardless of their circumstances. Hopefully, this is not done at the expense of William’s marital life.

William Shakespeare possesses a deep understanding of human nature and these insights are interspersed throughout his literary works.

Lesson 4

Deep understanding of human nature: An in-depth understanding of human nature is important in almost every aspect of our lives, be it personal or business. This is especially so in interpersonal communications where an understanding of human nature enables us to put ourselves in others’ shoes and walk around with them.

William Shakespeare is not only a talented wordsmith but a prolific creator of words as well. It has been said that he created more than 1700 words in his writings.

Lesson 5

Linguistic precision: When we express ourselves in speech or in writing, accuracy and precision play a very important role in getting others to understand what we are trying to say. In recent years, the mainstream media and English speakers have been rolling out around 5400 new words every year.


Bio. (2017). William Shakespeare Biography. Retrieved from:

Newsround. (2015). Who was William Shakespeare and why was he famous? Retrieved from:

Zipkin, N. (2016). 15 Inspirational Shakespeare Quotes on the 400th Anniversary of this Death. Retrieved from:

The Importance of Synonyms in Writing

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There is much thought given to English Language teaching in recent years here in Singapore, with the latest revision being made in 2010 by the Ministry of Education (MOE).

One area of improvement that could be included in greater detail and emphasis will be the teaching of synonyms to students. Synonyms are crucial to the mastery of English at all levels of learning and should be taught to students from a young age.

There are some who hold the perception that synonyms have to do more with narrative writing than discursive or argumentative writing, and thus have not much applicability beyond a students’ schooling years – considering that narrative writing probably doesn’t hold much clout in the workplace.

I beg to differ as narrative writing – or fiction writing (in a more generic sense) – explores one’s and others’ inner feelings and motivations through one of the oldest tools of mankind – stories. Man has been using fairy tales and folk tales from the early years to educate the later generations (even in the absence of conventional schools) and hence it is indeed saddening to see that this medium of transmission – often through literature – is dwindling.

Synonyms have various advantages in fiction and real life narration. For one, it grants precision to one’s description. Students are often taught different action verbs in class. Take the example of the word “walk”, one of the most commonly utilized words by primary school students in their compositions. Teachers would often teach them alternatives and variations of this word, such as saunter, meander, strut, swagger and many more. However, the actions are not often demonstrated by the teachers in class, which is regrettable. For such  learning purposes, teachers should combine words on the white board with actions to fully demonstrate the meaning of these action verbs and enable students to internalize what is being thought.

Ultimately, narrative writing requires a certain amount of visualization on the part of the author since the written words – when used in fiction writing – usually evokes visual imagery in the minds of the readers. And the more accurate the synonyms, the more vivid the imagery.

Within the non-fiction context, synonym works well too. Consider the context of the General Paper (GP), an English “A” level paper within the Singapore context.

While marks are awarded for argument and content, writing style makes a drastic difference between coherence and confusion, and synonyms are the instrumental tools in ensuring the former.

Most writers are discouraged from using the same word repetitively as this implicitly indicates a weaker command of the language. And this is also the situation for GP writers. However, to vary the choice of words of similar meaning, a strong familiarity with synonyms is required.

Thus, a strong foundation of synonym is pivotal to preparing our students for all levels of education, especially at higher levels of education. I have seen many tertiary students fumble in their learning due to a lack of familiarity with synonyms.

It is time that synonyms be given the necessary and strong emphasis that they deserve.

The reinforcing of Stereotypes


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Much as educators and psychologists have advised against the creations and maintenance of stereotypes, it still exists in societies today as it had always existed years before. In fact, stereotyping has become stronger and more impactful than before.

Psychologists would have attributed this to the fact that the human minds have a predilection of categorizing and compartmentalizing things and people so that understanding comes easier. For instance, when we ask about someone’s profession, wouldn’t it be easier to gain an almost instantaneous impression of them based on their responses that they are lawyers than to spend years knowing them as unique individuals?  This is true in knowing a person as an individual as it is true in knowing groups of people.

It is the same for educators, who often attribute (at times non-existent) qualities on a student when the student exhibits certain behavioral traits that is reminiscent of some students the educators have encountered before. These are not the appropriate ways to assess the personality of students. Nor is it a just and judicious manner in which students should be judged. However, with both the convenience and constraints of time, educators often commit this error. Furthermore, the human mind would have approved.

“While stereotyping in these scenarios may seem problematic, nothing is more problematic than when these forms of mental imprints are developed and imposed on not one individual but a group of individuals who share similar traits. “

I believe that none if not few of us would choose to develop certain impressions on a group of people but this often happens over time at a subconscious level. It cuts both ways. So, when we develop positive feelings towards a group of people, that will be great as we will develop happiness whenever we are with them or even talking about them. A mere mental recall is enough to bring euphoria to one’s mood and dialogue.

Rather, it is when our impression swings the other way into negative impressions that problems will result. This occurs based on our previous life experiences of someone who shares similar traits to certain group(s) of people. For instance, if one has been backstabbed by one’s boss in the office (probable on more than one occasion) previously, one might – over time – develop a certain level of mistrust (or even rebelliousness) towards authoritative figures in the future. This might adversely affect their relationship with their bosses – even if they were to leave for other companies.

“This conflicting and affictive feelings in them may follow them wherever they go in their line of work. Over time, these negative emotions may even develop into biases and discrimination. What compounds this problem is that these individuals may not even be aware of these mental afflictions. “

The longer that these people hold these negative sentiments, the deeper will be the distaste towards certain groups of people. They need to know how these unwarranted sentiments are affecting them and more importantly, they need to know the ways to eradicate or at least alleviate these negative sentiments.

One of the best ways to resolve and unwind these emotional knots that these individuals have tied themselves with is to understand that the human mind tends to project the impression someone makes on us to all other similar individuals. These effect works on people as well as on situations. We have seen above how someone can make an impression on us just by mentioning their profession.  Similarly, a bad experience at an event may also make us hesitant in attending similar social functions in the future. More interesting, the way we perceive the world seems to have already been forged in our childhood days.

“In other words, we often live out our lives based on how we perceive the world when we are very young.”

However, there is a way out of this virtual cycle that permeates human living. We need not be resigned or be binded by our childhood days or any negative experiences that we have encountered with people or situations.

Yes, we are able to walk out of this.

But how?

I feel that the best way is to develop compassion. This includes understanding that others have the same needs and wants as us. Understanding this will enable us to develop empathy. However, to reach the level of compassion, we should also take the additional step of wishing them to be well and happy. This might mean sacrificing a promotion so that they are able to be promoted (which kind of reduces backstabbing occurrences in the office and promotes mutual respect and trust), putting in time to communicate with them on issues that might cause further conflicts, letting them know that they are loved or at least respected by us, as well as putting in the time and effort to see the good in them.

Giving advice is the easy part. It’s the application of the value of compassion in our daily lives that will probably require some practice and patience.

” However, as Lao Tzu said, ‘A journey of a thousand mile begins with a single step.’ “

So, let us all take the step in developing compassion and encourage one another to see the good in others, especially the ones we do not take well to. Always.

Patrick Tay is an English Language and Life Skills Training Specialist  who is based in Singapore. He has been teaching communication studies and international issues in polytechnics and writes regularly on various issues of interest in education, media, business and international affairs at He can be contacted at

The Power of positive influence


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Although social journalism has been highly exhorted in its disclosure of the world’ impoverished community, much of the media content in current times is on the rich and the famous, such as successful celebrities and business professionals. This has somewhat created a ripple effect globally such that some of us might feel that we do not have as much impact as these featured individuals since they have much more influence than most of us. This may, in fact, create a sense of belittlement among some of us and this may result in our indifferent behaviours in our lives, since we cannot really change or impact other people’s lives, can we? Let these movers and shakers of society do the influencing then.

But then again, are we that powerless?

“The fact remains that we are not that powerless. In fact, we may be powerful beyond measures over time.”

Yes, we are not that famous, so our outreach may not be as vast and wide as famous people. Their tweets (and re-tweets) may number in the hundreds (or maybe even thousands) while ours linger in the tens or fewer. Their books and blogs may have massive number of readers while we may take years to hit a 100,000 readership. Their presentations at seminars may sell out but we may even have problems getting a decent number of audience for a full presentation.

“Nevertheless, each of us have a sphere of influence – no matter how small it is. You impact your loved ones and your friends and through them, you may one day impact the world.”

Now, in a world of instant gratification, this kind of impact doesn’t seem like much but given enough patience, each one of us will built and leave a legacy for future generations in the years to come.

However, this impact may not always be positive. Our impacts on the world – like two sides of a coin – cut both ways. Our effect and impact on others is always “switched on”, whether we are aware of it or not. Our kind responses to our loved ones, our decisions to stop before a zebra crossing instead of speeding off when a pedestrian is about to cross, our choice to eat a vegetarian diet, our commitment to exercise and our resolve to help others in need are all impacting on others who have come into contact with us.

“It is interesting to note that we are influencing others not just through our actions (which comes later, after our decisions have been made), but way before that – through our thoughts and vibes as well.”

The way we think and process information have already impacted on others before they manifest into our actions and behaviours. When we walked past someone along the road, we are already influencing them in a certain way, and depending on what vibe we carry at that point in time, it may determine to a certain degree how they feel about things for the rest of the day.

Some of us may be skeptical about this. I mean, how much impact can we have on someone who just spends a few seconds walking past us? However, think about the times when our lives are brightened up for a day (or even more ) because someone offers us a smile in the midst of a busy day. Or how our mood has changed positively when someone commends on our potentials and talents when we have self-doubts about our capabilities and abilities.

I still remember a scene in my mind of one of my ex-colleagues. We were on our way to work that day and he was walking in front of me. It was a breezy morning and there was a slight drizzle earlier in the day. Out of a sudden, I saw him pause midway in his stride and stooped down to pick something from the ground. Then, very slowly and gently, he took a few steps to the right where there was a grass lawn and placed something down on the ground. He began walking soon after to the company office.

Increasing my stride, I reached the place where he had stopped and looked around the area where he seemed to have placed something on the lawn. I found it within seconds. It was a snail.

“Till today, I still have the practice of looking out for snails when I am walking and placing them on grassy areas whenever they might end up on the pavement. This is the power of influence, and the power of compassion.”

We should all strive to be positive examples to others and even though we might fumble (we should forgive ourselves since we humans are mere mortals and hence, fallible), we should still pick ourselves up again and be a positive force in this world.

“Let us be an eternal force for good.”

Patrick Tay is an English Language and Life Skills Training Specialist  who is based in Singapore. He has been teaching communication studies and international issues in polytechnics and writes regularly on various issues of interest in education, media, business and international affairs at He can be contacted at

Using the internet as an extension of learning

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The internet is not new.

It has been considered as an Information Communication Tool (ICT) for quite a number of years now. Almost everyone knows that there are tons of information online (although only some are credible! This is where media literacy comes in.) and a casual “Google” (even this has become a somewhat chic term) through any internet search engines will often bring you thousands or even millions of websites containing information that you want. Isn’t the internet cool?

“However, years of teaching experiences have taught me that the internet is indeed cool in providing information. But it is not so cool in getting you the precise information that you want.”

There are often two reasons for this:

  1. Information overload: This is an old term that requires no further introduction. Most of us have – in one way or another –  search for information using words, phrases, sentences or questions and be presented with tons of information online. And most of us know that the top few links are there for reasons of which none of them is directed towards our exact query. After all, all if not most search engines are algorithm-based and they cannot read our minds, no matter how precise are our search terms.

“This leaves much room for search engine designers to explore and resolve these issues but this is not what this blog post is about, although I hope to see much improvements in this area in the coming years. We have already seen what artificial intelligence is able to do for mankind, and there seems to be no limits to these technological breakthroughs. It seems to be a matter of time before our lives are permeated with automation, beginning with the eateries at say, Eatsa.”

2.  Finding the hook to getting information we seek: Not getting the exact information that we want or need online (just imagine trying to find an online solution to a technical glitch for your mobile phone. It will be interesting to have a game on this to find out who resolves it first!) acknowledges the fact that we know what we are looking for in the first place.

Now, there are instances whereby we do not know exactly what we are looking for in the first place. For instance, you may want to travel to Japan. All right, maybe you know it’s Osaka that you want to go to. Many of us may just “google” Osaka to get the specific destinations but that means that we will have to plough through tons of websites to decide on the exact destinations that we want to go to. And in the process, you get confused by repetition of information on numerous websites, or different information on the same place. “

This is also why I have advised students to read newspapers, magazines and other textual resources widely such that they build up a larger repertoire of knowledge and information to work with when sourcing for information online. For instance, using the same example above,  if they chance upon places in Osaka such as Osaka Station City or Grant Front Osaka, wouldn’t a search using these words be more effective than merely searching with the word “Osaka”?

But to chance upon these words, one needs to have awareness of their existence in the first place. So, the most ideal starting point of learning is still traditional media. New media works best as a learning medium if they serve as extension arms of traditional media.”

Hence, there is still an important use of hard copies of newspapers and magazines, contrary to the argument that online content is king. I still subscribe to the hard copies of TIME magazine, and when I chance upon a word that I am interested in, I will look for more information online by “googling” that word. Say, using the automation example mentioned above, the eatery Eatsa is mentioned. Eatsa has no outlet in Singapore yet, but I am able to use the hard copy magazine as a springboard to search for more information that I want online to learn more about this eatery.

“In other words, newspapers, magazines and other news content should be used as a basis for gathering news content but readers and learners should do better by furthering their research and learning online – through credible and reliable websites. Furthermore, I find that there is better information retention and reduced eye strain when one reads on paper. The desire to gather and read more news when reading online may have contributed to reduced concentration and focus, as well as diluted attention span.

To conclude, I will say that we can enhance our learning not by discarding hard copies of news content and wholly embracing the internet and online news content.

“We should – instead – use traditional media as a springboard to further our learning online. We should wed the information we have gathered from the hard copies with what we will find online through selected search terms sourced from traditional media.”

Only then will we optimise our learning in the current times.

Seen in this light, online content is only king only when serving as an information repository.  When it comes to learning, online content is subservient to traditional media.

Is it any wonder that some feel that online courses do not pose a threat to brick and mortar universities?

Patrick Tay is an English Language and Life Skills Training Specialist  who is based in Singapore. He has been teaching communication studies and international issues in polytechnics and writes regularly on various issues of interest in education, media, business and international affairs at He can be contacted at