Sticks and Stones

|Comment |

There are many ways to kill a man.

It is undoubtedly tragic, those 12 lives lost when gunmen barged into the Paris offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Murders affect more than those who die - it destroys families, forever altering timelines; nullifying the possibility of memories that have yet to be made; moments of love and laughter, now never to be realised.

As millions gather in Paris to mourn the deaths of the papers’ editors and cartoonists (I find it hard to type “journalist”), the topic becomes one of how free speech is being attacked.

I believe in free speech. And I believe it in because it is powerful.

Looking at the body of work that came out of Charlie Hebdo, it is impossible to ignore how they recklessly, even maliciously wielded their pens and pencils. Bullets might not have flown, and no deaths were directly caused, but the things that they said were deliberately offensive. It is old-school oppression and bullying, where the person who owned the printing press had power over those who didn’t. My personal opinion is that Charlie Hebdo was guilty of this.

Words are powerful and can be used for good and also for evil. We may think lightly of the cartoons and that they are only good for a laugh, but this sort of laughing soon becomes derision; derision, scorn; and then alienation and hatred. An entire community was subject to the impact of their words. No physical deaths resulted, but attempts to kill the dignity and pride of a people were continuously made.

I can never excuse the blatant murder committed by the gunmen, but neither can I look away from why they did it. The realm of words and public opinion, while now more democratic with social media, has never been a fair battlefield. How could the tears of a young Arab boy ridiculed in school go up against a virally distributed cartoon being passed around as political opinion?

We need to be more vigilant and active to ensure that expressions of hate and oppression are met with equal verve and force. No one should ever have to resort to violence as an alternative language.

Je ne suis pas Charlie.

Broadswords and Scalpels

|Comment |

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Matthew 7:1-2

My Dad works in the construction industry. He witnesses a fair amount of injustice. A number of years ago, Dad finally understood what it meant for his son to be working on the Internet, and started ending his rants with “you should put this on the Internet and shame the guy!”

And that’s what the web has become for many of us — this large megaphone with which we blast away the evils we see around us, staunchly believing that they will be eradicated if we somehow generate a large enough sonic boom.

Only a few days ago, Tekko Koh posted about how some people were cheating at the Standard Chartered Marathon. His post was strident, and included photos of these individuals, with comments about how some of them could not possibly have run a marathon in those times given their fitness levels based on a quick visual scan. It later turned out that the marathon organisers had indeed allowed runners who didn’t make a cutoff time to take a shortcut to the finish line. Tekko published an honest apology right after, but like he said, the damage has already been done.

Just as his original post was shared so prevalently as people clamoured to shame those cheating runners, his apology met with equal enthusiasm from the same crowd, blind to the irony that the lesson here was to stop being so quick to judge others.

And today, everyone’s baying for the blood of the driver who blocked an ambulance rushing a woman to the hospital, posting the license plate number of the vehicle and asking for more info to be dug up on the driver.

Let us shame him. So say we all.

Let’s take a closer look at the nature of this beast, this machinery of shaming, that we choose to ride:

  1. It does not allow for anything other than full measures. We can’t shame people a little; the nature of social media is digital, 1s and 0s, all or nothing. Our attempts to shame these wrongdoers will either fade quickly into obscurity or get massive attention. The first outcome sputters with futility while the second rages, unbridled, until everything and everyone is consumed. Mob justice has an insatiable hunger for destruction.
  2. It changes who we are:
    • It makes us extremely critical of the actions of others, choosing to immediately assume the worst in others simply because social media requires us to post with speed in order to go viral. And going viral, in the absence of real outcomes, is often mistaken for a measure of success.
    • It makes us lazy. Real change often requires prolonged and intensive effort. It is easier to sit in the comfort of our homes, pull out whois requests and thanks to our governments’ efforts to put services online, find out the names and addresses of people. Cross-reference that with social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook and we have family members, embarassing photographs and career histories. It gives the adrenaline rush of being productive, without actually accomplishing anything at all.
    • It drives in us this fear — that what we do might eventually end up splashed on social media. Sure, it may deter some from committing antisocial acts, but it also inhibits us from other public acts. Acts of kindness or moments of spontaneity; because we have become afraid of being judged by the almighty invisible jury.

How then can we change this social tendency that has set in? Here are some tips:

  1. Use “we”, Not “they”; “us”, not “them”. One thing I’ve learned as I grow older is how susceptible I am to evil. When we were younger it was so easy to read the newspaper and go, “oh my goodness, what an evil person! How could anyone…”

    How, older and only slightly wiser, I see so much of it in me. How I could very possibly embezzle millions, or how a few wrong steps could have me turn into a murderer of children, or a torturer of innocent people. The awareness that I am not far from the “worst” keeps me from shooting my mouth off too quickly.

    Which brings me to the next point…

  2. Slow down. I know it’s an adrenaline high to watch your post go viral, but before you attempt to stir a social-media emo-tsunami, take a deep breath and count to ten. Ten minutes or ten hours, depending on how much damage you see your tsunami potentially creating if gone awry. You’ll get better with practice, and these cool down periods will get shorter as you become better at identifying your own state of mind, and when you shouldn’t be posting stuff.

    Know how I force myself to slow down? Every punctuation in this post is hand-typed to its proper HTML entity. It slows down my writing a lot, and I craft each post with web designer pride.

  3. Commit to real change. Don’t focus on the immediate incident, but look for the root causes. A case of road rage? Could it be that we’re living too stressful lives, or could we build more empathy into the transportation system through design thinking?

    Real change requires effort and time. If you care enough to put in both, then you’re better qualified to be talking about it. It is for this reason I respect The Online Citizen team even though we may disagree on how to tackle the issues that beset the country. And we collectively have less respect for The Real Singapore which plagiarises or sensationalises everything it posts. One is committed to real change; the other, hubris.

The Internet has given us a lot of power — power that only owners of printing presses once had; and before the age of literacy only the clergy. We are now able to transmit ideas to effect action on a global scale.

Let’s wield this carefully and wisely, shall we?

Giving Thanks

|Comment |

It’s Thanksgiving, a good time to reflect on what we ought to thank God for. I thank God for two things this year: the rollercoaster of a journey thus far, and the steadfast people that He has placed in my life.

I’m writing this at the beautiful airport in Hyderabad, India - making a snapshot of this very moment. It was only a few months ago I turned in my expired passport, five years and barely used. In the last two weeks I have been to Malaysia, went back to Singapore and flew out to India. I have met many wonderful people, learned many new things, and tasted the beauty and colour of the communities out here.

The last two and a half months in Google has opened my eyes in a new way. My time in the government has taught me to think deeply on many domestic issues; how complex policy decisions are and how they affect all who live on our small island state. Just these few weeks at the new job has filled me with a sense of awe that comes with working with amazing people from all over the world: a taste of the diversity that makes us, well, different, and the yet so much the same. I’ve met with students and educators, budding entrepreneurs and people who have bravely changed streams midway in their very successful careers.

I am grateful for this opportunity, and always mindful how these new lessons and knowledge enable me to serve people and communities more effectively - how it stirs my heart to care even more.

In a few moments I fly back to Singapore. I can almost feel it - the smell of my baby’s hair and the warmth of a family hug. Anne has left for America to attend her auntie’s wedding, and she has taken a part of my heart with her. Caleb was also sad to see her go. I am thankful that Faith is such a capable wife and has such a generous heart to take care of everything at home while I travel for work. I thank God that we can meet every evening via Google hangout. Such a vast improvement from the times I used to talk to Faith via IRC during college while we were apart!

I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I want so much to walk in the way God has prepared for me. It is easy to get lost in the speed of all this change, but I am constantly to keep our eye on Him, our anchor who does not waver.

A Gift for Future Generations

|Comment |

As part of the celebrations of Singapore’s 50 years of independence, Singaporean couples having children in 2015 will receive a basket of 8 items as a gift. They unveiled one of the items this morning: a photoframe and a scrapbook for parents to store their memories in.

It was the comments from many members of the public that really struck me.

Getting a scrapbook isn’t striking the lottery, I’ll give you that. But does a gift - any gift - deserve to be so rudely criticised and snubbed?

For the parents who looked down on and scoffed at this small gesture by the State, how would it feel if this Christmas your kids said your presents were crap right to your face, just because it wasn’t what they really wanted? They’d just be following your example. It is not the scrapbook I care about. It is the lack of maturity that drives me insane.

You have no idea what you have. You have no clue how much our forebears worked to get us here. Sure, it’s not perfect. Glad you noticed. Now you going to get your hands dirty and make it better or you’re just going to stand there, palms to the heavens, whining that someone ought to give you more free stuff?

Get busy, Singapore. Our character as a nation, evidenced by our actions and our words, isn’t currently a legacy we can be proud of handing down to our children. There’s work to be done. Let’s do it together.


|Comment |

It has been more than a month since I started at the new job, yet it still feels so surreal that I left the world that had become familiar to me for almost a decade. The work before me is very loosely defined, and there are days I feel so out of my depth at what needs to be done, but comforted by the fact I am surrounded by colleagues who are so willing to give of themselves. And yet there are other times when the scope seems so narrow, as I find the footprints of others before me on the path I planned to walk.

Above all things I constantly remind myself never to forsake my heart for public service even though I am no longer officially a public servant. That the labour of my hands might make life better for another, and never to take the privilege of serving other people for granted.

Over the last month, I have had so much to learn as I entered this world that is entirely alien to me. It felt unsettling to not be able to contribute off the bat. My previous transfers within the public sector were from organisations that took me in because they needed me for specific tasks. This was the first time in a long time the organisation I joined knew little about me. I suppose my battle scars within the public service had gained me some measure of notoriety and made it easy for needs to align with skills.

I didn’t like the feeling of being lost. But I think God knew I needed the time to pray and depend upon Him.

Things are slowly falling into place and the pace has picked up quickly. I welcome the familiar adrenaline rush and the feeling that I am contributing towards the team. Some of the amazing things this team does makes me proud to be here.

The familiar shackles no longer chafe. I’m sure I will find the boundaries here, but for now I’m thankful chance to stretch some old muscles and fly.


The weblog of Lucian Teo who resides in Singapore. He is husband to the most beautiful wife, father to the most amazing kids. Photographer, storyteller, all-round nice guy [citation needed].

He also blogs about Gov2.0, Storytelling, User Experience Design and Social Media at

He can be contacted at

Latest Reads

Latest Photos from Flickr