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Thank you for visiting us! In addition to the information given on this website, we also blog regularly on education, society, life, faith, love, philosophy, human nature and all that make up what Plato and Aristotle called ‘the good life’. Beyond the mundane and material life that surrounds us, we hope this blog can serve as a little oasis to share a more excellent way of thinking, doing and living our lives. So starting from the most recent posts below, do follow us on this journey! And we hope you will drop us a comment or two at ask@irwins-study.com to let us know your thoughts or just to let us know how we are doing. =)

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The Information Paradox

Every year around this time, I look forward to receiving my TIME magazine because it would reveal who the Person of the Year is. For 2014, TIME has named the Ebola medical missionaries for this honour. While I have yet to read the full article, this new immediately brings to mind a recent GP lesson I had with my students concerning Ebola. Besides discussing the causes, course and costs of a global pandemic such as Ebola, I wanted my students to be able to dig deeper beneath the surface to discover that an episode like this is not purely a health and medical issue, but that it also casts light on various aspects of our modern society. As the world tracked with bated breath the spread of the disease, the spread of the information of the disease is also an interesting development to note. In the world we live in today, it should come as no surprise that news of the outbreak of an epidemic spreads faster than the spread of the disease itself. What is less examined is whether this is a positive trend or not.

Now pause and think for a moment: In a time of disease or disaster, would you want to have more or less information? When I posed this question to my students, most of them said they would want more information for valid reasons like so that they can be more prepared or so that they can take preemptive measures. However, a New York Times article noted that while we would understandably desire more information in times of crisis or emergency, this surge of information (which is often fed to us on live feed 24/7) can also lead to fear and public anxiety as well. So this is the strange paradox of a modern epidemic like Ebola: The rapid spread of information is both our greatest defence against a true epidemic from a public health standpoint, and it is also the source of constant, nagging anxiety that creates the – entirely incorrect – sense that we live in unusually perilous times. This is because a modern person is far less likely to perish from an epidemic disease than he or she would have been 150 years ago. We are vastly less at risk and, and at the same time, we are more worried – for the same reason. Today, information travels faster than viruses do. This is why we are afraid. But this is also why are safe.

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What is Beauty?

In the last few weeks after the current batch of JC2 students started their A-level exams, I began to pack my teaching notes and to prepare for next year’s General Paper lessons. As I browse through the different Prelim exam papers from the various JCs, I noticed that besides passages on conventional GP topics such as global issues like poverty, education and globalisation, there are quite a number of comprehension passages on interesting themes such as suffering, happiness and complaining! And one of the themes that attracted me (no pun intended) is beauty.

The famous adage that ‘beauty is only skin-deep’ belies the fact that in today’s world, beauty is a premium in many facets of our lives. It is discovered that both physically attractive women and men earn more than average-looking ones, and very plain people earn even less. In the labour market as a whole, looks have a bigger impact on earnings than education, and while it is understandable that beauty is naturally rewarded in jobs where physical attractiveness would seem to matter, such as prostitution, entertainment and customer service, it is a little harder to explain why attractiveness also yields rewards in unexpected fields, where for instance, plain-looking soccer players earn less than their handsome counterparts, despite comparable skill and experience. Further outfield, attractive people seemingly have an easier time getting a bank loan than plain folks, even as they are less likely to pay it back. They receive milder prison sentences and higher compensations in legal proceedings. Social experiments also reveal the not-so-surprising conclusion that pretty girls almost always receive help from strangers in the supermarket – even when they did not ask for it!

So is the world a bed of roses for the beautiful? Not necessarily. Good-looking women seeking high-flying jobs in particularly male fields may be stymied by the “bimbo effect” until they prove their competence and commitment. Beautiful and successful women also often have to contend with unfavourable perceptions of how they rise to power and fend off uninvited sexual advances. The sad fact of modern life is that it is almost as if people find it inconceivable that women can be capable and beautiful at the same time.

How about the guys? The definition of masculinity is also undergoing a makeover, thanks to economic growth, higher disposable incomes, shifting gender roles, and the eagerness of fashion and cosmetics industries to expand their customer bases (nearly every major cosmetic brand now has a ‘for him’ range of products) No longer content to be the drabber sex, males are preening like peacocks, perming, plucking and powdering themselves to perfection in an effort to make themselves attractive to their bosses, their peers and, of course, women.

Our obsession with beauty looks set to be an inevitable aspect of our humanity. Even the Bible recognizes this and cautions against this: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4). And perhaps it takes a truly beautiful person like Audrey Hepburn to remind us what real beauty is:

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge you’ll never walk alone.
People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived,
reclaimed, and redeemed; Never throw out anybody.
Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm.
As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands:
one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.
The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she
carries, or the way she combs her hair.
The beauty of a woman must be seen in her eyes because that is the doorway
to her heart, the place where love resides.
The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mole, but true beauty in a woman is
reflected in her soul.
It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows,
and the beauty of a woman, with passing years, only grows!

 

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