Zihao is an international student from China currently studying in Singapore. Between 2013 and 2014, he studied at St. Joseph's Institution, where he devoted his passion and efforts to art. Since last year, he has been working as a research assistant in the linguistic development lab in Nanyang Technological University. We have conducted an interview with him.
What did you discover in taking on the 'academic approach' to pursue your passion in art?
Having experienced a situation where a culmination of events led me to the verge of an emotional breakdown two years ago, I am able to sympathize and empathize more with others who may be experiencing the same mental and emotional stress. I am able to identify with some of my peers for example from school, who suffered from certain autistic spectrums of disorder which leads to them experiencing sudden swings in temperament as well as others who had suicidal intentions. Realizing that I am not on my own, I was and still am driven to study psychology on my own so that I am better equipped to help others mentally. After a year, I volunteered at a Creative Hub Exhibition, an art therapy branch as well as the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH). My painting Reformation has also been displayed in front of the amphitheater of SJI, as a reminder for those who may be experiencing turmoil inside, that they should still be hopeful and look to forward to a better life. My experience has also enabled me to understand more about the possible mental processes that some modern radicals or temporary extremists have gone through. The vast majority of us only condemn the atrocious deeds that those people have committed which is totally understandable, considering how it is expected that we would sympathize with the victims of a tragedy, similar to how we would react if our family members suffer the same outcome. However, it would be rare for one to attempt to ponder upon the desperation experienced or the prolonged external pressure or even crime in certain societies, forces that have segregated society and individuals within such societies, transforming them and catalyzing their journey to eventual radicalization, in some cases, suicidal Jihadism. Granted, we cannot justify the acts of a criminal just because the cause of his crime is rooted in the injustices inflicted on them by society, yet, we should be able to sympathize with the struggles that the criminal might have undergone, as well as love or pay kind attention to others so as to minimize the probability of people turning desperately to such extremes. As I learned from my counseling experience, emotion, action, thinking and health are crucially interrelated. In school, I sometimes motivate peers who hold negative thinking--those who have had their positive or remedial actions hampered--to think progressively, presenting to them an alternative way of looking at things, a possible more positive vision of their lives based on my observation and understanding of their individual traits, personalities and potential. In society, I have been able to relate to some people through art or mere emotional support, and establishing friendships, through these, I have been able to follow-up on them to check how they are handling their problems mentally and emotionally. Apart from actions that involve both recipient and the participant, I have also done some volunteer work under established organizations such as donating blood, performing with the drum at St. Theresa’s house to energize the lonely elderly and raising funds for AIDS patients through the Hair For Hope program. As for those unfortunate minds that have been radicalized, creating a real impact by making a difference to their way of thinking on a large scale is rather unrealistic at this stage, so I delve tentatively into the realm of sociology, political science, and even neuroscience to develop a better understanding of the nature of society and us as Man, the root causes of various social issues, an understanding of the psyche of individuals and how they react and response to various situations in life. In developing an understanding of these, I want to be more prepared so that I can work towards finding solutions or coming up with strategies to help alleviate some of these problems, to empower myself and others so as to contribute positively to society. Besides, lending the light from the establishment of Effective Altruism welfare organization which has its ideology substantiated by philosopher Peter Singer and William MacAskill, having a pronounced founding philosophy will indeed strengthen the liveliness, sustainability and the scope of appeal of any movement towards creating a better future.
Theoretically speaking, the ability to influence essentially lies in power and power consists of three sub-categories, namely destructive power, exchange power and integrative power. Without a suitable area to release their mental pressure, some individuals resort to the destructive power to identify themselves. The impact that we can make collectively is to transfer this urge for destruction towards integration or integrative power which is within our capacity, namely to love and care. These angry individuals or radicals want their existence to be known by others. Even if you do have a heart to help them, they will not know how much you know or understand them unless you show them how much you care. The disadvantaged might simply wish for someone to know about them and their circumstances and showing them that they are recognized members of society through caring is what we can do. Many criminals out of desperation today kill on impulse as they possess the need to feel that they are in control. Essentially, without this final act of murder, they are just like any one of us, undergoing stresses and challenges. With our network of people hailing from different backgrounds, we should be able to provide some work or job opportunities so as to provide them with an opportunity to realize themselves and raise their standard of living. In this way, their negativity and sense of helplessness could be diminished.
How does your recent participation in entrepreneurship programs helps you learn about what it takes to be an artist?
My experience as an international sponsor to AmWay Singapore team has enabled me to understand the power of networking in our age. In AmWay, we enable others to be their owner of their own life, independently at least financially. The methodology here is in PASS, namely Product sharing, Association, Sharing materials (books, CDs etc.), Showing the plan. It is not due to the presence of talented marketing salesmen that makes the network strong or the organization successful, and sustainable, but rather the readiness of outreach approach that can be duplicated by common people of any background. In this group, leaders advocate that we constantly add value to others. And I think the best way to improve another person’s life is to direct them towards to the path of self-realization, away from the trap of expanding and self-containing negativity. As the first step towards unleashing their inner potential towards positive and socially constructive ends, we could be friends with them individually, allow them to articulate their dreams and encourage them to join our team. Anything can take place because one has dares to dream and work towards living out a dream. By seeing more of what we can do to improve upon society by influencing each other in our strong network, they will start to believe that instead of the use of a one-off destructive power, they can take massive action and achieve eventually tremendous integrative power and be remembered by others who need that help.
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