The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The message and the messenger.

In Singapore it is not just the message that counts, but the messenger, too. Whether or not a viewpoint is accepted or criticized seems to depend on who the messenger is.

I have been an observer of Singapore's blogosphere for a couple of years, now - and an observer of Singapore since 1999. Thus, I have had time to accumulate impressions about the nature of discourse here. Well, I have noticed something. Sometimes, a viewpoint which, if expressed by a Singaporean, would be endorsed and supported by other Singaporeans, is attacked, by Singaporeans, if expressed by an outsider. I find this strange. It seems that the messenger is more important than the message, here.

I have seen opinions and arguments presented by outsiders, which are very similar to opinions expressed by Singaporean commentators - yet, the outsiders views are roundly attacked by a number of Singaporeans, whereas, when a Singaporean writes the very same views they find support from other Singaporeans, who voice like views and experiences.

My conclusion from this is that a subset of Singaporeans don't like outsiders to comment on Singapore - even if those comments are the very same ones that a local person would make, in the same circumstances. There seems to be an undercurrent that if you are not born and bred in Singapore, then you are not allowed to voice your thoughts on it.

I am not saying that all Singaporeans think this way (indeed I have seen some Singaporeans speak out in support of the outsider's right to comment - and noting the similarity of their comments to locals') - but it is clear that some do.

I think this is a pity. If the views of outsiders are not welcomed, then Singapore can only be impoverished by this exclusion. Whereas an outsider might come to the same view as a local, sometimes they will see something that locals have overlooked, for the lack of certain comparative experiences and understandings. It is this fact which means that, far from being closed to the viewpoints of outsiders, that Singaporeans should be particularly OPEN to their viewpoints, in the hope of coming to understand something in a different way, and from a different perspective.

Singapore is still not fully at home with the presence of foreigners in its midst. Some Singaporeans have accepted them, befriended them, even married them - but others still think that foreign means "unwelcome" and feel that they should be excluded - their ideas included.

A message should be considered, irrespective of the messenger. It should not be rejected just because of the colour of skin, religious views, or other quality of the messenger. The message, alone, should be taken on board. Yet, still, in Singapore the question appears to be, for some: "Who is saying that?"

As I have observed this phenomenon, I have, at times, thought that perhaps I should not write my thoughts on Singapore anymore. I have wondered whether it is worth making the effort to communicate my understanding of what I see, when some will reject it simply because I am a white foreigner, rather than evaluating the thoughts on their own merits. Yet, still I have continued to write. I feel that I should continue for those who are open, and not be silenced by those who are not.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:50 PM 


Blogger Miao said...

Sometimes we let our sensitivities hinder us from properly assessing the merit of critiques made by foreigners. Such attitude probably prevails elsewhere as well. For example, a Chinese native may react strongly to disparaging comments made by a Japanese, even though this Chinese himself would very likely make the same criticism of his country. The identity of the commentator plays a role in dialogue, because there is often this suspicion that viewpoints voiced by foreigners are jaundiced. This is regrettable, for it shows an inability to engage in discourses in which we can communicate with openness.

Such an attitude is probably also perpetuated by our current government. The PAP has repeatedly sued the foreign media for publishing reports that put the party in a bad light. When Singapore performs badly in intenational rankings, the PAP gets defensive and dismiss such reports as inaccurate, sometimes citing the reason that foreigners do not fully understand our country's operations, and thus are in no position to judge. (Interestingly, the PAP does not doubt the integrity of those rankings in which Singapore is ranked amongst the top few.) This might have an influence on how the Singaporean people eventually come to treat foreigners' criticism.

4:17 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Miao, for your considered perspective on the situation - and for showing that Singapore is not the only Asian country to show this characteristic.

It is a pity because it stultifies open dialogue between people of different backgrounds - which is, of course, the most valuable kind of dialogue since it is likely to lead to new understandings.

As ever, I enjoy your comments: thanks!

Kind regards

6:02 PM  
Blogger Miao said...

Sorry, I meant 'perpetrated'...

2:03 AM  
Blogger Shannon said...

There is an old saying that comes to mind. When people hate the message, they kill the messenger. There is a tendency to dislike a person who brings attention to unpleasant news. Association with positive or negative information influences how people think and feel about us. (Cialdini, Robert B.) This explains why patients dislike their doctors. This explains why weather reporters receive death threats. It's the association principle at work. I hope you will continue to write about world events. Although I may disagree with a message, on occasion, I aim to treat the messenger with kindness and respect.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great minds discuss ideas, mediocre ones discuss personalities.

Dumb by definition will always outnumber the intelligent so why are u so surprised?

Look at USA. your american cousins are voting Sarah Palin. enuff said.

Btw, keep up the comments. Many Singaporeans do appreciate your neutral views.


11:29 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for the support, No Name. It is appreciated.

Best wishes.

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good afternoon Valentine,

It is most regrettable to hear that you are considering not writing further about current affairs in Singapore.

Allow me to just say Mr Valentine Cawley in the brief period that I have visited your blog. I have always found many of your snippets both thought provoking and enjoyable. You have much that we can all learn from, but cannot as very few of us have actually grown up and lived a span of life in the West.

I believe I am not alone and I speak for most readers who regularly read the brotherhood press. You may probably know this, but the BP has always had a tradition of taking on board the best ideas from every quarter irrespective of race, creed or nationality.

On the contrary, they (the brotherhood) have never ever once perceived the wisdom of limiting their range of thoughts to only Singaporeans and residents. In fact, they consider that such an intellectually bankrupt approach, its even expressly barred in their constitution.

As they believe very strongly the most rational beliefs are not those that are most strongly subscribed too by a group, but rather those that have best survived criticism and refutation from whoever wishes to take issue with it.

Personally, when I first started the FILB (Free internet library board) in Primus Aldentes Prime (the virtual home of the brotherhood) I found this idea quite intimidating, but since then when I see the benefits it brings in terms of technology, know-how and knowledge, it has transformed my way of thinking in more ways than I can possibly elaborate.

My hope is you will persevere and disregard all these nasty comments which may have led you to even consider such a sad decision.

Trust me when I say to you, there are readers and readers. And it is best if one directs oneself to the latter and never the former.

We wish you the very best.



(The director general of the FILB)

1:50 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Y2K, for your supportive words. It is good to hear that there are those who value what I write (just as there are those who wish that I wouldn't).

I shall think on what you have written.


2:40 PM  
Anonymous Saint Splattergut said...

well the govt for famous for having the "not singapore, don't comment on politics" attitude. but that's tough, because politics is everything and everywhere. i think they need to lead by example...

but, can't blame the govt for everything, though i think their stand on that has def. influenced people's attitudes on this issue.

perhaps it is a form of mental laziness? i think to be comfortable in your own shell and not venture out is lazy and very dangerous. like you said, singapore will only NOT benefit from this exclusion.

one day we'll wake up to be no. 1 laughing stock of the world... and this time we'll stay on top.

9:34 AM  

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