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 +

Monday, July 13, 2009

"Not one of us".

I overheard part of a conversation, on the bus, the other day, between two Singaporean teenagers. I thought it most revealing of attitudes that permeate this society.

"He is not one of us.", said one of the boys to the other. Both boys were a little chubby, so I had to wonder what "One of us" meant.

I found my ears pricking up, in attention.

They were a bit far to hear perfectly, so the conversation tended to fade in and out of comprehension. Therefore, I only heard those things which the speaking boy said with a little more fervency.

"...he doesn't have any passion," he explained to his friend, "He only does it out of forced necessity."

His friend said nothing, but listened, nodding every now and again, as if both urging his friend on and agreeing with him. Clearly, he deferred to his friend in conversation and probably in life. I felt that what he was hearing was at odds with his initial view, however. I felt that he was being persuaded to accept a different viewpoint on the "he" of the conversation.

"He is NOT one of us." concluded the speaker, emphatically.

The silent one reached up and pushed the bell to stop the bus. He turned and mumbled something to his friend and rose to leave.

Soon the speaker was alone with his thoughts. He sat there as if resolved about something. He was determined to hold onto his belief about this other person - and to make others believe it too. He seemed quite an unexcitable person, for one who spoke of "passion". Perhaps he meant something else by passion, to what is normally meant. Perhaps he just meant doing something because you wanted to: an inner drive.

I have noticed how often Singaporeans speak about "passion" but, oddly, it is difficult to recall meeting a passionate Singaporean.

For me, this conversation captured the way people in this society are cut off from each other, by their imagined stratifications - by the social status they hold onto, the cliques they form, the exclusions that make them feel special. "He is not one of us"...the boy said, as if it were a special thing to be "one of us" be just like the speaker. Looking at him, I saw no reason why anyone should desire to be "one of us", at all. Yet, for the speaker, there were reasons why they were a desirable type, that others should be pleased to be included in.

This kind of attitude that some people are above others and apart from them, is very Singaporean. It has even been heard on the lips of a Singaporean member of government referring to ordinary people as "lesser mortals". This is, in effect, just another way of saying: "They are not one of us".

Well, speaking as an outsider, a foreigner, who cannot, therefore, ever be "one of us"...I am quite pleased not to be so. Why, on Earth, should anyone wish to be part of a group that spends so much time, looking down on the rest of the world, for not being just like them? It seems to me to be an undesirable group to be a member of, in every way that it is possible to be undesirable.

Singapore speaks a lot about "unity" and "harmony" - but, in truth, it is neither unified nor harmonious. It is actually a country broken up into little islands filled with people thinking: "The others are not one of us". The truth is, elitism, in the sense of a set of self-appointed elites, is much closer to the truth of what Singapore is, than any notion of unity or harmony. Yet, these "elites" are not really elite in any objective sense. I don't see them as being genuinely superior to the people they think themselves superior to - they are just filled with a sense of their own importance and apartness and it is this which creates in them a sense of superiority. (Oh, and usually they have high salaries, too...sometimes very high).

It seems that the attitudes which end in government men referring to the rest of us as "lesser mortals" begin in the classroom, in schools around the country, with young boys (and, I assume girls), creating little elites for themselves, from which all others are excluded.

The funny thing is, I could say the same about those boys: "They are not like me"...but what purpose would that serve? In what way does that define a group worthy of being defined? It is empty talk, in the end. Yet, few realize this: they think such demarcations are worth defining their lives by. In truth, of course, all they are is artificial barriers between people and obstructions to free communication.

Singapore would be better off without this instinctive "elitism" that creates these attitudes. It would, in fact, be better off with genuine "elitism" founded on true differences in ability, rather than artificial social exclusion. I say this because clearly this boy they spoke of was performing as well as they were (otherwise why the need to create a distinction where none existed?) - but still they wanted to separate themselves from him. So, they created an artificial distinction to exclude this GENUINELY elite boy, from their "elite" circle. They wanted, in short, to say that despite his performance being of our kind, it was not to be accepted as being of our kind. Thus, they created social divisions where none should exist. That is unnecessary and unhelpful for Singapore. This nation would benefit from dissolving such barriers - not creating them out of nothing.

I wonder when this nation's leaders will learn that - and the schools too?

(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.

We are the founders of Genghis Can, a copywriting, editing and proofreading agency, that handles all kinds of work, including technical and scientific material. If you need such services, or know someone who does, please go to: Thanks.

IMDB is the Internet Movie Database for film and tv professionals.If you would like to look at my IMDb listing for which another fifteen credits are to be uploaded, (which will probably take several months before they are accepted) please go to: As I write, the listing is new and brief - however, by the time you read this it might have a dozen or a score of please do take a look. My son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, also has an IMDb listing. His is found at: My wife, Syahidah Osman Cawley, has a listing as well. Hers is found at:

This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication prohibited. Use Only with Permission. Thank you.)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:53 PM 


Blogger Treesh said...

I think this rings true for any society. There will always be the moral crusaders exhorting for the creation of the 'other'... It is quite unfair to typify it as a 'Singaporean' phenomenon.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I don't know where you are writing from but this phenomenon is certainly more prevalent in Singapore than anywhere else I have lived in (Europe and America). Here, "not one of us" is a bedrock social thought. So, I think it is a fair comment.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

surprisingly funny for a country developed from a colonnialisme background to an internationally-recognised for freedom of speech and harmonious society..
maybe those guys were talking about LOST, a TV series.. :)

4:37 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape