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Articles, Commentaries, Penang Monthly [formerly Penang Economic Monthly], Philosophy

Stay Young, Stay Spontaneous


By Ooi Kee Beng

Editorial, Penang Monthly, September 2016.

Much of youth is definitely wasted on the young, and this is because the young as a rule are not aware enough of what it means to be old.
They are not burdened by the growing sense of mortality that growing old brings. And that is also why they do not seem able to make the most of their youthful abilities, at least not until it starts getting a little too late.

Given how speedy changes in lifestyle, culture and especially technology today are quickly shrinking the functional age span of a generation, it is paradoxical indeed that the young today tend to act young (read “happily free of responsibilities”) till their late 30s if not their 40s and beyond. It seems that the longer one is childish, the less one is able to appreciate youth.
Knowing that one is ageing every day can be a depressing thought, but if anything can make us appreciate life, it is nevertheless the knowledge that we are irredeemably dying.


Sorry for starting this piece so morbidly, but the point I wish to make is actually the reverse. Since the young do not always appreciate what they have, it is the not-so-young who should appreciate it for them—and in the process perhaps help them appreciate it more.

Come to think of it, that is what a mentoring mentality actually signifies.

The promise of youth is very often not kept because we humans tend to procrastinate, and strangely enough, if you ask me, procrastination is a bad habit that results from excessive parental disciplining, school regimentation and time scheduling. The procrastination I mean is not so much that of watching life pass by through a lack of interest in the world as it is the wasting of time through waiting for the next stage in life to start from without.

But there is damage control we can easily do later in life. Encouraging both the old and the young to embrace spontaneous habits can raise the amount of happiness in the world substantively.


Children are born full of curiosity and passion; and that is why adults feel such a need to discipline them, and to teach them patience and persistence.

But the power children have from the start is spontaneity. And as far as I know, feeling joy and being spontaneous are intimately linked. Ask any grumpy adult to switch for an instance from walking to skipping, and he or she will find it impossible to deny that his or her state of mind changed for the better as soon as the skipping started.

In fact, it is the very young that we should be drawing inspiration from, those who have not been overly regimented and disciplined. Babysitting a grandchild is quite different from taking care of one’s own child. With a grandchild, one allows oneself to enjoy his/her bounciness without interfering the way a young parent often cannot do.

I venture that where having immediate fun is concerned, the grandparent should not be thinking that he or she is babysitting the grandchild. Instead, the attitude that he or she should adopt is the reverse. He or she should think of the grandchild as babysitting the grandparent. The little one is the expert when it comes to the immediate appreciation of life, after all. And so, it makes more sense that it should decide the game.


About Ooi Kee Beng

Dr OOI KEE BENG is the Executive Director of Penang Institute (George Town, Penang, Malaysia). He was born and raised in Penang, and was the Deputy Director of ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute (formerly the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISEAS). He is the founder-editor of the Penang Monthly (published by Penang Institute), ISEAS Perspective (published by ISEAS) and ISSUES (published by Penang Institute). He is also editor of Trends in Southeast Asia, and a columnist for The Edge, Malaysia.


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