What does ‘teaching a thing or two’ mean?

joseph-swimmer-sea-games-malaysia-1By YS Chan

One of the examples listed in the Collins Dictionary for the usage of “teaching a thing or two” in a sentence is “Everybody gets excited about the idea of teaching you a thing or two about tennis”.

All 16 other examples are also positive. So, why did some Malaysians react negatively to Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling’s remark about going to Malaysia’s backyard and teaching them a thing or two?

He later clarified: “I was actually talking about our younger kids going there and teaching (our) rookies a thing or two about the launch pad that we have in the SEA Games to bigger and better meets in the future.”

Last Friday, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin urged Malaysians not to be oversensitive over the remark by Schooling, which had been taken out of context.

Olympic Council of Malaysia president Tunku Imran Tuanku Ja’afar also reminded fans who will be at the swimming venue, not to jeer Singapore’s Olympic champion Schooling for his remark, which had been misconstrued.

The SEA Games is the greatest opportunity for Malaysians to make visitors from Asean countries feel most welcome to our shores. Last year, over 20 million or 75.8% of all visitors came from the other nine Asean countries, with Singapore alone contributing 49.6%.

And just like many other Singaporeans and Malaysians with families on both sides of the Causeway, Schoolings’ mother was from Ipoh, where his aunt and maternal grandmother still live.

In Malaysia, students excelling in rote-learning score well in exams and most graduates complete assignments through cut-and-paste jobs.

Many are not able to describe in their own words what they have studied over the years, although they were awarded diplomas or degrees.

Sadly, personal development is grossly lacking in our education system, and this is clearly evident with our poor communication skills and low emotional intelligence.

Many Malaysians easily get angry over nothing, easily taking offence when no offence was intended. They do not realise that their reaction is more a reflection of themselves and less of others.

For example, words alone are neutral and there is no sure way of knowing what the writer meant, more so when most Malaysians have poor language skills, and are unable to think, speak or write clearly.

They may be able to speak several languages or dialects but are masters of none. Their communication skills are just as weak.

In 1999, I was fortunate to attend the train-the-trainer course for the Malaysia host programme conducted by the Tourism Ministry.

It was modelled after the hugely successful Canadian programme which succeeded in training locals to become great hosts to visitors to the 1986 World Expo held in Vancouver.

It was so successful that American Express bought over the training programme for worldwide distribution.

Participants learned that interpersonal communication skills was key to great customer service and words used in verbal communication were given only a seven percent weightage.

This is because the same word can have an opposite meaning when spoken lovingly or angrily. It is not what you say but how you say it.

As such, the tone of the voice or vocal communication is given a 38% weightage. We think and speak using words, but our true feelings are conveyed by the sounds we make.

But above all is non-verbal communication, which I describe as visual communication that takes up a 55% weightage.

This is because our facial expressions and body language are dead giveaways as to how we feel, which confidence tricksters take pains to cover up but give away after a while.

And many people do not realise that we are communicating all the time even when remaining silent, whether we are standing, and whether we are moving or sitting.

In workshops where I conducted training on courtesy, participants became aware that their courtesy was on display all the time, and there was no customer service without courtesy.

It is no surprise that many Malaysians are involved in unnecessary quarrels as they lack personal development and communication skills.

It would be great if Malaysia could win 111 gold medals as targeted but in my book, any competitor, irrespective of nationality, who has performed to the best of his or her ability deserves a platinum medal.

Likewise, for all Malaysians who make all visitors feel truly welcome, and those at the venues who cheer all competitors on.

Such gestures, if developed to become our Malaysian culture, are worth more than all the gold medals.

If we can do that, the rest of the world would be happy for Malaysia to “teach them a thing or two”, just like the Japanese have done on the issue of courtesy.

YS Chan is an FMT reader.

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