You Don’t HAVE to be a Social Butterfly.

Human beings are social creatures. We crave validation and acceptance from our peers; if not to be liked, then at least to feel accepted. This need for inclusion could be biologically wired from our time as hunter-gatherers, where being part of a group or a community provided protection and a higher chance of survival. 

But even though our days of wooly-mammoth hunting and huddling around fires in caves against wild animals are long over, why do we still have an innate need to belong? I mean, how many times have you been peer-pressured into doing something that you wouldn’t otherwise, simply because you didn’t want to offend a friend, or didn’t want people to think you’re a spoilsport? We force ourselves to conform to a group dynamic, because we need this sense of inclusion and the feeling of being liked.

Unfortunately, this can be a problem for those who are not naturally attuned to act in ways that groups see as the benchmark for ‘likable’. Think of a party, and describe the people who would usually be at the center of attention. Words that come to mind may include ‘open’, ‘friendly’, ‘funny’, ‘interesting’, and ‘charming’, to name a few. Now think about the people who usually hang out in the corners at the same party, and the words that pop up now are “quiet”, “shy”, and “anti-social”.

The bottomline: group 1 = good, ‘rewards’. Group 2 = bad, ‘ostracized’.

I’ve always fallen into the latter category, no matter where I’ve gone. It’s not from a lack of trying–despite social gatherings being out of my comfort zone, I genuinely try to listen to what people say and push myself to approach or talk to others, especially new people. What I’ve observed, however, is that this tends to end in failure: talk often peters out because our conversations won’t jive, or people turn to their own cliques and ignore me completely. I’m often left wondering what I’m doing wrong, and why.

The thing is, I don’t think I’m bad at communicating. I have friends who hang out with me and (I’d like to believe) enjoy my company, and I’ve never had problems vibing with colleagues, some of whom have become my friends for life. 

The problem, imo, lies in the dynamics of group behaviour. 

In social situations, we are hard wired to act or behave in certain ways, which includes how we gravitate to certain individuals within the group.

Take Obama, for example. Eloquent and confident, you feel his presence as soon as he walks into a room or goes up to a podium. Social butterflies tend to have this magnetic energy, and other members feel drawn to everything that they say and do, whether or not it has substance. 

Obama to me is an example of a naturally charismatic, likable personality. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

On the other end of the spectrum you get the broody ones (like me). A colleague once told me I have resting bitch face, and that she was surprised to find that I’m actually pretty easy going once she started talking to me. (We ended up becoming close friends even after our time at the company. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding). 

With most large social gatherings, conversations tend to be superficial, and people form quick and judgy first impressions because the group is so big that they don’t want to waste time ‘chipping away’ to get to the meat of someone who seems reserved and shy. Others might feel more comfortable with familiar faces, so they form cliques–it’s also easier to talk about familiar topics with people you already know, as opposed to roping in a stranger and having to explain the group’s jokes or bring them up to speed to the clique’s collective knowledge. 

Unfortunately, aside from being polite, engaging, and showing interest in others beyond what I’m already doing, I cannot emulate the charm that comes naturally to other people, short of completely overhauling my personality. Which brings me to my next point: 

Sometimes, the solution you want might not be the one you need. 

There was a point in time where I believed the problem was mine to solve, and no one else’s. I should take the initiative to be more open and friendly, and if I felt left out, it was because I wasn’t doing enough to make others feel comfortable with my presence and personality. The flaw in this logic that I’ve recently realized is that I will never be like those people, no matter how much I try. 

  • I will never be naturally charismatic. 
  • I will never be a social butterfly. 

And if the negative effects of forcing myself to conform to these group dynamics in order to be well liked causes me more suffering and anxiety, I am better off without it. I don’t have to join stuff I don’t want to join, but I can be open to situations I’m comfortable with. It doesn’t make me a spoilsport. 

I guess the main takeaway is try your best, but if it doesn’t work, it’s okay: you don’t have to beat yourself up over it, because sometimes, the problem isn’t you. 

Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment and Death: How Wesak Is Celebrated Around The World

May 7 marks Wesak (or Vesak) Day, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha, a central figure in Buddhism. It is one of the most important days for Buddhists around the world. Unlike Christmas, which has a set date each year, Wesak falls on the full moon of the month of Vesakha according to the ancient Indian calendar, which is typically between April and May.

While Wesak is celebrated in many different ways, with some practices intertwined with the local culture, one common aspect of the festival is paying homage to Buddha and observing the Buddhist precepts of kindness to all living beings. As such, Buddhists will usually eat vegetarian food, go to temples to offer prayers, practice loving-kindness and donate to charity. Many temples around the world will also organise talks on dharma (the Buddhist equivalent of the gospel – ie Buddha’s teachings) and activities such as bathing the Buddha, a symbolic ritual which involves pouring water over a small Buddha statue to cleanse one’s sins.

MALAYSIA

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At 19.2% of the population, Malaysia has a significant number of Buddhists – and Wesak is considered a national holiday. During this time, temples are usually packed with devotees, who come together to donate to the needy and light candles, incense and joss sticks as offerings. The Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple – one of the most prominent Sinhalese Buddhist temples in Kuala Lumpur – turns into a bustling hive of activity on Wesak Day, as thousands converge to chant sutras together and pray for the wellbeing of all living beings. The highlight of the celebration is a large procession through the streets of Kuala Lumpur, with lighted floats of Buddha and the deities accompanied by devotees holding prayer candles.

NEPAL 

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Buddha was believed to have been born in Lumbini in Nepal, and every year, thousands of pilgrims gather at this pilgrimage site (as well as the surrounding Kathmandu Valley) on Buddha Jayanthi (Buddha’s birthday), to attend religious processions and chant Buddhist scriptures. Similar to other parts of the world, kind deeds and acts of charity are observed, such as donating food and clothes to the needy, providing financial aid to schools and monasteries, and taking part in blood donation drives. Some people dress in white (to symbolise purity), and observe a vegetarian diet.

SRI LANKA 

Piliyandala Vesak Thorana 2016
A Pandol for Vesak. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Varuna Harshana / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Wesak is a major event in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, with celebrations lasting for a week. The sale of alcohol and fresh meat is prohibited during this period. Aside from alms-giving and prayers, Wesak celebrations in Sri Lanka take on a slightly festive mood – with public displays of electrically-lit pandols (a temporary structure which illustrates stories from Buddhist scriptures) as well as colourful lanterns called Vesak kuudu hung along streets and in front of homes, to represent the light of the Buddha, Dharma (his teachings) and the Sangha (the Buddhist community). There are also organisations and groups that go about singing bhakti gee, or Buddhist devotional songs, much like the Christian practice of carolling.

SOUTH KOREA 

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons. Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service/ CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

South Korea celebrates the birthday of Buddha, or ‘seokga tansinil’, on the 8th day of the 4th month in the Korean lunar calendar. Besides being a religious celebration, it is also very much cultural, with traditional performances, folk games, parades, and more. The world-famous Lotus Lantern Festival, which dates back over 1,000 years, is held in conjunction with seokga tansinil. Seoul hosts the largest event of its kind, featuring grand parades, floats with Buddhist figures and cultural icons such as dragons and phoenixes. Parade participants carry lotus-shaped lights (Buddha is often depicted seated on a lotus) – a symbol of purity and wisdom.

THAILAND 

Candle Light Vesak day ceremony at WatYai Chaimongkhol Temple, Ayudtaya, Thailand
Candle Light Vesak day ceremony at WatYai Chaimongkhol Temple, Ayudtaya, Thailand. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Leelaryonkul / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Another Buddhist-majority country, Thailand’s Wesak celebrations are massive. Many Thais are deeply devout (young men are encouraged to be ordained as monks for a certain amount of time as a rite of passage into adulthood) – so temples will usually be full of devotees offering prayers to gain ‘merits’ (in millennial terms – they’re kind of like a points system in Buddhism: do good stuff, get good merits, do bad stuff, get demerits) in order to accumulate good karma.

1 Wesak Day (in Thailand) 2007
Image via Wikimedia Commons – ผู้สร้างสรรค์ผลงาน/ส่งข้อมูลเก็บในคลังข้อมูลเสรีวิกิมีเดียคอมมอนส์ – เทวประภาส มากคล้าย / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The Buddhism in Thailand is mainly of the Theravada branch (there are several differences between the two major branches namely Theravada and Mahayana), so devotees observe the Five Moral precepts according to the branch’s tradition – by refraining from harming living things or consuming intoxicating substances. Bars and clubs are closed during this period as a sign of respect.

INDONESIA 

Borobudur Temple on Vesak Day 2015
Waisak (as Vesak is known in Indonesia) celebrations at Borobudur. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Aditya Suseno / CC0

Indonesia once housed powerful Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, with many ancient structures that have stood the test of time scattered across the region. One of these is Borobudur near the city of Yogyakarta, the world’s largest Buddhist temple. It is an important site for Indonesian Buddhists as well as pilgrims from around the world, who gather here for Wesak Day celebrations. Something unique to Indonesia’s Wesak Day celebrations is Pindapata, a ritual involving thousands of monks walking around the structure as well as on the streets, whilst praying to receive charity and blessings for the Indonesian people. Sky lanterns are also released into the night sky, which makes for a magical display against the backdrop of the full moon.

LAOS 

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The Rocket Festival being celebrated in Yasothon, Laos. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Takeaway / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Wesak is known as Visakha Bouxa in Laos, where Buddhism is the predominant religion. As Visakha Bouxa falls during the transition between dry and wet season, Laotians celebrate it with Boun Bang Fay, or the Rocket Festival. Villages compete with each other to send large homemade rockets into the sky in an attempt to convince celestial being to send down rain. The rockets can be rather dangerous as they contain a large amount of gunpowder and can sometimes reach several hundred metres. The rocket launching is preempted by parades, musical shows and dance performances. These practices are also apparently quite prevalent in the northern Thai region of Isan.

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Locals performing as part of a street parade for the Yasothon Rocket Festival. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Takeaway / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)