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Anthea Ong: “It’s better to be kind always than to try to be right all the time.”

Today we have the huge privilege of having Anthea Ong with us!

Anthea Ong is the founder of Hush Tea Bar, Playground of Joy and Anagami wellness. She is a passionate, entrepreneurial leader with over 25 years of business strategy and change management. She also is the immediate past-president of Board of Wings and co-founder and curator of A Good Space. Anthea also volunteers for charities such as Very Special Arts Singapore, Make-a-Wish Foundation, aLife and is a mentor to students in Northlight and ITE.

You may read our reflections on Anthea’s session at the recent The Happiness Festival 2017 here and here. We hope you enjoy our feature with Anthea Ong today!


Wan Wei: Hello Anthea! Can you tell us more about yourself and what you are doing?

Anthea Ong: I am an ordinary woman who has had extraordinary opportunities given to her to find her gifts and strengths. And I am grateful to be able to give these gifts away in this latter part of my life as I cross into my big 50 next year!

I’m made good in life by the pain and struggles which have allowed me to dig deep into my strengths and truth.

3.5 years ago, I took the last corporate paycheck as a regional Managing Director of a UK-listed company to fully pursue my aspirations in life coaching, active volunteerism and impact entrepreneurship/investment.

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“Why start a business when you can start a movement, or two?” is my personal mantra.  And one of them is Hush, Singapore’s first roving silent teabar, a social movement to bring the worlds of hearing and the Deaf together to promote self care and workplace wellness whilst empowering the Deaf, with a cup of tea.

I am also thankful for the opportunities to contribute on boards and advisory panels on social service innovation and corporate giving with national bodies such as National Council for Social Service and National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre.

My Malcolm Gladwell-inspired seven-word biography is ‘I am here to be a gift.’ 😀


Wan Wei: How would you define “the truth”? Is there a truth, or is everything subjective? How do you tell?

Anthea Ong: This is a question that can be answered in so many ways. I could take the scientific route and say that ‘truth’ is anything that can be proven by independent parties.

For e.g, I could say my flat is cozy or 76sqm – the latter would be the fact because anyone who uses a measuring tape would come to the same conclusion, the former an assessment coloured by my personal expectations and other subjective influences.

If I take the spiritual angle, I would define ‘the truth’ as that which has been personally experienced – and for me, I know what is ‘my truth’ when I feel completely at ease and at peace with what I say, do or think.

anthea ong

The congruency of my body, emotions and mind would tell me what’s my truth. There’s also the moral definition which is that it is not merely all truth that we uphold but only benevolent truth – that means, if the truth feeds one ego and creates suffering and pain for the other, then it’s not necessarily to tell.

I think it is better to be kind always than to try to be right all the time.

We do not see the world as it is, we see the world as we are. If enough of us imagine the same world e.g religion, capitalism, fake news – that could become the ‘truth’ for all – seemingly ‘objective’.

We are constantly dancing between objective conditions and subjective expectations. Because a word like ‘truth’ is already laced with emotional connotations and social expectations, I don’t think it can be ever completely objective. ‘Fact’ is a word that is less emotional.


Wan Wei: What are the three ways you can tell the truth to someone–especially when it might be something harsh by social norms– without being offensive?

Anthea Ong: I will give the following three ways:

1. Don’t tell it first! 🙂 

Ask yourself what is the purpose of telling the truth to the person. Are you feeding your need to be right and mighty, does it it serve any meaningful purpose to the person? If the intent is to support the other person to be better (and not feed your agenda), then go share it with all the compassion that you hold for him/her.

It will never be offensive if this sharing comes from a place of true empathy/love.

2. If it is a matter of life and death (which I doubt, LOL), then I don’t think it will be offensive at all to share with the other person.

Although it’s never the truth that hurts; it is how the truth has been delivered that cuts.

3. If it is not a matter of life and death, go back to (1)! 


Wan Wei: What are the three ways a person can accept the truth–especially when it might be something harsh to a person by social norms– without being offended?

Anthea Ong: How would it be the ‘truth’ if it’s an assessment of the speaker? I still maintain that so much of it is from the speaker than the listener. This question is posed with the focus on the content – but it’s never about the content, it’s how the content is framed and the person framing it.

It is not in our default to accept criticism, much less if for selfish reasons on the part of the critic. But there are some general ways, I think:

1. Ask the speaker for his/her intent for sharing this ‘truth’ with you. This opens up a space for dialogue which creates more understanding and shared objectives.

2. Breathe and dig into your humility to frame this internally as a way for you to grow.

 (Disclaimer: Only possible with a person who’s mindful and humble – and deep self awareness.)

3. Call up compassion –  know that the speaker is just projecting his own views on you. Because that’s what we humans do, our words are a reflection of our thoughts, not that other person’s deeds. So by calling up compassion for the speaker who is telling you the truth, you are unlikely to be offended. 🙂


Wan Wei: On a parting note, can you give us a painless tip to check if a person is not being truthful to him/herself?

anthea ong
Anthea Ong: We all have blinders of ourselves. What you see as obvious of the person in front of you does not mean the person can see that in and about himself/herself.
The Chinese phrase of ‘当局者迷,旁观者清‘ comes to mind as an apt maxim here.

Therefore, it may not be that the person is not being truthful – it may be not knowing, it may be ignorance. Self awareness is not something that we are taught so most of us have major blind spots about ourselves.

A painless tip to your question may be asking the person this question sincerely: ‘What is the story that you are telling yourself about you now?’ This hopefully helps to bring to awareness for the person to delink from his/her role as an ‘actor’ of his/her life and step back into that of a ‘director’. Then he/she would see the whole plot, not just his/hers. 😀

I would love for all to explore more of ‘truth’ as it relates to gifts and strengths too. Very often, we don’t tell the truth of the other person’s strengths and gifts yet we are quick to want to criticise, complain and condemn the other person, on the claim that it’s good for him/her to know the truth.

In fact, if we change this default and are generous of speaking the truths of strengths to people, we could positively change the world for the better. Because we stop this vicious place that we come from – a place of scarcity, fear of not being good enough, a place of lack which makes us keep chasing, keep criticising, keep complaining, keep fighting… We start lifting each other up with our strengths.
We hope you have enjoyed today’s feature with Anthea Ong!
Photo credits: Anthea Ong, Anthea’s photographer friend and the wonderful hair and makeup artists when Anthea’s doing studio shots for the different magazines ^^

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