It is that time of the year again as Muslims worldwide traverse the hill of the holy month of Ramadhan, emerging at the peak triumphant, in a joyous celebration of Eid-al- Fitr to mark the end of their month-long fasting in a quest of spirituality, humility and patience. They fast at the break of dawn to sunset and contrary to popular perception, it is often not the touch of the first morsel of food that’s the highlight of the day, it is rather in the revelry of breaking bread with their loved ones. Iftar, the breaking of fast has always been a community affair, one steeped in tradition and a hardship eased by shared moments with each other.
As a Malaysian, I am accustomed to the annual rites of going to bazaar Ramadhan, hearing the call of the Azan marking the break of the fast and seeing my male Muslim friends convene at mosques at night for their Terawih prayers. Although I do not celebrate Raya nor observe Ramadhan, going to bazaar Ramadhan is something I look forward to yearly. Blessed to be living in a multi-racial country, I get to immerse myself with the cacophony of the sights and sounds of people from all walks of life coming together in the name of food.
Growing up in a multi-racial country has taught me to be more mindful, tolerant and adapt to cultures different than my own. A foreign friend once pointed out an interesting observation of how Malaysians can mix and switch between languages with ease. It’s something that fascinated him as a monolingual; an important skill in a global hyper-connected world. We are better able to thrive in different environments and cultures and make meaningful connections. This edge I believe is merely a by-product of our melting pot of cultures. Tolerance and willingness to adapt foster understanding, respect, and harmony which is the very backbone of our country despite what we may occasionally see in the headlines.
My parents have always instilled in me a deep sense of understanding and tolerance in our community. Growing up, we never ate or cooked pork at home out of respect for our rented house’s owner who is a Muslim. It is through this lens of understanding that guides the way I conduct myself as an adult. As such, during Ramadhan most non-Muslims will refrain from eating or drinking in front of our Muslim friends. In the same vein of thought, I thought this sensitivity should extend online as well; in the form of not posting food pictures or food-related content on my social media out of respect. You see, an outgrowth of my self-isolation resulted in consistent posting of my culinary adventures online and the sudden lack of postings prompted a friend to ask if I have stopped cooking. The millennial that I am, I posted about my perspective online. To my pleasant surprise, I was wrong.
My friend Nurul who is a Digital Marketing Manager enlightened me that during Ramadhan, Muslims, in general appreciate food-related content as a source of inspiration for what to eat during Iftar; an insight gleaned from the execution of a Gaviscon Ramadhan campaign. Wait, whaaaat?? Trust me, I had the same reaction as well upon learning this. Gaviscon, is an over-the-counter medicine used for treating heartburn and indigestion. Muslims, in general tend to overeat during Iftar, thus not surprisingly, usage spikes during this time of the year as many use it as a symptom reliever post breaking fast. Deriving from this consumer insight, Gaviscon created a digital video campaign that showcases mouth-watering images of popular food found at bazaar Ramadhan that was geo-targeted to four areas in Peninsular Malaysia; namely Central, North, South and East Coast. Results were astounding, with accumulated almost 2 million views (May- June 2018) and the average percentage viewed for all videos is more than 90%, which tells us that the intended audience did not skip the video ad. Industry benchmarks are at an average of 30-50%. Armed with this newfound insight, I decided to run a poll on my Instagram, (let’s just assume we have reached statistical significance here), and all of my Malay friends who responded agree with the sentiment. Who would have thought eh?
This revelation also sparked a different curiosity for me. 2020 shall go down in history as the year where nothing is the same, Ramadhan included. As we adjust to this new normal of e-bazaars and breaking fast in isolation, how do we still keep the fabric of our shared understanding and respect intact? How can we be more mindful as a community as our lives are forced to move online and the way we connect as human beings change with it?
As the world moves into some forms of lockdown, a majority of the workforce are suddenly thrust into juggling multiple roles at the same time; an employee, a parent, a teacher, a cook and a housekeeper. Working parents, especially mothers who were able to outsource these roles previously suddenly find themselves taking on all of said workload by themselves. Being overwhelmed is a clear understatement. To any of you who are in this situation currently finding it difficult to cope, please repeat after me. You are not a bad .. (insert role of choice here) You are just another human being having to take on so many roles at the same time that it’s humanly impossible to excel at ALL those roles. Cut yourself some slack. You are doing your best with the limited resources you have currently.
James Clear’s Four Burners Theory encapsulates this perfectly. According to him, imagine life being represented by a stove with four burners on it. Each burner symbolizes one major quadrant of your life.
1. The first burner represents your family.
2. The second burner is your friends.
3. The third burner is your health.
4. The fourth burner is your work.
The Four Burners Theory says that “to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And to be really successful you have to cut off two.”
Now, you might wonder if you can keep all four burners running and bypass it somehow by combining some of the quadrants? I mean, some people seem to have it all, don’t they? What we don’t see upholding that image is the amount of outsourced roles and the support system they have. I hate to break it to you but no, we can’t have it all. Every action is a reflection of which burner is your priority at that given point in time and we have to learn to embrace the constraints and limitations that come with it.
Life is filled with trade-offs. If you want to excel in your career and marriage, your health and friends will be relegated to the back seat. Pick any combo you want, you’ll come to realize that you’ll eventually have to make a conscious decision of which burner to sacrifice to truly excel and reach your full potential in your chosen area. You can of course choose to spend an equal amount of time in all four quadrants of your life, but you will also have to learn to accept that excellence is unlikely an adjective in your book. Throw a pandemic in this equation, and all aspects of life are immeasurably harder. So forgive yourself for not being in your peak form.
If you’re interested to learn more about this theory, do check out https://jamesclear.com/four-burners-theory
Anyways, I digress. So how can we collectively be more considerate towards each other in times like these? As an employer or manager, do treat your employees with empathy. A good practice for HR is to send notifications upfront to all employees in regards to working hours for Muslims and to be mindful to not schedule calls or meetings around those times. Apart from that, meetings should be refrained from being scheduled during lunchtime as well to take into consideration parents who will need to prepare meals for their kids, especially when they are working at home with relatively little help. Taking into consideration of business needs, employees should also be prepared to accommodate taking calls either earlier or later of the day to make up for the flexibility given.
Expectations regarding productivity should also be adjusted given the circumstances. It is difficult to match the same level of productivity in an office environment where there are no distractions such as fussy kids, laundry, or cooking for your family. Having said that, this circumstance is not a hall pass for underperformance; trust goes both ways, and through empathy and responsibility on both ends that we can keep our livelihood intact.
To the rest of us, when you’re ordering your next meal, perhaps you can surprise your family and friends with a meal. It’s taking one task off their plate and nothing warms your heart more than a shared moment through food. And oh before I forget, do continue posting your recipes online; just make sure they are Halal. We’re the emphatic cool crowd, aren’t we? 😉