The Building Blocks of Character — Afternoon Tea with Christine Ma-Lau, Founder & Principal of JEMS Learning House
Sometimes the most meaningful and inspiring conversations happen over casual meals. The Time Auction Blog is a snippet of our meetings with people who have found passion in their life and career, where we get a glimpse into their mentality behind their ventures.
At JEMS Learning House, Christine raises the next generation of leaders by sharing her philosophy of character education. Having helped launch HK’s first Character Day campaign to celebrate and develop character strengths, she is also an ambassador for the Because I Am a Girl campaign — a global movement to ensure girls everywhere can learn, lead, decide and thrive.
Over afternoon tea, Christine talked about her journey to building JEMS and her hopes for the future of character education in Hong Kong.
Do you have a life motto or philosophy?
“On the work front, for education, Martin Luther King says ‘Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education’.
In terms of education, most people think about intelligence, academics and knowledge. But without character, it’s dangerous. I think it was Theodore Roosevelt who said, “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”
But for my personal life motto, it’s based on my own life that’s been very much affected by my faith.
I hope that I live each day remembering to love God and to love people. I think that’s what He calls us to do and that’s what I hope my life will be.”
Is there a habit that has significantly improved your life?
“I don’t do it enough, but it’s something that I think helps and I will try to do more of. It’s to ask myself at the beginning or at the end of every day about how I want to prioritize my time. The older I’ve gotten, the less time I have for anything.
I need to know that I’m prioritizing the right things. If my life motto is to love God and love people, am I really doing that with the time that I have?
And I think part of that is, for example, my husband and I have “talking time” every night. Both of us are extremely busy people, but we want to make sure that we talk to each other.
For me personally, it’s time of prayer, which is me talking to God. And also time for myself. In the past, I felt guilty if I had to take time for myself, but I realized that if I’m not taking care of myself, then I’m not taking care of other people.
As parents, the analogy is: if you’re on an airplane and the oxygen mask comes down, who should you put it on first? It always says you put it on for yourself first before you put it on for someone else.
That’s something that I’ve had to intentionally do, to carve time out for myself, so that I can be a better wife to my husband, mother to my son, daughter to my parents, and boss to my team.”
Are there any habits you learned from character education that you think more people should practice?
“I think the easiest and most effective thing to do is to write down three things you’re grateful for everyday. It transforms your brain to automatically focus on the positive things.
For me, it also comes through my time of prayer. When I pray, that’s when I thank God for things. I think that’s simple and easy. It will change your mindset because there is always something to be thankful for.
You can have had the worst day, but there’s still something to be thankful for. To be able to train our brains to be wired differently, to be positive… I think it’s a great way to go.”
Is there one act or action you want everyone to take away from meeting you today?
“I think the most simple one is to choose to be grateful. In doing that, you will grow in your gratitude muscle, and you can start with that and hopefully do some other ones too. Oh no, the first act should be to go and do the Character Strengths Survey. That’s the first act!”
Who is someone you highly respect and really inspires you, who you really want to see on Time Auction so that everyone can hear their story?
“My husband. Not just because he’s my husband. [laughs]
He has great ability, but I really think that he’s got such a great heart. And he does so much, so I think it would be very interesting to talk to him. He’s a medical doctor and he just started his own medical practice. That makes him a doctor but also an entrepreneur, which I think is an interesting mix. But also outside of that, he does so much work for the community. He is the chairperson of Make A Wish, where they grant wishes for kids with life-treating medical conditions. He sits on different boards that help kids or elderly in the community. He does a lot with his time, so I think he’d be an interesting person for you to throw questions at.”
Thank you Christine for donating afternoon tea at the JEMS Learning House, and thanks to everyone who volunteered and took part in raising 107 volunteer hours to Teach Unlimited Foundation, Hong Kong Christian Service, Food Angel, Teach4HK, Kwun Tong Resident Association and more.