2006年，俄羅斯聖彼德堡窮困潦倒的數學家 Grigory Perelman 因為破解了「龐加萊猜想」而獲得四年頒一次的費爾茲數學大獎（Fields Medal），獎金百萬美金。當年才40歲的 Perelman 毅然決然拒絕了這項榮譽，寧願選擇與母親過著甘之如飴、三餐不濟、不為人知的「隱居」生活。
20多年前，我一位朋友 Jackman 在美國愛荷華州大教書。有一次，院長評估他的表現，要求他端正對大學的態度。我那朋友不以為然，表示自己憑學問做事，如果學術環境不合適，即使給他終身職（美國的 tenure 或香港的 substantiation），他也不願意接受。多麼豪放的氣節！
《時代》周刊最近登載一篇文章，介紹蘋果電腦總裁 Tim Cook 一天的作息：「他每天早上三點四十五分起身，花一個小時閱讀、回覆電郵，接著健身，運動完後去星巴克（繼續閱讀或寄送電郵），然後上班。」沒有意外，也無捷徑，成功人士必然視工作為至愛，樂在其中，從不懈怠。以古人的話說，就是：「知之不如好之，好之不如樂之。」
學會做自尊正派的人 — 努力工作遠比掙多少錢重要。
學會做誠實守信的人 — 要講究真相，不能妄圖走捷徑或耍小伎倆。
Take nothing for granted
Did you know that the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre declined a Nobel Prize in literature in 1964?
The story goes that Sartre made it known to the Swedish Royal Academy before the public disclosure of the list of Nobel Prize recipients for that year that he did not wish to accept the award. A Nobel Prize is generally considered to be a very great honour, but Satre's wish to not accept the prestigious award revealed his attitude towards the giving of prizes to art. He felt that it was the language of his work alone that could secure an author's political, social and literary status. Sartre held that his "reward" was the creative work itself rather than a formally awarded prize.
This is of course not the first time a major, or even a minor prize, has been declined. In 2006 the Russian mathematician Professor Grigory Perelman living in abject poverty turned down the Fields Medal, which is worth US$1 million in cash. The Fields Medal, awarded every four years, was bestowed upon Professor Perelman for finding the solution to the Poincaré conjecture, a theorem about the characterisation of a 3D sphere. Perelman, who was less than forty years old at the time he was awarded the Fields Medal, declined the prize without a moment's hesitation, choosing instead to live a simple life in seclusion with his mother.
Over twenty years ago, a friend of mine, Jackman, teaching at Ohio State University was asked to improve his performance evaluations so that he would fit into the university culture. But my friend thought differently. He believed very strongly that he would follow academic principles and that if the academic climate was less favorable, he would be less willing to continue at the university even if he were granted tenure, or substantiation as we say in Hong Kong.
What a man of character!
It is a remarkable coincidence that a dozen of years ago one of my good friends, Professor Wu of Washington University in Seattle, was invited by a local Hong Kong university to give a lecture tour during a summer vacation. When he realised that there was disparity between the allowances that he received and what the university had actually promised, he returned the cheque without a moment's thought. He said he was concerned that he would sour his relationship with the university if he had tried to straighten out the case. "Just regard my work as voluntary service," he told the university.
What a man of character!
Now, allow me to dwell on a more recent story. CityU alumnus Mr Yeung Shiu-lun used to be the leader of the CityU long-distance running team. In February 2011 he took part in the Hong Kong Standard Chartered Marathon and won second place in the All Men's 10Km Challenge as well as in the senior's category. After graduation, he started to volunteer at the Hong Kong Blind Sportsmen Association as a guide runner. He said helping others to fulfill their own wishes was very rewarding.
Putting himself in the place of others and helping those in need make Mr Yeung a great role model! On many occasions I have expressed my view before young friends that one should never take anything for granted. Anyone who has reached an elevated point in their career has been working towards their goal for many years.
An article in a recent issue of Time magazine described the packed daily schedule of Mr Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Corporation. "Get up at 3:45 in the morning, spend about an hour reading and handling e-mail messages, work out in the gym, resume reading and handling of e-mail messages in Starbucks, and then go to work." It is a rule, almost without exception, that successful people love their jobs, finding immense pleasure in what they do for a living. They never tire in their ceaseless endeavour to pursue their ideals. As an ancient saying goes, "Those who have gained sufficient knowledge about something are inferior to those who have passion for that thing; and those who have passion for that thing are inferior to those who have made every effort to seek after that very thing".
Even a genius has to make an effort. Otherwise, how can a gifted child make his or her talent stand out?
The great Song Dynasty thinker and scholar Wang Anshi described in his work "Lament over the Oblivion of Zhongyong" how a precocious five-year-old boy named Fang Zhongyong from a family that had tilled the land for generations in Wang's hometown had suddenly started to compose poetry even though he had never before been shown how to write before. The story of the boy's extraordinary talent spread but, unfortunately, his father was focused only on short-term profits, and neglected to send his son to study for further advancement. By the time he had grown into an adult, the one-time talented boy had exhausted all his potential, and had become an average peasant. The moral of Wang Anshi's "Lament over the Oblivion of Zhongyong" is that even a boy as bright and talented as Fang Zhongyong will fail to fulfill his potential without cultivation and encouragement. How can an average steed turn itself into a swift courser without constant spurring?
People working in a university receive a fairly good remuneration. We should realise that society and the University do not owe us anything. Recognition has to be earned. If you choose to establish yourself by way of cheap tricks which smack of street politics rather than real strength and expertise, how can you consider yourself a model for our students? As we enter early spring, allow me to quote First Lady of the US Michelle Obama:
Learn to be a dignified and decent person — how hard you work matters more than how much you make.
Learn to be an honest man with integrity — truth matters; and don't take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules.
Learn to value everyone's contribution and treat everyone with respect.
March 7, 2013