A few months before she was murdered, I was speaking with Irene Ong about her Noble Goal. Half in jest, I asked her to tell me hers. I was surprised when she said, “I need to go home and start thinking about it carefully.”
It surprised me because Irene was well known for her caring and service. She was Director of Kids Programs in a Kiwanis Club, an international non-profit organization involved in alleviating the plight of disadvantaged children. She was a CELTA-certified English Tutor as well as Relief Teacher at an international school in Kuala Lumpur. During school holidays, she led Vacation Bible School activities for children in her church. Irene was also very active in the Parents Teachers Association of her daughter’s school. As a member of an NGO called Safer Malaysia, she actively supported public safety awareness in the country.
Today is her birthday, and I wish we could celebrate in person. On 20 April this year, Irene Ong became the tragic victim of a senseless murder committed by snatch thieves at Gasing Hill, a favorite spot for hiking and trekking in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Irene was with her teenage daughter when it happened. Irene was stabbed four times and died from her wounds; in a heartwrenching blog post about the incident, her daughter wrote that Irene’s last words to her were, “I love you so much.”
Legacy Is Built on Consistency
News of her death shocked family and friends. It is a brutal irony for a woman so dedicated to others, to community, to God and family – and an advocate for increasing public safety – to be cut down this way. Many were heart-broken and angry at the way Irene lost her life. She was much loved, respected, and admired by all who knew her. Her warmth touched the lives of others, especially those who thought themselves too insignificant to matter. Janitors, stall operators, parents and neighbors, just as much as CEOs, community leaders, and teachers, spoke of how Irene made them all feel the same: everyone was important to her.
Irene was a participant at our Emotional Intelligence Certification workshop in June last year. I had posed the question about her Noble Goal knowing about her incredible orientation to service. Yet her serious reply taught me something.
A Noble Goal isn’t just about the service we provide, or a sacrifice we make. It’s about the way we live our lives on a daily basis. It’s not easy to put into words, and I think that’s the challenge Irene faced in our conversation – but the most important aspect isn’t the words, it’s the legacy. A Noble Goal shapes the choices we make in our lives, and as Irene has shown us, these ripples extend beyond life as well.
As a wife and mother, she made sure her family needs were not neglected. And as a woman of faith, in spite of her many commitments, there was always time for God too. Our love for the environment or community around us shouldn’t be an excuse to shirk our responsibility towards our family or deepening spiritual awareness. Irene gave us a beautiful example of balancing all these priorities and bringing them together through a commitment to caring.
The pursuit of our noble goal is really about building a legacy for ourselves. We may never fulfill it in our lifetime, but it’s what people will remember long after we are gone. There are many worthy causes such as saving the whales or fighting global warming, but sometimes simpler goals may be just as noble. Like showing love to others, those we know and those who happen to cross our paths, even a stranger asking for a drink of water. A noble goal is one that is not focused on the self but done out of love and commitment, often at the cost of personal sacrifice and inconvenience.
Learning from Irene, we see that the pursuit of a noble goal is about being with people and making time for them. It means listening when conversing, showing kindness and compassion, being generous and giving. It also includes caring for our community and environment, and being responsible for each person we meet on life’s journey. In this way our noble goals find expression as we align our intentions and purpose with daily actions. It is, in fact, the ultimate expression of integrity — a deep alignment between words and deeds.
In a word, Irene’s noble goal was in GIVING. In loving and giving towards her family and community, she impacted lives and contributed towards a better Malaysia and world. In honor of her birthday today, I hope you’ll join me in a commitment. Let us brighten Irene’s legacy by giving a little extra caring today, and every day.