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Old practice in a new era

Sunday, April 16, 2006
By: Joey Yap

One of the challenges of modernising a profession like Feng Shui is really in changing the way Feng Shui is practiced. There's still a very old fashioned idea of Feng Shui practitioners prevailing in the public's mind - that they should turn up in Mao suits or Shanghainese long dress, speak in cryptic phrases and after offering a few short shrift words of advice, disappear, never to be seen again. If you have a problem don't call them, maybe they will call you. If things don't work out, well, that's to be blamed on your fate or destiny. If you want to know why certain suggestions are made, the answer is you don't need to know, just do it.

This is very much an outdated manner of practice, which functions very heavily on what we call 'Master worshipping' (where the Master is held in such awe that he is not to be questioned) and which takes for granted that the average layperson need not know why the master is doing something, they should simply trust him to do it and follow his advice. And this is not really how most Feng Shui practitioners work and practice any more these days.

It's a modern world and like any other profession, Feng Shui practitioners have to move with the times. That means trying to bring a measure of professionalism to how they offer their services to the public and how they deal with the public. Today, I'm going to delve into what you, the public, should expect when you deal with a Feng Shui professional, in this day and age.

Improving Impressions

Understandably, many older masters in the profession still go about their practice in the old style way. Certainly, we cannot expect a profession that has only really become openly practiced since the turn of the last century, to be able to suddenly become modernised. This takes time. However, the trend is slowly and gradually changing - you can readily see this in Hong Kong, where more and more Feng Shui consultants now ply their trade from a proper office, and do so in suits and ties.


Of course, the newer generations of consultants are looking to take Feng Shui to an even more professional level. Feng Shui today is a service industry. It is striving to be on par with any other kind of consulting business -the Feng Shui consultants help clients determine what their problem is, and help them solve their problem. And so clients have a right to be treated like they would by any other service industry professional, be it a doctor, a dentist or an accountant.

Improving House-side Manner

In the past, the Feng Shui master turns up at your doorstep, makes a few remarks, tells you what to do and then is off. Nowadays, clients demand a proper meeting and follow-up sessions, wherein the Feng Shui consultant ensures that the recommendations have been properly implemented. Part and parcel of taking Feng Shui to a professional level is changing the way this service industry has always been practiced. This includes providing written reports for clients, so that they do not have to take notes on what they are supposed to do to improve their Feng Shui. Reports are often supplemented with photographs, so that the clients know exactly what they are supposed to do. To ensure that a complete service is provided to the clients, usually the Feng Shui consultant will also select a suitable date for ground-breaking or renovations to commence.

Professional consultants do not leave their clients in a lurch when something has gone wrong and certainly, no professional Feng Shui consultant will tell his clients that 'it is their fate' that the situation has become such. This is because if the Feng Shui consultant has been thorough in his job, he would have studied the BaZi or Destiny chart of his clients, before making any Feng Shui recommendations. If a client's destiny does not demonstrate a capacity for great wealth or high status for example, there is already an inherent limit to what the Feng Shui consultant can do. Contrary to what most people think, Feng Shui consultants cannot fix and solve all problems - they can only help their clients, within the capacity that they are capable to have.

In this day and age, confidentiality is also something that many clients value and increasingly, it has become an important hallmark of Feng Shui consulting. You wouldn't want your accountant spilling the beans on your books, and similarly, you don't want your Feng Shui master telling everyone in the world that your house and office and factory have all been Feng Shui'ed. Now, there is nothing wrong seeking the services of Feng Shui professionals but, just like doctors, accountants or any other profession, client's confidentiality is something that the modern day Feng Shui professionals must respect. Imagine your Feng Shui master going round attributing all your business success to his proclaimed Feng Shui skills, disregarding your own hard work and efforts!

The client of course is not bound by such a confidentiality requirement but the Feng Shui professional must always be the soul of discretion. This is especially the case when it comes to BaZi (Astrology) consults, where the consultants are often privy to very sensitive or delicate situations and clients must feel free to speak to the Feng Shui consultant about any matter, without worrying that it will make the 6 o'clock news!

Professionalism in how Feng Shui practitioners behave and act is also something that the profession is looking to improve. Most practitioners do not want to be known as a bunch of curt, tight-lipped professionals only offer up five words of cryptic advice, and leave the clients to figure out what it is that they meant. Lest you think I'm joking, there used to be a very famous Feng Shui master, reputed to be the master who advised Mao Tse Tung, whose words of advice never went beyond five Chinese characters. His was nicknamed Bu Guo Wu and he was an extremely famous Master in China in the last century.

Today, going to a Feng Shui consultant is like seeing a doctor - you're entitled to understand what the problem is, how the diagnosis is arrived at and what is the prescription to fix your problem. Getting the right 'house-side' manner is something I try to emphasise a lot to my students - we cannot be so old-fashioned in our approach any more. In any case, being open and willing to provide explanations to a client's questions is the best way to deal with client's reservations or concerns. Quite understandably, no one is going to undertake certain renovations that a Feng Shui consultant has prescribed, or perhaps, even do something as simple as changing the room that they are sleeping in, unless the reasons are compelling and not frivolous.

Commercialisation without Selling Out?

I believe the next level of challenge for the Feng Shui profession is how the practitioners can take their knowledge and services to the public, but without cheapening the profession or encouraging 'short-cut' mentality.

Commercialisation is a necessary facet of every service industry but like doctors and dentists, who find a way to balance their Hippocratic oath with the need to make a legitimate living, so Feng Shui consultants are striving to provide a service and making it as accessible as possible. But, that doesn't mean that they are obligated to help everyone.

Unfortunately, one of the prevailing problems facing the Feng Shui practice is, it is very often, all too easy, to resort to 'product recommendation' in order to make Feng Shui accessible. The founder of Revlon, Charles Revson, once remarked about the cosmetic's industry: "In the factory we make cosmetics, in the drugstore we sell hope". I do not like to think the Feng Shui practice is in the business of, to paraphase Revson, "selling hope in a figurine" but unfortunately, this seems to be part and parcel of what commercialisation brings.

One of the ways to provide a measure of accessibility and affordability is through books and articles in the media, and to attempt to correct the situation through education. Knowledge after all is power. Here too there are challenges - as more and more sources of information and books on Feng Shui appear, so there is the invariable temptation by the Feng Shui practice to stray from authentic methods and fundamental approaches, to return to the quick buck method of product recommendation.

Frankly, I personally think there's nothing wrong with products per se. If someone tells me, they get a psychological lift out of wearing certain colours, or certain motifs of Dragons inspire them, or reading motivational calligraphy on their walls makes them aspire to achieve more in life, or oriental designed clothing empowers them (I like Shanghai Tang too!), that's okay. Positive thinking is never to be knocked, and it doesn't matter how you arrived at that positive state of mind. But what I think is quite wrong is to encourage the belief that a resin figure of a cat above your cash register is going to bring in business, or wearing a Dragon pendant is going to ward off your bad luck, and curing a 5 Yellow Sha problem is simply a matter of popping a cure in every West corner of your house. If only Feng Shui were that easy.

The Feng Shui profession is approaching a new renaissance period. As expectations grow with more knowledge and awareness, it is re-assuring for the public that the level of professionalism in the practice of Feng Shui is improving and more and more practitioners are adopting a service-orientated approach. I look forward to the Feng Shui profession taking a greater step forward, towards encouraging greater understanding and recognition, while making it more accessible to everyone.

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