Monday, February 02, 2004

Calibrating the Moral Compass

Calibrating the Moral Compass

What comes to mind when I think of my years of working in KL and PJ are the late nights, the gluttony and the endless traffic jams. My lifestyle has changed a great deal since then. Working in Singapore and Jakarta gave me an opportunity to reengineer myself. I think I'm a healthier person now; but being back here puts every good habit that I have successfully developed at risk. It'll take a great deal of discipline to maintain them.

In Jakarta, the sight of poverty everyday reminded me to lead a simple life and be grateful for everything that I was blessed with. I have grown to despise excesses and all the trappings of yuppiehood, perhaps sometimes to the point of being extreme. Now I will strive to find the right balance.

Certain lessons in life have to be learned the hard way. Why do we keep on doing things that we know are wrong? Usually it's because we have not learned our lesson. We will only stop smoking when we are confirmed to have lung cancer; or when one of our close friends die of one. Any other lesson will not be effective enough.

I do not despise people who smoke; I even admire the camaraderie that smokers enjoy among themselves. I used to indulge in a social puff or two whenever I am in the company of smokers; but for many years I have resisted the temptation to do. I have successfully associate pleasure with resisting a cigarette. It makes me feel powerful to know that I am not at the mercy of such weaknesses. Freedom from cravings is a great pleasure and I have to keep reinforcing this sense of "pleasure".

Smokers fail to quit because they keep on mentally associating pleasure with the taste of cigarettes. We can reverse program ourselves if we choose to. But we have to first make a conscious mental decision to do so.

Many married men cannot resist chasing pretty girls. It is a harmless thing to do most of the time but when the other party shows positive signs, one thing leads to another along a very slippery path. Before one knows it, it is too late to extricate oneself without hurting anyone.

We do not learn our lesson until we have suffered enough pain. Somehow pain is the best teacher. If we keep on doing what we know is not right, then obviously we have not suffered enough pain for us to correct ourselves.

No action is without consequence. If we know the subtle effects of every tiny action that we take, then we can conduct ourselves wiser at every step of the way. Often we forget the pain that will inevitably greet us at the end because we are too enamoured with the immediate pleasures of our action.

Sometimes we are embroiled in situations where it is difficult for us to see the consequences of our actions. We just react. In such instances we have to rely on our instinctive moral compass.

Religion, if correctly practised, helps us to constantly recalibrate and realign this moral compass of ours. But when the instrument of calibration itself is faulty, serious consequences can result. We always have to verify our readings against other instruments around us. A good scientist does not take one reading--he takes many, using many different ways of measurement.

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