Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Accumulative Power of Time

The Accumulative Power of Time

We always hear financial experts (e.g. Rich Dad, Poor Dad) advising people to make money work for them and not the other way round. The same kind of wisdom can also be applied to the other valuable resource: time.

Most of us have a negative kind of relationship with time--because like money, we always think we don't have enough of it. Go to the gym? No time. Read a book? No time. Go for a holiday? No time.

Time always seem to slip from our grasp. We feel so helpless against its swift currents. It takes away our youth, our beauty and our dreams. To quote Lord Byron: "There's not a joy the world can give like that it takes away". The things we lose, appear even more precious after we have lost them. Time comes like a thief and steals our most precious possessions.

But is there a way to turn around this losing relationship with Time? If time is like the currents of a mighty river sweeping away everything on its path, then perhaps there's a way that we can harness its energy--like what hydroelectric dams do? How?

If we look around us, we notice how fast things can accumulate over time. Check your drawer or desktop--where do all those messy bits and pieces of paper, old receipts, coins, discarded envelopes and paper-clips come from? We don't remember collecting all these stuff deliberately--they just accumulated over time, quite effortlessly and unconsciously through our daily activities.

Check the closet of any young woman; I'm sure you'll find it stuffed with clothes that she doesn't wear anymore. There'll probably be many different pairs of shoes too--some she has even completely forgotten about. How did it happen? Did it take place overnight? No. Did she deliberately set out to clutter her closet with unused junk? No.

It's the accumulative power of time that is at work here. Do not underestimate its ability. Sedikit-sedikit, lama-lama menjadi bukit. Every schoolboy knows that. These are wise words indeed but somehow we always feel daunted by the massive challenge it poses to us. It doesn't tell us how to summon the energy to pursue the task head and how to nurture the patience to endure the long wait before success. It's really a mountain to conquer and it kind of scares us.

You see, the task becomes easier if we change the paradigm: make Time our ally. If things can accumulate so easily over time, why can't we start accumulating things that we desire? Like money, for instance. Like a more harmonious relationship with our family. A fitter and healthier body. More friends. Better business connections...the list is endless.

The main problem with us is that we do not make the effort to plant the seed. Like what I've mentioned in a previous blog entry, if we plant a seed everyday, time will nourish it and make it grow. We don't need to worry about it. We just need to make sure that we do the small and simple things correctly. Our job is simply to plant healthy seeds.

Most people always think of getting rich through one-off means--winning a lottery ticket, betting on a hot stock-market tip or discovering that ingenious business idea no one has thought of before. Those things could well happen and is probably worth pursuing, but a good financial planner always cover his bases first by putting in place a solid investment portfolio.

Start setting aside a small amount of your income for investment instead of spending it. The returns may not look much initially, but do not underestimate the power of compounding ("Compounding interest is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time"). The accumulative power of time will do the work for you.

Say a kind and encouraging word to a loved one everyday. It may seem like an insignificant act. But these things have their acummulative effect. How do relationships grow in first place? It is from these small little things, these tiny seeds of love. If we don't plant these daily seeds, there won't be any relationship to talk about. Or worst still, the negative accumulative effect of time takes over--leading to disintegration and decay.

Why do couples who start their marriage so blissfully end up getting a divorce and hating each other so bitterly? It's the negative accumulative power of time at work here--small dislikes accumulated over time until they reach a critical mass.

Why can't we learn to accumulate love, money and happiness just as easily? Time is neutral; Time can be our ally if we are smart enough to make use of it. Harness the energy from the currents of time. All we have to do is to start doing the small positive things and don't worry too much about the end results. Time will take over from there. And one day, it will surprise us pleasantly.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Seeking to Understand

Seeking to Understand

Among seven habits for highly effective people expounded by Stephen Covey in his now classic book, my favourite is Habit No. 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

I think if everyone learns to cultivate this particular habit, a lot of the friction, anger and animosity that we see around us can be greatly reduced. It is a difficult thing to do though, because all of us have a tendency to want to pass quick judgement on others and condemn people whom we think are incompetent, stupid or inconsiderate. We prefer to voice our own opinions rather than to listen to others.

By seeking to understand first, we are actually giving people the benefit of the doubt. Admittedly we are often apprehensive of doing so because it makes us feel like we are yielding to others. In my opinion, if we really think we are right, we shouldn't fear; let others state their case--even if they are wrong, it is also useful to understand the thinking process that goes behind their erroneous opinion.

The habit of seeking first to understand is one that comes naturally if we are eager to learn. There's always something that we can learn from others. The biggest sin that we can commit is to assume too much and to fail to notice things that we should be aware of, simply because we are too preoccupied with own opinions. As illustrated in the famous Zen parable of the over-flowing cup; we must empty our minds first, let go of all judgement before we can claim that we are willing to seek understanding.

A good salesman is not someone who talks non-stop. He is one who knows how to listen to his customers first: What is considered a win from the customer's perspective? If you help the customer to win, it will automatically translate to a win for you.

By seeking to understand first, you make the process of being understood a lot easier.

A father once complained to Stephen Covey:

Father: "I don't understand my kid. He doesn't listen to me at all".
Covey: "Let me restate what you just said: You don't understand your son because he won't listen to you?"
Father: "That's right"
Covey: "Let me try again: You don't understand your son because he won't listen to you?"
Father: (Impatient) "That's what I said"
Covey: "I thought that to understand a person, you needed to listen to him"
Father: ???

Monday, September 13, 2004

The Mystery of Mary Magdalene

The Mystery of Mary Magdalene

Religion and history are very fascinating subjects indeed. So much of mankind's history--both good and bad--is shaped by the forces of religion. There are people like Bertrand Russell who even argued that religion has done more harm than good.

Even though I'm not a Christian, I consider myself an enthusiastic student of Christianity and its history. And typical of me, at certain periods in my life, my "enthusiasm" even bordered on obsession. I spent a lot time raiding the university library to quench this irrational obsession of mine. As a kid who went to a missionary kindergarten, I was also exposed very early to a lot of the biblical stories, and remember reading a rather well-illustrated children's version of the Old and New Testament.

Stories from the Bible have also been made into major Hollywood motion pictures, of which I am also a great fan of. The recent Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson--which I still haven't found the occassion to watch--is the most recent in a long line of such biblical movies. It was showing in Jakarta a couple of weeks back but bootleg DVD versions have been circulating around for quite some time already. I must try and catch it on the big screen if possible.

One of the most fascinating characters in the New Testament Bible to me, is Mary Magdalene. Non-Christian often confuse Mary Magdalene with the Virgin Mary--Jesus' mother. But that's understandable--because there are so many Marys mentioned in the Bible: besides these two, there're Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus and Mary, wife of Cleophas--mother of James.

In Franco Zeffrirelli's mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth, as in popular Christian tradition, Mary Magdalene is shown as a repentent prostitute who became a devout disciple of Jesus Christ. Mary Magdalene, according to the Gospels is also the first person who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion. She must be someone special indeed for Jesus to choose her first to reveal Himself after his death on the cross.

Renaissance artists often portray Mary Magdalene as a rather attractive young woman with auburn hair; well, she was after all a prostitute. But the interesting thing is that there's no clear evidence in the Bible to indicate that she was a woman who sold her body for a living. There's mention in Chapter 7 of Luke of a "sinner"--a woman who came to weep repentantly at the feet of Jesus' feet and anointed them with oil. Then in Chapter 8, is the name Mary Magdalene mentioned as a woman whom Jesus cured from evil spirits. Medieval scholars somehow took the two to be the same woman.

Or did they do that intentionally?? There are theories among certain biblical scholars claiming that there were deliberate attempts to "harlotize" Mary Magdalene. Why? That's actually the exciting premise for the most talked-about best-seller fiction recently: Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Many scholars believe that Mary Magdalene was actually Jesus' wife. And why not? Jesus was a Jew and rabbis do not practice celibacy.

The claim is also not that far-fetched for there are a lot of references that support it in the apocryphal gospels--versions of Jesus' life that were not accepted as part of the "official" Church-sanctioned New Testament Gospels. Scholars claimed that Jesus had actually intended Mary Magdalene to be the one leading his church after his death, but this fact was supressed by the early male-dominated Church.

There are a awful lot of theories and speculations surrounding Mary Magdalene, the Holy Grail, the Knights of Templar and the Merovingians. All these themes were skillfully woven together by author Dan Brown to form a pulse-pounding, mind-twisting thriller in The Da Vinci Code. For those who have read this exciting piece of fiction, they will never look at Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper painting the same way again.

Was Mary Magdalene a common whore who repented for her sins or was she actually Jesus' favoured disciple--even loved one--originally destined to be the First Apostle? Well, you decide. Whatever it is, I don't think it undermines the Christian faith at all. History, especially religious history will always have an element of uncertainty--you can never tell which is fact, fiction, myth or divine revelation. Remember, history is always written by the victors, who are mere mortals.