Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Fisherman's Dream

The Fisherman's Dream

There comes a point in life when when we realize that there are only so much material things that we really need. Anything beyond that becomes either too costly to maintain or they begin to eat into other parts of our lives.

Material possessions always require maintenance. Books and furnitures have to be dusted; cars have to be washed and polished; jackets and gowns have to be dry-cleaned. Then we realize that after a while, it is quite difficult to manage and do everything ourselves, so we decide to hire a maid. We bank on the belief that if we earn enough money, we can afford to pay to overcome these inconveniences.

That's fine. But then another set of problem arises: you'll have to manage your maid. It is common these days to read horror stories in the papers about maids from hell. Though many are hardworking and well-behaved, every employer will still have to take the risk of entrusting his or her home and kids to a stranger.

Never mind if we have to go to ridiculous length of installing concealed video-cameras at home so that we can monitor our maids. I suppose these inconveniences are better than suffering the hassle of doing house chores or taking care of the kids ourselves.

But have we seriously considered whether we could do all these chores ourselves and do without maids?

Absolutely impossible, many would say. Both parents have to work. Only with double incomes can a family maintain their standard of living. We'd rather take our chances with maids.

But what is this so-called high standard of living? It's basically the capacity to acquire more and more material things in life--material things which we probably don't really need. It means getting trapped in the gridlocked traffic every morning to go to work, battling the same traffic in the evening only to come home and sit zombie-like in front of the TV to "de-stress" and spending weekends enduring shopping-cart jams at the hypermarket checkout counter. Is this a better life?

There are no right answers to all these questions. We choose the life we live. There are those who think that we should never chicken-out from the rat race and it is our life's mission to acquire material riches so that we can elevate our standing in society; there are also those who harbour the romantic notion that the happy life is one that is simple and self-sufficient.

I have a friend who used to wonder aloud if it is better leading the simple life of a fisherman. He spent a great of time in soul-searching, hovering between work and study, trying to decide what he wanted to do in life.

Today my friend is the founder and co-owner of a major public-listed company. He achieved all that through his own hardwork, self-belief, integrity and intelligence. I haven't met him for a couple of years now, but if I do bump into him one day, I'd like to ask him if he still harbours dreams of becoming a fisherman. Perhaps now, he can finally afford the "luxury" of becoming a fisherman.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Victim

The Victim

It may be strange but it's definitely true: many of us actually desire to be in an unhappy state. You see that kind of behaviour manifested in many ways, either directly or indirectly.

There's a reason why this is so, even though we ourselves may not consciously realise it: It's because we want pity, consolation or excuse. And when we find that this behaviour constantly elicits favourable responses from the people around us, we unconsciously turn it into a habit; our "unhappiness" becomes chronic.

This is what spiritual healer Dr Caroline Myss refers to as the Victim archetype. Everyone of us has a Victim lurking somewhere deep within us. Because failure is always painful, whenever we fail, we want to blame it on everything else but ourselves. We want to act the role of a victim so that we elicit pity; so that we are consoled; so that blame is immediately deflected from us.

We like to put the blame for our unhappy situation on the environment and the people around us: our bosses, colleagues, company policies, our upbringing or simply bad luck. The Victim subconsciously chooses to remain a victim because it wants to be in an advantageous position of not having to take responsibility for its own circumstance. So we are constantly wallowing in self-pity.

Being a victim is an easy way out from taking the challenges of work, life or relationships head-on. We are so afraid of failure, embarassment or chastisement that we'd rather suffer the lesser pain of playing the role of a victim. Yes, the Victim is always unhappy; but it is "harmless" unhappiness. It is an unhappiness that the Victim can constantly alleviate by attracting the pity and consolation of friends.

How do we subdue this Victim within us? First, we need to acknowledge its existence. Then we need to make a conscious decision of wanting to be free from it. I've written previously how personal change is one of the most difficult thing for anyone of us to do.

But in the end, it all boils down to choice: Victim or Victor, you decide.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Conversation with My Greed Self

Conversation with My Greedy Self

We all live in a world of abundance; if we live within our means, there's always enough for us.

Hang on. There seems to be a contradiction here: if there's abundance, why should we force ourselves to live "within our means"?

What I'm trying to say is that, beyond basic survival, scarcity is a condition which we choose ourselves. We don't feel we have enough simply because we always want more. Deep down inside, all of us are inherently greedy.

Hold on, isn't a bit of what you call "greed" necessary to drive people to excel? "Greed, is what drives the upward surge of mankind", says Gordon Gekko in his famous "greed is good" speech in the movie Wall Street. If greed is a motivation force for us to succeed, and we don't hurt anyone in the process, what's wrong with that?

Hold it there. We need to proceed carefully here because greed means possessing more than what we actually need. You have to ask yourself very honestly: will your desires ever be fully satiated? We all like to claim that we don't need to be very rich to be happy, We just need to be "rich enough". But when is enough enough? Why isn't what you already have considered enough? Let's say you have assets worth a few million dollars, is that enough?

(Gordon Gekko: "It's not a question of enough")

I would think so. With a couple of million, I should be secured for life. Like what Robert Kiyosaki likes to say, income from my assets will then pay for all my expenses.

Think again. Can you really be that sure? By then you would have acquired a taste for the kind of pleasures that cost a million dollars. You won't be contented with luxury holidays in Bali and or shopping trips to Paris, you would think of becoming a space tourist too.

No, no, I just want to have enough to retire.

Well, strictly speaking you can retire now if you want to. You just need to reduce your wants and live very frugally--like a peasant in the countryside. You'll be happy.

But that's not good enough. I won't be happy with that. No one will ever be satisfied with mere survival. I cannot do without a phone, a broadband connection, the occassional travel overseas and the pleasures of movies, books and wine. That's not too much to ask for, is it?

Let's say all that is covered, will that be enough?


Let's say, you are as rich as Bill Gates. Will that be good enough?

Of course!

Don't say that with too much certainty. If you have that kind of money, you would want to have even bigger dreams: Why not embark on a project to reengineer the atmosphere of Mars to make it habitable for human beings? You can probably afford it can't you? It'll be an interesting enterprise.

But why would anyone want to indulge in such megalomaniac pursuits?

Well, why do we want to build houses on landslide-prone hillslopes, turn coral sanctuaries into luxury marinas, chop down our forests to build theme parks and resorts for the rich?

Because we can. All these are reasonable luxuries. Human beings are entitled to enjoy their lives, are we not?

Why not terraform Mars? We need the space. We can reduce the congestion and pollution on earth. We can build a new and better world properly from scratch.

Hmm...maybe it's not a bad idea, but why not the Moon first?

I think we should plan for both. And after that, tackle the moons of Jupiter. Europa is a good candidate.

*Sigh*. Isn't life too short for us to do all the things we want to do?

Don't despair yet. If we pump our money into Longevity Research, we can do something about that too...


Sunday, November 07, 2004

Rivers of Mud and Humanity

Rivers of Mud and Humanity

Last Friday, during the heavy downpour in the city, I took refuge for a while at the Bangsar Village Mall. There at Starbucks, I sipped coffee and wrote in my journal, and also read a couple of pages from the book I brought with me.

It has been a long time since I had the chance to go out and read in a cafe; I've been spending the past couple of months working almost non-stop. Everytime I went outdoors, I had my notebook computer with me, roaming from one wireless hotspot to another, struggling to put in a decent amount of work each time.

But last Friday, I didn't even bring my computer because I'd finally completed my project report and I had scheduled a full day of social activities, meeting up with friends. Morning was spent in Klang, afternoon at the MidValley Mall and evening at the yuppie bars of Bangsar.

I was quite fortunate that I managed to avoid all the traffic jams and flash floods that day, despite having spent my entire day outdoors. Evening downpours in the Klang valley, accompanied by the usual flash floods, falling trees and landslides, can often turn the city into traffic chaos; last Friday, coupled with the people rushing home for buka puasa, it had all the ingredients of a perfect storm.

In many ways, I'm still getting used to life back in KL. For some reason, I always find KL a very stressful place, more than any other city that I've lived in. Over the last decade, I've seen KL transform into beautiful and modern city. KLCC with the Petronas Twin Towers is now the heart and icon of the new KL.

But my impression of KL has been formed during my childhood years. To me it will always be that dispassionate city, that cauldron of hope and despair which A. Shukur Harun describes so well in his short story Debu-Debu Kuala Lumpur.

And it is during those heavy evening downpours, like last Friday's, you'll see the real KL reveal itself again--when roads become rivers and all that mud and humanity intermingle--an inseparable mass, curiously locked in perpetual embrace and struggle.