Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Reboot II: What We Really Want of Ourselves

What do we really want of ourselves, or rather, of our children?

There are several things:

1. Education. This is probably the most crucial thing. Maybe I am being romantic and entertain the idea that one can be educated in many different aspects of life - of what life is and what life is not - and be happy with that knowledge. I have been so keen on this idea that I have even embedded this idea of knowledge in the names of my children - in the belief that with knowledge, one can be happy with the bare necessities - although with knowledge, one can see many opportunities as well. To be able to read and write, to analyse, to think and to communicate - in whatever language (one may need two languages - one to communicate with others and another to communicate with oneself) - so that the thinking is deep enough to be insightful. I see the internet has replaced the library, and knowledge being imbibed in small sips. There probably is too much opinion and too little lessons from the reality out there. Sitting at the computer can make one feel rather hapless (being not directly involved) and hence a tendency to pontificate. But education I would include every little thing that one can learn - from home, people, school, college, environment and the experiences of others.

2. Purpose. Many of us have used a large chunk of our lives finding out about ourselves and what this life is all about. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter precisely what but the important thing is to have a sense of purpose. It is a treacherous path to take by being self-centred in purpose for one can never be satisfied (until the system collapses and then we panic); instead, it is a far better path to walk with others and see how one can be helpful. It is this helpfulness and services that make this world a better place for everyone. To have a sense of purpose is the foundation of happiness for oneself and the foundation of the economy.

3. Faith. Faith is as much a system as it is a surrender to the ultimate which we cannot comprehend. To have faith is to remove fear and uncertainty. To be certain even of death is a peace that many dare not enjoy. Fear is the perpetual gnaw at our soul which turns perfectly decent fellows into devils as they seek to control all aspects of life, to be certain of everything. I have often said that to live the good life is to live only half a life; to live a full life, one must live both the good and the bad side of life - and to be happy under all circumstances. It's all an experience and education and self-knowledge. It is good if the system in which we live in provides for a comfort level that removes the fear of living for each of us; failing which, we end up scrambling for our individual selves. I have tried to expose my children to as many different systems as I can where faith is being propagated. In the end, I suppose the answer is in self-knowledge which gives one a certain level of self-confidence and purpose (but others may treat it as pride and arrogance, and hence one needs to tamper onself with a smile and a certain level of humility or I would rather of humanity).

4. Money. In my mind, money is a concept and it's purpose is to provide a level of comfort that many feel justified in having lots of. Money is a man-made concept borne out of practical need but which many have mistaken having lots of it to be the raison detre for being alive. As economists would love to put it: Money is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for being alive. The relationship one has with money is a crucial one - a good relationship means one has managed to live a balanced life (just enough money for the things we want to do in life) and a bad one (too much or too little) means that either one is being burdened with money management (and the financial crisis) or money is giving one a real constraint in life (but not to life). Many urbanites have been taught a tough lesson sometime in their lives the benefits and sting of money. By smarting up to what money really is, one can swim with money but not be distracted by it. It has been a crucial concern of mine when trying to teach my children the value of money. I find it is a tough lesson to design, and I suppose the real meaning of money will come to them when they start earning their own keeps. It is tempting to define everything in life with how much money one has, but as the financial crisis has shown, it is faith built on a crumbling hill.

5. Enterprise. We hear plenty of exhortation to entrepreneurship and innovation and creativity by, I am dismayed to say, totally boring people who have no one new thing to say about it. My best definition of creativity is by George Bernard Shaw (although I have come across American usage which misattributed): "People see things as they are and ask why; I dream of things that are not and ask why not?" But enterprise requires one to put money where one's mouth is, and if one has no money, then one has to beg, borrow or steal. Conception and birth are always very difficult situations to deal with. Hence, there is always a tendency for a society to think in unison and act in concert as an insurance to the unknown - self-reassurances which give comfort in the face of uncertainty. The last place to go for finance for a real enterprising venture is the bank because banks are built on the basic idea that cash is king and the king extracts the first share thereof. The most innovative form of financing is venture capital which has evolved into private equity financing whereby the financier shares the risk but takes a large cut (to offset the cost of failures elsewhere). I find increasing appealing the true Islamic concept of financing where there is no interest rate but profit sharing - exactly what the world of entreprise needs. But still the entrepreneur has to convince the financier of the commercial viability of the project. A good project requires one to have a knowledge of the world and the market, the technological know-how of how to operationalise it, and the entrepreneurship to hold everything together. Entrepreneurship is very much a way of thinking as it is a way of life. I would leave my children to discover whether they really have the flair for business.

6. Service. Some of us would rather be paid employees rather than be entrepreneurs. Entreprenuers are in a constant state of flux - I saw my father having to plan every night of what he has to do the next day in order to feed his growing family; at the end of it, ill health and an uncooperative economy got him down. It is easy to be an employee, but it is hard to be a good employee. An ordinary employee performs a role set by the boss; a good employee performs a role which he himself can perform for the company and make the difference for the organisation in the market place. A good employee therefore is an entrepreneur who sells his services to an organisation rather than to the market. A good employee takes a basic pay and if lucky a profit share. There are many many opportunities for a good employee especially in a difficult environment. I hope my children's education will set for them a niche in the mass market of the globalised world.

7. Sense of Belonging. At the end of the day, life is meaningful only when we have a sense of belonging - to ourselves, our immediate family, our extended family, the society in which we live in and which we have created for ourselves, and the world at large. All these layers must align so that each and every of our action satisfies all that are important for us. This is a very intricate area for it deals with our sense of being. We each will have to define one for ourselves. At the social level, the trick is how to create a sense of cohesion among ourselves without depriving others of their own existence. I suppose a good education and a broad understanding of what this world is all about are important elements for peace and harmony.

8. Systems Design. Whether we live in the countryside or in town, we need to design a proper system for each. We create the world we live in out of our imagination. The natural terrain may be given to us, but how we live in harmony with nature is very much part and parcel of the study of feng shui. The advent of engineers who have graduated out of the exigency of war have learned to carve and reshape the natural environment to their own whims and fancy. In the rural economy, the essential elements are the planting technology and the supply chain to get the goods efficiently to the market. In the urban economy, it is the design of cities that hold the key to their viability. A city properly designed for work and residence as well as recreation and entertainment will attract more and more people and this pull gives it vibrance. Is this the job of the city hall or the town council or the state government or the federal government? Do we build low-cost housing in the outskirts of town and industrial estates on the other side so that thousands of poor folks have to commute just to work? Do we give the job of city design to developers who are only interested in building pigeon holes that are not big enough for the viability of commercial entreprises and small enough for the creation future slums? The criss-crossing of trasportation lines is a clear sign of bad rural and urban planning.

9. Technology. I think we have to get over our honeymoon with ICT. It is like the invention of telephone which is a piece of equipment that is used for re-organising ourselves and exploring new opportunities in communication - rather than for forcusing on the romance of being a telephone operators or laying of cable lines (which in themselves were important but not that important). We have now the whole world in the palm of our hands literally and what we do with ourselves? Do we be circumvented by this new fangled technology or do we use it to simplify our lives and live more efficiently and peacefully? I have been exposing my children to this new technology from a very young age in the hope that they will incorporate that into their lives to the extent that they will one day get bored with it and find something more meaningful to do in life. I admit this is a long-shot strategy on my part.

10. Real Value. Real value does not lie in the fistful of real estate properties or financial papers that many of us might have been led to believe as a passport to a good life and a good future. The financial crisis shows that financial values rise and fall with greed and fear. The real value in life is in the art of living - to know how the system works - to realise that life is like a buffet lunch. Whether we have a big house or a small hut or that we keep ourselves manicured or be rough and dirty - all these is a product of our own imagined way of life. I do not expect my children to be wealthy, but I do expect them to be happy, under whatever circumstances they happen to find themselves in, on their own volition or as a result of their own purposeful drifting. free of envy, free of greed. free of fear. I only hope they live their lives with their eyes open. The real value of life is the journey.

1 comment:

Adam Smith said...

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Plea for an Adventure in a New World Economic Order

Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes and Alan Greenspan: a Unified Perspective


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Read It.