The recent spate of festivities in Malaysia, which gets big bosses quite upset over productivity or lack of, is a good clue for one to contemplate on culture and sense of identity. This is an issue I have battled in the initial years of my thinking life.
When I was young, I grew up in an environment where poverty is the biggest enemy and the only solution for my parents was to work hard and save, and for the younger generation like me then, according to my parents, was to study hard and excel. These are the basic traits that define the culture I was immersed in, as I saw everybody doing that. To be good, in all sense of the word, is my motto in life. This is translated into my quest to form good habits.
So the only criterion by which I was told when mixing around was not to mix with "bad" people and to mix only with "good" people. This is translated, in working life, to work for "good" companies, as I had decided quite early in life not to get into business. It must be challenging, in business, to walk the straight and narrow and not tell lies, both white and black, while in pursuit of a profit. How do you get round to charging more than the cost without feeling guilty. Are you sure the things you sell are really that good, or are you simply like to be extremely persuasive even to friends in order to make a sale? Probably, the most morally acceptable reason for trying to make a profit is that one has to live and one has to feed one's family. Nobody can argue over the urgency and primacy of personal survival - the sense of self preservation.
I cannot handle this profit issue so I rather settle for the more mundane stuff of earning a salary. It is quite easy to work very hard, because we have been trained from very young to work very hard. Working hard is a good habit to form for any individual. Working hard gives one a sense of being, a sense of being alive. You only truly know that you are alive when you sweat, when your muscles ache, your brain hurts, and only after you have been through the strain and stress do you finally get a sense of relief and calmness deep inside oneself.
When I first started out to work and the salary was low, I could not help feeling that I was being underpaid for the hard work that I was putting myself through. The only justification for my anguish was that I had to live and I was just scrapping by. But I wasn't feeling a sense of being deprived because I had been taught to get by in life with very little, but it was such a chore having a budget all the time just to make sure that there was no major gap between the last dollar and the next dollar. Somehow life passed by without any experience of starvation.
The only way to fight for more dollars the legitimate way is to work smart, or rather, to work hard and to work smart. One has to think, to strategise, to deliver services that people are willing to pay good money for. There is no harder work than trying to play god by looking into the future and tell the fortune that is yet to come. While it is usually called prediction, to me, it is more like trying to create certainty or reduce uncertainty over the unknown future which is nothing more than trying to allay fears in the hearts of ordinary human beings. It is in trying to provide assurance - but not in the insurance sense.
In time, of course, I learned that the world is quite predictable because human beings are creatures of habits, good or bad, and they will carry on doing the same old things over and over again, because they have really nothing better to do, until they are tried of it and then try something new. Life can be quite tiresome sometimes, but others call it perseverance. We doggedly prod on. This is why I advise my children to pursue which they have an interest, for then at least the drudgery is minimised and the work itself is self-rewarding, rather than getting into an activity purely on the basis of money for which one wants to demand a lot because one doesn't really like to do it and then to spend all that extra money to de-stress and hope in the end to retire early because one doesn't like the job. To pursue a life that one sees fit is, after call, nothing more than to life.
It is generally acknowledged by students of the theory of money that the urban life we have created for ourselves is an artificial world stimulated by sensory perceptions and motivation by the accumulation of cash and locational spots called real estate or slices of. When we die, there is nothing left but the pile of stones that we vacated as homes for others to use. We are nothing but seeking temporary shelter from the storm until we die. The ultimate question is what do we do while we are waiting for it.
So, the essence of education and the purpose of life, for me, is to use my skills and knowledge to help those who are less fortunate than me. As economist, the only thing to do is to make accurate assessment while means understanding economic systems and behaviour which means understanding human thinking and behaviour which, in the end, understanding what life is all about. Economics, to me, may be nothing more than an artificial system built by people to reduce uncertainty and alleviate fears from their lives - which may be quite impossible. The politicians would like us to believe they can.
I think it is an art to try to live with the barest minimum, just sufficient to achieve all the crucial goals in one's life, save for a beer or two, and to leave the smallest footprint on planet earth. Zen masters just breath. It is therefore incredible that there should be people who think in terms of billions of dollars as a measure of their success and they go around espousing morals and virtues. They should have cut down on their profit margins in the first place. Any way, they do what they do best, while I while away my little spare time tapping little letters and small words and humble thoughts to hopefully some cheer to my readers.