DON’T RUSH TO DIE!

We, the inhabitants of Singapore, seem to be always so much in a hurry.  Regardless of race, language or religion, you can ask any one of your friends how they are and chances are that they will say “very busy lah”.  Living in a highly-developed and dynamically-affluent society such as ours, this reflex and spontaneous response seem to sit unconsciously well with many of us.  We pride ourselves as exponents in new-age skill-sets such as multi-tasking, where the ability to juggle many things at one time determines how “successful” we are in managing our own existence.  The drastically-hectic world we live in acts like a whirlpool of sorts, sucking us deeper and deeper into the proverbial day-to-day humdrum of urban living.  “Keeping up with the Jones'” or should I say “the Tans” is as full-time a job as any for the “kiasu” bulk of our population.  It is unfortunate that rushing ourselves along to match up with our peers is very much a priority for a large majority of us, so much so that we forget to make right our own perspectives and enjoy the journey.

How many of you out there can attest to the fact that when you were very young, you were dying to grow up and be an adult?  I suppose that’s why toy manufacturers do a roaring business selling “grown-up kits” to children – small dolls that look like adults so that little Agnes can pretend to be “mum”, and mini stethoscopes so that little Tim can be inspired to become a doctor.  And the list goes on.

Reflecting back on things, those of us in primary school were dying to embark on secondary education, and those in secondary were dying to start university.  And after so many years of studying, many of us were just dying to get into the workforce.  And after we commenced working, we were dying to be promoted.  Afterwhich, we were dying to get married and have children.  And then we were dying for our children to grow up, be self-reliant, and to provide for us.  Then we’ll be dying to retire.  And then, we will die.  

You can appreciate that this mental state of mind fuels a vicious chronological cycle that can rob us of the opportunity to really “live”.  It is not unreasonable to realise that with all our effort focused on “dying”, we depreciate the fulfilment of our original intent, and that is to live our lives to the very fullest.  My friends, whichever stage of the voyage you are at right now, let this be a timely reality check.  The idea is not to frantically rush things through too much, but to learn to savour our lives one delicious morsel at a time. For if we choose not to take heed, we run the risk of disadvantaging ourselves somewhat and before we even know it, our lives would have accelerated by us in a giga-flash, alienating any sustainable pleasure we can obtain from it.

So don’t “rush” yourself to death. Enjoy the ride!

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Courtesy, priorities, balls and beers!

Have you ever wondered why we tend to be more polite with total strangers than we are with our own family?  Think back the last time you accidentally bumped into a passer-by – I wouldn’t be surprised if you had said something like “I’m sorry, please excuse me.  I didn’t see you coming around the corner!”  Now think back to the time when you accidentally collided into your child at home – I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you had sternly retorted with “Can’t you see where you’re going?  Move out of the way!”

If you’re saying to yourself now, “Yah huh, it’s true”, you’re not alone.  When someone spoke to me about this recently, I had to sheepishly admit to him that I, for one, am “guilty as charged”!  It would seem at first that these reactions are totally normal, but you need only look a sliver below the surface to realise that if we can be so polite to people we don’t even know, how much more we should be considerate and show courtesy to the people who are closest to us?

You may ask – but why do we react the way we do?  Is it familiarity that breeds contempt?  Is it an ingrained unconscious habit to take things too much for granted at home?  Or is it just something that’s intrinsic in our culture?  A memorable quote from a 1970 classic romance movie entitled “Love Story” goes like this – “Love means not having to say you’re sorry!”  Perhaps these and many more similar “tinsel town” punch lines made deep impressions on those of us who remember what it was like growing up in the sixties.  It was a time where we readily and unquestioningly soaked up whatever the West was dishing up, regardless of whether these were right or wrong.  Today, of course, we know better than to believe and hinge our hopes on a few nice-sounding words strewn together by some cheesy Hollywood screenwriter!

I’m not sure if the mutated DNA of the modern world we live in today has contributed to our sometimes incongruent behaviour.  Many of our values and priorities seem to have been somewhat compromised or misplaced along the way.  Think about this – the way we so passionately pour ourselves into our work so often exceeds the enthusiasm & dedication which we are prepared to shower upon our families.  In the same breath, we readily acknowledge the fact that if we died tomorrow, the company we are working for could easily replace us in a matter of days.  But the family we leave behind will feel the loss for the rest of their lives. 

In spite of this, many of us continue to partake in such “unwise investments” which invariably yield poor rates of return.  I know of people in my office who spend so much time at work, to the extent they’ve admitted to their peers in jest that they know more of their fellow colleagues, than their own spouse and kids!  For me, this is no laughing matter – especially as valuable lives are at “stake”!

Writing about all this serves as a check & balance for me, with regards to my priorities and how I choose to align these with the way I live my life.  This reminds of a story I heard some years ago [you may find this familiar as many versions of it have been circulating on the internet].  As an avid golfer, this is my favourite:

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he picked up a very large and empty glass jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.  He then asked the students if the jar was full?  They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar.  He shook the jar lightly.  The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.  He then asked the students again if the jar was full.  They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.  Of course, the sand filled up everything else.  He asked once more if the jar was full.  The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”

The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.  The golf balls represent the important things – your family, your health, your children, your friends, your favorite passions – the kind of stuff that if all else was lost and only these remained, your life would still be full.  The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, your house, your car.  The sand is everything else – the small stuff.  If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there will be no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.”

You know, the same goes for life.  If you spend all your time and energy on the small things, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.  Pay attention to the elements that are critical to your happiness.  Play with your children.  Set aside time for your medical checkups.  Help out at a charitable institution.  Take your spouse out to dinner.  Enjoy 18 holes of golf.  

Don’t worry.  There will always be time to clean the house, and fix the hinge on that cupboard door.  Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter.  Get your priorities right.  The rest is just sand.

However, the story does not end here.  One of the students raised her hand and enquired what the beer represented.  The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked.  It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers.”

Today’s piece has made me real thirsty.  Think I might just go home early tonight, collide with my wife, and then ask her politely to join me for a few pints!  Cheers!

COMPLAIN LESS AND SMILE MORE!

The way we choose to live our lives, to a great extent, boils down to how we view our predicaments.  The fact is that just about everything can be seen in a negative light if you choose to do so – owning a Mercedes Benz can only be uplifting if we don’t start bitching about the fact that we rather have a Rolls-Royce instead; living in a District 21 leasehold private condominium can only be gratifying if we don’t envy our peers who own freehold bungalows in more upmarket precincts.  The proverbial glass full and glass empty analogy applies itself in this instance more so than ever.

Life is all about the choices we make.  If we adopt the right attitude to things, situations will not always appear as bad as it seems.  As we embark on the journey of life, we can choose to enjoy the ride or hate every bit of the trip.

This reminds me of the story of Jerry.  Every time someone asks him how he was, he would reply, “If I were any better, I would be twins!”  When asked about how he could be so positive about things, he will cheerfully share with you about the deliberate choices he makes, from the time he wakes up till the time he hits the sack.  This includes choosing to be in a good mood rather than bad; and whenever a bad situation rears its ugly head, he will tell you that he constantly chooses to learn from it rather than be a victim of the circumstance.

Jerry is a manager of a restaurant.  The story goes on to relate about how, in a moment of carelessness, Jerry was shot by robbers who were out to pilfer his takings, leaving him to die.  However, as he was attended to, Jerry’s positive attitude prevailed and he chose to live instead off accepting impending death.  He did this by encouraging the medical team and telling them, in no ambiguous way, to operate on him with an attitude of wanting to save him, rather than to submit to the grim symptoms they were faced with.  As you would have it, Jerry survived.

Consider this – the next time before you complain about something, think of someone who could be in a lesser situation than what you are currently going through.  And then choose not to lash out with your tongue, but to look on the brighter side of things.  For example, before you say something unkind, think of someone who can’t speak.  Or before you complain about the food, think of the starving in the world today.  Or before you complain about your job and the intense stresses you have to bear, think about the unemployed and the disabled.

The next time you have the urge to complain about how uncontrollable your children are, think about those who are barren.  Appreciate your spouse rather than criticise him or her, for there are many out there who crave for a companion but have not been fortunate enough to be blessed with one.

Be thankful that you are alive and well!  Shake off that negative streak if you are one of those who have been accustomed to seeing the glass as always half empty.  Complain less, smile more, and let us all pitch in to become a nation of Jerrys.