Sunday, 26 April 2015

I am different.

Why is it that so many people still think that the normal rules of life do not apply to them? Why do they think that they will not make the same mistakes? Why do they rebel against the universal principle of sowing and reaping? Here are 5 gung-ho statements to sadly prove my point:-

1) I am different. This is the mother lode of the other 4 points below. We think we are different. We think rules of humanity do not apply. If there is any description about us that fits like a glove, it has to be this Hercules mentality. Our self-confidence is out of this world. The delusion is real deep. We think we are invulnerable. We are chosen, special even. Others may fall because they are weak, foolish and lazy but not us. Not me. We will not fall into the same trap as them because we are just different. This time, it’s different. We will somehow lick this problem. Now let me expand further below.

2) I will never get caught. If I get a dollar for every time Enron's 
founder, Ken Lay, the grand vizier of ponzi scheme, Bernie Madoff, and the dictator Saddam Hussein make this hubristic statement, I would be a millionaire by now. Now, a crook knows how to maneuver under the legal radar. That much is admitted. Some can do it for what seems like ages. That is a fact too. But even so, everyone has his bad hair day and no crook is an exception. No matter how crafty or slippery he is, he will eventually trip, slip, miss, leak, boast, break, falter, wobble and get caught. He is 
human and human does what human does best. And that is, he will overestimate, overreact, overcompensate and over-reach. When that time of reckoning comes, he will be the cause of his own unraveling; the author of his own misfortune. This is the rule rather than the exception.

3) I have enough. I know this seems unfair. I mean, what's wrong with that? Surely if a person says he has enough, he has had enough, right?
 Well, it depends on the context. Let me tell you the tale of two contexts. Many years ago I went to prison to interview an inmate for a family matter. He was convicted for having sex with his underaged student. He told me that he saw the errors of his ways. He has turned to Christianity and has been reading the Bible. He then looked at me stoically, and with tears in his eyes, muttered, "I know I am wrong. I will change." When I came out of prison that day, and everyday after that, I somehow 
believed him. I believed that he had enough and he will change. The last time I heard about him is that he has found a job and is earning his keep. Now I can't promise for how long he will stay that way. But I can tell you that I earnestly felt his remorse that day. It was deep and infectious. It was real. Here is the other context. Recently a client told me that he loved two women, his wife and his mistress, who happened to be his secretary. He said that he will change. He said he felt bad for his wife who has 
been so devoted. His wife even told him that she trusted him hundred percent. Looking into my eyes, he said that he will break off with his mistress because he has had enough. Somehow, I was not too convinced. The last time I heard, he went on an exclusive holiday with his secretary. Just the two of them. In a final breaking-off-goodbye tour? So much for having enough. I guess he had had enough of having enough? And this is my point: Oral confession not backed up by outward confirmation is nothing more than inward deception. We deceive ourselves when we promise to change but make no effort to do so. We pay lip service to it when we admit to our faults just so that we can offload our overburdened conscience. It is a feel-good confession just to placate a deep-rooted denial. So when a man says he has enough, the question in reply is this, "Does he have enough to want to change?" If not, then what he has enough of is nothing more than a sentiment arising from the inconvenience of a pricked conscience and not the 
determination coming from the conviction of a broken and repentant heart.

4) I can change if I want to. This is the ultimate Hercules mentality. This self-belief is a belief in our own invulnerability. It is hubris well preserved in a vat of formaldehyde. It is also dangerous because if to err is human, then to believe that one is unerring is inhuman. We can't escape the fact that we are sometimes not in control of our own destiny. For this reason, we should never tempt fate. I heard of a recent news about a pastor who personally took the scripture about poison snakes literally and picked one up. The snake bit him and he died. This is a sad tale of how a misguided form of  self-belief can end most tragically. And we have to remind ourselves constantly that there is more to a person's resolve than self-will. Most times, we are victim of circumstances beyond our control. This is not readily admitted I know. Many social experiments have been
done to show that seemingly obedient, respected and steely adults can go haywire when they are either placed in a hierarchical structure of authority or are given absolute power to act as they please. For isn't it said that if we want to test a man, give him power? I sincerely believe that within us, which many may not know or want to admit, is a lurking opportunist ready to exploit others to further its own purpose and at all costs. Given the perfect storm of the right place, the right time, the right victim and the right immunity, we will unleash it like a wild pack of wolves. And this is mostly beyond our control. No man is the absolute captain of his ship – there is always the tides and waves and the storm to override or overpower him. The point is that the feeling of control is mostly context-dependent. If you approach a churchgoer after a Sunday service, or even after an altar call service, and ask him whether he harbors any indecent or revengeful thoughts, the answer is obvious. He will rebuke you. But if you put him in a different place and time, away from the churchy crowd, 
and assure him of complete immunity and privacy, you may just be pleasantly (or rudely) surprised with his reply to the same question. So, the self-belief that a person can change if he wants to (just like that) should be taken with a pinch of salt. Sometimes the person may be sincere and sure about it at that time, but given a change of circumstances, it may just be less assuring.
5) I am better than them. Are we? Am I? I have come full circle from the first point of "I am different." The fact is that we are no different from all those people who have come before us and have fallen thinking that the rules do not apply. I dread that many will take this Hercules mentality to their graves. I am guilty of this too. If we conduct an honest assessment of ourselves, we will find that the only thing we are better than others is the misjudgment (or overestimation) of ourselves. And I am afraid we might not learn from history not because history did not happen but because it did not happen specifically to us. I guess learning a lesson from personal experience is much more enduring than learning from a text, lecture or some indirect sources. And this is the reason why I shared the tale of the two contexts earlier to show that unless we turn the mirror on ourselves and truly examine our motives and confront them with verve and raw honesty, our remorse may just be self-deceiving (and self-serving). Alas, history will repeat itself and we will just have to ride through our own deluded sense of invulnerability until such time when we are forced to confront its punishing end. Let's just hope that the end will not be six-feet deep. Cheerz. 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Free Will and Free Won't.

Free will is an illusion? I disagree.

But proponents of that statement are not without any support. And there is definitely some truth in it. It is said that man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains (Rousseau). Indeed he is. The chains are everywhere. The institution of marriage is one. When you marry, you are committed. The pun is deliberate but no less true. The marital vows set the boundaries for the couple. Once you say "I do", you are saying "I won't" to a lot of things or activities. Your freedom is curbed to some extent (or less free). And to compound matters, the commitment is for a lifetime. Some call it a life sentence and others call it growth.

The point is that you have restricted your choices and in a strict sense, you can't do otherwise as you would have done if you were still a swinging bachelor or spinster. In other words, your will is not as free as you would like it or want it to be. All choices, whether consciously or unconsciously, would be made to abide by or honor the marriage vows. Unless you live in subterfuge, secretly two-timing, and betraying your vows, you have made your choice and you have to live with it till death or divorce do you part.

The chains are also in your genetic makeup. Although genes are not destiny, the bad ones can be a real pain in the derrière. And when they are mixed up with an environment of deprivation, the nature-nurture cocktail can really screw your life up. Those who happen to draw the short end of the ovarian lottery will live a life with much mental, emotional, psychological and socioeconomic constraint. Think psychopaths and sociopaths and I think you get the drift.

Then, the chains can also be cultural. This is evident in certain religiously oppressive countries where women are treated like chattels, married off before puberty and subjected to genital mutilation. The girls in these countries are generally uneducated and the tragedy is that they will never know what true freedom is when they are confined against their will within the external environment of control, manipulation and oppression. 

Lastly, the chains can be a certain sexual addiction. Some people I know have compulsive urges that they cannot control. I have dealt with some of them who are addicted to hardcore porn, taking up-skirt videos and sniffing undies. Of course there are other addictions with a psychological cause but you get the point. For them, their world is narrower than the world of a normal, well functioning individual. And with a narrower world comes a narrower range of self-directed choices.

So the debate will go on just like that Titanic song about free will but in my view the free-will deniers are misconceived in this debate. You see, I can't imagine the total absence of free will in the same way that I can't imagine the total reign of free will where we are absolutely conscious of the ins and outs of our surrounding and are therefore in complete control of the choices we make. Both extremes are illusional.

I think the practical concept of free will is not an either-or option, and you don't need to be fully conscious of your choices to be deemed to be exercising them. Anyway, we are never fully conscious of how our lunch is digested or the number of hours it takes. We are also hardly aware of how our wound heals. And when we are asleep, our dreams and nightmares are definitely not tethered to our conscious self as they exhilarate or torment us in our waking hours.

Further, there are just too many ideas, thoughts and actions that take us by surprise and we’d be disingenuous to say that we knew they were coming. Or that we consciously bring them into existence. In fact, you can ask any athlete, artist and orator and they will be hard-pressed to map out a step-by-step break down of their physical, artistic and oratorical brilliance, which are clearly more unplanned and spontaneous than are meticulously directed. 

Come to think about it, writer’s block are often the result of thinking too much – as novelist Anne Lamott put it, “Your unconscious can’t work when you are breathing down its neck.” The truth is, you can’t be creative by command. Creativity is not like laying an egg via constipated force. It comes naturally, mostly unthinking, and often unexpected. And “if sanity lies between rigidity and chaos”, then creativity lies between the unconscious and the conscious.

So free will is a matter of degree and not absolute. Some of us have more choices (that is, consider a well-educated university graduate who comes from a wealthy home living in a first world economy) and some have lesser (consider the same young lady who is a mother of nine when she married at nine to a man forty years older, unschooled, and living from hand to mouth to make ends meet). 

In the end, I choose to look at free will from another angle. Considering that I sometimes entertain curious thoughts and strange ideas from unknown origins, I see my freedom of choice as more about exercising "free-won't" than free-will. Yes, it is about sieving through ideas and consciously rejecting them for their less-than-desirable content. I am therefore my own filter and I see myself metaphorically as a conscious hands digging into the stream of the unconscious and throwing ideas I find repellant or offensive out of that flowing stream.

If there is any proof of myself playing a pivotal role in the decision making process, it would be saying "no" to the many dubious ideas that bounces off my cerebral quantum space. Resisting temptation is a good example of this. Lust, anger, sloth, greed and pride are part of me and they are uninvited guests who gatecrash whenever the circumstances avail itself. So, by saying "no" to them when they make their unprompted appearances, I come alive to the daily freedom I experience as a responsible individual responding to the deviant triggers of my innermost urges.

Of course, this struggle is tough and relentless as this world becomes more seductive and explicit in its visual diorama of materialism, sexuality and corruption. They will all appeal to my inner-self and beckon me softly like the deadly sirens of Odyssey. But on my part, I shall will myself to exercise "free-won't" to keep them all at bay as I take the next mature step in this freedom journey to take control of the aspect of my life that truly matters and leave the miscellany of the inconsequential to its unconscious devices. Cheerz.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Happy Fortieth dear.

If a man would be so lucky, he would be loved by a woman unconditionally.
Her love would give him strength to fight every demon within and to live more fully.

If a man would be so lucky, he would treasure the time he shares with her.
He would not take her for granted and offer her the scrap-remains of his day.

If a man would be so lucky, he would thank God for the joy of this matrimony. 

He would affirm life and embrace it dearly for every minute he  spend with her so freely.

If a man would be so lucky, he would treasure her beauty that shines ever so brightly.
And come what may in time, age and illness, this love grows more defiant in hope, joy and meekness.

A lucky man is not a man whose life is filled with the love of this world.
But he is one whose world is filled with the love of his life.

His wealth is not in the possession of fortune to come. 

But it is in the fortune that he has already possessed or there shall be none.

His enduring treasure is in beholding the joy before him. 

And in her eyes, all his desires are indeed complete.

Such is a man who finds a love that satisfies all.

And this love is all that He will ever live for.

He is a man who learns to love and loves to learn even more.

His curiosity is never quenched because his pursuit is a wonder that is never spent.

His gratitude is found in the simplest of expression. 

Her mere presence is enough to fill up the emptiness of existence.

His contentment is like a garden where seeds are sown and flowers bloom.

And every season is meaningful because there is just so much to do.

Not a day is missed to count his blessings.

And it all adds up positive in the days of great testing. 

So lucky is the man whom God bestows.

The gift of companion in a life He unfolds.

But what has luck - some may say - to do with this gift?

Isn't it about loving as a verb and actions unceasing?

Surely there is nothing random in the devotion of love?

Unless it is a wheel of fortune that spins on its own.

But luck is God's ways of remaining anonymous. 

Like coincidences, His nudges are fully autonomous.

For what is required in love is the subtlest of hand.

To woo the heart without making any demand.

So I count this day and many days ahead.

And thank His "lucky" gift as I gladly celebrate.

Blessed fortieth Anna, for when all is said.

You are my greatest fortune, 
my destiny, 
my loving soul mate.