Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Problem with Human Problems

The problem with human problems is not the problems, but it is the humans who are looking at the problems.

More often than not, we like shortcuts and simplicity. In many cases, those things work well and they keep the earth spinning and moving. However, being obsessed with shortcuts and simplicity can create an illusion of an ideal world and that things should go according to the ideal way.

If we are talking about robots, then that is definitely the case. Robots will follow the algorithms set in their programming (unless you watch too many apocalyptic movies). But even then, we still can end up with glitches.

Humans are not robots. The same medicine may or may not work for two different human beings. We like to think that the same medicine will work because we like to think that we are all exactly the same. That knowledge keeps our worries at bay, but it does not acknowledge a simple fact which actually can solve the problem rather than simply sweeping the dusts under the carpet. That fact is this: human beings are more complicated than that.

Having the trust of one person is a priviledge, because that means that the person gives us permission to enter into his or her life. Someone's life is someone's privacy. We don't just go in and make ourselves comfortable. We will get kicked out or, in some places, we might get sued. So when someone willingly opens his or her door to us, we should enter with care and compassion.

Oh, and leave our shoes outside.

When we talk about dealing with people, we should prefer personalization (customizing our approach to individual’s uniqueness) over standardization (same approach for all). Having said that, standardization has a place, but personalization has a bigger place.

When someone has a problem, don't be too quick to grab an answer from the answer scheme in our memory bank. This is not a school examination where we can get by with memorizing answers and spitting them out on a paper. This is real life, with its nuances and complexities.

We need to pause and resist the temptation to view other people's problems through our lens, thinking that everyone should know what we know and everyone should perceive what we perceive. We need to cultivate the skill of looking at the world through the eyes of the other. Only then do we truly understand (or at least make a sincere attempt at understanding) the problems faced by others.

Each of us is different from the other. We are different people; different backgrounds, different tastes, different personalities, different group of friends, different upbringing, different cultures, different subcultures, different neighbourhoods, different education, etc.

Whenever we talk about people, these are the kind of things that we need to keep in mind – our differences. Not so that we can alienate and discriminate each other, but so that we can help a person in ways that would actually solve the person’s problems and not in ways that would only serve to satisfy our ego.

Helping people is not serving us. It is about serving the other. To be in a position of service is an honour and a blessing, with or without a material reward. Yes, it is also a difficult position to be in. But such is the reality of life.

There are universal principles which we should hold on to, but those principles manifest themselves differently in different times and places, with different people. We need to be adapting and evolving, while remaining true to our roots.

We shouldn’t reduce life to black and white; thinking that there is a one-size-fits-all answer, thinking that we can just copy and paste that answer, and thinking that it will produce the exact same result with anyone.

Face fact: Life is complex. Life is difficult.

The moment we realize that, it becomes easier.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Don't Judge the World by Its Cover

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

I find that to be a very profound analogy. They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover; if you truly want to know and understand the book, then you have to read through its pages one by one until the end.

Imagine the world like being a book. What if we judge the world by its cover? What if we judge the world just after reading a page of it? Would that be a fair picture of the world? It would not.

We have to get out of our page and explore other pages. We have to get out of our chapter and explore other chapters. We might discover things that are different than what we are accustomed to.

Different doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong. Different could represent another side of good and right. We might discover other beautiful ways of living, that are in no way less beautiful and meaningful than our ways.

Of course, we can disagree with differences, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t live with those differences. Living together, despite of our differences, requires us to be open and to experience life through the eyes of the other.

Fear of the unknown is real and the fear can lead to us treating the unknown as a threat. It is like being afraid of the dark. But once we switch on the light, we see that there is nothing to be afraid of.

The world is dark for those who don’t travel. There are so many unknowns all around. If we want to remove the unknowns and understand the world, then we have to explore the world. We can’t claim that we know and understand the world if we only explore one place, one small place.

If you only read one page, then you can’t claim to know the whole book; even if you have read that page over and over again. You may have mastered the page, but you haven’t even scratched the surface of the book.
Flip the pages. Get out. Explore. Experience new places, meet new people, discover new cultures, see new perspectives, and dive into what makes the world beautiful. The beauty of the world is in its diversity.

After all, all the different pages are all parts of one cohesive book. This book, if we were to read it page by page, has so many beautiful stories in it.

The book, this world, is indeed a page turner.

You can’t get enough of it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The True Measure of a Man's Character

The news of Tok Guru Nik Aziz's passing is still fresh in people's minds. I personally never met him face to face but I have attended his speech. What I can say about the man is that he had a unique presence, one that aroused awe and respect - no matter whether you agree or not with his political stance.

Having said that, a testimony by me doesn't truly grasp the man he was. But a testimony from his wife, however, paints a clearer and truer picture. Who better to know a man than his wife? She lived with him, knew him in good times and in bad times, saw him in his best and in his worst, and was by his side in the house and outside of the house.

A praise by your Facebook likers and Twitters followers doesn't even come close to a praise by your beloved wife. People who watch you on social media or attend your live speech don't know you beyond what they see in those brief moments. They admire you for a part of who you are, not the whole of you. Very few people know you inside and out, and nobody knows you like your spouse does.

So when Tok Guru's wife, who was his partner for 53 years, told us of how great of man he was as a husband, that really shows you the height of his character and how much effort he put into realizing what the Prophet said:

"The best of you are the best to his family."

It doesn't matter how great you are in the eyes of the people, if you are not as great or even greater in the eyes of your wife. You can be a true leader outside of the house, but a horrible dictator behind closed doors.

What does that say about your true character?

Being in the public eye, I can relate to it on some level. I get praised for doing what I do and people praise me for who I am. Though I am grateful for their kind words and support, I am also afraid at the same time. Are they admiring me for who I really am, or for a part of who I am? If they know me fully, they might not be as kind. Maybe.

So instead of turning to the people to measure my own character (because you judge only yourself), I turn to my wife. There is no veil or pretense when I am with my wife. I showed her who I really am, no more and no less. She saw the good in me and the bad in me. She is with me when times were easy and when times were tough.

So if she said that I am a good man, despite everything that she saw in me and from me, then I would be relieved. Not because my main aim is to please her, but I really want to be among the best of people as indicated by the Prophet.

I believe she is my true measure of character and I rely on that measure to keep me in track. I made it one of my life's goal to make her happy with me (despite all the inevitable hard times in a marriage) and I want to leave good memories for her to hold on to, if my time comes before hers.

People talk at length about the importance of having a husband's blessing, but we don't hear enough about the importance of having a wife's blessing.

A wife respects a man who loves her, and a husband loves a woman who respects him. This partnership is a two-way relationship, and it begins with you.

May Allah bless Tok Guru and his family. Ameen.

Even in death, he still inspires.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Live Simply, So That Others May Simply Live

These are my thoughts after watching the documentary "We The Tiny House People: Small Homes, Tiny Flats & Wee Shelters" on Youtube.

After we got married, my wife and I started thinking about owning our own house. It is becoming more and more apparent that owning a house in Malaysia is more and more difficult; the price is going nowhere but up. People around us are poking us so that we buy a house quickly before the price hikes higher. That means that we have to loan from a bank.

There are at least three questions I asked myself and my wife about what I mentioned above.

No. 1: Do we need to own a house? I know this might come as a shock to some, since owning a house is considered a necessity. But to me, it is a question worthy of consideration. Can we live off of renting someone's house? Is that a viable option and a comfortably way of living? I am not saying that I don't want to own a house. I am only questioning the need for it. My parents bought a house for us when I was 15, so for at least 15 years we lived in rented houses.

No. 2: Do we need a house right now? I understand the reason why people are rushing to buy a house. It makes economical sense, and I am not against it. Having said that, isn't there an age old wisdom of not rushing into making a decision, especially a decision as big as buying a house?

No. 3: Do we need to loan from a bank? My wife and I have agreed that we will do our best to avoid loaning from a bank as much as possible. To us, debts are serious business and we don't like being in financial debt, especially with a bank. We didn't even buy a new car; we bought a used one and it works really well for our daily use. Perhaps one day we will apply for a loan from a bank, but we wouldn't do it without thinking thrice. We observe a worrying trend of people being in debt with banks and we worry that people see that as something normal. When and how did we come to this type of a lifestyle, where being in debt is considered normal? We are not naive, at least we try not to be. We understand that sometimes people have little to no choice. But to decide to be in debt with someone (a bank or otherwise) without due consideration about the consequences is possibly immature.

Nonetheless, we do want to own our own house someday and it is a discussion my wife and I are still having. We don't want to make loaning from a bank the only option, as if it is really the only option. We believe there are other options out there.

For example, finding a piece of land and build our house bit by bit.

This is an idea given to us by my father. He has a friend who did just that. His friend bought a piece of land by cash, and made a deal with his builder to build his house phase by phase. He would pay the builder cash for each phase. It takes more time and more energy, but overall it costs less and he is debt-free along the way.

That is one option we a re seriously considering and although it is a tougher option, we think that it is a better one. If there is an option where we don't have to be in debt, then we would take that option any day. We think that being in debt can be a need for some, but for others, it is just an easier and a more convenient way of getting what they want.

We have n o problem with ease and convenience, but we don't want to base our whole life on it. Just because it is easier and more convenient doesn't mean that it is better. The alternative might be harder and requires more out of you, but in the end all the hard work will be worth it.

After watching the documentary I mentioned in the introduction, I am left with a new question: How much space do we really need?

Finding a piece of land can be tough these days, but perhaps it is made tougher with the idea of "the minimum space you need". What is the minimum space we need and who determines that amount of space? Do we really need that much space? Can we live smaller and simpler? Can we cut down on some stuff, and consequently, on some space? What is the bare basic of a house; the actually necessities of a house? What can you live with and what can't you live without?

I believe we have to question so many things, even the things that are deemed to be normal. Sometimes, normal was abnormal not too long ago and perhaps it was a mistake to turn the abnormal into normal.

Historically, people used to live in smaller homes and they were not less happy than us. I would argue that they were more happy. They had less clutter, less distraction, more meaningful social bonds, healthier food, and healthier lifestyle.

Without consuming more, they were adequately happy. Without consuming more, they made room for others to be happy as well.

We have to seriously consider the effects that our lifestyle has on other people. We don't live in a vacuum; each of us influences the other. The lifestyle decisions we made here will influence our fellow human beings across the world. It sounds like something off of a sci-fi movie, but it is true. It is true then and it is true now. It should be more evidently true now since we are more connected to the world than we were ever before.

We have limited resources, but unlimited wants. Our tragedy is in convincing ourselves that our wants are our needs. We have to take some time to stop and step back to look at the bigger picture. We have to consider reconsidering our lifestyle choices and reflect on the effects it has not just on ourselves, but on others as well.

There is a quote I read somewhere, "Live simply, so that others may simply live."

Sometimes we forget the simple fact that this earth that we live in, is a shared property.


Link to documentary video: