Syukur Alhamdulillah.How much is enough?

Not many of us are aware of what is enough to make us happy. In our dizzily consumerist culture, we make ourselves miserable in the pursuit of more than enough without pausing to think of what we really need 

Ego is sometimes characterized as the “false self.” Some spiritual teachers advocate destroying the ego. I do not. If we love it, it can grow up and be helpful.

In psychology, the term for the image we project to others is “the persona.” We all need to have an image of the self to project into the world. The challenge is to make sure it’s authentic and derived from our higher self. When ego is immature and running the show, we may be projecting a personality self that is indeed “false” — one that is not truly who we are.

Halloween masks are fun. A false role worn as a mask is not fun. Often, in order to fit in or be successful, we take on a role and a script handed to us by others or created to make up for some lack we have felt in our lives.

These false masks are by their nature unrealistic. We can’t live up to them. This can leave us feeling like fakes. We become terrified of being “found out.” So we do even more to look like the perfect mom/boss/whatever. All this inner turmoil can create feelings of depression or a midlife crisis, or rupture relationships. Unhealthy masks steal our joy. Even worse, a false mask deprives the world of the beauty and talents of the real self!

So why do we take on these masks? How are they related to the roles we need to play in life? And how do we find a way to be authentically ourselves?

When justice is tempered with mercy

An Indonesian judge by the name of Marzuki was sitting in judgment of an old lady who pleaded guilty of stealing some tapioca from a plantation. In her defense, she admitted to the judge that she was indeed guilty of the crime because she was poor and her son was sick while her grandchild was hungry.

The plantation manager insisted that she be punished as a deterrent to others. The judge going through the documents then looked up and said to the old lady, “I’m sorry but I cannot make any exception to the law and you must be punished.” The old lady was fined Rp. 1 million (USD 100) and if she could not pay the fine then she will be jailed for 2 and a half years as demanded by the law.

She wept as she could not pay the fine. The judge then took off his hat and put in Rp. 1 million into the hat and said “In the name of justice, I fined all who are in the court Rp. 50 thousand (USD 5.50) as dwellers of this city and letting a child to starve until her grandmother have to steal to feed her grandchild. The registrar will now collect the fines from all the accused.” The court managed to collect Rp 3.5 million (USD 200) whereby once the fine was paid off, the rest was given to the old lady … .including the fine collected from the plantation manager.

WILL WE EVER SEE SUCH A HAPPENING IN OUR MALAYSIAN COURTS?

Principles are central to human behavior. “Unprincipled” is one of the harshest accusations one person can make about another. Principles are also central to government and politics. Parties and public official we hope will conduct themselves according to principles that guide their beliefs and actions. Principles are the basis for policies, policies the basis for programs. If the principles are wrong or absent, the policies and programs that result will be flawed or even destructive.

They say the right time to stop eating is just before your stomach is full, because it takes a while for the stomach’s message of satiation to reach the brain. So, if you wait till you feel full, you will already have eaten more than what was enough for you. If you are smart, you will be able to figure out that the right time to stop is while still hungry. If only Deputy Collector Nitish Thakur had heeded that message, he may not have found himself become a shining statistic on our country’s ever-burgeoning corruption stakes — one of the biggest graft catches in India ever!

Thirty-six properties and assets worth 118 cr, 10 luxury cars…. Come on, how much does a man need? When we were kids, a game of Ludo, a carom board, a set of playing cards and some playing dough seemed good enough entertainment. Today, the best battery-operated toys, gizmos and games are acquired from around the world only to be outdated the moment new stuff gets launched. Xbox seemed good enough till Xbox 360 was announced. The iPod, iPad, laptop, car, and TV are all enough only till slightly more updated versions are launched. In a dizzily consumerist culture, we are not allowed to feel satisfied, and are conditioned to want more, no matter what we already have. And that ‘more’ always exceeds ‘enough’. The problem is that we allow a hyper-consumerist culture to dictate our needs and definition of enough. It is important to understand that what is enough for one person may just be the first milestone in the journey of desire for another.

Why covet what another has when you may have no need for it? So then how do you know what is enough for you? Just the bare necessities of life? Food, shelter, clothing stabilise things enough to make us reach for something beyond, which marks the difference between existing and living. In order to live well and be on top of life, you need that extra something. That X-factor varies from person to person.

For one it could be money, for another travel, for yet another, the challenge of forming and running a business. A sense of adventure may attract some, while others may be charmed by the idea of a life of meditative calm — reading, thinking, writing, interacting with friends and loved ones. But the end result everyone seeks by aiming at ‘enough’ is the same — happiness.

When you have what you deem is enough, the one thing it will make you is happy. Or, so you think. So when you keep shifting your goal post of ‘enough’, you also keep shifting back the time when you will be happy and satisfied. How do we decide what is enough? This can be best done backwards, starting with the end result. Once the basic needs are taken care of, think about what makes you really happy? And in order to be in that space, what do you really need — money, space and time for yourself ? People around you? Helping those less fortunate? Some talent or skill? Are you earning as much as you need or pushing yourself to get more than ‘enough’? What for? If you were to give up that extra shove and instead, spend that time to pursue what makes you really happy, would your life be better? After all, it would be silly to love money for the sake of it?

Are you aware of what you are pursuing all that money for? What do you want it to do for you?

Remember Leo Tolstoy’s popular Russian story “How much land does a man need?” Pahom, a peasant dies exhausted in pursuit of his dream of owning large areas of land. He is rich finally, but now all the land he needs — is a six-foot long grave!

Most political debate centers on whether a particular government program — extending from Social Security to environmental protection to weapons system — is right or wrong, good or bad. Occasionally, the policies that created those programs are debated also. But the principles that led to both policy and program are often assumed or taken for granted.

A debate question for presidential candidates: What are the principles that guide your behavior and decisions? What are your fundamental beliefs and what shaped them? When faced with a tough decision, what convictions guide your choice? What is more important to you than winning an election or holding an office — even the presidency?

The best advice I ever received came from a distinguished Senator and great American. He said: Draw a line. Don’t cross it. He meant: Examine your soul and identify what principles you hold, what is more important to you, than holding an office. Never sacrifice those principles, otherwise you are a hollow man. If you sacrifice one principle for ambition, you will sacrifice them all.

This inner compass is the theme of John Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage that studies the public lives of a number of figures who took a principled stand, a stand that was against their self-interest and that cost them public office. Many people, especially young people, believe these kinds of choices, between doing what is right or doing what is expedient, occur frequently in politics. They do occur, but not very often. The question is whether, when such a choice occurs, you follow your principles and refuse to cross the line or whether you take the easy path that protects your political career and self-interest.

Perhaps the debate question should be: Describe one instance where you chose to do what you knew to be right but that cost you politically or personally.

Life is difficult. Every day we all seek to achieve our objectives by adjusting, shifting, subtly compromising to get where we want to go. There is nothing wrong with that. That’s called going along to get along. And personal errors and failures are common to us all. Bending is necessary. Bending too far and too often leads to a broken spine.

Public service operates on a higher plane. It involves a public trust. The public servant holds the public’s interest in trust. We trust our elected and appointed officials to do what is right, what is in the interest of our nation and all its citizens, even when acting according to that principle will cost them personally or even drive them from office.

Whether consciously or not, in deciding on a president we are really trying to decide who will protect our trust, the public trust, by standing on principle when the chips are down. A candidate who shapes his or her policies and programs according to the pressures from interest groups, ideological factions, or wealthy individuals will more likely than not cross the line of principle when confronted with the harsh choices that eventually occur.

There is a comfort in emotions that is difficult to deny. And the succor that a camaraderie of emotions provides is indisputable. If you are happy, your pleasure is intensified when someone shares that happiness with you. If you are unhappy, being able to share the unhappiness and pain with others helps comfort you. If you are angry, venting anger as part of a group that shares your emotion, helps provide cathartic relief. That is what perhaps accounts for flash mobs, anti-corruption protests, et al.

We are better off when experiencing an emotion– good or bad — rather than at times when we are indifferent and so, bored with everything. And, the most pleasurable of all emotions is romantic love. Extra-marital relationships are also the result, more often than not, of finding the comfort of emotional attachment beyond home and the acceptable.

Time was when we dealt with our conflicting, tumultuous emotional states all by ourselves, or at most by confessing to a parent, a dear friend or sibling. But today, a generation that has been brought up to believe strongly in individualism and to value themselves, their goals, their own feelings and their idea of right and wrong, sees nothing wrong in hanging its innermost emotions out to dry in public spaces. And social networking sites ensure there is no lack of such spaces!

Years ago, when as a child, disturbed at my emotional response to a handsome star of the time, I confessed my mixed feelings to my mother, she told me censoriously, “You must learn to control such emotions.” For quite some time I believed I was some kind of an emotional freak and prayed to be infused by purer thoughts and feelings. Today all you do is sign into any social networking site or forum and find hundreds of others echoing the same feelings. You not only realize you are no freak, but your feelings are actually reinforced!

When I stumbled across the facebook page of Mohnish Bahl who is currently playing the lead for a popular television serial “Kuch to log kahenge…”, I was amazed at the outpouring of young emotions there. Followers of the actor openly talk of their love for him and confess how they cannot wait to watch him again, how they worry about him, pray for him and even advise him on the serial! And Mohnish is no youngster — he is a married man with a 20-year-old daughter!

What amazes me is the passion these people bring to play upon a serial that is so obviously fictitious! They react to characters as if to real people and all thoroughly enjoy the interaction. Housewives, professionals, students – all bond emotionally on the same page, finding it addictive — as is proved by their multiple daily visits to the page!

There’s indeed comfort in being part of a group that wallows in emotions!

When I mentioned this obsessive group emotion to my friend Dr Deepak Raheja, Consultant Psychiatrist and Director, Hope Foundation, he said, “It is symbolic of regression. People tend to regress when they are very emotional. They let the conscious mind get synchronized with the heart to feel emotion that brings a surge of feel-good chemicals. In past this state was reserved for a very special person you loved or perhaps an idol. Today people have become frivolous in relationships –the resilience, coping strategies and mechanisms that are required to balance emotions have come down. People are more demanding and want to change the loved one. When that doesn’t happen, there is sourness and relationships break. “

Devoid of gratification and contentment of relationships because you find such few idols and idealistic relationships in real life, an emotionally immature generation transfers its moodiness and starved emotions onto idols and stars. People get carried away on a wave of emotion and when they find themselves part of a like-minded group, they find that high emotions help them bond better with others. This gives them a great sense of comfort. They start romancing the idealistic scenarios found on the screen, believing they can live that life too, even if vicariously.

It can be a scary scenario because emotions run fast and furious here and the landscape changes in the blinking of an eye; the dwellers of this land hate as quickly and as intensely as they love, and they transfer reel emotions into real life as effectively as real emotions get entangled with reel ones. Rather than considered and few, relationships tend to be indiscriminate and many, rather than caring and nurturing, they are demanding and destructive… both in reel and real!

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