November 26, 2012

The worth of things

What is something worth? Some say it’s about how much it costs to purchase in monetary terms. Yes, the more expensive something is, the more valuable it is, seems to be the prevailing belief. So what about things you can’t value?  A cute response maybe to say that it’s something priceless. Priceless things are so expensive (and so valuable in this kind of calculus) that most of us cannot afford these. A case of sour grapes perhaps, for, we still may yearn for things beyond the depth of our wallets. In the present day and age, most of the things we yearn for in our lives seem to be measured in dollars and cents.

But beyond the absolute monetary figures, the worth of something is also a reflection of our minds. For example, something I feel is very expensive may seem cheap to someone richer than I am. But his valuing of that something also depends on how one sees the value of one’s money. A miserly rich person may harbor similar reticence as I do, even though this person maybe way richer than I am.

On the contrary, even a poor person may not feel shy of buying the latest mobile phone or motor cycle. It depends on the sense of utility of the object to that buyer. An expensive meal may not be something a poor student may frequent on a daily basis, but if an opportunity for a desired date arises, that “expensive” meal or restaurant may suddenly seem plausible on his scale of utility preference.

So our sense of the worth of something is all in the mind. Whether it is for a good or bad cause, the outcomes relate to the intention stemming from the mind and moment. Whatever the mind decides, the body tends to pursue. So, to change our attitudes towards life’s hedonistic callings, we need to change our mindset. The mindset has to be changed through a withstanding of the strength of that stimulation. This not something new, you would say; everybody knows that! Yes, the big question is how do we resist giving into these temptations? And many of us may even then go on to say, there’s nothing wrong with some fun, we know when it’s the limit. Perhaps that is just the issue. Most of us are carried away beyond the limit and that is when the seeming freedom to do what we want becomes an imprisonment, an addiction. Enticement is the process of being persuaded. The strength of the stimulus determines how effectively we are persuaded. But please realize that the strength of that stimulus is not material although the object of our desire is material. This movement of being enticed is dependant on our mental disposition – awareness or ignorance to the vagaries of consequences – cost and benefits for the moment and for the longer term. This is the place of awareness, and we all need to be aware.

Establishing this ethos of awareness in ourselves will require mind training which means an active striving towards changing our behaviors by being aware of how our emotions tick – a realization that the ego’s callings is towards selfishness, and that the calling of our soul is towards service to society. How can we stimulate ourselves towards a direction of doing common good rather than pursue selfish acts? For most of us, the stimulus package in life towards doing what’s good is just not enticing enough. Rather, the path towards selfish desires is so much more attractive, but surely spells the demise of what we call community. The divisive nature that defines selfish existence is contradictory to social bonding and the nurturing of community. Thus social governance has always been a balancing act between these two competing forces within our bodies.  

As surely as oil cannot mix with water, selfishness and love cannot exist together without conflict. But sadly, such division is what we are doing to our society. What is the worth of leaving such a divided and conflict ridden society for our children? And our blaming each other for the ills we manifest in our society or harbor within us will do us no good. If we want to save our selves as a nation, the path has to be unrelenting efforts towards social harmony! We need to count our days by how much service we do to others, rather than how much we accumulate for ourselves. 

November 21, 2012

Showing off

Showing off is the bigger part of ownership. The enticement of this world is its offer of its material wealth. At least, this is what has come of age in the post industrial revolution world. It has been a continuing process of wealth accumulation using the human trait of greed as that fueling this growth.

My discussion yesterday with a friend brought me to a realization that wealth itself is not what we truly crave for. It’s only a symbol of a higher desire we have -- that of expanding our ego. Our ego is that "havaa-nafs" as we call in Maldives and is accumulated in our inner subconscious over years of nurturing -  within ourselves as the identity we grow up to be, and as a community, as the confluence of our collective consciousness that label us as either a greedy and corrupt society or a sharing and compassionate one. It all depends on our individual levels of these emotions that we grow up with which ultimately transforms into a societal psyche or archetype.

So all this greed arising from our ego makes us accumulate all the external paraphernalia that are the symbols of wealth. The latest model of car, TV, mobile phone, computer, the up-market house, the expanding bank account all are the symbols of this desire for the ego to project the expansion it desires always. But mind you, having these is not enough, for the ego to really thrive, these have to be noticed by others. If another person doesn't say how nice your new mobile phone is and shows the craved admiration, you are not happy or if no one admires your new house you feel flat, because wealth by itself has no meaning to the ego if it’s not admired by others. Just imagine, how would you like to own all the wealth on this earth if you were the only one left on it? It is the elevation of this ego that makes for our worldly happiness, but unfortunately, such happiness is very short-lived, for tomorrow something else will occupy the headlines, and we would be running after that. The ego cannot survive without winning and being in the limelight.

How to get out of this mess? The way is to give the ego less attention and that means being aware of the ego’s whisperings as soon as these arise in the mind. Whenever a selfish desire arises, just being aware that this is the ego’s craft will put up an initial barrier and give us a chance to observe this feeling without reacting to it. Making a habit of this will help us beat the ego into submission. So, a lack of attention to the ego will deflate it and make it cower in its diminishing significance. We must realize that our relentless craving and groping for material wealth is in fact a competition that the ego sustains against our real self -- our soul which we call the 'nafs' that doesn't have this incessant craving for anything material that is manifest in this world of form. The 'nafs' is in fact our little voice of conscience that is often snuffed out by this selfish ego that we harbor within ourselves. Which one we should let win is for us to decide, and that will determine the path in life we decide to take -- one of selfishness or one of grace. God has given that decision to us, by also giving us the faculty to discern -- how to think of right and wrong through our skills of discernment.

So do we want to choose the ‘nafs’ over the ‘hawaa-nafs’, or vice versa?  The choice is ours! 

November 20, 2012

Timeless quality of time

On my daily walk routine I see many situations that trigger my mind into what I convey through this blog. Today I saw a mother taking her little boy, perhaps 5-6 year old, for a walk in the adjoining park beside our house. The little kid was cavorting along in his own delight, but what I noticed also was that the mother was walking meters behind absolutely engrossed in conversation on her phone, all attention totally focused on the chatter rather than the child. For the half an hour or so she was there, she did not let go the phone for a moment, except to pat the kid on the head whenever he moved by her periodically on his meandering frolic along the grass and on the walk path. What I gathered from this spectacle is perhaps not an isolated event in consideration of most of us who go about in our effort of spending quality time with our children. We hear a lot about the neglect of children by our protracted absence from home and family as a result of work or leisure habits, and the effect it has on the psychological make up of our children. Many of us hear and accept the idea of quality time as an increasing necessity, but fail to act on this acceptance in any meaningful way. 

Quality time is about connecting. Quality time spent with our children is one of the most potent solutions at our disposal as parents to have the budding links that nature has endowed in us to build our psychological make-up connected so that we grow as balanced human beings fully resilient and ready for the adult world. This kind of self confidence is built through nurturing these connections in childhood. And a society is built up by the confluence of such adjusted individuals. Values, mores and acculturation are learned during this bonding process, translating ultimately into what is known as love – sharing without expecting. This is true maturity that brooks no puerile callings of the ego. Thus, our emotional make up is patently built on how well we have made true bonding happen.

For a child growing up, the responsibility for nurturing this is on parents. In the case I describe here, the mother who was on the phone may have had a mistaken notion of quality time. For her, the time she stayed with the kid seemed enough for having done her motherly duty – that of spending time with her child. But it would not be effective, unless the communication between them happened; interacting as if her child was the only thing that mattered for that moment and not the voice on the other end of the line should have been the condition here. Such is the process of bonding and it does not happen passively. I am sure there must be many such examples that will demonstrate our mediocre efforts towards child care, doing just enough, expecting that we have done our duty. We’ve all been children once upon a time, and perhaps some of us never really grow up (mentally) either. That must have some bearing on how we had experienced our childhoods. So with that knowledge and awareness of hindsight, let’s make new efforts to nurture a more caring nation of Maldivians for the future. We all need this feeling of being wanted and appreciated, and loved ultimately.

So let me say that quality time is not a measure of the chronological time we spend with our loved ones, but the timelessness we make these precious moments out to be. Yes, it would be good to get out to the park or to the beach with our kids but can we keep our phone switched off for that moment?  

November 16, 2012

Please defuse the time-bomb

The periodic environmental damages of the physical nature are not the only concerns plaguing our nation; perhaps more daunting are those lurking in our social environment threatening to become chronic.

Such was what I read in the Asia Foundation sponsored and MIPSTAR carried out situational assessment of gangs in Male, and was regretfully saddened by the status described; as many as thirty street gangs taking charge of strategic locations in Male as they ply their trade of drugs, violence and fear. This obviously reflects a dire consequence of something phenomenally unsatisfactory happening on our one square mile called Male; an unequivocal breakdown of governance in our city. The verbatims that jump out of the text bring remorse -- of the fact that families and leaders don't seem to care for the plight of these children who grow up with neglect and in the ambience of violence and drugs that is the order of their day. Fifteen year olds pushing drugs and others not much older perpetrating crimes that even seasoned criminals would wince to perform. Of course such heinous actions can only come from young people under the influence of drugs. The report talks about other influences too. 

I am aware that Journey is doing its diligent part to rehabilitate some of these youth through their counseling and guidance and assisting several users to go on methadone. However this effort seems just a drop in the bucket so to say in comparison with the issue at hand. While commending such NGO effort to invest their little bit, what we do at the moment is merely ‘giving an aspirin for the headache’ which is just a symptom of a much bigger underlying time-bomb of an issue. And the real issue is just left to fester. Of course it’s a win-win for those who use and for those who push. But the real loser is the Maldivian nation. I say nation because if we are to move as a community of people with a common vision, we lose that opportunity as other competing interests -- majority of these being financial, makes for a nation that cannot have a common agenda. Our nation is blissfully struggling in a multiparty democracy, the essence of the word perhaps 90 percent of our population does not still fathom, and the knowledge of this no one seems to want to impart to the polity either.

Our parties, and political leadership, the ‘gangs in Male’ survey says, are in fact abetting the perpetuation of these gangs. Therefore, asking the question whether our leaders are for or against the people is a valid one. In this God given opportunity to build a more compassionate and inclusive society in our country we seem to be seeing just the opposite. A plutocracy that is keeping the people in the yoke of material subservience and demonstrating abundantly that it is not a moral guiding philosophy that moves the party agenda, but that the cement that keeps the party together is greed, and fear. And the gang allegiance makes the latter easily possible. 

November 15, 2012

Another New Year; Another new Beginning

Dear Friends, 
Let me wish you a very happy Islamic New Year. In this 1434th year, may Almighty Allah's Bountiful Blessings continue to be upon each one of us His creations. May Maldives see a wonderful year ahead and begin a process of healing that will pervade every nook and corner of our country. Life is short, and in this brief episode we should not but give the best we can to our fellow brothers and sisters, rather than take. If we stop to reflect even for a little while, our reflection would reveal that the anger we have in our society does not have to be so. But then, only we ourselves can ultimately be the salve and solution.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's  ' Psalm of Life' depicts the path to an inspiring mindset. Those who were in school with me in Trinity College, Kandy, Sri Lanka,  would remember this from our Grade 6 English class:

TELL me not, in mournful numbers, 
  Life is but an empty dream!— 
For the soul is dead that slumbers, 
  And things are not what they seem. 
Life is real! Life is earnest!         
  And the grave is not its goal; 
Dust thou art, to dust returnest, 
  Was not spoken of the soul. 
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow, 
  Is our destined end or way;  
But to act, that each to-morrow 
  Find us farther than to-day. 
Art is long, and Time is fleeting, 
  And our hearts, though stout and brave, 
Still, like muffled drums, are beating  
  Funeral marches to the grave. 
In the world's broad field of battle, 
  In the bivouac of Life, 
Be not like dumb, driven cattle! 
  Be a hero in the strife!  
Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant! 
  Let the dead Past bury its dead! 
Act,—act in the living Present! 
  Heart within, and God o'erhead! 
Lives of great men all remind us
  We can make our lives sublime, 
And, departing, leave behind us 
  Footprints on the sands of time; 
Footprints, that perhaps another, 
  Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, 
  Seeing, shall take heart again. 
Let us, then, be up and doing, 
  With a heart for any fate; 
Still achieving, still pursuing,  
  Learn to labor and to wait.

November 14, 2012


My conversation with a friend stumbled on the topic of governance which ultimately is about the relationship of the governed with the governor. There are only just two ways to make a person submit to the will of another -- by force or by persuasion. The choice of which approach to take is with the decision makers and the consequence of their action is also theirs; there is no getting away from consequences. Which action is better for the governed depends on the spiritual make-up of the perpetrator of the decision. The doer’s compassion, patience, perseverance and the status of the ego all play their part.
While democracies have their power base planted in the will of its people, its practice however often falls into the foibles of our primeval attitudes. More than often times when we have power over others there is the sense of urgency that pushes us to get things done as we wish. And human nature being the bigger part selfishness, its manifestations such as arrogance and hubris wants things done inflexibly and with urgency. This aspect of urgency appears to give the perpetrator power over another. It confirms this edict of power we have over the other by not being bothered to take the time to hear another point of view. This urgency thus makes us force issues and dictate their outcome with scant regard to the fact that by doing so we put the subordinate in bondage and that is just the opposite of freedom.

But then, when the role of the governor gets reversed to being one of the governed, the remorse and the agony of such a situation is quickly realized. I guess this is what is meant by “power blinds”, for when we possess this moment of authority, impermanence of the moment is never the resident thought. It is as if the moment will extend forever. This is sometime called delusion also -- a mental condition that removes one from the reality of a situation. When we were children many of us read the story of the emperor and his new clothes.
It is thus incumbent on us to realize that the table will turn always in a democracy. And the balance of nature is such that nothing is permanent. Today gives way to tomorrow, our bodies age, our clothes and our toys go out of fashion, everything has a determined life – a time to depart, and so on. Our governance of a nation is also subject to such vagaries of this life of form.

The more sustainable way to govern would be through consultation and persuasion; respecting other points of view and coming to compromises that don’t bank of winner taking all. This is what our good Book teaches us about governance too and is, by the way, the guiding tenet of our People’s Majlis in Maldives. How it lives this is the test of its capability to uphold the noble trust we have given it to be our –the people’s -- truthful representative in crafting the laws that we as a nation would live by. That is the compact we make when we drop our vote in the box. So, the better path to govern is that path of persuasion and guidance such that change is invoked from within each of us by realizing the folly of our dream in a world of impermanence and the artificial nature of change when governance is enforced. Sustained harmony and wellbeing will be our second nature when we choose that noble path of “shura”. A true sense of brotherhood will prevail. But sadly, separation, selfishness, greed and envy seem to be the visible flares that illuminate our chosen path of competitiveness, pleasure and urgent gratification demands. Can we break out of this mould that keeps us trapped?