11 Jan 2019
“I will sign the separation paper regardless of what you say. I’m sick & tired of your threats!” This was a parting shot from a woman to a man at the shopping mall I was visiting at the start of the new year.
Without unnecessary speculations on the whys and wherefores that led to this altercation, the woman’s words got me thinking how threats seem to define our way of life in Singapore.
“Do this, or else…”
“Study hard, if not…”
“Don’t contradict your RO, otherwise…”
The above could be well meaning advice that also function as threats when absolute compliance from the respondent does not follow soon enough.
And I wonder how many of us operate subconsciously under such threats in different doses & permutations 24/7 even as we smugly observe that we are very safe because our country is free from natural & seasonal disasters. But do we feel safe?
While an earthquake or a tsunami maybe unpredictable & truly frightening, their damages are highly visible, whereas a consequence such as losing a promotion because you speak up for someone or because somebody sees you leaving the office before the boss does is harder to predict and manage. And so the anxiety lingers on insidiously in our mind like mold growing quietly in the aircon units of our homes & offices.
Someone once told me that she used to run errands and do chores for her boss that had very little to do with her professional qualification because her job ranking depended on it. I was puzzled and wondered how she drew that conclusion.
Many years ago the pop icon Madonna was asked why she was able to constantly evolve. She said one of the reasons for her creativity was that she only employs people who dare to challenge her ideas even at the expense of losing their job because “if someone is always fearful of losing his job, he cannot be doing a very good job in the first place.”
As I look back at my own life, I start to assess how much of it is lived in love and how much is lived out of fear. A life lived in fear cannot qualify as a good life, even if all material needs are met.
And a fear based approach to life might produce quick & impressive results, but for the results to spawn a greater good, there has to be love. Followers of Machiavelli may disagree with me, but empires & dynasties come & go, whereas Love stays.
Perhaps some of us tolerate and even promote unhealthy work and personal relationships because we fear loneliness, we fear poverty and we fear becoming nobodies. So we sacrifice our health and our conscience willingly on the altar of Fear, in return for shaky alliances, limited riches and dubious titles.
I too had been caught in this trance of fear in my teaching days. I remember the anxious whispers & looks of concern that invaded the staff room when teaching contract renewals were due.
Once as I was wondering if I had made any mistakes that might jeopardise my contract, a very clear voice in my head went like this:
“Stop barking up the wrong tree. The real contract awarder is not the school. It’s God. Even if they offer you a hundred year term, do you know who decides if you have enough years in your life to use it?”
That question broke the spell of fear for me.
After that episode I became less anxious and more truthful about my strengths and limitations. Having spent a big part of my life overcompensating for my limp and apologising for not being quick enough, I’m just slowly coming to terms with who I am not.
And last night while clearing my bookshelves, John O’Donohue’s “Anam Cara,” appeared. Anam Cara means Soul Friend in Gaelic. This is my second Gaelic reminder. The first came to me at Boudha Stupa last December.
The “Anam Cara” author reminded me:
“When you think about it, you should not let yourself be pressurised by life. You should never give away your power to a system or to other people. You should hold the poise, balance, and power of your soul within yourself. If no one can keep death away from you, then no one has ultimate power. All power is pretension. No one avoids death. Therefore, the world should never persuade you of its power over you, since it has no power whatever to keep death away from you. ”
This reminder bears a special potency to me because I’m into my 50s and the Irish author who wrote this died unexpectedly in his sleep 3 days after his 52nd birthday.
And finally I wish for the woman who prompted this piece of writing all the wisdom and compassion that she needs, as she stands on the brink of an awakening to refuse to live in fear, even as she watches her marriage crumble. ♥️🙏