Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blessed Fool

Three months ago today, I have made up my mind that I will pursue a career in Human Resources. I knew what I was up to when I made that decision but I was determined to make it anyhow. The shortest way, I was informed, was to write the National Knowledge Exam for HR practitioners, which would give me the “license” to practice the profession in this country.

So for the last three months, I’ve been busy as a bee preparing and reviewing for the examination which is set this October 4. I have been very focused in my preparations, utterly convinced that this exam is my only passport to my goal. I have browsed all available HR books in the library and have enrolled myself to an on-line crash course on Human Resources Management Practices in Canada.

But alas, God seems to have a different plan for me. He’s calling me to places I did not even dream of.

A new career opportunity in customer service is opening up for me. (I did not apply for this job, the headhunter simply saw my resume in the monster website which I posted viewable by employers about three months ago). The one-on-one interviews with the Area Manager and the Operations Director were very fascinating. It was so affirming and refreshing to talk with people with the same work ethic and personal values that I have.

Yesterday, they just made the job offer which is so irresistible that I’m losing my focus. The financial package is not bad and so is the opportunity for me to maximize my skills in managing tasks and leading people. Truly, this is one opportunity that only fools would pass up.

But a fool I am indeed. For up to this point, I couldn’t bring myself to sign the acceptance letter. I am thinking - I have had three customer service jobs thus far, all of which I quit, because I was looking for something that just wasn't there. Could this job be any different?

On the other hand, I keep thinking also - I did not look for this job, it found me. I don't believe in luck or coincidence. So could it be that God is telling me about the path that's right for me?

The clock is ticking fast. I have only 8 hours left to make up my mind.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A life of Contradiction

I chanced upon the name of David Foster Wallace in one of the old issues of Time Magazine citing his novel “Infinite Jest” as one of the 100 best English novels. I got to read some of his nonfiction works and instantly, I developed a particular liking for his style and the depth of his works. He had become one of my most admired writers/novelists/essayists.

Just this morning, I read from a blogger’s post that he passed away last September 12. What a sad news, what a great loss, considering that the man was only in his late forties with a writing prowess that can only belong to a genius.

Here is a sample (which I copied from the same blog) on how beautifully and poignantly he can mesh his thoughts into words.

"Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth.

Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clich├ęs, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation ... The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."


Here is another that will knock the wind out of you.

“There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: "Look, it's not like I don't have actual reasons for not believing in God. It's not like I haven't ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn't see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost in this blizzard, and I'm gonna die if you don't help me.'" And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. "Well then you must believe now," he says, "After all, here you are, alive." The atheist just rolls his eyes. "No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp."

It's easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people's two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy's interpretation is true and the other guy's is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person's most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there's the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They're probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists' problem is exactly the same as the story's unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded".


No doubt Wallace was incredibly brilliant and capable of biting satire, profound depth, utmost sensitivity. He impressed me as a man firmly grounded in the unnatural. After all, most of his work is a reflection of an awesome, brave stab against materialism and a natural inclination towards compassion.

But alas, he lived a life of contradiction. His life is the ultimate jest. He died in a most unlikely, unimaginable way that I could think of. He hanged himself inside his own home, knowing that a few hours later, he would be found by his wife of four years.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Goosed!

One of the things we like about our new place is the absence of traffic jams. You don't have to adjust your clock for fear of missing your appointment due to heavy traffic. Having come from a country where “bumper-to-bumper” traffic is an ordinary part of life, this is such a relief to me.

Last Saturday morning however was a different story. As hubby and myself routinely negotiated the pathway of our jogging trail, we were surprised to find a long pile of cars stucked in the middle of the road with barely a hint of movement. Oddly, the traffic lights from a distance were working well but none of the cars were progressing. So we hurried off to find out what it was all about.

Right there, in the middle of the intersection, we saw more than a hundred wild ducks parading on the street, oblivious to the traffic jam they were causing. They were honking in unison, as if bragging about their power to render that corner of the road into a standstill. And much to the chagrin of the helpless drivers, they took their own sweet time, leisurely navigating the street, like they held the world at the palm of their feet. And how they did indeed! (Incidentally, Canada is a country known for caring for animals and respect for nature).

What happened next was even more fascinating. A small goose started to lag behind, with a distance of about 20 meters from the rest of the herd. As the traffic started to move already, the helpless goose couldn’t find a way to cross through. Realizing this, about a dozen drove at the other side of the road nestled to the ground and patiently waited for the single member that was still at the other side of the road. They left only when the wayward duck was in their fold. One goose is equally important as a hundred geese.

From the internet, I have read other fascinating facts about the goose – like how they usually fly in v-shape formation because the formation tends to add greater uplift for those flying behind, or how a leader naturally emerges, in rotating fashion, from the pack. If only for these, the geese have earned my respect and admiration, never mind the minor inconvenience they can cause us urban dwellers. Their minds may be primitive compared to humans, but they certainly provide us lessons about caring and relationships which, unfortunately for some of us, may take a lifetime to learn.