Work ethic vs life ethic
Is it possible to find the perfect balance?
It's a dog eat dog world out there and sometimes good things don't always happen to good people. In general, we have a tough time understanding why this is so, but many cultures have different ways to shrug of the stress of unfairness.
In Swahili, people say "Hakuna Matata" meaning "No Worries". In French, "C'est La Vie" translating to "That's life!". In Italian, "La merda succede" which means "Shit Happens!" . In Thailand, people say "Mai Bpen Lai" which literally translates to "Don't worry about it".
In Thailand, people here are SO easygoing. No one is ever in a rush, everyone trusts each other, it is rare to see anyone actually get mad at anything and people just seem generally relaxed. What a wonderful attitude - if we had that attitude in the West, imagine how much more content we could all just be. Over here, when something bad happens, everyone says "Mai Bpen Lai". If someone takes your parking spot..."Mai Bpen Lai". Even if someone dies... just shrug and say "Mai Bpen Lai".
It's a great attitude because it keeps them so happy. People here are always just shrugging of the negatives of life. It sounds amazing, right? But on the flip side, is it that complacent attitude that keeps Thailand a developing country? When business deals go awry - "Mai Bpen Lai". When people are charged with corruption - "Mai Bpen Lai". When a crappy school system is accepted and not challenged - "Mai Bpen Lai".
I moved to Thailand looking for a radical change - I wanted to belong to a world that didn't need material things to make them happy. I wanted to see people who truly appreciated the simple things. I definitely got the eye-opener that was needed, but rather than supporting my negative view towards our "serious" attitudes in the west, I found myself actually..... appreciating them!
There are no doubts many positives to having such a laid back attitude. It must be so refreshing and relaxing to be able to just take a deep breath, say "No Worries" and not be controlled by the negatives. I wish I could say I was that zenned out, but I still have such a long way to go. If someone were to cut in front of me at Taco Bell and then place an order for the last Cheesy Gordita Crunch, I'd like to tell you guys that I have enough peace in me to just breath and say "Mai Bpen Lai", but the truth is I'd go ape shit crazy on the dude and probably steal his gordita after throwing hot sauce at him.
And that's our society. We have road rage, anger management, arbitration, suing, law suits, custody battles... in the west, we are always rushed, stressed and irritable (or so the stereotype goes). We worry too much. But that sense of urgency to get stuff done (everything from business deals to personal errands) ensures exactly that - shit gets done!
The international community, business partners and colleagues who rely on us expect us to deliver on our promises. When things don't get done, it's not ok to just say "that's life". There are reports to file, things to fix and management-ass to kiss. We have to guarantee the same mistake never happens again. We have to do even better at everything around us so people don't lose faith in our ability. This creates more stress because we are wholly accountable for our actions and whether we succeed (as individuals or as a nation) depends on us. It is because of this work ethic that the west prospers.
It's just interesting to note that it is the relaxed attitude that keeps the East "developing" while it's our go-go attitude that makes us "prosperous". The same attitude that hinders them in business allows them to be happily content with life, whereas it's our work ethic that erodes at our physical and emotional well being. We create lives of luxury, but we're not happy. They're happy, but they don't have the attitude to work for a life of luxury. The quest to find the equilibrium is one that fascinates me.
This is one of my favourite quotes from the Dalai Lama when he was asked what surprised him the most about human nature:
"Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived."
Of course, we should try and adopt the good part of the eastern philosophy but what I've come to question is whether it is possible for us to ever truly get the best of both worlds. We seem to always be in an internal struggle to balance our lives. Is there any way we can have it all.... Can we live in a materialistic world but still find inner peace?