More is not enough.
There was once a stone cutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life.
One day he passed a wealthy merchant’s house. Through the open gateway, he saw many fine possessions and important visitors. “How powerful that merchant must be!” thought the stone cutter. He became very envious and wished that he could be like the merchant.
To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever imagined, but envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. Soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. “How powerful that official is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a high official!”
Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around. It was a hot summer day, so the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. “How powerful the sun is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the sun!”
Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. “How powerful that storm cloud is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a cloud!”
Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. “How powerful it is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the wind!”
Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, feared and hated by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it – a huge, towering rock. “How powerful that rock is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a rock!”
Then he became the rock, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the hard surface, and felt himself being changed. “What could be more powerful than I, the rock?” he thought.
He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stone cutter.
Sourced from http://users.rider.edu/~suler/zenstory/more.html
I have always loved Zen stories for their simplicity in expressing profound and often complex ideas. The story above perfectly contextualizes my unrefined thoughts below on a topic that has troubled me for quite some time; consumerism and the never-ending race towards wealth.
Quoting from the article – http://m.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/what-does-it-mean-to-be-middle-class-in-malaysia#sthash.NXJ1hRnZ.dpuf published on The Malay Mail Online:
Lim said the prospects of upward mobility “look dismal” for many in the middle class especially those self employed or in the informal sector.
“As the government’s record on both affordable housing and quality education has been abysmal and unlikely to improve, the middle class has to gear up for harder times ahead especially when the subsidies on essential goods, petrol, electricity and other items of everyday consumption are reduced or withdrawn,” he warned.
Moving forward, Sunway University’s Wong said the current middle class needs to consider investing their money, as well as upgrading their skills.
“Instead of working for money, they should know how to make money work for them,” he said.
“I think people have to upgrade in terms of their skills of their employment. You cannot forever be stuck at this level. You need to be more productive over time. I think productivity, talent will help you to earn more,” he added.
He also said people should also be looking for opportunities outside of Malaysia, as experience abroad would add to their bargaining power for a higher salary when they return.
The ideal middle class
“I think you need to earn close to RM10,000, of course no debts… it’s a challenge to own a house now,” Wong said.
And for those who live in urban areas, he stressed the importance of being disciplined in their spending.
He said it is important to allocate 10 to 15 per cent of one’s salary to savings and then pay the bills before spending on things which are not considered necessities.
But he acknowledged that being disciplined and not indulging in the luxuries cities like KL have to offer could be a challenge to most.
“But if you want to adopt the KL city type of lifestyle, then you can never save.”
“I think over time, again what is relevant today may not be relevant tomorrow, it doesn’t mean anything.”
“Today we see RM5,000 per month is considered middle class but RM5,000 tomorrow might go down to the bottom 40 per cent,” he said.
I am deeply bothered by this mindset. Is the accumulation of assets and profit the ultimate purpose in life? That an individual, so full of potential from the day they are born, is to spend their entire lives chasing after more digits on the bank statement.
What don’t Malaysians talk about spiritual and intellectual wealth? Why don’t we educate our children to be better human beings with values that would extend far beyond themselves and the fancy house they should be living in? Why do we instead teach our children to work harder, longer hours to earn more, more and more? Why do we look at money as a finite resource that needs to be hoarded instead of an enabler, for us to innovate and
Why do we tell our children to study hard, not so they can be educated, but so they can get a good job.
“You need to be more productive over time. I think productivity, talent will help you to earn more”
How do we define productivity? A term so casually thrown around, usually as a call for Malaysian to do more within a limited span of time. But what is it exactly that we are supposed to be doing more of and what’s the trade off? Who has more to gain by working harder, the employees themselves or the employer?
Are we still living with a migrant mentality? That our time here in Malaysia (specifically Kuala Lumpur) is to cari makan the best we can, in hopes of leaving for greener pastures as soon as we can?The glorious era of tin mining in Malaya has long seen its end but sadly we have not changed our ways. We still treat our country as we would an open cast mine, blasting the earth and reaping its treasures, always for the benefit of the privileged few and at the expense of all others we conveniently lump together as the ‘lower class’. Articles like this perpetuate the ideal that society should be a pyramid, with the bottom half scrambling upwards towards a “better way of life”. Assuming that quality of life is directly correlated with an increase in material wealth is wrong. A more expensive life, I would argue, is in fact a low quality life as the priorities are no longer self-fulfilment, happiness and health but a struggle to keep earning more.
Imagine wealth as if it was a stream of water. Sustaining a life with all the luxurious trappings is like swimming in a deep stream, fighting against the fast flowing current while you try your best to stay afloat. Your feet can’t touch the bottom and you’re afraid of drowning, but those around you look on with envy. “Wow, I wish I could be swimming in the deep end as well”. Living a simple life with the right values, on the other hand, is like standing in a shallow stream. You can be still, or kick about if you want, but you are under control. You can appreciate the coldness of the water and the way it flows beautifully around your ankles. Once you are content, you can simply walk out of the stream. A person who swims in the deep end does not have this luxury for he lives in fear and desperation.
We are stuck in a constant race to outwit each other, rushing towards the incremental goals of owning an Alphard, living in a gated apartment complex, earning a Datukship, going on lavish vacations overseas, and etc. Money is the new religion and the gods are the one listed on the annual ‘Malaysia’s Richest List’. Parents would point and advise their children, “See, they are so successful. You must work hard to be like them.” This glorification of material wealth is worrying. We pray to the gods of our respective religions for a wealthy life, good luck, blessings and prosperity, even when the gods themselves have reminded us time and time again to not fall for such illusions.
Is it surprising that there are millions in Malaysia who live much happier lives on less than even RM3,000? Do we ever wonder why, in the first place, RM10 today buys you so much less than it would 20 years ago? The whole mantra of earning and hoarding more is precisely the reason why the buying power of the ringgit is dropping, and encouraging Malaysians to work harder and invest for a larger profit is only adding to the problem. Business owners sacrifice sustainability in return for ever expanding profit margins, failing to realise that they are consumers themselves and every consumer who is forced to spend a ringgit more has to earn that ringgit somewhere else. Each link on the supply chain demands a bigger cut and ultimately consumers are burdened with inflated costs. The cycle repeats.
There is so much more to life than just lusting after money. Life itself is a blank canvas that stretches over time, further than the eye can see. Education provides us all the tools for us to paint the story of our lives, whatever that may be. Encouraging the young adults of the country to simply work harder, with the conviction that more money would make them happier is damaging at the very least. The last thing the country needs is another generation of mindless, money-hoarding zombies who commute to work on the tip of their toes, struggling to keep their noses above water.