Tuesday, March 16, 2010
The Power of Perspective

Yesterday, I attended a Japanese film festival (called Eiga Sai) which is a yearly event held across different venues in the country. This year's theme revolves around eye-opening documentaries which brings to light social realities that are often taken for granted. In particular, I saw two films which focus on the human condition to varying degrees.

The first one we watched is entitled "A Permanent Part-Timer in Distress", a film that takes an in-depth look into the life of a part-time worker suffering through the soul-crushing drudgery of a monotonous job that offers no benefits or security. Iwabuchi is a young graduate who dreams about having a more fulfilling career as a full-time employee. However, he feels powerless against circumstances which, from his point of view, cannot be changed for the better.

The other film we saw was "Basura", and this too deals with the matter of suffering. This documentary follows the lives of Filipino families who make a living from wading through heaps of smoldering garbage. For the people living through the daily horror of scavenging just to survive, dignity takes a backseat.

It could be argued that the people featured in both films feel just as bad about their respective situations even though they're experiencing different levels of difficulty. But you could also say that the part-timer from the first documentary wouldn't be so desperate about his plight if he knew about the kind of lives the garbage scavengers lead.

It's ironic to think that the people who are forced to hunt through trash have the capacity to find humor in spite of their circumstances. It's funny that they can laugh about their situation while Iwabuchi - who lives in a dormitory provided by his agency - can't afford himself the same sense of humor, even for just a few moments.

It was in this context that made me recall something I read from a book called "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. The author is a psychologist who was forced to endure sub-human conditions at a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust. Drawing upon his personal experiences, he derived a number of important lessons about the human condition such as the passage below:

"The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent. To draw an analogy: a man's suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the "size" of human suffering is absolutely relative.

It also follows that a very trifling thing can cause the greatest of joys. Take as an example something that happened on our journey from Auschwitz to the camp affiliated with Dachau. We had all been afraid that our transport was heading for the Mauthausen camp. We became more and more tense as we approached a certain bridge over the Danube which the train would have to cross to reach Mauthausen, according to the statement of experienced traveling companions. Those who have never seen anything similar cannot possibly imagine the dance of joy performed in the carriage by the prisoners when they saw that our transport was not crossing the bridge and was instead heading "only" for Dachau."

So what I'm really getting at is that your own biases and psychological filters matter a great deal when you talk about suffering. If other people can rise above such conditions, we can certainly do the same in our own lives. It's really just a matter of approaching things in the most constructive way possible. More importantly, we're often presented with the choice to simply react to a situation or do something about it instead.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
On Getting Older

I turned thirty more than a month ago, but I've never once posted any thoughts about breaking into a new decade of my life.

So what does it feel like to be 30? Obviously people older than me would say how cool it would be to be my age again. But why would they say that unless there was some lingering regret or issue(s) in their own lives?

I suppose most of us would like to rectify these things if we had the chance. Wouldn't it be wonderful to undo all of our past screwups, much like hitting CTRL + Z and starting anew?

Of course, we can't do that - the most that can be done is learn from these little hurts and hope we're better equipped to handle our future problems.

However, I'm straying from my original train of thought here. What I really would like to ask myself is: have I become a better person or not?

Let's see - I'm a little older, a little more jaded, a little angrier and a lot heavier. Doesn't look too good now does it? Sure, I have a job and by the grace of God, am able to take care of my family's material needs. Yet, isn't there something else I should be doing?

Yes. There's a LOT more I could do to improve my overall well-being - physically, mentally and spiritually. I'm not a fan of making new year's resolutions for fear being a hypocrite if I don't follow through with them. In fact, it's FEAR that has been holding me back from making the most out of my life.

Fear of not making it if I tried. Fear of hating myself if I didn't absolutely excel at my chosen pursuit. But then again, I'm not getting any younger, and if I let this lifelong mental block get in the way of accomplishing more, then what does that say about me?

What does that say about the kind of appreciation I have for my parents bringing me into this world as best as they could? If I don't go after the things I want, wouldn't you think I'd be doing my family a HUGE disservice?

After all, they've provided with the means to make the most out of life, and it would be tantamount to a stinging insult for NOT using the privileges undeservedly heaped upon my ungrateful self.

I look around and see my peers as decades older than me. Not in the chronological sense, mind
you. I mean this in terms of being accomplished and passionate about living in this middle-class existence.

While others are gnashing their teeth from the lack of the most basic necessities, here I am having some inexplicable existential dilemma.

With that being said, I need to man up and get in touch with my masculine core. This has nothing to do with gender, but rather the qualities that define masculinity: ambition, direction, the resolute will to make something happen, and the inner firmness to follow through.

Thus, my goal for this year (and for the next decade of my life for that matter) is to embark on worthwhile pursuits that will help awaken these dormant traits within me.

I owe it to myself, to my loved ones, my friends and to my colleagues. Hey, better late than never, right?