Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rethinking Success

When I am behind schedule and notice that I am going to miss the bus, I run. I run fast, so fast that I leave the speedy, blue Sonic the Hedgehog in the dust. There is little thinking involved, since there is no time for hesitation. But then, the other day I stopped in the middle of the running. I paused to think philosophically, although I was in the middle of the intersection. I know that sounds strange and dangerous, but something hit me, something inside of me told me to stop.

"Why am I running?" I thought. "Well, of course, I am running because I don't want to be late," I said to myself. "But why do I care so much about not being late?" Again, I tried to reassure myself that there was a perfectly logical reason for running. "Because its impolite and unprofessional to arrive late to a college course, especially one for my major," I replied, and feeling partly satisfied with my response, I nodded approvingly. Even after this internal conversation, I felt that the answer was still partly unclear to me. There was something deeper driving me to run day after day.

I felt that I was running because I was chasing something, most immediately the bus, so that it could transport me to school, and more gradually the "American Dream." But what is the "American Dream" exactly? Does it simply mean success? If so, what is success? Is it material wealth
—a lot of money, a nice car, a beautiful house, a cool phone? Is it a job that pays a big salary and provides health insurance?

You see, so much attention is paid to fulfilling the American Dream. But too little attention is paid to the journey, the path, the truly illuminating experiences that show our
resiliency, our strength, our courage, our unwavering spirit. The end result—whatever it may be, success or failure, happiness or misery—is only but a symbol of the journey, of the adventure, of the voyage of life.

So as I have recognized, I hope you too recognize that success itself is meaningless unless the journey to success is enjoyed, celebrated, and appreciated. I also caution the audience on one other point: Don't merely define success through material terms. Unfortunately, for far too long in American society, that's what has happened. That's the poverty of success. That's the emptiness of the American Dream.

My point is not to criticize these great American ideals. My point is, rather, to get us to rethink how we define them. What is the American Dream? What is success? How we answer those questions will determine the type of society we will create in the future. Up until now, success has been defined through an economic lens. And that, in my opinion, explains why the souls of Americans have been filled with such hollowness, why greediness has characterized most Americans, why thousands sleep in the street on cold Christmas nights, and why millions don't have health insurance.

In my perspective, success should be defined through an emotional lens. Success should be about achieving peace with oneself and others, and more importantly, it should be about achieving happiness. Now, here is the tricky part: How do we define happiness, a vague yet important word which we hear often? That's another question we'll need to answer.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Uniqueness of Humans

Sometimes I sit and wonder what makes humans so unique, so different from other animals. Is it our appearance? Is it our rationality and intelligence?

I think most people would say it is indeed our intellectual abilities that distinguishes us from other species. And I think there is a lot of validity to that viewpoint, but I feel that the answer is partly inadequate. That perspective assumes that other species lack intelligence.

Chimpanzees, as studies have demonstrated, are intelligent creatures. Even pigs, known for living and eating filth, have impressive intellectual abilities. It is widely known that an adult pig is smarter than a 3-year old baby.

My point is not to diminish our intellectual skills by comparing it with other animals. Instead, my goal is to get us to realize that there is something more unique and special about us which distinguishes us from other animals.

Humans are emotional.
Humans experience a range of emotions: pain, regret, fear, anger, sadness, happiness, to name a few. And the way that humans express these emotions is equally unique.

We express our sadness through tears; our happiness through smiles. And when facial expressions cannot adequately explain our feelings, we turn to art
writings, drawings, songs, and dances.

In their own way, these art forms capture the complexity of the human experience and human emotions. Words with deep meanings and symbols reveal the abstractness of human thought. Colors arranged in vivid patterns across a canvas capture the depth of our emotions. Rhythmic and lyrical, music captures the love and pain, the joy and despair of life; it captures
the essence of what it means to be human. Movements, whether they are slow or fast, sensual or forceful, metrical or unpredictable, powerfully express the most complex human emotions.

Without emotions, there wouldn't be art. And without emotions, life wouldn't matter.

The Uncertain Future

Sometimes I get deeply concerned with the future. It stresses me out. It worries me.

What am I going to do when I graduate? What graduate school am I going to go? What am I going to study?

What am I going to do when I am living on my own? What am I going to do if my mom gets sick? How am I going to handle girl's pregnancy? Am I going to be a good husband and father? What kind of job will I have in the future?

Although I try to answer these questions based on what has occurred so far, only the future will give me the true answers. For now, all I can try do is shape that future as best as I can.

I think that, for the most part, I control my destiny. Of course, I can't control the actions of others. And that, I have to admit, scares me because most people are not as sane, rational, or ethical as I am. Okay, maybe I took that too far and maybe I am making myself seem much better than most people. But honestly, I trust myself much more than I trust others.

I would like to think that if I continue to make good decisions, I will be rewarded. But, as the Bible teaches us in the story of Job, that is not always the case. This world does not play favorites. Mother Nature has no sympathy. God, if there is one, does not reward those who do right with Heaven and those who commit sin with Hell. I wish it was that way. And I am certain that many others do, too.

We must do right for the sake of doing right. Although this sounds absurd, this should not discourage us from doing right. I know I will continue to do right. Will you? Just remember, your future and my future depends on how you answer that question.