Who are we……really?

January 20, 2016

Last week a good friend asked me to give some worldly advice (presumably so that they don’t end up like me) to both his sons who had just graduated and who are planning to join the work force in Singapore.

Both of these boys were complaining about how difficult it is to find jobs these days. Despite graduating from reasonably OK local tertiary institutions….During the conversation the older asked me what I thought about the job prospects in Singapore.

I asked him and his brother in a grave tone, are you both genuine about wanting to serve your country? They exchanged looks then turned to me with that all too familiar, ‘of course lah’ look and blurted out together, ‘most definitely Sir!’

That was when I advised them both to go to Russia and get some international experience….one of them turned to me and asked, ‘but isn’t Russia a dangerous country?’ I quipped, ‘Is Singapore really so bubble wrapped safe meh?

Tell me, if both of you have end up as glorified Uber drivers and sit eight hours straight in a steel cage and learn to piss into a plastic bottle in between shifts isn’t that hazardous to your health? The younger exclaimed, ‘I guess you have a point!’

I went on to share with these two young men – the whole idea of serving their country was closer to a lofty sentiment than what could reasonably be expected to be pan out….as since both of them had never lived or worked in any country except Singapore…they were both really no better than two little frogs stuck in a well. Besides their thumb drives were empty…so how can they even talk about servanthood without sounding terribly ridiculous.

I went on to share with those two boys…if Russia scares the shit out of you…then plumb for either the EU or US.

But whatever you do….try your best to get out of the comfort zone of familiarity, insularity and the frog in the well cult….as when one has to work and play in the discomfort zone that is when one develops super powers….there is no other way.

Anyone who tells you different has probably never taken the idea of serving his country seriously before.


‘Asking the question – ‘who we are?’ These days. Is not so different from asking – how do I get my horse drawn wagon to hit the 60 mph mark?

That has to be the world’s most stupidiest question especially when we are already marinating earnestly in a world of electric cars and magnetically levitated trains that can exceed 200 or so no sweat miles….Besides if modernity doesn’t render that sort of philosophical feel good question obsolete.

I have no doubt, the hard facts of life of Globalization as a theory will have no problem whatsoever shredding that sort of question to pieces – after all, if we don’t have any hang up’s about firms these days being headquartered in Singapore with just a make do skeleton staff and having the meat of their operations in either the EU or US or China or all three continents to leverage on competitive advantage – then how much sense does it make these days in the age of globalization to frame a question where the individual is tied down to the finality of home in a physical sense?

I am not for one moment discarding the value of community. Or it’s effects on identity in a personal and organization scale….only, my point is the question cannot possibly deny the context to the extent that it obliterates the countervailing forces of globalization completely.

Don’t you think that’s stupid…especially when politicians and corporate leaders harp constantly about how the forces of globalization and intercontinental connectivity has managed to render non existent the idea of borders and barriers…along with compressing the world into one homogenous blob of people who roughly share the same goals and aspirations.

I am not saying I agree completely with these people who keep on insisting time and again we already live in a borderless world. Only I can’t deny these adherents of a new global order do certainly have a compelling argument that makes it quite impossible to ask the philosophical question – who are we? Without at least taking stock of the globalization and how it will continue to shape identity along with group dynamics.

To me, it’s bloody irrelevant who we are! Do you really imagine people who regularly make hard nosed business decisions these days even care about questions like this?

Truth is in the age of cut throat globalization – they don’t nearly have the luxury to posit ‘what if’ scenarios based on that sort of old fashioned corseted context!

Besides why promote parochialism and celebrate insularity in an age where everything is going in the diametrically opposite direction and tearing down old set pieces so fast that whatever answers that may be produced by asking that sort of question will at best add up to a museum set piece!

Do you really imagine….Sandeep from Mumbai who may well prefer his roti prata with only dall and not ikan bilis Sambal bothers with such questions when he chows down his breakfast in Bedok interchange before hopping on a train to start work as a code writer in an IT firm somewhere in Shenton way?

What do you think about the CEO who decides to shut down his manufacturing operation in Detroit and transplant it bolt for bolt and nut for nut to some green field in China or Russia – do you imagine such lofty and sugary questions are in his mind when he signs on a dotted line to axe X or Y workers?

Who we are? To put it simply: the man or woman YOU will ultimately become is essentially a function of your accumulated experiential knowledge and how much or little you decide to limit or stretch the field of possibilities in a globalized age – if all you are prepared to do is revel in your greatest and infallibility in your self imposed cloistered isolation, as did the Easter Islanders in the past…then even should you be able to answer that question – who are we? It wouldn’t really add up to very much.

As any society or for matter individual in a globalized age would do well to cast their eyes wide and far…beyond the horizon of the notion of physical home, no matter how remote, strange or distant….as that remains the only way for one to gainfully migrate from the comfort to the zone of discomfort….only then can we enjoy the all the opportunities and benefits of of allowing the forces of globalization to shape us….into…who we ‘are.’ As for the rest, it’s just feel good masturbation.

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