Maxim 8: A fish is the last to acknowledge the existence of water.

“The ego is nothing other than the focus of conscious attention.”
~ Alan Watts
Let’s set the scene.

There are fish. They swim in a fishbowl full of water. They swim back and forth while interacting with each other.

There is a person observing the fishes and wondering if the fishes consciously realizes they are in water and whether they understand the importance of water to their very survival.

That’s the framed scene in question that we are thinking about today. It is not important to determine if the fishes do realize that, only that we have now created this analogy in our minds.

Based on my understanding and reading, this analog appears to originate from a translation of a African proverb. Another origin is from the works of academics and writers, most famously written by the late David Foster Wallace.

While you may then argue that fish do not have the same cognitive capability, intellectual know-how and self-awareness to even ponder about their situation, it provides a suitable analogy for us to then channel towards people in turn.

Now, let’s bring our attention to people and frame it as such.

There is a crowd of people going about their day-to-day business. Most of which would lead ordinary lives and be ordinary people. Many of which would perhaps realize and acknowledge the situation, premise and reality of which they live in but will more likely than not, will never question it.

Here, people live their lives in invisible societal or cultural bubbles. In cross-cultural management studies and teachings, lecturers and academicians like to normally cite about cultural bubbles in which people of one society live in. This phenomena becomes very visible (at the very least, people become self-aware of it) when.. people from a different culture experience a different culture altogether. In that, cross-cultural managers are actually recommended to learn more about their own culture so they can understand what differentiates their own society’s culture from others. To put it metaphorically, get a fish to develop a taste for differentiating different waters. Even in the same general culture or society, there are different sub-cultures due to regional differences.

While there are no qualms with the good virtues that a society practices, it is the flaws and behaviours that we now draw our attention to. It is these things that require changing.

Interestingly, the behaviours of people can be quite ironic. Unlike the fishes, human beings possess the potential to develop intellectual acumen, self-consciousness and the reasoning required to understand the bubble they are in.

In fact, some people may sometimes be consciously aware of it. However, few people have the force of will, discipline, intellectual prowess and humility or even audacity to have the the self-awareness to realize and analyze themselves in this invisible bubble. As it stands, people would more likely submit themselves to societal and cultural norms because they believe the importance of the majority precedes the importance of the individual. If not that, they would be following their unconscious instinctive nature found in humanity’s ancestors.

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

Now that we realize this, we would think that after knowing the said phenomena, we would be positioned to inform people about it so society would change for the better. Let’s not kid ourselves. It won’t happen.

In a perfect world where people have the intellectual self-awareness to reflect and understand themselves alongside the society they live in, this would be a piece of cake. However, we don’t live in that world and people can be horribly irrational, even me. Pointing that out would make people even more adamant to not change as it has been internalized by themselves. The best way to make people realize it is to indeed point it out but make them question it themselves, while pointing them in the right direction from time to time.

To end, all we can do is show them the way and its their decision whether or not they are willing to explore that open path. Most importantly, it is to we ourselves that we should realize this, be aware of it and consciously strive to change ourselves for the better, whether or not it aligns with the norms of our society. Lastly, become an exemplar that makes people want to follow you, thus inciting the very change we perhaps were hoping for.

Till the next time.

For further reading:

Maxim 5: Our life is our responsibility, no one else’s.

“The man who makes everything that leads to happiness depends upon himself, and not upon other men, has adopted the very best plan for living happily”
~ Plato

One of the hardest and harshest truths of human life is the earnest realization that the relationship between the quality and enjoyment of one’s life is proportional to how much we ourselves take real responsibility for our own individual life in all its aspects.

This excerpt (to those who are familiar with it, you’ll understand where it is from) best explains what I intend to convey and I am in no way the creator of it..

“It is human nature to seek culpability in a time of tragedy. It is a sign of strength to cry out against fate, rather than to bow one’s head and succumb…”

I have seen (and perhaps you would have too) how people would happily blame and attribute their failure to progress in life towards elements beyond their control such as the economy, environment, destiny, other people and more. I have seen how this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for these very people, making themselves victims of circumstances rather than giving themselves the responsibility of changing their life and doing anything they can about it. They become so used to this litany of misery and despondency in mistaking it as a sign of defiance and perceived strength, that anything else is to be scorned, even if it leads to what they actually want in life. This then becomes their reality. This then seals their fate.

While external forces can influence how we would act towards progressing in life, that does not mean that as individuals, we have no less autonomy, strength and freedom to take the steps necessary to progress towards where we want to go, even if sometimes we may not be sure as to what it is that we seek. Even so, we can always have the freedom to explore what we want to do in life.

In light of what was said, no where in life is it stated that we must assume the responsibilities of others. A better way to say it is that we are not being paid to do the responsibilities of others at work. If that is the way at work, then that too can be used for life itself.

“Responsibility is the price of greatness.”
~ Winston Churchill

Above all else, we must realize that at the end of the day, no one else truly cares ever more so about your dreams and aspirations than we ourselves as individuals. Only we as individuals can imagine the heights and weights of our respective dreams. Never prostrate and compromise one’s dreams to the point they are lost whether to your society, strangers, peers or even friends and family. Callous and bitter as these cynical words are, the despair of regret and depression of not striving hard enough in achieving what we want is an ever more callous and bitter reality to one. Only you will regret what could, might and should have been the life you lead. Should we fail, we only have ourselves to blame in the end. Should we succeed, not only will we achieve that we have set out to do in our dreams, we will perhaps go the distance perhaps beyond anything that we could have imagined.

“While his heart still beats, while his flesh still moves, I cannot accept that a being endowed with will-power can give in to despair.”
~ from JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1864) by Jules Verne

To end it, as long as we can still move forward, then we have no excuse not to. As a character in a book once said “mostly dead is slightly alive.”

While there is no certainty of where we might go and what we might achieve, the fact that there is always the possibility of doing so, makes it all the more worthwhile and fulfilling of human existence.

Maxim 4: Everything is Judged by its Appearance; What is Unseen counts for Nothing.

Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious than the bland and timid masses.

~ Robert Greene (48 Laws of Power)

Appearance is everything. It is what it is. It is how people instinctively and naturally behave. You may have seen it when people judge the value and worth of a product or services merely by what they can just see rather than fully evaluating it. This could be through presentation, packaging, advertisements, events, spokesperson and more.

“People care much more for how things look than how things are.”
― Donna Lynn Hope

Have you ever wondered, why is appearance or the illusion or perception of appearance so important to people even though appearances can be misleading or even deceiving?

There is one possibility from reading about a branch of psychology  called “Evolutionary  Psychology” that I think and feel is relevant here.

Science Daily defines it as:

“A theoretical approach to psychology that attempts to explain useful mental and psychological traits—such as memory, perception, or language—as adaptations, i.e., as the functional products of natural selection.”

The basis of evolutionary psychology lies with our ancestors. During humanity’s earliest societies, one might ask, how would early humans judge something or someone? Through our five senses and in my opinion, the most important sense is sight.

For instance, say two groups from two different tribes met each other. At the time, humans did not have verbal or written languages. So, how would early humans know if the other group had cordial or hostile intentions? Through observing body language and whatever else they can see. This can also include the clothes worn and how ornamental it was. This may seem overly obvious to most of us, but we always need reminding time and time again, appearance counts for nearly everything.

Based on the above,  one group could denote who the leader of the other group was and vice-versa. They could also denote the difference between a tribal leader or a tribal shaman. As this trait become evermore valuable, evolution allowed this trait to be retained till today. However, while evolution may have encouraged humanity’s survival, it can also have adverse and harmful side effects.

One example is the Coolidge Effect whereby humans would feel more arousal for new mates rather than old mates. The Coolidge Effect can be seen when males watch pornography. Due to the never ending images of different and beautiful women, its no wonder addiction in men can happen. While this trait may have been useful in ensuring men procreate with women before the Internet, this trait can be abused too.

Its the same with appearance, as judging the situation, person or item as they are based on what we actually see can be plain deceptive. Packaging on products can make a sub-standard product seem like a premium product. Clothes can make an ordinary man appear to be larger than life. Promotions and ads can make a service seem so much more valuable, thus making us perceive it has higher value.

Three more reasons we’re susceptible to our perceptions of appearance are due to:

  • The theory of bounded rationality states that humans are incapable of processing all the information needed to make well-informed decisions and instead take the most important information from what is available at the time to inform their decision.
  • Inclination towards emotions whereby most people would rather behave emotionally than think logically or rationally as it is instinctive and easier to do.
  • Cognitive bias whereby whenever something interferes with our belief system or ego, people would rather be blind and ignore whatever it is that tries to disrupt our internal frame of mind than to be objective about it and think clearly.

“Appearances are often deceiving.”
~ Aesop

Considering the above, thus we must balance the duality of using appearances to our advantage and to be careful with appearances to avoid being exploited or deceived. Create yourself to seem larger than life and you will have the world at your fingertips. Meanwhile, by being objective and remember that appearances must be a reflection of substance and value, we can avoid deception and trickery. Only then can we determine is valuable and what isn’t.

Till next time.



Maxim 3: Value is Subjective

The nature of value is subjective to every person. This means that the value of something will mean differently to each individual. That something can be anything include goods, services, experiences, people and more.

For simplicity’s sake and easy understanding, value would be underlined from the frame of a business perspective though it can be applied on anything in our lives.

According to the Wikipedia entry on value:

The subjective theory of value is a theory of value which advances the idea that the value of a good is not determined by any inherent property of the good, nor by the amount of labor necessary to produce the good, but instead value is determined by the importance an acting individual places on a good for the achievement of his desired ends.

In short, it is the buyer that determines the subjective value of something. However, that is not usually the case. In that, the seller then does the utmost to influence the perception or perspective of the buyer to frame the value of that something in the highest regards if possible. Thus, the seller profits as much as possible from the transaction while the buyer feels as emotionally validated as possible with their purchase of the goods, service, experience or more.

While economics explains that consumers make purchases in a rational and logical manner, in reality people can be just plain irrational with their purchases due to emotions and psychological reasons.

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”
Warren Buffett

Never is it more evident with the Paradox of Value (Diamond-Water Paradox) found in economics. This is Wikipedia’s explanation on it:

The paradox of value (also known as the diamond–water paradox) is the apparent contradiction that, although water is on the whole more useful, in terms of survival, than diamonds, diamonds command a higher price in the market. The philosopher Adam Smith is often considered to be the classic presenter of this paradox, although it had already appeared as early as Plato’s Euthydemus.

In reality, diamonds are only valuable because you have been socially conditioned to perceive it as valuable. If one were to actually think about it, diamonds are just shiny rocks. That’s it. Thus, you will be paying exorbitant sums of money to acquire a shiny rock. Think about it.

That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly.”
Thomas Paine

Even more vexing is that, when we have purchased the diamond with that huge sum of money, we feel even better about it because that is the worth we have exchanged for it, thinking it is an equal exchange. Pushing aside the veils of unreasoning and our bias, do you actually think its worth it now?

Now, assuming the same diamond is priced at a lower price. People would actually feel less good about their decision to purchase it compared to a higher price. Now, isn’t that ridiculous?

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
― Oscar Wilde 

Now, considering all of the above and the quote by Oscar Wilde, let’s think about it for a moment. Isn’t it so ironic that some of us have the inability to distinguish the value of anything without a price-tag?

For instance, there are things that are beyond priceless and valuable such as our sense of sight, the ability to work, earnest friendships, family, love, health, peace and more? Perhaps even the small comforts in life we take for granted, where in reality those small comforts are so much more valuable than the most expensively priced items in the world. The food on our table, the home we live in, clean running water, a bed to sleep in, a computer with Internet connection and more.

Knowing this, we can be more aware of bias and consciously act differently.  Firstly, you have to reevaluate your frame of perception or perspective towards anything in general. In essence, you have to ask yourself what truly matters in your life and realize that there are some things in life we can live without. Besides, the items we own do not define us. Rather it is what we think, feel and do that actually defines our identity and meaning in this world.

Second, you have to distinguish the real value against the cost or effort of acquiring that something. How does this item give value to you and in what way?

By doing these two actions, we’ll be able to receive better value against cost while  truly enriching our lives not just in terms of wealth but in all aspects of life.

Till the next time.

Maxim 2: Self-interest Must Be Aligned

“Even wisdom has to yield to self-interest.”
~ Pindar

Very early on, during an economics class, I had a lecturer explain during class that the economy and market works because of self-interest. He was very explicit and direct in mentioning that self-interest is not the same as selfishness. At the time, I was coming to terms along to the same line of thought and it was refreshing for someone else to say that.

In that, I learned to redefine what selfishness meant. In my book, selfishness refers to self-interest that harms or exploits others with actual consequences.

“Men are moved by two levers only: fear and self interest.”
~ Napolean

Let’s be frank. Everyone has their own self-interest. We are our own individuals. Early on, people have very similar needs like those stated at the bottom sections of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”. As people progress upwards, diverging wants exist due to self-interest of different individuals.

Now here’s the main point.

Self-interest is not inherently good or bad. It is what it is.

It is like politics, science, education, tools and more. Self-interest is like a hammer. A hammer can be used for good or bad. A hammer can be used to build something new or it can be used to harm or even kill. The consequences of using the hammer then depend on the intentions of the wielder.

As such, we must learn to realize that mastering and understanding not only our self-interest but the self-interest of others is the key to success and getting everything that we want.

Here’s a link on how to use self-interest to mutual advantage. It’s a 11-minute video by “Charisma on Command” on why Tyrion is such a master at surviving and getting people to do what they want. I highly recommend to watch it.

We hope the world will act in the spirit of enlightened self-interest.
~ Atal Bihari Vaijpayee

After mastering it, the best we can aspire to is enlightened self-interest or rationality. Enlightened self-interest means that we’ll pursue our self-interests while taking into consideration that we do not harm and exploit others to their loss for our self-gain. In fact, enlightened self-interest means not only pursuing our self-interest but to improve the lives of others. Think of the inventor of the polio vaccine who didn’t patent it. His self-interest was seeing the betterment of humanity altogether. Such selflessness is merely the fulfillment of a higher self-interest. That being said, we are not heroes and saints. The more plausible thing we can aspire to do and achieve is a win-win situation for both ourselves and others.

However, we must understand that sometimes, our self-interest will hurt others unconsciously and unintentionally. That said, we shouldn’t stop there. We must ensure that we do our best to do things with the best of intentions for ourselves while not harming or exploiting others. If it happens, the best we can do is be unapologetic and continue as we must first take care of ourselves first, last and always.

Till the next time.

Maxim 1: Life is Unfair

“It is the fairness of life that makes it seem unfair.”
― Gugu Mona

I’m sure for many people in the world, your life feels unfair. Someone is better than you, has more wealth, has more friends, has better physical appearances, has more popularity, has everything he or she could ever want in life and so on. You always had to wonder, why is life unfair to you? As a result, you feel you’ve suffered more than others.

The simple truth is that life is indeed unfair. Yet, let’s think about it. If life would be fair, then everyone would have everything and equal. There wouldn’t be progress if everything were fair and they’d be no reason to progress in the world. Everyone would be the essentially the same. If everyone were to be the same, everyone would look the same, act the same, do the same things and more.

We react angrily and resentfully to those who have a greater advantage than us saying it is unfair because we wish want to be where they are. Isn’t it strange that when we are the fortunate ones, we don’t say.. life is too fair, I’d wish life would be unfair to me like those other people. Curious, wouldn’t you say so?

Now, I’m not asking you to curse at the people and universe about how unfair life is. All I’m asking you is to first accept that life is unfair and turn it around to your favour. Why should you be fair to life when it is unfair to you? Now, you gotta be unfair to life in return.

“The problem isn’t that life is unfair – it’s our broken idea of fairness. Meaning, our idea of fairness is self-centered.”
― Tony Warrick

Therefore, you have to turn that resentment around by channeling it around. Realize life is too short to succumb to self-pity and resentment towards others and wasting precious time on them. No one is going to tell you that except here. Realize that some people who are born with a silver spoon can grow up to be fragile, spoiled and unable to handle the hardships of life. Meanwhile, you’ve been harden by suffering and enduring hardships throughout your journey of life. That makes you tough and resilient. You’ve endured harshness that would have destroyed and stopped others. That’s what makes you different and special. That separates who loses and who wins.

“Winners never quit and quitters never win.”
– Vince Lombardi
To end this, flip it around. Life is indeed unfair and there are advantages and opportunities all around us. The secret to being successful is to harness that anger and rage towards finding and making use of those advantages. A good example is free online education. Heck, the Internet age provides so much more than the pre-Internet age. Use that to your advantage.Acknowledge and understand the reality we live in but never accept it. Make your own reality by mastering it and then changing it.