Monday, 21 June 2010

The Germanic peoples, World War Two, one million dollars and one million years

A trader and God are speaking. The trader asks God, "What is a million years like to you?" "Like one second," answers God. The trader then asks, "What is a million dollars like to you?" God answers, "Like one penny." The trader then asks, "Can you spare a penny?" "Sure," says God, "give me a second."
Quoted from the book 'Trading without Gambling,' by Marcel Link.
One nation's freedom fighters is another's terrorist. America's Afghan freedom fighters of the 1980s, the Mujahideen, (remember Sylvester Stallone's film Rambo III?) were the Soviet Union's terrorists. Today's 'second generation Mujahideen' remain freedom fighters to many Afghans but are Taliban terrorists to the Americans.
Modest Islamic dress to some women is the all encompassing niqab. To others, it's simply covering the head during the Azan, or call to prayer.
A hedge fund manager managing ten billion dollars of other people's money thinks nothing of betting 100 million dollars on an individual trade. A normal retail investor may shudder at investing more than ten thousand dollars in one stock. Both the 100 million and the ten thousand dollars may represent an equal amount of one percent of their total assets.
It's all about the prism through which we see the same event. However, humans have the uncanny ability to think beyond our own limited experiences.
So, when an Indian whom I met for the first time nonchalantly informs me, "I hate the Pakistan government but I don't mind the Pakistani people" I know not to overreact. Or when a Singaporean states, without thinking, "Pakistan, isn't that a terrorist state? Are women allowed out in public?" I can shrug it off to ignorance. (Both experiences are real and, unfortunately, not extremely unusual either in Singapore or anywhere in the world.)
I find new and 'uncomfortable' experiences helps to minimize existing prejudices. Such experiences open up the mind to ways of seeing which we may not otherwise consider.
A 1945 photograph of a bombed out street in Berlin, Germany

For example, in the past I somehow got it into my head that the Germans are primarily to blame for starting two horrific world wars (1914–18 and 1939-45) due to inherent 'Germanic' traits. Therefore, I reasoned the Germans are responsible for terrible devastation wrought on two successive generations of humankind.
Who knows, maybe my opinion was a result of a staple diet of World War Two Hollywood films depicting the evil German military machine manned by cruel Nazi soldiers.
Nevertheless, my view of the Germans was nothing short of racial discrimination. I blamed an entire people, the Germans, for historical events which were caused due to a confluence of historical factors.
The Germans alone cannot take the entire blame for the world wars. Even if it were true, time has not stood still and contemporary Germans are not members of Hitler's youth, nor are they soaked in Nazi propaganda.
During 2008, I had the privilege of spending some time in several cities in Germany.
Through my interaction with the Germans I realized that my earlier thoughts were misplaced. The Germans are no different from any other group of people – they have biases and carry historical baggage like any other nation.
Childish as it may sound, it took my contact with Germany and its people to come to such an obvious conclusion.
The moral of the story – try everything you possibly can, at least once. Even if the experience is 'uncomfortable' for you, it will still add to your memory bank and affect you in ways which we will only understand later.
Of course, don't throw morality and ethics out of the window and consider this idea a license for all types of immoral behaviour! Although occasionally transgressing the rigid social mores associated with the Taliban's harsh world view may not be such a bad idea.

In other words, (if you're a Muslim) pick up the Bhagavad Gita and read it. Or step inside a Church and admire the stained glass windows. Simply put, do anything not on your usual routine, like, dare I say it, enter a vice-den (aka bar or club) and dance the night away – drinking optional.  
We may have to wait one million years for God to present us with one million dollars, but I find it inconceivable that God is so petty as to stay upset with us for constantly searching for positive life changing experiences – even in bars!

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