One of my goals for the Jibabom.sg website is to have interesting conversations with interesting Singaporeans. And I thought it would be good to start with… myself. It’s kind of a funny thing to do, having a conversation with yourself.
I was thinking about this last night, and again this morning – about this idea of “writing a manifesto”, or “giving a keynote”. I’ve sometimes seen people ask questions like, “If you could give a TED Talk, what would it be about?” And I find myself thinking of Tobias Lutke, the CEO of Shopify, and the keynote he gave at AccelerateOTT in 2013. I really liked that one. I thought it was thoughtful and compelling. And I find myself thinking, what would my keynote be about, if I someday get the opportunity to do such a thing? And then – why wait? Why not do it right now?
Tobi’s keynote was titled “In Pursuit Of Greatness”. He started by talking about how, when he was a student, it seemed that the universe was divided into cool kinds and uncool kids, and the thing that made the difference was Air Jordan sneakers. Then he talks about his experience having a great mentor at Siemens, and how his mentor seemed magical because he was so advanced – how he had spent a lifetime investing in his personal growth, and as a result he lived in a ‘box’ that was much larger than Tobi’s. And then he talked about how (I paraphrase greatly) the world would be a better place if everybody helped each other to break out of the boxes that contained them, so that we would all be able to have a larger and more positive impact on each other and the world. An inspiring, compelling message.
So… what’s mine? Should every person have their own message? Well – the thing is that almost every person does have their own message, whether they realize it or not. Lots of people don’t really bother articulating theirs. Those that do, often do it in a somewhat haphazard and sloppy way. The result is that we live in a world full of messy, convoluted messages that are hard to make sense of.
So… what’s mine? And what’s the overlap between that and Jibabom?
I think the big idea I have at the heart of Jibabom is that we should each be pursuing what we personally find gratifying.
It seems obvious, and yet. So much of the media we consume isn’t very gratifying.
The word “gratification” comes from the same PIE family as words like “agree “, “congratulate”, “disgrace” and “gratuitous” – it meant to please, to favor, to bestow grace. It interestingly now has a selfish, indulgent quality to it – eg “self-gratification” – maybe it was used sarcastically at some point?
I’d like to bring it back to its core meaning. “That’s gratifying to hear” conveys “thank you for your grace”.
So… what would be gratifying?
I think we’re particularly hungry to hear things that people feel strongly about. I know I am, and I’m certain there are others like me. We’re tired of reading and consuming the same old stale media, people asking and answering the same old stock questions to everything. You can’t have a great interview or a great conversation just by sticking to the talking points you came up with in advance. There *are* some good questions – I find myself thinking that Oprah must be really good at them, so I looked them up . And they’re good enough, I think, that I can use them to interview myself. Let’s do it.
“What is your inner voice telling you?”
The thing about my “inner voice” is that it’s always telling me dozens of things all at once. #ADHD #ENTP
But I think this is a great question to sit with. I think my voice is telling me that I can be more. I can do more. I can connect with people. There’s a lot that I’ve learned in the past decade that I should share with other people. There are a lot of good people in the world that I should reach out to and build relationships with. There is a lot of good that I can do for the world with what I know and what I’ve learned.
What are those things, specifically? I could probably write several posts, maybe even several books on the matter. I have multiple drafts and lists and todos all on this front. Lately I’ve been wondering whether it makes sense to try and explain all of them – effectively writing book proposals for all of them. I should probably do that. I don’t have time to do that right now. Let me create a todo list item for myself. 😂
“What is your intention?”
I think there are several layers to this. If we look at the biggest picture, my intention is to live a good life, as I define it. I intend to earn my own respect and admiration for a life well lived. I intend to build relationships with good, thoughtful, kind people from around the world. I intend to learn to undo all the damage and trauma that I’ve inherited over the years. I intend to be a model of calm confidence, to demonstrate by example that there’s a way of going through life in an artful, beautiful way. I intend to become a phenomenally good writer, creator, speaker that challenges and inspires people to be better.
That’s the big picture. But that’s a rather abstract picture, and it’s not immediately obvious how that translates to everyday life. There’s the money variable – I need to make enough money to put food on the table, to be able to live day to day. To sustain my lifestyle, which I think is fairly spartan.
“What are you grateful for?”
I am grateful for books. I am grateful for libraries. I’m grateful for the Internet, despite all of its ills and toxicity – I’m grateful that there are good people in the world, who practice good-faith, who pursue their interests passionately, who seek to gratify their tastes. I’m grateful for art, and for music. I’m grateful for all the sacrifices that untold numbers of humans have made, most of them in silence.
I am grateful that I still have so much of my life ahead of me. That I still have the strength and the opportunity to try and do good and beautiful things.
“What is your truth?”
MY truth! My knee-jerk response is “there are many truths”. In Captain American: Winter Soldier, Natasha Romanoff says that the truth is a matter of circumstance – it’s not all things to all people all the time. And I think that itself is a sort of powerful meta-truth. But that’s not what this question is asking. This question is asking me what MY truth is. Wow, somehow I feel like I’ve never really paused to really sit with this one. What is my truth? What is MY truth? What IS my truth? Mine?
I think my truth might be that self-respect is at the heart of everything. There are many, many games that we play in life. But if there’s one that really matters more than the others, it’s the one we play with ourselves. We’re social creatures and we live amongst others, so it does matter what other people think – in a consequentialist sort of way. And there are things that we can’t really see ourselves without the assistance of others. It’s very possible and very easy for us to delude ourselves. So a part of our concept of self is intertwined with others. Alright? Once you’ve got that, I still think the fundamental thing is true – that self-respect is the most important game. David Foster Wallace had this question:
“Am I a good person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a good person, or do I only want to seem like a good person so that people (including myself) will approve of me? Is there a difference? How do I ever actually know whether I’m bullshitting myself, morally speaking?”
And here I find myself thinking about what a self-professed sociopath said on Humans of New York:
“I’m not sure I feel empathy. But I do always try to make the empathetic choice. It’s an intellectual thing for me. I’m intellectually convinced of the need for empathy. I choose to help other people. I choose to be a reliable friend. I have a wonderful wife who judges me by my actions, and not my reasons for them. Sometimes I feel like Pinocchio. Was he a real boy? Yes, because that’s what he always strived to be.”
I relate. I agree with DFW that self-respect is nebulous because the self itself is something you can never quite entirely grasp. And yet. The best we can do is strive to be the best we can be, and in the final estimation of ourselves, I believe that’s what counts.
“How do you define who you are?”
Knee-jerk answer is “you can’t!” 😂 But in practice, of course, there are certain ways that we do it. How do I do it? Who is Visakan Veerasamy? What does it mean to define oneself? Every definition is a sort of map, and every map is necessarily lossy – it can never represent the territory perfectly. Okay, but in the context of this question – what’s your map? What does it look like?
“What is the calling for your life?”
I am called upon to make life better for misfits. To help people see that misfits are not errors to be “taken care of”, but rather, an interesting and valuable part of our social fabric – that help us better understand ourselves.
“What attributes connect you to your purpose?”
I think this is one of those things that you can only really figure out by contrasting yourself against other people. And over time I’ve discovered that I’m more relentless in some ways. I’m more optimistic and persistent in some ways. My wife jokes that I have this endless, infinite patience for the world, and this need to be liked, to win people over to my way of being, my way of seeing and doing things. Which isn’t to say that I think my current configuration is somehow optimal for everybody. It’s probably not even optimal for myself. I’m a work in progress like everybody else.
“What do you believe about yourself?”
I believe that I contain multitudes. I believe that I have immense potential. Significantly – and this can come across as arrogant if I’m not careful, but I really do think there is truth here – I think that in several ways I have been blessed more than many others. I don’t think this is fair. I don’t think I “deserve” it, or that this makes me “better” than anybody else. It’s just a simple fact – I have been given, by chance or circumstance or whatever – a mind that functions the way it does.
“What message are you sending with your words?”
I hope that my fundamental message is… imagine. Dare to believe. Believe that we can do better than our ancestors. Believe that there is a better way. Believe that we can reimagine and reinvent the world to be something greater than it is. Believe in kindness. Believe in justice. There has been a torch that has been passed from generation to generation, since the dawn of humanity, that life is a gift – a crazy, absurd, insane gift – and that the point of it is to share it with each other.
“How did you get here, and how do you get to where you want to be?”
First of all it’s important not to understand the role of chaos and randomness. I was lucky to be born where I was, and to have the experiences I did, and be exposed to the media that I was exposed to. I like to think that I was raised by libraries and authors. I was a child who was always buried in a book, or otherwise watching TV, or playing video games. (I don’t really relate to the idea that TV is “mindless”. Maybe it can be, but it can also be something much more if you let it. It can be a way of seeing, a way of making sense of the world, a part of a great discourse about what it means to be human, what is good, what is bad and so on.)
“How do you turn your life around, so that you can head in the direction you see yourself?”
I like that this question begins with the assumption that there is some work that needs to be done. There absolutely is. I think I need to become much more focused and much more productive as an individual. For me, right now where I am, that means writing a lot more. It means being more protective of my time.
“What will you learn today, and how will you share it with others?”
My desired learning is kinda unsexy – I want to learn to be better at project management. I want to learn to be better at managing my time. I’ve been talking about this for years, and I think I’ve been making progress – slowly and steadily.