Upfront and personal

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Upfront and personal

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‘How is it you dare to be so upfront and personal on your blog?’

A friend of mine asked me the other day.

‘Really? I’m just relating what I learned and endured from my personal experience. I suppose it is necessarily personal so I can be sure of the truth I speak or write about. And I am the upfront sort. It keeps things clear.’

‘Yah. It’s like you let people into your mind. What if people use it against you?’

‘Use what?’

‘Use what you wrote on your blog against you?’

‘Wow. The whole blog? Really? That’s really sweet of them to read everything I write then. I don’t think anybody’s done that.’

‘Good one. But seriously.’

‘I don’t know, man. I just can’t believe anyone would take the trouble. It just doesn’t seem worth it.’

Since then, I have been giving that conversation some thought.

Not so much thinking about how someone would or could harm me with my essays. Entertaining fears are a waste of time. Fears adhere naturally and instinctively. Fears multiply exponentially, quickly and wordlessly. We are acquainted with fear before we can speak. If we don’t catch ourselves and keep it real, we will live in a constant and general state of fear and anxiety, as reflected in my friend’s question. There are no ends to the whatifs.

Fear is associated with risk because it relates to an unknown future. Anxiety is fear’s constant companion.

Instead, I think it more fruitful to contemplate how I think about these upfront and personal stories and thoughts I share, here or elsewhere. In the larger scheme of things, they are like footsteps in the sand; like shadows on the wall, flickering and fleeting; like the moulted husks of my previous selves. How does one sharpen these sandy footsteps, flickering shadows and abandoned husks into a sharpened sword?

And even if so, to what purpose? I am no one in the larger scheme of things. The fate of Malaysia, never mind the world, does not rest on any of my body parts. I hold no position or influence in any organs of government, political parties or society. I wield no serious political, legal, financial, cultural or societal power.

I harbour no illusions about myself. I am a middle-aged lawyer in Mutiara Damansara, Petaling Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, earning a living within the constraints of my profession’s ethics, tradition and practices. I am just another human being struggling through the day while making sure those in his care are cared for and catching some fun while he is at it. I canvassed this more fully in, You need to think about your legacy.

I don’t want to change the world. I cannot. I am resigned to tending to this small, narrow and ill-defined patch of space on Earth I am allotted for a while. That’s all.

If the stories I share about my early days of practice are those about my fumbles, mistakes and scoldings, that is deliberate. After getting whacked, you don’t want it to happen again so you make sure to avoid it the next time. I learnt the most from those. I hope others do too.

Naturally, I think they possess comparatively higher value than stories that are simply entertaining. They serve as a personal reminder to me to keep myself humble, bear in mind a lawyer’s trajectory of development and calibrate my expectations accordingly. If anyone can learn from it or is entertained by it, or both, all the better.

I was asked why I don’t get upfront and personal about my notable or victorious cases or my experiences about them. That feels too much like boasting about myself, which I abhor. It is easy to get carried away and attribute too much of the win to ourselves.

I am mindful that for any victory, there are several planets that go into its making and these planets must align. We are at best one of those planets and have no right to claim to be the primary cause for it. The alignment is not up to us or when. We are subject to forces larger, not visible and incredibly powerful that we know nothing about. So on balance, humility is more appropriate.

The quilt of my reality is patched together with losses and wins. In talking only about my successes, victories and wins I become untruthful to others and myself because that is not my reality. Those that speak only about successes, victories and wins become cartoons and caricatures of what lawyers should be, and soon after become a joke in themselves.

There is a sense that fear and anxiety are a consequence of being upfront and personal. However, I posit that we have fear and anxiety because we avoid being upfront and personal first with others. In place of that, we assume the ill intentions of others. We think it is prudent and clever to do so. But that initial assumption generates fear and anxiety.

I prefer not to operate with such an assumption but to keep open to what I experience. Assumptions are what we make when we don’t know something. But to constantly assume ill of others in the face of contrary evidence is to pathologically generate fear and anxiety in ourselves and others for no good reason. Such a world is a dark and miserable world to live in.

Although I can appreciate there is some prudence to living like that, it also feels like a narrower, more anxious and stress-filled kind of life. And one I have no interest in being a part of.

I want my world to be beautiful, fun, filled with laughter and bristling with potential and options. And for that to happen, I cannot be fearful and anxious all the time.

Instead, I have to be positive, open, hopeful, generous and kind. It is these qualities that make for a better world and worldview. For me, anyway. I think it far more preferable to live in a world with a potential for beauty, fun and love than a world with the certitude of fear, anxiety, stress and misery.

And in my view, the only way to create the environment for this beauty, fun and love is by being upfront and personal. Doing so provides opportunities for connection and hence, rapport. It does not guarantee their presence, but it is an open invitation to them. If we can keep away the anxiety, stress and misery from our lives, beauty, fun and love will have every reason and many opportunities to walk in.

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