If one wishes to be very simplistic about life, then life can be defined into two terms: life itself, and death. Life is a journey towards death and everything that lives will die. Simple.
But for some people, the question is not so much about whether we will die but about how we live.
There are many ways to live, but one that I feel important—and liberating—is to live our lives by doing good to other people. I am a firm believer that life is fair and every human being has an equal chance to do good. From bankers to construction workers, from religious leaders to corporate CEOs, from teachers to students, from homeless persons to persons with multiple houses, we all have an equal chance to do good.
Defined in this way, life is fair. No one is less able to do good than others since it comes back to the intention to do good and the action of doing good itself. A person does not need to wait until she becomes a professor, a CEO, an entrepreneur to do good. Nor does she need to wait until she gets a certain amount of money to do good. Of course, position, status, and wealth help in doing good—more people could be reached, more goods could be done. But a mere possession of these things do not determine that someone will actually do good. If anything, being a professor, a CEO, or an entrepreneur should be seen only as a side-effect of doing good, and people who genuinely do good see themselves as nothing.
I am giving a particular emphasis on “position” because I see many people (myself included) are not being proportional in giving priority in life, i.e. between what is possible and what is certain. Using myself as an example, undertaking a PhD degree normally comes with an expectation that it will pave ways to the possibility of a career path, which are post-doctoral researcher, lecturer, assistant professor, associate professor, professor, etc. In my case, however, not only I am a PhD student, but I am also a father of two little kids and a husband. I may be separated from my work but it is in no way that I am separated from my family. They are my blood no matter what. My family is a certainty to me whereas my work, my position, my career, is still a possibility. It will be a great miss if, in pursuing the possible, we lose sight on what is certain. A Javanese proverb says: “Mburu uceng kelangan dheleg”, pursuing a trivial thing but losing the essential.
This means that the doing of good should manifest, firstly and more prominently, in the way we treat the people closest to us: our family members. Do we have time for them? Do we care about their concerns? Do we listen to them?
I am not saying that one should take care of the family and forget the work. Nor am I saying that doing good is something we do once and for all. What I am implying instead is that we need to ask ourselves a question: Do I wait for something to happen to me before I can do good to others? Or, can I do good to others regardless of what happens to me?
I know it’s complicated and not easy. I have asked this question many times quite recently. And the more I ponder upon it, the more I see that a great person is not a person with positions, wealth, and possessions, but a great person is a person with a capacity to do good to others. A capacity, that is, not in terms of material and status, but a capacity in terms of time and action.