“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” Edmund Burke
My name is Alexander. I have lived for 23 years, 4 months and counting. Due to a dengue infection a week prior to the finals, my graduation is delayed for another six months. I am to be an accountant, an affiliate to the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants (ACCA) upon graduation.
In the past year, I had short stint being a financial journalist. Although short, it was fun. In my free time, I read and write. My favourite books include Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Being Wrong by Kathryn Schultz, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.
Aside from that, I am a sports enthusiast but due to a dislocated shoulder currently pending surgery, there is not much I can do right now. Since picking up my first Zen book, Zen’s Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, I practice meditation and I also have an interest in the field of philosophy. And oh, I also play poker to pass time.
In every aspect, I am indistinguishable like everyone else. I have a certain amount of regrets for the things I did. Things I wished that I didn’t said or do. I guess we all have them, but for me, the biggest pain comes from the things I didn’t do.
This is where my story begins.
The year is 2007, and the setting is at an open car park next to a badminton court. It was half past nine and I was standing at the curb waiting for my Ramly burger, a Malaysian street burger.
A car made a reverse parking into the empty car park no more than 300 meters from me. Three passengers disembarked with two of them headed towards the food court and one towards my direction. As best as I could remember, she was a short Chinese woman in her thirties and I can tell by her accent, she was not local.
As soon as I was in audible proximity, she asked a loan of 50 ringgit, telling me that she needs it take a cab to the airport tonight. After much persistence and resistance, she got angry at me, yelled at me, and preceded to insult my lack of kindness towards the “needy” before leaving me alone to wait for my burger.
When I return to recount the stories to friends and families, I was told that it was a scam. From my own judgement, as best as it were, she does not seem to be desperate, there isn’t that hint of desperation in her approach. It made an impression on me.
The year is now 2010, where Phaedrus was the first on the scene of a failed suicide. After witnessing the incident, he sat and ate lunch as though as nothing had happened. The incident was mentioned as a passing in conversation and that was it.
There is a lack of human touch. He spoke of the incident like how a biology student talk about carving a rat open, with the rat breathing in a trance state, organs exposed and awaiting its fate.
This was when Phaedrus knows something is wrong. But he did not know what, why or how nor did he not mention this to anyone or investigate it. He fears what he would find, and decided to leave it that way.
The year is now 2012, and the setting in the KL Sentral LRT Station with the time clocked at eleven on the dot. A man, not more than the age of 25 came to up to me and asked to borrow money so that he could take a train home to Johor, about 300 kilometres away.
Without even pondering his request I instinctively said no and turned him away. Despite the fact that he told me his reasons for asking is because he lost his wallet and hand phone in the LRT.
A separate incident in Macau, I witnessed a thin young man who walked into the coffeehouse through the front door, sat on nearby tables and started dining on previous patron’s leftovers.
As I reflect upon these incidents, I realised how mechanically trained to put myself first ahead of the others, especially in situations that are out of the ordinary. I ask myself, was it that difficult to part with the price of a train ticket? Or was it that difficult to offer the starving man a meal to fill his stomach?
Why is it that I find it hard to forget myself in that moment when others sincerely needed help? And are those reasons that now appear in my head, truly reasons or just excuses to mask the selfishness and the reluctance to extend a helping hand?
Their faces are burned into my head – the woman screaming in pain after crashing on the roof tiles from six floors above while I stood stunned in silence, unable to relate afterwards; the young man from Johor, helpless and desperate hoping that in the empty train station he could find a kind stranger, and the thin, hungry youth, moving from one table of leftovers to another, trying to avoid eye contact.
In the scriptures brought by Bodhiharma, transmitter of Zen to China, it was said that although one had forsaken the pursue of the frivolous and no longer commits any transgression, it is one’s accumulated misdeeds that continues to bear fruit.
It’s true what was written, that we would pay for our past transgression like how we could draw strength from the virtuous act that we performed selflessly. But I think the point is here is not to turn a blind eye to what we did not do right, but rather, to accept that extension of self to be part of self. For the simple truth that denial of any part in self, one cease to exists.
So here I sit, remembering all of the things that I could do to make a difference but did not. All I hope for, is that I grow strong enough to be kind when the situation arises again.