The month of August is the month of Independence for Malaysians. And therefore I thought it would be nice to share with you guys how I view the concept of freedom and independence and why I believe that they are not the same but are very much related to one another.
This is just my own point of view and everyone is free to think differently. Those who have followed my blog since I was in medical school would understand how frequently I write about freedom. How preferentially I choose which fictions to buy based on the plot revolving on freedom. I value it very much. I believe that being relatively independent (and therefore, more free compared to those who are relatively dependent) is mandatory if you want to be a good person or a good Muslim. I believe that it is a religious obligation and a religious principle for you to keep yourself as independent as possible because without independence, you can be oppressed, coerced, thwarted from doing the right thing because you have no other choice.
My General Philosophy On Freedom
What is independence to you?
I might be the odd one out here but I don’t really think that independence is the end goal that we should aim for. Independence is only a TOOL…. and it is a relative one too! Because we are always dependent on something or someone, one way or another. We are dependent on the oxygen we breathe to stay alive, aren’t we? (haha I know that is an extreme example, lol). As a Muslim, we believe that we are always dependent on The Almighty for our every sustenance. We are also dependent on our family and friends for social and emotional support. No man is an island, right? We are all inter-dependent. We also learned about organisms interdependence in the food-chain chapter of our Standard 4 Science subject, didn’t we? (well, during my time, at least. Nowadays, the kids might be learning it in the kindy!).
I like the word freedom better in describing our end-goal in life. We can be inter-dependent while still being free to make our own decision and chart our own course in life. Just because I am dependent on you in certain aspect of my life, it doesn’t mean that I cannot have my own will and choose my own actions. You can disapprove my decision and hence choose to withdraw aid/resource/support from me, and I am sure I will be affected to a certain extent… but there are OTHER aspects of my life that has nothing to do with you whatsoever and therefore it wouldn’t be fair for you to dictate to me what I should do that doesn’t affect you just because I am dependent on you in one particular aspect only. I can choose to depend on other people as well to give me what you are not willing to give. So, go ahead, condemn me, threaten to withdraw aid/support…. I will just find a more compatible entity to be inter-dependent with.
But in order to boldly state that sentiment to ANYONE, we must be inter-dependent ‘just enough’ and no further. In other words, we should not be dependent on others for survival matters… but only for matters of comfort. So that if people try to get us to do their unjust bidding, we can just say “Look buddy, don’t overstep your boundaries with me. What makes you think you are so important that I cannot just walk away and find my resources elsewhere? It’s not like I need you to survive, ok?”
That is freedom! Irrespective of how dependent we are on anyone! Freedom is a mindset and our end-goal.
And any free, sovereign country should be able to say that to any other country who might be trying to manipulate us just because we are dependent on them on certain things. Our official foreign policy is based on the principle of neutrality and maintaining peaceful relations with all countries, regardless of their political system. During the time of cold war between the Soviet Unions and the US, we did not favour one political system over the other. And that is the only wise stand that a small, non-powerful but proud and sovereign country can have. Neither can use us against the other. We form our own independent opinion based on issues and how it affects our own interest. In certain issues (like the support of the US for Israel’s terrorism towards the Palestinians) we will condemn the US and Israel. But at the same time, in championing democracy and human rights, we will support the Western countries. We can warn Philippine to beware of China’s debt-trap while at the same time support China in its trade-war against the US by not banning Huawei in our country. See how great it is when we do not limit ourselves to a sense of false loyalty (to any organization or party) but instead, we choose our stand CAREFULLY by analyzing on issues!
Freedom or free-will is the concept being debated back and forth among theologians too. Some have posed the questions of “Do humans have free will… or has everything been pre-determined by God?” Very interesting debate. You can check it out on You Tube.
In Islam we believe that we’re free to choose our actions but God has the ultimate control over the outcome of those actions. According to the teaching of Islam, Allah has given humans free will to make choices in their lives but only God has foreknowledge of our destiny.
See? Freedom is our birthright given by God. Whereas independence is just a tool to reach freedom. No one is truly independent! But free? Yes… we are truly free!
“Come on, are you saying everyone is TRULY FREE? We have the law to abide by and we have our own culture that we are bound to. Violate them at your own peril.” some might point out.
Yes! I really am saying that we are free! It is our birthright, guaranteed by God. We are free to make our own choices. And we are also free to face the consequences of our choices. If it means going to jail and losing our physical freedom, then yes, you are free to make the choice that might lead to that. Just because you are afraid of the possible consequences and therefore refrain from doing any particular action, it doesn’t mean you are not free. It just means that you have weighed the risks and benefits of your actions and choose not to do certain actions because you are not willing to pay the price for it. But if you REALLY want to do those actions regardless of the consequences, can anyone stop you? No!
So, you DO have free will!
But because we are dependent on our surroundings and our society, we exercise our free will cautiously by weighing the risks and benefits of our actions.
For example, when someone said that they were not willing to fight the ex-PM Najib while BN was in power back then (or not willing to fight their HO-molesting or HO-assaulting boss, for those working in MOH), “because their hands were tied and they were not free to fight against him who is more powerful”, what they were REALLY saying was “Look, I know I am free to fight and go against anyone. Not like anyone can stop me if I am REALLY determined to do it. But I have weighed the risks and benefits of fighting my boss and I don’t think I can do it. My job and my livelihood is dependent on him. So, I am sorry.”
(Well, weren’t you sorry when Najib lose the election? Weren’t you sorry when your HO-assaulting boss got sacked from MOH? Now, you are saying that you, the enablers of immorality, had nothing to do with what your boss did? You had your chance to do something about it. You were not REALLY that un-free. You just weighed the risks and benefits and decided not to fight for your principles, didn’t you?)
This is why….. the more dependent you are, the more cautiously you exercise your free-will. This is why if you value your freedom, you will be hesitant (and in my case, paranoid hahah) about being too dependent, if you can help it. There are times when you cannot help it. Recognize why and make plans for the future so that you won’t be placed in a similar situation.
Financial Independence & Freedom
In the past, your inability to pay your own debts can cause you to be enslaved, did you know that? This is called debt-bondage or debt-slavery. This is SO SCARY because debt bondage could be passed from one generation to the next. If you were unlucky enough to be born from parents who were debt-enslaved, you have been dealt a terrible hand by fate. You were born physically enslaved (but hopefully, you are free in your mind. No one can enslave your mind if you don’t allow it! And you must NOT allow it! Freedom is a mindset too, remember?)
Similarly, we heard phrases in our modern era like “enslaved by debt”. Think about this!
Think about a person who is juggling his house mortgage, his car loans, and all the items he bought via instalments… things that he bought because he wanted a certain level of lifestyle that he used to be able to live without! Wouldn’t the thought of debts weigh heavily in his mind every single day, robbing him of happiness and contentment in his life? Wouldn’t he lose his passion for working if he found himself having to do a lot of overtime (or locum works, in the case of doctors) in order to pay his debts? Would he dare to firmly state his opinion even if it is different from the popular opinion of his colleagues or his superiors if he has to always be careful because he wouldn’t dare to jeopardize his current job in any way, shape or form?
“Aku kerja sebab aku perlu duit. Kalau aku cakap banyak, orang tak suka kat aku pula. Nanti aku nak pi kerja pun jadi tak syok. Nak berhenti kerja pun tak boleh juga sebab aku banyak hutang ni. So buat ja lah macam biasa. Boss molest pekerja ke, assault pekerja ke, pandai-pandai lah mangsa bela diri sendiri. Kalau boss songlap duit syarikat dan cakap itu derma from Saudi Arabia pun… what to do? Apa aku boleh buat? Bukan tanggungjawab aku.”
Hmm… this is the mentality of someone who is NOT financially-free. Just come to work, do the most minimal you can get away with, no need to uphold anything of human principles and values and at the end of your shift… just go home. Sad, isn’t it?
And whether or not you are financially-free has nothing to do with the objective state of your income. A cleaner can have financial freedom by living within his/her means whereas a CEO might have to file for bankruptcy! Whether or not you can attain financial freedom has A LOT to do with your ability to maintain your lifestyle according to your income!
If I have X amount of money, I am going to make sure my mortgage, my car loan, and my lifestyle is less than X-amount every month! That I have enough savings for a rainy day! I am not going to upgrade my lifestyle every time I get a hike in my salary. I am not the sort of person who would have multiple houses or multiple cars just because I can afford it. One house to live in and one car to get me from one place to another is enough for me.
The rest of the money will be used for the sake of increasing my independence. I finance and service my independence, regularly. Because the more independent I am (even though as I said, no one can be truly independent) the more liberally (and the less cautiously) I can exercise my free will.
Freedom is expensive. It is knowing that if things happened, you have money to tide you over until you can find the next job. It is knowing that if things happened, you have money to sue people and take legal actions. It is knowing that if either of your parents or your child are not well, you can take unpaid leave to care for them because you have enough savings to do so or maybe you can hire a nurse to care for them while you continue working (instead of IRRESPONSIBLY taking multiple ELs and causing trouble to your colleagues… or not settling the issues that crop up in your marriage causing you to take multiple MCs from psychiatry department by using your psychiatric diagnosis to not come to work! And you cannot settle your marriage problems because you don’t have money to hire a lawyer to fight for you for proper divorce settlements! So your marriage will continue to be the perpetuating factor to your depression because you JUST CANNOT SETTLE YOUR PROBLEMS! And you continue using your diagnosis to irresponsibly MIA from work!)
But how can you hire a nurse to care for your sick family members while continuing to go to work if you have multiple mortgages and loans? Your financial freedom is gone because you have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle that NO ONE force you to maintain yourself at.
The more materials you have, the more care and time needed to invest on them! Instead of the materials making your life comfortable, they are making your life more difficult. It always annoys me when I have to pay my ‘cukai pintu/cukai tanah/car insurance’ because I would start thinking that these are the money I won’t need to spend if I don’t own these materials. Lagi besar periuk, lagi besar keraknya, isn’t it? It always annoys me when I have to spend time cleaning my house because I feel like the time spent cleaning my house can be used for reading fiction! (Hahha… forgive me and my stereotypical, repetitive routine of fiction reading!) I used to live well with just having one room when I was a student at the uni and I didn’t remember my life back then as lacking anything in particular! But because I now have a house, I have to invest even more time and money for these materials that in the end, I could actually live just as well with less! What’s wrong with just renting a studio? Less cleaning time, less maintenance expenses! What’s wrong with just using public transport (especially if you are living in a Western country where public transport is amazingly reliable)? Why not use the extra money that you save for not having these materials by travelling and improving your mind and your view of the world?
This is the basis of the Japanese Zen-concept of minimalism and simplicity. (Mary Kondo, anyone? LOL!)
In Islam, we have the concept of ‘bersederhana’ or wasatiyyah which means best, middle, centered, balanced. It refers to the “middle way” or “moderation”, a justly balanced way of life, avoiding extremes and experiencing things in moderation. (But, of course we all have different needs. What is moderate to you, might be too much for me or vice versa. You know best what kind of lifestyle suits you better. But what I am saying is… be sensible. Don’t go overboard with materialism.)
So when my parents suggested that I changed my car because they felt like it was time to kind-of upgrade hahha, I just told them “The only reason I am going to change my car would be because the car can no longer be used or for some other practical or safety reason. As long as the car can safely and comfortably bring me from point A to point B, I am okay to use the same one.”
Likewise, I am not interested to invest money in properties. To me, if I have an urgent need of money, what would usually happen is I am going to have to sell the plot of land or the house at a cheaper price, won’t I? Because my financial need is urgent, how can I wait for better offers? And I might not even have finished paying the bank for those plot of land or house, in the first place! So whatever cheap offers I have to settle at, a large chunk of it still need to be used to pay the bank first before I can use the money urgently! Too much leceh-ness and paperwork and procedures! I hate it!
Compare that to investing in gold! Acquiring gold is a straightforward process. Just walk into any gold/jewelry shop and pay for them and I am done! Minimal paperworks and no complicated procedures! I can also get money stat whenever I need it by pawning them off! I might as well invest in gold jewelries which I can also use to accessorize my outfit haha. So practical, isn’t it? I just love, love, love simple things like that!
When it comes to financial aspect of things, my aim is to stay liquid! I don’t want to be tied up in assets that are going to use up more of my money and time to care for them. Because I use my money to buy me independence… as the road to freedom (of speech, of action, of movement)! Not to buy materials which I don’t need and which also troubles me with all their maintenance and up-keep and taxes!
This is my financial freedom philosophy. I know some people would think about it differently. Some people straight-out advocate for property investments! But not me. This financial freedom philosophy works for me for now. You can even call it my over-valued ideas. I am paranoid, even, about losing my freedom! Perhaps I was influenced by the books that I read… the struggles that other people had written about breaking away from oppression. I pray to God, I will not be placed in such a situation.
Whenever I talk about financial freedom, I would reflexively think about the doa below that I repeat every time I perform my prayer. Notice that ‘being heavily in debt’ and ‘being overpowered by other men’ are being grouped together! Amazing, isn’t it!? Once you are in debt, you are VERY VULNERABLE to being overpowered! If you value your freedom above extravagant lifestyle, you will NOT put yourself unnecessarily in a position of being in heavy debts!
In terms of the state of the country, remember how everyone was worried about China debt-trap? Makes sense, isn’t it…how debt can restrict your freedom! A lot of countries have fallen trap to China debt and some even said that Malaysia was also at the brink of it during the time of Najib! Some are not even sure if we have truly been saved from it, anyway!
My take home message is: FEAR DEBT! You can lose your principle and your very soul because of debts! Don’t do it to yourself, I beg you.
Other Factors Can Restrict Freedom Too…
Other than financial debt, there are other ways that your freedom can be restricted. Your freedom can be restricted by forming bad relationships that you then become stuck with, for example. But unlike financial debts, this can be easily managed by having some willpower and by coming up with strategies to modify the behaviour of the people around you so that you can have some breathing space.
People have also gotten into financial problems by forming bad relationships and lost their money due to having to finance a ‘biawak hidup’ in their lives. Some of these biawak hidups are drug-addicts who exploit their partners financially. But if you have a concept of how your freedom is highly related to sound financial independence, you wouldn’t have tolerated this biawak hidup for long because you want to protect your freedom. Right?
There are times when I despair at the fate of women who do not know how to look out for themselves especially when our religion is so protective of our rights as a woman. But we are all adults here. You have free-will and you have a choice to leave your biawak hidup. If you make a choice of sticking with your biawak hidup, you know the consequences for it which would include being in debt! There are times when I feel like maybe this is a lesson to those women. “Allah gave you freedom or free-will. To make the right choice when you had to make it! Then you made the wrong choice…. against ALL REASON! So Allah withdrew your freedom by putting you in debt. And when you think about it, it wasn’t Allah that had put you in debt and thus restricting your freedom! YOU had chosen to stick to your biawak hidup… and then your biawak hidup exploited you financially. Your debt now is YOUR choice…. don’t you blame fate or God.”
I put more emphasis on debt (rather than any other factors that can also restrict your freedom) because being in debt is the highest threat to freedom (and thus, reflected in the doa I posted above). If you are financially-free, other things (including bad relationships) can be easily managed. If you cannot manage it despite having financial freedom, you might have issues with problem-solving or getting enough willpower to get things done (like ending your no-good relationship). Don’t worry. This is where our psychiatrist and clinical psychologists can help you. We can give you some really good problem-solving advice and skills.
Come and visit our clinic and we will, Insya-Allah, help you! But gosh… please help yourself, first! Please help us to help you.
Last but not least….
Happy Freedom Day, everyone! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! May Allah bless our country with peace and prosperity for many more years to come. Amiin, Ya Rabb! Until next time, my dear readers. Take care and may Allah bless all of us!