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Justify your existence

Sep 21, 2011 2:30:22 PM - www.ft.lk

Swami Vivekananda, the Vedanta thinker, once stated: “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way great spiritual giants are produced.”
I came across this quote in a scientific review looking at the global water issues and the role of nano-particles. The article was all about focusing on this global issue and the use of innovative developments.

We are facing a water crisis. In Sri Lanka we appear to ignore this looming issue. A crisis of quality rather than quantity. Surrounded by the Indian Ocean, we appear to be seeing water, water everywhere. However, this is another topic for discussion.
Man on the moon
Swami Vivekananda’s articulated thought is quite valid in transforming individuals and subsequently countries. Interesting note is the articulated vision of President Kennedy when he addressed NASA in 1962 and stated the intention of getting a man on the moon.
Examining archival information commentaries even from the scientists, the idea was dismissed as a pipedream that would take a century to achieve – if at all. Yet within a decade Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were placing their footprints on the moon’s surface.
Many were sceptical, some were not, but took up that one idea as the big challenge. Though Kennedy was not there to witness the event, the world still remembers it. The alignment of goals and objectives to a single mission objective among a select group was laser focused.
Decent goals
What is most important also is when making that one idea your life is also to ensure to follow decent goals. We appear to coming to a situation of education without values and money without principles, behaviour without discipline, etc. The advances happening all around us appear to be taking us nowhere!
I once wrote that we appear to come into this world in a human form but we should not live in a foolish manner and die like idiots. When you consider the human species, one among many millions of life forms on this planet, and our unique capabilities – we only sit for examinations and award each other degrees and certificates, possess a creativity that can endanger not only us but everyone – it is important that we understand the meaning of life.
Justify your existence
My thesis is that one must do something productive, creative and innovative to ensure that you do something positive in justifying your existence. In many societies that are floundering – failed states perhaps – masses exist, but they have not pulled themselves together to think together and to come out of the critical situation that they are in.
One can witness how opportunities are turned into chaos. The thoughts that translate into words are destructive and in turn carry out deeds just creates the scene.
Why thinking is important is with the opportunity we have today as well as the innovative developments, are we to simply apply well tested theories and beliefs or do we think little more deeply and charter a different pathway?
It was Harvard academic Christiansen who showed us that the reasons for failure of well-run businesses under disruptive innovative conditions were simply because they were well-run according to the accepted practices of listening to the consumer and being well aware of their needs.
Embrace new ways of thinking
In the space for growth provided we appear to think conventionally and are not embracing new ways of thinking. We are also not challenging ourselves to perform better – the sequel to placing a man on the moon! Everyone conservative and prudent will pat us on the back and say well done but the approach of pleasing the masses is really counterproductive when seeking a breakthrough.
As we approach the 21st century we were told that NIC (Newly Industrialised Country) status was possible by some economists. Many did not argue the juggling of statistics and the 21st century dawned minus the NIC status.
While some countries did construct and make some landmark buildings, iconic landmarks as millennium landmarks which were expected to stand tall for a long time, we do not have a single millennium construction.
Dancing to music is not the way to herald a new era but a legacy of meaningful contribution. At the drop of a hat we celebrate and lose time and focus. This time too we have predictions. These may be quite pleasing to the ears, but the danger is that these can also slow one’s critical faculties of thinking and analysis.
Listening to predictive eulogies must be done with care. One is cautioned to remember a recent statement of the acclaimed Chilean economist – Manfred Max-Neef: “Economists study and analyse poverty in their nice offices, have all the statistics, make all the models, and are convinced that they know everything that you can know about poverty, but they don’t understand poverty.”
Cause for concern
I worry when we have large populations with financial literacy and marketing acumen but lack those with creativity and innovativeness. We may use models without understanding. An economy of US$ 40 billion to grow by 8% needs a 3.2 billion US$ revenue. When the economy grows to US$ 43.2 b, the growth of 8% requires US$ 3.5 revenue.
Can we add billions in dollars by using only the mechanisms that we are currently exploiting?
This we will have to do while being conscious of the global environmental issues which are poised to cause major difficulties to all and sundry. These will not discriminate between the rich and the poor but we all know that lasting repercussions are more to do with the poor. Similarly developing economies will face the brunt of the problems.
(Professor Ajith de Alwis is Professor of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. With an initial BSc Chemical engineering Honours degree from Moratuwa, he proceeded to the University of Cambridge for his PhD. He is a Science Team Leader at the Sri Lanka Nanotechnology Institute. He can be reached via email on ajith@cheng.mrt.ac.lk)

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