How can we build our lives with less addition and more subtraction?
Our education system has paid more attention to the mathematical formula of additions and multiplications and less on subtractions and divisions. We have been taught and continue to teach skills on how to keep adding and multiplying in our lives in order to be more successful. We’ve been taught that if we want more money, achievement, energy, joy, and peace of mind we need to do more. We are being continuously advised to spend more hours in skill training, in gyms, and even in wellbeing seminars to attain success and happiness. It is always about how to add more to our output to multiply our input and vice versa. We are being evaluated by percentages and an A-plus or a minus. Our examination system is putting students in boxes of abilities as though one examination and grading of numbers can capture the true potential of a student for life. Our appraisal system at the workplace again has various shelves that the employees have to weave through.
Covid19 has taught us that this mathematical formula is totally wrong. With this forced lockdown we have learned that it is possible to live well with less. We have been forced to subtract things in our lives like traveling, parties, shopping at malls, even our dependency on domestic help and yet have managed somehow. Subtractions are not that difficult after all. Some of us have also learned that when we divide resources and share with others, we actually feel so much better.
So what should we have learned that can be taken forward once the Covid19 crisis is a part of history? What should change in our teaching orientation?
Children can be taught that subtraction is not taking away but giving back. The division is not losing out but actually adding. Adding is not just acquiring credibility but also liability. Multiplication is not adding up of material but piling up of responsibility as well. I suggest that we revisit the curriculum in our schools and even consider changing some semantics that will make us change the concept of life.
I know this from my personal life experience. Once upon a time I was considered to be a fairly wealthy woman, not with inherited wealth but acquired through years of hard work. I too considered myself somewhat wealthy not because I had a private jet but because I could buy whatever I wished without looking at the price tags. I went to international holiday destinations, travelled in a publicly acknowledged luxury car, had multiple houses, and wore premium designer shoes and clothes. I had much more than my childhood days but less than many of my colleagues and friends. Nevertheless, my life then was only of additions and multiplications and I thought I had arrived.
The trend of subtractions began after 26 years of high decibel corporate life when I began to realize that I had shut out the additional world that I had considered irrelevant in my journey of fame and money. Once I rolled down the tinted window and looked outside I began to question the meaning of wellbeing. It is a fallacy to think that I could be happy if my surrounding was in despair. Gated communities can shield the outside only marginally and it is during crises of this kind that they get flushed out. I began to realize that while I was adding and multiplying material and because I had not divided enough I was actually subtracting much of my own wellbeing. So I started minimizing my needs and giving away the so-called symbols of success.
Today my world is what others would call a world of minuses but they don’t know that actually it is a world of pluses. My family has now increased from just three to nearly two thousand and that keeps growing. I have learned the great power of minimizing needs and increasing giving.
In our schools, we must teach our children the power of enough. We must show them with our own life choices that actually subtracting frills from our lives and dividing what we have is a sign of greater achievement than just adding and multiplying the un-necessities. Little kids in kindergarten should learn the “giving away” and sharing rather than protecting the “taking away” through subtractions.
It is only then that crisis like COVID19 will affect everyone equally and the images of grief-stricken faces of migrant workers will no longer be a reality.