January 12, 2013

The typical Western narrative of life is that it’s a linear progression. Our lives are supposed to continue improving with the end being the best part (happily ever after). This has many negative implications. If anything unfortunate happens in our lives, we fear that our linear progression has been thrown off track, and that we wouldn’t be able to reach the summit of the mountain in time. Since the ending is what matters, we feel this setback might ruin the entire narrative of our lives.

We may also avoid switching careers, even if our current careers are unfulfilling. Switching careers is typically seen as an admission of failure, like trying to correct a mistake. We assume that if we had chosen the right career at the start, it would have progressed linearly, ending our lifetime careers with big fireworks of accolades, respect, and recognitions, as well as financial rewards.

We feel that we are judged by what we become at the end of our lives. If someone ends up in a wheelchair or living in a poorhouse, we consider his whole life as a story of what not to do. We do not take into account what he did earlier in his life because the ending is all we care about. Retired seniors with no injuries, living in fancy apartments, with a lot of money in their bank accounts are what we all aspire to. And, to achieve this facade of success at the end of our lives, we sacrifice our souls while we are young. We keep delaying gratification because we are told it’s what successful people do.

In the East, one’s life is seen more as a cycle, a series of ups and downs. What goes up must come down, and what comes down must go back up. With this narrative about your own life, it would be easier for you to accept life’s misfortunes. Negative events in your life wouldn’t be seen as setbacks; they just happen, and you wouldn’t expect your life to keep going down either.