Political Divisiveness — A Matter of Time

After reading on the recent debates on Occupy Wall Street in the US and watching the parliamentary speeches in Singapore, I’ve gained a new perspective on political divisiveness.

I always assumed that political division was just a bunch of old farts vs a legion of hippies. Actually, it’s not too far off, but there’s a more profound (and useful) way of perceiving this divisiveness.

It’s time.

To be more precise, how we value and invest time.

The left-leaning rhetoric — things like We are the 99% or the debut parliamentary speech by Singapore’s opposition MP Chen Show Mao — are always centered around future-oriented ideals — it’s always about building a future society that upholds justice, equality, freedom.

Example of left-wing rhetoric

And on the right, their language is all about reinforcing the past or the present — that despite all the crappy circumstances, the hard work they have put or are putting in to reap rewards. And thus, the assumption here is that their present hard work will reap future rewards.

Example of left-wing rhetoric

I’ve always been indifferent about how I use my time. I simply never thought about it because I assumed time was infinite. But as I grow older, I realized that time is scare commodity — so scarce that squandering it should almost be made a crime.

More importantly, I realized that it’s dangerous to instinctively prioritize the present over the future. As a kid, I was under the impression that if I focused on getting good grades and developing my talents that the future will sort itself out — that somehow someone would employ me and somehow I’ll rise the ranks. While I’ve not done too badly with that mentality, I realized that I’m possibly doing myself a great disservice. Much of my potential is still untapped. It will not be uncovered until I invest the time to think about it and work on it.

If that’s true at an individual level, I think it will probably be true at the organizational and societal level as well. Should the US continue to spend insane amount of money and risk the inability to repay its debt? Debt is basically using future money (that one may or may not be able to earn) to fund the present. Or in Singapore’s case, should the government perpetually inflate housing prices to give current homeowners a sense of security? Perpetual inflation is only sustainable at the expense of future generations.

The easy answer is always to preserve the present. Keep borrowing so the government does not explain to its needy citizens (read: voters) why they suddenly cut foodstamp budgets for the next 3 years (just an example). Keep raising housing prices, so current homeowners (read: voters) are assured of their investments. (I don’t blame them, by the way. Our system reinforces and rewards short-term thinking. It’s a whole other topic; I’ll talk about this some other time.)

But the undeniable truth is: unless something changes, the day will come when the US can no longer repay its debts, and housing will be priced completely out of reach for future citizens in Singapore. They’re essentially ticking time bombs.

I’m not saying we should always sacrifice the present for the future either. I’m saying we need:

  • Balance – Balance how we invest our resources. Balance how we invest our time.
  • Courage – Courage to do what’s effective and not what’s expedient.
  • Grit – Grit or tenacity to sometimes give up our current comforts to build a future — much like a diet.

With that said, I’ve been disappointed with myself lately. On the way back home from work, I always tell myself to think about my future and work towards it. But after dinner, I’d read Google Reader, play Facebook games, watch my YouTube subscriptions… and before I know it, it’s bedtime. In that few hours, I did not accomplish anything for the future. Just so much inertia.

On the same note, I really wished I had answers for the socioeconomic issues that plague the US and Singapore. I don’t. Politics and economics are complicated because policies rarely work in silos. They work in tandem to each other and I don’t know enough to make recommendations (yet).

It’s not going to be a joy ride, but I think it’s absolutely necessary to re-look at how we invest our time. We’re at a point where we can’t afford to leave the future to chance anymore.

So is the present or future more important to you? Does your habits help build the future or reinforce the present or is it a mix of both? Share your thoughts in the comments!