Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Efficiency.... and the "For what?"

The latest Apple Mac OS, the Leopard aims to introduce 'revolutionary' new features to boost the popularity of the Mac platform. Windows Vista tries to ride on the new 'latest and greatest' wave of upgrading for the sake of better features. Newer web browsers gain greater acceptance with new features that is better and greater. New antivirus aims to scan faster and deeper. New computer systems speeds up the calculating and the computing process. People buy in. At last count, Windows Vista has sold over 20 million copies, since its February launch, based on the 'latest and the greatest' upgrade craze. Upgrading in the name of efficiency is key to the sales of such products. It is easy for one to allow technological fads like these to direct our paradigm of life, that the reason why we get ahead is to become more efficient and attain a higher level of productivity.

- Why do we struggle so hard to squeeze a few seconds faster out of a hard drive?
- Why do we finetune our systems so much in order to make it boot faster?
- Why do we spend hours organizing our disk folders in order to ensure that in the future, we will be able to find what we want in a second?
- Can we truly justify the time savings and efficiency as a goal for all our struggles?

In this week's Regent newsletter, the etcetera, one Regent student wrote and questioned the efficiency paradigm. I agree with his astute observation that "Efficiency is for a purpose and not an end in itself." The writer ends with a question -FOR WHAT? which I feel is a strong reminder for us to check the reasons for our actions.

I reflect upon Colossians 1, and note several interesting things.

Col. 1:9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
Col. 1:10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

We live in a society mad on efficiency. Not only do we want things fast, increasingly more people want it now! I remember the famous saying in my previous office: "I want it yesterday." Interestingly, Colossians reminds us of the primacy of wisdom/understanding BEFORE the walk/work. In our rush for an efficient society, some of us tend to walk before we understand, hoping to shave off a few seconds of time, to achieve our goals. The problem I see is two-fold. Firstly, by rushing, we tend to move at speeds that is unnatural to our human physique. Even pilots flying at supersonic speeds realize that too much speed will mean a G-force that could constrict the blood circulation flow to the brain. Secondly, when we become highly efficient, we may leave our friends and loved ones far behind, and isolate ourselves in the process. Imagine one person upgrading to the latest Office 2007 formats and expecting all his friends to do the same. There will be incompatibilities with those who do not upgrade.

"To be filled with all spiritual wisdom and understanding" needs to be key in an efficient-mad society. The good old saying, "Slow and Steady wins the race" is still very much proverbial wisdom. If we move at a speed dictated by spiritual wisdom, we will know that an hour spent thinking through the wider consequences of a plan is far better than 10 minutes of rushing out a plan that is not well thought through. What good is that 50 minutes of savings if we have to spend several more hours to redo the plan?

Spiritual wisdom and understanding is never a selfish endeavour. It considers our actions in the context of a wider community. It is tempting to assume that single person decision making is faster than trying to get group consensus. What we fail to see in such case, is that the purpose of life is not simply in terms of achieving an objective. Rather, trying to reach the end goal supplies ample opportunities for individuals to interact as one community. The process becomes the meaning. It will be a shame if a group reach a set target, at the price of multiple damaged relationships. (Look what happened to people playing in the Survivor reality show.)

Working in groups teaches us that we are human beings who thrive best in living together and working things out together no matter how much we agree/disagree. Having some times of conflict with people is far better than long times of loneliness where there are no people to argue against us.

Colossians 1:10 is a great memory verse that is full of wise words. I shall mention the words "bearing fruit" which is in the middle voice. In contrast to society's deterministic drive, where we press a button and something happens, 'bearing fruit' gives up one's control in the sense that we cannot do the growing on our own. Just like planting a tree vs transplanting a young plant. the one that grows and bear fruit on the same ground will develop stronger roots.

Spiritual wisdom and understanding, together with the bearing of fruit, is a call for us to live a life that is worthy, and not simply DOING worthwhile tasks. The difference is this. When we live a life that is worthy of the Lord, the reward is not a reciprocal relationship of i-scrub-your-back and you-scrub-mine. It is also not the kind of materialistic gifts we distribute or receive. It is ultimately the reward of the knowledge and love of God which surpasses all understanding.

Love is patient, love is kind, and is definitely not measured in terms of efficiency nor efficacy. It is measured in love to the power of love.

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