Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - WHAT IS SUCCESS?




Voice of Justice


In this culture where we worship money, brute power, materialism, where form, posturing and external appearance pass for dignity and meaning, it should not be surprising then if society defines "success"—through words or action—as the pursuit and obtainment of these things.

However, permit me to be a social contrarian and posit alternative, less glamorous perspectives.

Success is the ability to see things in their true light.  It is to know that one's worth derives not a cent from another's derision and even less from another's praise.  To accept the latter is to accept it at the full venom of the former.  Clarence Darrow states it another way: one shouldn't take either gratification or disappointment too seriously.

Rather, success is the realization of one's inherent value as drawn solely, completely in being made in the image of God.  It is the ability to discern strength in gentleness and kindness and the courage to pursue them.

Success is the integrity to stand up to injustice and say "Enough!" at the expense of one's reputation and well-being.  In speaking truth to power, mental poise shields one from the spin doctors and all other machinations of character assassination because one's actions are not guided by the opinions of the fickle and gossip-prone public; rather, a reasoned conscience directs one's path.

Success is longsuffering.  It is a virtue that is obtained only through the actual experience of waiting.  Amidst the waiting hope dwells.  Twinned to long-suffering (or patience) is forbearance, the ability to show mercy and love amidst being wronged.

St. Augustine, in The City of God (Book I, Chapter 9) speaks of suffering.  "… the fire which makes gold shine makes chaff smoke; the same flail breaks up the straw, and clears the grain… Thus, the wicked, under pressure of affliction, execrate God and blaspheme; the good, in the same affliction, offer prayers and praises.  This shows that what matters is the nature of the sufferer, not the nature of sufferings.  Stir a cesspit, and a foul stench arises; stir a perfume, and a delightful fragrance ascends.  But the movement is identical."

Success is the refusal to succumb to one's circumstances.     But success is more than the refusal to succumb. It is living  with passion, with exuberance, with meaning.

Success is to let go of the past, to live in the present, and to build for the future.  Certainly, it is important to know and learn from history.  However, I see Cambodians' inclination to dwell on the past counter-productive in two ways.

First, we Khmers euphorically and intently focus on the glory of the Angkor period and pay scant attention on working in the present and future.  Don't misunderstand me; I am first among Khmer admirers.  But let us not be trapped by past illusions; there's much work to be done presently that requires our full mental exertion.

Second, we Khmers are psychologically scarred by the evil unleashed by the Khmer Rouge.  Let us face this dark period of history straight-on—by seeing it for what it is, dealing with it privately, and holding the perpetrators to justice publicly.  Let us not see ourselves as victims of past evils to justify our present state of malignity; we need not be the products of our environment; the ability to love is always within us.  We need to want it, to reach for it.  It hurts my ears to hear the oft-repeated justification for corruption, "In Cambodia, one must learn to flow with the meandering river in order to survive and get anything done.”

Success is to be sure-footed and not wince in the face of intimidation.  It is to realize that intimidation is nothing other than insecurity disguised as authority. Success is freedom of the soul.  It is to chip away at that overwhelming sense of hopelessness imposed by poverty, by tradition, by social expectations, by institutions, by history, by unjust laws, by one's own self.

Life functions on two levels simultaneously, on a social and an individual plane.  On the social level, institutions and laws proscribe our activities.  Individually, our mind proscribes our limitations.

It is disingenuous to think that our individual choices are not informed by societal laws and institutional constructs, in particular, as beneficiaries of these laws.  Alternatively, it is as disingenuous to ignore the uniqueness and ability of each individual to make choices and be held accountable for his choices.

We must be held accountable for the choices we do make, but we must also be mindful that not every choice has the same quality.

Theory must be tempered with reality, justice with mercy.

This should be a sobering reminder to all of us who too easily believe that we have achieved all by our own individual merit.

This said, the external environmental factors do shape the development of one's mind, but they do not necessarily have to be proscriptions absent the individual's permission.

Freedom of the soul finds root in this mental poise.

Success deletes from one's thinking that 'philosophy of the stop sign'.  No.  Don't.  Can't.  Yield.

Success moves one from self-pity and envy to gratitude.

Success is the training of the mind to meditate on what is praiseworthy, excellent, right, true, pure, lovely, admirable, and noble.

It is to understand that the pursuit of these qualities takes place in the shadow of appearances, posturing, and the aggressiveness of every day commonalities.

Because things are not what they seem, generosity of spirit and love must be present at all times, but they must exist within a definite boundary.  Growth of character corresponds with the ability to ever expand this boundary.  Let others call it naivete, but naivete functions in ignorance with no boundary.  At some point in time, enough is enough and it must be called.

Success is to know and not care whether someone else knows that you know.  It has no room for pride.


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