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  • Calvin

Devil's Advocate

I was asked an interesting question in the Table Topics session of one of my Toastmaster meetings a few weeks ago. My fellow Toastmaster asked me: “You just won the lottery, how is that a bad thing?”


It’s an interesting question to ask. And his purpose was to get me to think holistically about a circumstance from all angles. Because oftentimes, we perceive certain events to be labelled as good or bad. And often just accept it the way it is. But many times, there are lots of hidden layers to a circumstance.


There are often silver linings to every perceived negative event that we go through. There are hidden problems to every perceived win or success that we achieve. Not a lot of things are set in stone.


I remember other thought-provoking questions that my fellow Toastmaster asked was “You found out that you only have three months left to live, how is that a good thing?” or “You just found out that the world has cured global hunger, how is that bad thing?”


There are many ways to answer these questions, and I guess I won’t get into all of it. But if you think deeply, the cure of global hunger could indeed lead to other prevalent problems as well. Perhaps childhood obesity will become a bigger problem. Perhaps the world will encounter a significant shortage of natural resources simply because more people are alive now and there is greater consumption across the world.


Or back to winning the lottery. Perhaps now there is greater responsibility being placed upon me simply because I am now more economically advantaged than the rest of society. Or perhaps there will be more people trying to borrow money from me, assuming that I will be okay with that. There are lots of ways that you could interpret and juggle with an answer.


So, I came away from that meeting feeling a bit more enthused. A bit more open-minded. A bit willing to question the perceived conclusions that society throws upon us in terms of what should be good and what should be bad. It is up to us to question these perceptions and come to our own determinations on how to live life.


Often times, I guess we just simply assume that something is positive or negative because of what somebody else tell us. Or maybe it’s because we don’t have time to make determinations on every single thing, so we leave it to the so-called experts to tell us what is right and what is wrong. Most of the times, this method is fairly reasonable. After all, it’s important to listen to your doctor’s diagnoses. It’s important to listen to your professor explain complex topics like physics and chemistry. It’s important to perhaps listen to your parents’ wisdom on how to operate in life.


But there are also lots of things that are not set in stone, and perhaps you should question the validity a little bit. For example, business is quite fluid and is all about searching for the next viable opportunity. In business, you have to keep on looking and be okay with failure. And sometimes, you need to question the status quo in order to find niches that can be turned into an opportunity. That’s part of innovation and part of ways to advance society as a whole.


Or how about the stock market? There are lots of perceived experts that seem to be absolutely sure about how the market will go. The Internet churns out article after article about the next upcoming recession, or the bull market that will never go away. And sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong. It’s really hard to tell. In these cases, it’s important to look at the issue from different angles and to perhaps make a determination that might go against the grain of the general public.


Not a lot of things are absolute in this world. In politics, sometimes you have one side super sure of themselves. Thinking they are right and demonizing the other side. You have many people so unwilling to compromise that they become obsessed with their own beliefs and thus even cause physical harm to others. You have a lot of people that simply want to stand their ground and close themselves off from the world. And it’s neither good nor bad. In some cases, these actions are necessary.


But I’d say that sometimes, it pays to think it through before you take action. It pays to empathize and see things from the other side. To humanize the other party. To find ways to relate to them as a human being. Because we are all unique in our own little way, but we also have lots of commonalities that could bond us together as a community.


So, when my Toastmaster member asked me that question about winning the lotto, it unlocked my mind just a little bit and encouraged me to think a bit more holistically about my beliefs on what is right and what is wrong. What is good and what is bad. It’s up to us to come to our own determinations, and it is okay if we change our beliefs or if we see things from the perceived other side.

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