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By the way... Good or bad karma, it’s your choice, really

Sebastian Partogi

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, March 21, 2019  /  06:15 pm
By the way... Good or bad karma, it’s your choice, really

Whether you believe in karma or not, life does work in mysterious ways. (Shutterstock/illustratorkris)

I consider myself secular, rational and a huge skeptic of any kind of superstition. I believe everything in life is purely coincidental and random. I do not believe in fate, much less karma. I am not even sure that I exist at all – perhaps human self-awareness is just one grand delusion (pun intended)?

Recently, however, several life events -- good and bad -- have forced me to make room for the possibility that perhaps karma or divine compensation truly exists, that you really do reap what you sow.

When I left home and my grandmother died several years ago, I got really lonely living in a boarding house and working in a place where nobody even knew my name (again, pun intended).

I tried to distract myself out of the emptiness by offering my creative services on topics I am really passionate about for several platforms outside my routine work assignments, for free.

I enjoyed the pro bono projects. I was highly productive and my free creative services kept my sense of tedium and ennui at bay, while they kept my body and mind active, quick and sharp as ever. These works also helped me encounter some really interesting people and learn about various interesting topics, while honing my creative skills.

Many people told me that I was a fool to give my services away for free. I also had moments of self-doubt: Was I just being exploited by the people who enjoyed my free services? Could we really form genuine and sincere friendships out of work engagements?

It turned out we could. Once we enter the workforce, especially when we live in big cities, it is very hard to find true friends and form genuine connections.

I have just watched Paul Agusta's 2018 film Daysleepers, which reminded me of this fact. Yet, just like the film's explorations, there are rare moments where we can tap into potential connections with other people even in a megapolitan setting. It turns out that my work in the creative field has helped me seed new friendships.

As urban professionals we sometimes find friends only through work, both paid and pro bono, out of shared mannerism and interest and perhaps also loneliness.

People who work with me in my voluntary projects do take our relationships beyond work, into friendships that are genuinely personal.

As time goes by, they also connect me with people who offer me side projects in which I do get paid, enough to buy imported books and to take leisure trips inside Indonesia and overseas. Hence, I get even more new friends and the benevolent cycle continues.

This is, I figure, how good karma works.

In a hectic city like Jakarta, sometimes colleague and business partners do become your precious friends, helping you empower yourself through career advancement opportunities along the way, if you treat them kindly. In your friendships you also stimulate each other intellectually and support one another emotionally.

Thus, I debunk the notion equating generosity with foolishness and openness with exploitation. We and the people we work with live in the same ecosystem. If they prosper, we also prosper.

Of course, you have to draw your boundaries and know when to say no when you are too tired, but if you are really passionate about the project and have the energy to do it, why not?

I do not have enough money to do charity, but I attempt to give back to others through my free or affordable (since the word cheap has a negative connotation) creative services.

Again, I have the privilege of having full-time jobs to cover my expenses in between my gigs so I can build my network and portfolio through my free services on the side.

I remember a friend, novelist Pratiwi Juliani, once said: "Lucky you to be able to surround yourself with a creative community, to which you contribute a great deal. These people in turn also nurture you [intellectually and emotionally]. I bet you will have a long life". Amen to that.

As we know, close and productive friendships are one of the biggest contributors to longevity.

As goodwill and generous choices often lead to positive results -- which often do not come straight out of the recipient of your goodness but rather from a different person at a different time, true to the pay-it-forward concept -- you seem to also have to pay for your unethical choices.

I once stole Rp 200,000 (US$14) because the money had been left on a table with nobody claiming it for days. The next month I had no idea what happened, but I started to bleed financially, I had to borrow Rp 2 million from my friends.

A friend of mine admitted to stealing a phone card in Singapore years ago before cell phones become hip. Shortly afterward, he lost his wallet, along with a substantive amount of money.

An acquaintance once mocked his colleague for having to take leave from work to tend to his sick wife out of town. Not long after, he had to do the same.

Whether you believe in karma or not, life does work in mysterious ways, which can still humble you and force you to be wiser with your choices. (ste)

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