In 1900, the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded China and plundered it. Prior to that in 1884, the corrupted Qing Dynasty which ruled China at that time and led by Empress Dowager Cixi, spent a huge sum of money on reconstructing and enlarging the Summer Palace as she wanted to celebrate her 60th birthday. That money was meant to upgrade the Qing navy to fight against the aggressors. Even before that in 1960, the old Summer Palace was looted and burned down at the end of the Second Opium War. Empress Dowager seemed to have forgotten the humiliation just 20 years back and the consequences of a weak military.
Empress Dowager thus became known as the useless ruler who only cared about her own little comfort at the expense of the whole country. Her reputation stinks till today, and will be for many more years to come. In Chinese we called this 遺臭萬年, which means to stink for 10,000 years. The opposite is 流芳百世, meaning to have a good reputation for a hundred generations. We can see that the impact of a nasty reputation is far more than that of a good reputation. Because of her actions, China sunk into the pits for almost 200 years before rising to what it is today. Of course, we cannot blame everything on Empress Dowager alone, for a single corrupt person cannot do that much of a harm.
When we look back at her actions, we find her actions laughable and even ridiculous. The most fundamental condition of peace is to have a strong enough military to deter any potential aggressor. It takes the most basic of common sense to know that upgrading the navy in times of chaos was the logical thing to do instead of spending it on some stupid garden. In fact, Empress Dowager executed many loyal people who advocated for a stronger military. But if we stop to think, many of us make the same decisions as her, albeit not on a level which impacts the whole country.
The Empress Dowager In Us
Many of us have undergone a recession before, whether as an adult or as a child. If we experience it as a child, we may have seen our parents worrying about finances and about the family. If we experienced it as an adult, we know how painful the threat or the actual reality of losing a job in times of need is. Whether it was the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis or the 2008 subprime crisis, we knew from experience that having no money during such times was a heavy blow. A housing loan to pay off, a family to feed, perhaps medical bills of parents to take care of and many more basic expenses. Having our income broken off and yet expenses not reducing creates unnecessary stress, and hence it was not rare to hear people committing suicide to escape the problems.
Yet despite that, when things got slightly better, just like how it was after the Second Opium War but before the Eight-Nation Alliance, people conveniently forgot the pain they had to go through during the previous recessions. As the economy got better, people start spending more money on better housing, bigger cars, expensive holidays, branded bags, luxury timepieces etc. There is nothing wrong with going after all these, just like how there is nothing wrong with wanting a beautiful garden. But it is certainly illogical and very risky to go after all these at the expense of your financial stability. What if the next crisis come? What if it is not a financial crisis, but you got into an accident and lose your capacity to work? And the laughable thing is, people actually pay no heed to, or mock the very people who advised them to save up for the future.
How does that make us different from Empress Dowager in this aspect? Financial stability is our shield with which we ward off any potential aggressors to our peaceful simple life, such as retrenchment, illness, investment losses etc. Yet how much of our shield did we cast away for the garden in our lives?
Shit happens, all the time. Are you prepared for it?
The Nuclear Bomb
In the modern day global politics, he who has the nuclear bomb is untouchable, at least physically.
Iraq said they did not have weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and was bombed. Because they really did not have any WMDs.
Libya had nuclear bombs. But after it naively disarmed itself, it was invaded. Because it did not have any more nuclear weapons.
North Korea said they had nuclear weapons, and till today, US did not dare to touch them physically. Because they indeed do have the nuclear weapons.
There is a joke on the US that goes: If the US says you have nuclear weapons, you better have it.
The nuclear bomb is one of mankind’s most powerful weapons. And precisely because it has such a high offensive power, ironically it became the best defence for any country who owns it. The saying that offence is the best defence certainly holds a great amount of truth. And for the common man, beyond financial stability, financial freedom is the nuclear bomb of our personal finances – something which is best that we have it.
Someone I knew told me a bad news recently – that she has been demoted because her teammate had sabotaged her career, and that the boss chose to side with her teammate. It was not a big issue, but that teammate had frequently blown everything out of proportion in order to step others down in her own climb up the ladder. That teammate did not have a good reputation, but unfortunately, the boss chose to side with that particular teammate because they are of the same nationality and race.
In life, there are many unfairness happening everywhere. In the more extreme example, we have 3-year old kids in Africa dying from starvation. We have 5-year old kids bombed to death in Syria. Did they do anything to deserve such a life? No.
In our peaceful society, workplace bullying happens all the time too. Many times, people fell not because they did something wrong, but because of workplace politics, biased treatments, being sabotaged by other people. Is it fair? No.
But while we may frequently feel unfairness at work, which may be of no fault of ours (that being said, do reflect deeply on yourself all the time), it does not mean that there is nothing we can do. Compared to the 3-year old African kid or the 5-year old Syrian kid, we are better equipped with more skills and opportunities to do many more things.
I know a few people who have already attained financial freedom. They work not because they need the money, although it certainly is good to have more money. They did not occupy high positions in the company and many of them have messed up bosses who think highly of themselves. These bosses often love to play politics and especially love to show their position of power by giving ridiculous instructions. Unknown to these bosses, the subordinates whom they ordered around did not really give a damn about them, and often times even mock them behind their back. Because they knew that these supposedly ‘high-level’ bosses are deep in debt with their fanciful cars and nice houses, and the time they spent in their full-time job playing politics meant that it is unlikely that they have any worthwhile sidelines. People who worked extra at sidelines generally do not have much time and energy trying to flex power at work. They may be lazy in their full time job to the point of being a parasite, but they usually do not flex power.
Financial freedom is a nuclear weapon that protects ourselves from fundamental harm. Even if we lose out in office politics or unfair practices, we will not starve to death, nor will our families collapse. It does not mean that we are not affected by anything else though. China suffered greatly at US’ semiconductor sanctions. North Korea suffered greatly till today at US’ international trade embargo. Iran suffered. Russia suffered. But, none of them run the risk of the whole country collapsing like what happened to Iraq and Libya. We may still suffer at work, our pride hurt at being demoted, our confidence shaken at being repeatedly told we are just inferior, our morale being beaten at overwhelming unfairness and our career progression being jammed at things blown out of proportion. But at the end of the day, we know that as long as we maintain minimally the lowest level of financial freedom, we will not collapse.
On the other hand, once we have financial freedom, it does not mean we have reached the end goal. Just like how the nuclear countries did not stop at what they have but continue to progress, likewise it does not mean we can or should stop working. But what it does means is that we have the choice to choose a job that we like to do, without too much of a concern about the ridiculous matters at work. Japan swallowed down the unfairness brought by the US, but we who have achieved financial freedom need not take too much nonsense in the workplace. We have the capacity to retaliate unfair practices (though it may not always go well on our end) without fearing that we will lose our jobs. This gives us the confidence in the way we carry ourselves at work, and the people who bully others at work will know not to pick on you too much. Do not be arrogant though.
Financial freedom is not only just a good to have achievement in our lives. It is the nuclear weapon of our personal finance, allowing us to work with dignity and to protect our own families against any unforseen circumstances. Financial freedom is intangible, and many may not see its value. But to those who see it, it means everything to us.
This post is dedicated to someone I know, who have been very unfairly treated at work recently. And by extension, to all of us who are unhappy at work for reasons which are no fault of ours.