“What does it mean to be human?” A senior commanding officer joked with me as we chatted over our morning coffee. He was a deputy commanding officer when I was back in my service in the air force, we shared quite a lot of pretty good experiences doing exercises and operations together. We reminisce about how the squadron used to be and the things we used to do together as a squadron. “It’s all different now,” he sighed.
“Things are becoming increasing transactional. People are working for the sake of working,” he added. “The bond that we used to have, it’s not as strong now.”
“Yes, the current batch of officers are all strawberry generation,” my fellow sergeant commented pretty abruptly.
“You can say so! Even the new batch of commanding officers are like that. They can work efficiently with the least resources. But they’ve lost the human touch.”
“How so?” I asked.
“I remember proposing to them to execute a certain task for the well-being of the men. You know what the commanding officers asked me? What are the orders regarding this that you’re proposing? How long can we drag before we fully implement this proposal? I was furious when they said that,” he shared with so much passion that he almost banged the table we were on. “I mean, it’s for the well-being of the men we’re doing this. We should not be doing it out of obligation? Why drag?!”
I watched as he narrated the incident in disbelief. He looked at my friend seated beside me and asked, “Are you married?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“If you have a child and you want to bring the child out, would you ensure that all the necessities for the child are taken care of before going out?” the senior commanding officer asked him.
“Of course I will,” my friend answered.
“Then I don’t understand why the new batch of commanding officers is behaving so transactionally. There’s no…”
“Love? No love, sir?” I answered.
“Yes. No love for their fellow men. It’s not human.”
The sharing of the senior commanding officer threw me into deep thought about the current social state of Singapore. People-people relationship is no longer bonded by a common goal nor is it by love (regardless whether for the country or for each other). Rather, it is grounded on transaction; on the mechanics of the organisation.
“I’ve got to say I like how Singapore is progressing,” the commander continued. “But the education sector will need to work something out; inculcate certain values such as love and ethics to balance efficiency and being human. If not, the success of our future generations will also be the cause of their downfall.”
I paused as I pondered on the things he spoke about. It reminded me of what I reflected upon yesterday — the success of Singapore and how we are at the forefront of global politics. But on another hand, we’re also experiencing a certain degree downfall alongside it. As I listened to the rest of the stories that he wanted to share with me, I cannot help but remember that this was the exact same struggle that another chairman of a charity shared with me — people who serve in charities only wanted to serve time and leave, not minding the goals of the organisation nor do they have any love for others.
“What sets us apart from animals?” he joked. “We both work as a team. We both complete daily tasks. We both eat and we both die. But animals know the importance of teamwork. What about us? We’re full of our-selves. So, what makes us human?”
I was dumbfounded at this question. I figure he’s right! If we aren’t able to look beyond current task-related obligations, then how are we able to have love? If we can’t find meaning beyond our transactional lifestyles, how can we experience interpersonal bonds that transcend the immediate present?
I figure the only way we can transcend legalistic obligation is through the overcoming of it. The layperson may consider working on a certain task while knowing the meaning behind why he is doing it. Understanding the goal of the entire organisation may give meaning and value to the task one is doing, no matter how minute. However, we know this is not lasting in the long run and this principle cannot be applied across the board.
So there must be an alternative to bond-building. There must be an alternative for us as humans to be humans once more. We need to redefine humanity beyond who we currently are.
Putting our innate purpose of existence on organisational goals may add value to our identity within the task we are allocated to. But the value stops there. It stops when we put down our task and depart home for the evening. Since our lives does not just encompass work, so our value cannot be tied purely to organisational goals. So what if we tie it to our families and our loved ones? What if we live our lives in a way that will benefit our family? If we do this, we will need to consider what becomes of us when they grow up and depart from us. We will need to redefine our identity and value when any one of our loved ones depart from this life. This then is meaningless.
So if meaning cannot be paired to things of this world, whether organisational goals nor our loved ones, so should it be paired to that that is Greater than Life? This is exactly what the Bible reminded us to do. We are reminded that “whatever we do, work at it with all our heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since we know that we will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ we are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24, NIV). When we pair our value to that that is the Giver of Life, the value of all that we do — be it family-related (Col 3:18-21), or work-related (Col 3:22) — will magnify itself exponentially.
Consider now that if it is truly the Lord Jesus Christ we are serving — regardless of what we are doing — then this Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead will release us from the Law so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit.
Therefore, at the end of the matter, being human isn’t about fulfilling our duties on earth neither is it about the pursuit of career-related successes. Being human is about overcoming life itself. Being human is to long to hear the Giver of Life saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
Being human is to enjoy our Maker’s happiness the way He intended for us.