I was sitting in an open-air restaurant in Kuala Lumpur waiting for my food.

I was sharing a table with an elderly Australian couple.

Naturally we got chatting.

We did the usually bit of piss taking about the cricket.

I asked them how long they were staying in KL.

They said they were there for a few months.

I asked how come.

They said their son was on trial for smuggling drugs.

I said I thought smuggling drugs meant the death penalty.

They said it did.

He’d tried to get a kilo of marijuana, a kilo of ketamine, and a kilo of cocaine into Malaysia.

Their son was on trial on three separate counts.

If found guilty on any of them he would be executed.

The parents were staying in KL to pay whatever lawyers, whatever bribes, they could find to pay.

Anything to try to get their son off.

In the space of about a minute the conversation had gone from light-hearted chitchat to the worst thing you can imagine.

I didn’t know what to say.

And I remembered something Murray Chick told me about his time at Warwick University.

Warwick is a really good university, very competitive.

He said every year one of the students committed suicide.

They couldn’t take the pressure.

And he said now imagine you were the parents of that student.

Imagine you’d been part of applying the pressure.

The pressure to get the best A level results.

The pressure to make sure you got the best degree.

Now imagine it was your son that died.

And imagine you had the choice to do it again differently.

Would you prefer to have a live son who failed at university and ended up a bus driver?

Which would you choose?

It’s obvious, alive is better than dead in any circumstances.

But we forget that choice.

We forget to compare ourselves with the worst situation.

We only ever compare ourselves with the best.

We only ever think of what we haven’t got.

How much better off we could be if we tried harder, if we were luckier, if we could do better, if we had more.

Which is why most people are unhappy.

Because all there ever is, is context.

Everything only ever exists in comparison to something else.

And we choose whatever we compare ourselves too.

And in doing that we can choose to make ourselves miserable or happy.

And the really dumb thing is that even though we know that, we can’t stop doing it.

Even though we know context is everything.

The bad news is we can’t stop living in context.

The good news is we can get upstream and choose the context.

We can choose to make anything good, or we can make it bad.


Four hundred years ago Shakespeare said “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’.







4 thoughts on “COMPARED TO WHAT?”

  1. Happy New Year David. An inspiring post to start the year, and so so true, people are quick to forget context and just judge via stereotypes. Takes the worst case scenario sometimes to concentrate the mind by which time sadly it’s too late. New Year’s resolution for all of us should be to go upstream and change the context while we can

  2. Oh boy,

    A few years ago my wife wanted to go to India.
    “Are you sure?” I said.
    “Yes”, she said “for a year!”
    “I see… well let’s go to Goa for 10 days first”
    (I thought. God help me!)
    “Okay” She said and off we went.

    We stayed in what I can only describe as
    a “British Occupied Garrison of Drunks” (ahem, 3 star hotel).
    To one side it had a factory where big lorries
    would arrive all times of day and night
    delivering toilet paper.
    (quite handy under the circumstances)

    She took one look at the hotel and turned green.
    After a few days of running 10 minutes to the beach
    (because she was afraid of Creepy Crawlies in the grass)
    and being violently ill with Deli Belly,
    I decided we should perhaps move upstream.

    Just about making it to the Chemist
    we got a local travel agent to send us to
    “The Golden Triangle”. (Bermuda Triangle more like.)
    Changing at Bombay (Mumbai)
    We continued to Deli by train where
    a Puk Puk (high speed moped with pram attached)
    gave us a Star Trek Warp Factor 6 tour of Deli
    where I was almost beheaded by a cow crossing the road.

    Overnight in Deli sleeping with the light on
    (as the misses was terrified someone would burst in
    as the occupants of the room above kept shouting
    and moving furniture all night)
    we took the train to Agra.
    Some little bloke in a Puk Puk was
    apparently going to meet us there.
    He took us to The Taj Mahal,
    Agra Fort, Red Fort, Jantar Mantar,
    and umpteen wholesalers of exquisite rubbish.

    We then flew back to Goa.
    On arrival, she was glad to get back to the hotel.
    It looked different.
    Most of the drunks had by now contracted Deli Belly
    and were somewhat subdued.
    One of them had even threatened a member of staff for
    “looking at his girlfriend”.
    So, rested, we sat and ordered drinks.

    A friend of mine told me never order any drink
    in a third world country without the bottle cap intact.
    (sound advice) as I watched the waiter making a “real”
    (live with God-know’s-what) lemonade.
    Placing a straw in it, he proceeded to give it the “taste test”
    then without replacing the straw, offered it to the customer.

    I was concerned that we may find cockroaches in the bedroom
    (a common misdenoma with the Asia Pacific Rim)
    but we had not.
    The afternoon before we were about to leave
    this six inch monster Cockroach decided to
    pop his head up over the parapet and say “Hello”
    fortunately I was able to dispose of him before the wife noticed.

    We have never been happier to get on a British Aiways Jet home.
    Parking-up in the luxurious economy seats wolfing down
    the most delicious nutitious processed food
    I asked her:-“Do you want to go for a year then?”
    I won’t tell you what she said,
    but it certainly wasn’t very lady like.

  3. Happy New Year Gentlemen.
    I often have to remind myself to consider context.
    When I look to north London and see Spurs and Arsenal.
    Then I look to west London and see Chelsea.
    And I’m sad at the unfairness of it all.
    But then I look around east London and I see Leyton Orient and Millwall.
    And I think, it’s not so bad after all.

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