Friday, October 31, 2008

Don't Say Impossible

One of my Malaysian friends told me a story when he entered a military training in Singapore. In the first day, the chief officer ordered all the soldiers to bring a dictionary. After they congregated with the dictionary in their hands, the officer asked them to open the page that contain the word IMPOSSIBLE. When they found it, they were ordered to erase the word. The officer said that since that day they could not use the word anymore in their life. The word IMPOSSIBLE had been prohibited since then.

For a while my mind was tempted to imagine that a naughty soldier might trickily use other words such ‘unable,’ ‘incapable,’ unachievable,’ unable to be realized’ or other corresponding words. This is a smart approach to express similar meanings without saying ‘impossible.’
But of course the order to remove the word ‘impossible’ in the story above is symbolical. It means, we are directed not to give up easily and not to judge something as impossible before we really try it. How could we know that something is possible or not before we really optimize our effort to make it happen?

In fact, we tend to employ this pessimistic attitude so many times in our life, without even struggling to achieve what we want. If you go to a supermarket which sells fixed price items, for example, then you will not dare to negotiate the price with the retailer. How could we bargain with such supermarket? It’s impossible, useless, and shameful. That’s what we think or believe and that’s why we will never try it.

I had an experience with this 'impossible attitude.' One day, I went from Kajang to Gombak, a quite far distance, with my wife. At that time, we lived in Kajang, not far from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and decided to go by a rapid bus. After waiting for a long time, the bus finally headed off. There were few passengers in the bus. We had to pay 2 ringgits for a one way ticket. But if we buy a 4 ringgits ticket, we can use it for the whole day, not only for this bus but also for all government buses with ‘Rapid KL’ logo. The transportation system in Kuala Lumpur was relatively comfortable and economical. The passengers could buy a whole-day ticket that enabled them going everywhere around KL with a very low cost. All the buses, and also the trains, were clean and air-conditioned. The only problem was the passengers had to wait for quite a long time before the bus came. The availability of bus in Kuala Lumpur is not like in Jakarta. In Kuala Lumpur, people wait for the bus; in Jakarta, buses (including the small public transportation) wait for people. However, compare to Jakarta’s traffic jam, the traffic jam in Kuala Lumpur is nothing.

We decided to buy the whole-day ticket. When the bus was ready to go, the driver pushed the button to open the doors automatically. The passengers entered the bus one by one. They put their money in the money box or tap their electronic card and received a ticket from the driver. When it came our turn to pay, we asked for the RM 4 ticket and made sure that it could be used for the entire day. The driver confirmed it, but he gave an alternative.

“However, if you buy a 7 ringgits ticket, you can use it for the whole day not only for buses, but also for trains with ‘Rapid-KL’ logo,” he explained.

“By RM 7 we can use trains too?” we felt uncertain.

“Yes,” he nodded. “So, which one will you take?”

I was in doubt and not sure that the 7 ringgits ticket would really benefit us. However, my wife was inclined to the driver’s option. For seconds, we had an argument, while other passengers waited behind us. In the end, I made a quick decision.

“I want to buy the 4 ringgits ticket,” I said.

“Not the RM 7 one?” he asked me once more.

“No, just give me the RM 4 ticket,” I spoke clearly, though I still felt uncertain. At the same time, my wife gave me a sign showing her disagreement.

The driver nodded and printed two tickets which each cost 4 ringgits. I paid 8 ringgits and took the tickets. After that, we moved inside the bus and searched for seats.

“Why don’t buy the 7 ringgits ticket?” my wife complained.

“I think the cheaper the better,” I defended my choice, while kept thinking whether I had made right decision or not.

We got comfortable seats in the middle of the bus.

“The 7 ringgits ticket surely gives more advantages,” my wife still criticized me. “Besides this bus, we will also go by train to Gombak, and then use the same transportation on our way home.”

“But, we have bought the tickets,” I argued. “It’s impossible to change them.”

“Why don’t we ask the driver,” my wife suggested. “He looks very kind.”

“No, I won’t,” I refused. “He must reject us.”

“How if I try?” my wife said vaguely.

“Are you bold enough to do that? What will you do if he refuses?”

My wife became silent. But then she was grumbling. “You shouldn’t have declined the driver’s offer to buy the 7 ringgits ticket.”

“But I thought that 7 ringgits ticket is too expensive and wouldn’t benefit us.”

“It’s obviously cheaper.”

I knew it was cheaper and gave more advantages, but the problem was, to what extent? It wouldn’t be significant if the difference was only about 1 or 2 ringgits. However, I made a calculation silently and found that the 7 ringgits tickets supposed to benefit us 6 ringgits for the whole trip we plan that day. I started to regret my decision.

“You are right, the 7 ringgits ticket is more advantageous,” I admitted my mistake.

“You see, I’ve told you before.”

“What can we do, we’ve bought the ticket.”

“Just try to change the ticket, the driver may allow that.”

“I think it’s impossible,” I hesitated. “We have gone quite far from the station.” We were passing Metro Kalang at that time.

“That’s the problem. You should have chosen or changed the tickets since the beginning.”

“We have to accept the situation then, since we can’t do anything,” I consoled myself. “Take this as an experience. We’ll buy the 7 ringgits ticket next time we go to Gombak.”

We were silent and gazed at new passengers who entered the bus. I started to consider my choice. What will happen if I go forward and ask for changing the ticket? Will he accept my request? Or will he be angry and refuse it? I encouraged myself to approach the driver and asked for changing. If I failed, I wouldn’t get any risk, would I? I wouldn’t get hurt or die if the driver refused my request. So, what's to be afraid?

Thus, I convinced myself. When the bus stopped at a traffic light, I stood up from my seat.

“What are you doing?” my wife asked.

“I want to change the tickets,” I said and moved forward. I walked fast toward the driver, while my heart was pounding. I was still afraid that the driver will reject and be angry with me. Again I encouraged myself, so the driver wouldn’t see my uncertainty.

“Cik …!” I said to the driver, “May I change the tickets with the 7 ringgits ones?” I showed him my tickets and RM 6 in my hand. He looked at me for a while, while I smiled and showed him my innocent face. Can … cannot … can … cannot … can … cannot …, my mind was wrestling. C’mon, just say it if you refuse, I spoke without a sound. I was ready with the worst possibility and kept smiling.

To my surprise, the driver accepted my request. He took my tickets and the money and pushed the ticket button to produce the new ones: the 7 ringgits tickets.

After taking the new tickets, I went back directly to my seat with a triumph in my face. Yes! I’m success, Alhamdulillah! My wife asked me incessantly when I approach her. Do you succeed? What’s the driver’s reaction? He said nothing? You see, I’ve told you before. Just try it. It’s OK, isn’t it?

We were very happy with the small success we got. It was not about the financial advantages we achieved. We wouldn’t feel very happy like now if we bought the 7 ringgits tickets since the beginning. The happiness was triggered by the very important lesson we got from our experience that day; the lesson that said, “Don’t ever say impossible before you really try.” I’ve tried and I succeed, though I thought it’s impossible in the beginning. Of course, you might fail sometimes, but it won’t risk you any serious damage. So, why don’t you just try?

I thanked God for the rest of my trip. A ticket could be used for all the Rapid-KL buses and trains for the whole day. Wow, it’s great. I felt very excited and wanted to tease the driver with another question, “Cik, is it possible for us to eat freely in IIUM’s canteens with this tickets?”

Since that day, I always remember that lesson. Just try and don’t say impossible! Try and ignore the risk! You may find an unpredictable and exciting result.

Alwi Alatas
Kuala Lumpur, 3 December 2007

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