Reservist. Some people hate it and some people love it. The one to two weeks spent is most definitely a disruption to a regular schedule and given the numerous commitments that most of us working adults have, reservist ends up being another ball that we have to juggle in addition to all the other fragile, little baubles that we usually balance. Some people relish the break from work and the chance to catch up with old friends.

I fall into both camps.

While there is the pain of having to spend time in camp (mostly doing nothing of importance) on top of spending time with the missus, doing housework, and catching up on work that no one could cover for me, there is also the sense of nostalgia from getting the opportunity to sample the nasi lemak and chicken cutlet noodles that so many of us looked forward to when we were full-time national service (NS) men and the collective recollection of shared experiences that we had all those years ago.

For my vocation, there is also the opportunity to get to know some 19 or 20-year-olds who are currently doing “their time”. The most interesting guy that I met this time happened during the graveyard shift that we were both assigned to. When a person is above 30 years old, the body doesn’t function like it used to. So, my original plan was to slip into slumber but what ended up happening was a most thought-provoking conversation that helped the first five hours of the six-hour shift fly by.

The guy that was on duty with me was fairly new. Not a total rookie but still some way to go before he hit his Operationally Ready Date (ORD). Almost immediately after starting the shift, he started telling me that he has been studying philosophy, and not just any branch but stoicism. I’m no expert but I’ve heard of Stoicism and that Seneca is somewhat a practitioner of the school (not that I know anything about Seneca (the elder or younger either).

What was intriguing was that this young man claimed that reading about Stoicism and learning to apply its teachings helped him with his anxiety issues. According to him, he used to view the world through very negative lenses and thought that most people were idiots. He didn’t get along well with classmates and at the beginning, he didn’t get along very well with his camp mates either. After appreciating some of the teachings, he’s now more at peace with himself as well as others.

Listening to him, I felt that it was great that he’s feeling better now. To be honest, I couldn’t really understand where he was coming from because I’m someone that gets along quite easily with most people. There are some people that I have the utmost disdain for but by and large, I’m socially aware enough to not show extreme dislike for people. However, I am trying to change. After all, I firmly believe that we are the result of our thoughts and our thoughts are largely a function of our mind. Therefore, if I can control my mind, I can control my thoughts. If I control my thoughts, I can control my feelings and actions. If I could do that, then I could make the world, my little world at least, become a little better.

We also discussed some interesting situations, actual situations in his life that I’m not at liberty to say but I’m glad I met that guy. It was refreshing for me to see that there are young people who struggle with social issues and that a solution can be found through the cultivation of one’s thoughts.

I thought that reservist was going to be a chore and I loaded lots of anime and movies so that I could get through it. That was a choice I made. I could also have decided to spend the time more productively in a few other ways: learning more about programming, thinking of how to improve my teaching, or analysing stocks.

But I didn’t. I made that choice. So, I guess it’s true when they say that if you want different results, you have to be prepared to do things differently.

I need to make different choices.