Dato Timothy Ong is a leading Brunei businessman and the Chairman of Asia Inc Forum, he is also an acclaimed facilitator of business and public policy dialogue in ASEAN and beyond. He served as the Acting Chairman of the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB), Brunei’s leading economic agency from 2005 to 2010
“It doesn’t require much courage if you are living today the same as you did yesterday or you live tomorrow as you did today. You’ll get exactly the same result!”
How would you define courage?
Courage is something that is not so easy to define as it is such a rare commodity. It’s an attribute that you recognise when you see it. For example, speaking the truth; resisting the temptation (to just go with the flow); sacrificing privileges for a higher calling. It is much easier to imagine people with courage rather than ourselves. Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and the stories of other great historical figures can help us to understand this better.
But a lot of times, these are larger than life examples. We need to ask ourselves, in day to day life, how does it work?
Do we have the courage to: Take the path less traveled; adapt to change; leave a job that we don’t enjoy; get outside of our comfort zone; show forgiveness to someone who has hurt us; engage in a difficult conversation on important subjects? For instance, there are many families who have difficult issues that are never addressed. Do we turn a blind eye? Or do we face the issue?
Starting a new business is a brave thing to do, even though you have done all the hard work and due diligence, taking the final step involves courage.
So, courage is about overcoming one’s fear.
Someone once said “I am doing something right when I feel fear, because the human tendency is to stay in our comfort zone.” It doesn’t require much courage if you are living today the same as you did yesterday or you live tomorrow as you did today. You’ll get exactly the same result! However, in order to flourish, to enjoy the richness of life, it is important to do different things. I have a very good friend who is one of the richest men in his country. He decided at the age of 50 that he would climb Mount Everest. It almost killed him. But it was such a great experience for him that he has not stopped climbing mountains since. Every year he endeavours to climb a different one.
There’s a fine line between courage and foolishness. What’s your view on that?
Courage is not about lunatic behaviour. It’s not about jumping off a building even if the rope is unsafe. Having courage doesn’t mean you live dangerously. Reckless behavior is not courage. Walking along a dark street in NYC which is known for mugging and robbery is not courage.
What are some of your everyday fears?
Because I am introverted myself, if I go to a function or a dinner without knowing anyone, I find it rather daunting. Courage is about overcoming fear, it is also about the willingness to put yourself in a vulnerable position. For example, if I have anxiety about looking physically stupid, like climbing a horse and being thrown off, and my main concern is about what would happen if I look life a fool, I would never be able to learn to ride a horse. Being vulnerable is how we are as human beings; it’s a step towards flourishing in life. I have a very wise friend. He’d ask me; how are you? And I’d say – I’m O.K. He’d respond, O.K. is no good. You should aspire to be Great, that’s how you flourish.
Can you share with us any good example of courage?
There’s a British historian named Tony Judt who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) where your whole body dies, but your mind remains intact. Even though he was unable to move, he continued writing until he died. Judt died of ALS at his home in Manhattan in 2010. This was two weeks after a major interview and retrospective of his work in Prospect magazine and the day before an article about his illness was published indicating that he “won’t surrender any time soon”. Following his death TIME said he was “a historian of the very first order, a public intellectual of an old-fashioned kind and – in more ways than one – a very brave man”. And there’s a neurologist, physician and author from NYU, Oliver Sacks– who died a year ago from cancer. He was in his early eighties. Based on the last few essays he wrote called gratitude, Sacks spoke about confronting the fear of death with a positive outlook. To me, they are both inspirational figures. They demonstrated that the essence of courage is having the ability to rise above our fears when we encounter adversity. When we face adversity and we’re able to rise above our fear, that’s courage.