Possessions and Obsessions

Jan 2016    

Our devices now allow us to stay connected 24/7, so we take our work into our bedrooms and even on holidays, such that it affects our work-life balance. Yet, are our devices to blame?

I am on my fifth day of being without a possession which has not left my hand since I was in Primary Five – my wrist watch. In my rush to leave for a short break, I took an old watch

without noticing its dead battery. So for the past four days, I have been peeking at the watches of those around me to tell the time.

This brings me to the topic of possessions. I ask myself, do I own them or do they own me? Just as I feel the compulsion to look at my left wrist to tell the time, many of us instinctively use our smartphones at each and every convenient moment. As I ride on the MRT, at least half of the passengers are on their devices. People are talking, even watching their screens, as they cross roads. We have suddenly become obsessed with the need to stay connected or focused on something else other than what we are doing. It is as if being distracted has become the new norm.

This is not only happening in our casual living spaces. I have observed it too at work and in formal settings. I have been to several meetings where participants made little eye contact and were more preoccupied with their screens. I fear we are becoming more reliant on making deals and decisions based on digital data than on our intuitive knowledge of the person.

As a marital and family therapist, I am concerned about how this preoccupation with digital devices is affecting relationships. Couples can sit opposite each other and not communicate at all. Our devices now allow us to stay connected 24/7, so we take our work into our bedrooms and even on holidays, such that it affects our work-life balance. Yet, are our devices to blame? Is it right to demonise the possessions or should responsibility for their use be with the owners?

What does our focus on our possessions say about us? In the past, manners make a man but today, “looking right” is more important than behaving right. Are our lives so empty that we have to be walking billboards in order to feel secure?

Another question: What is it about our human condition that makes us prone to obsessions? Being focused is a good discipline when we strive for excellence in a topic or skill. But when it becomes a compulsion and obsession, we have lost our perspective. In my work, I come across people who are obsessed with certain fears or losses. I think of the senior nurse who quit her job because she could not get to work on time as her cleaning obsession took control of her life.

I think that the source of our obsessions is our inability to accept what life presents to us. Acceptance does not mean failing to strive for excellence or being satisfied with sub-standard work. But once having done our part, we should accept it as an expression of who we are. And if others, even our bosses, find that it did not “exceed (their) expectations”, we can be content since our Maker accepts us as we are.

How about experimenting with freeing ourselves from possessions and routines this year? Take a few days off from a device, habit or routine and see if it helps us better appreciate what we have, and observe what we missed when we have been so consumed by these devices and routines.


Picture by elwynn/


Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church


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