Written by: Shafie
My profile of being an aluminium can collector was posted on a few online sites recently. As usual, there were some negative comments but it was the positive ones that buoyed me, even though the story may be somewhat one-dimensional and skewered.
Coincidently, on the day that the story came out, someone posted on my blog to go kill myself because I was an idiot to make such a life-changing decision and the world would be a better place without me!
I believed the negative comments were made probably due more to ignorance or lack of empathy than anything else and I didn’t take them seriously.
Though can-collecting seems a mundane and joyless task to many, I have actually learned much from the experience:-
Sense of Purpose
When I first started to collect the cans, it was more out of desperation than a willingness to find an alternative source of income. My funds were running out and I have no other alternative sources of income. There was job interview coming and I did not even have the money to pay for my own bus fare to get to the interview.
Now, I collect cans to give me a sense of purpose. I no longer collect them regularly. I collect them more as a stop-gap measure whenever I needed some quick cash to tide things over.
I could have stayed at home and wallow in self pity but by waking up early in the morning, planning my route and estimating the number of cans I would need to collect to get the necessary cash for the bus fare gave me that positive feeling of doing something productive in my life.
What I have learnt is that if I can put my mind to it – I can do the work. And if I can do it, so can you. I am not asking you to go out and start collecting cans or cardboards, or essentially to be a ‘karung-guni’ (rag-a-bone) man. What I’m saying is – if you feel horribly hopeless and powerless, you need to find something to do.
We all need a goal for ourselves and once we know what we are doing – even for that day – we will feel energized and ready to conquer the world.
It can be a hobby or helping other people out. It can even be the simple act of just going out to do simple exercises. Do something other than shutting the world out and hiding in your home – this will only make you feel more miserable.
We have value when others perceive us as worthless
My constant failure to secure stable work used to make me feel frustrated and angry. The seemingly lack of empathy I received from recruiters and government organisations have made me feel that I was treated not as a person with feelings but rather a statistical figure.
I have to constantly remind myself that despite not getting any decent work, I have to value myself as a person as no one else will do that for me. Its a mind game and I don’t always win.
Can-collecting has allowed me to go beyond my comfort zone and used my past analytical and problem-solving skills to maximise the time and effort to collect the necessary amount of cans.
Every one of us can bring some value to the table. It does not matter if others are blind to it as long as we know that we can do the job. If you can’t find that dream job of yours during the interim period, do something else to ensure that your skills and expertise remain relevant.
If you can find the positives even in the most mundane of chores or dirtiest of work, it speaks volumes about you as a person. And this would bring out the confidence in you – even if it is just about collecting cans.
Changing our mindsets
When I first started collecting cans, I was cheated out of a few dollars by unscrupulous middle-men. All that time and effort seemed wasted for just a fistful of dollars and there were times I felt like giving up.
There is no way I can change the ‘sub-culture’ of the middlemen who have been in it for years.
Initially, I sold the cans to the middle-men out of convenience as they came by close to my home. However, I felt that if I was going to continue to sell to them, I would not be able to meet my daily cash target.
So, I did my research and found a recycling firm about fifty minutes by bus from my home. I even bought a larger canvas bag so that it would allow me more flexibility when I transported them around.
I have also learnt to skip the counting can part and now only guess the estimated combined weight of the cans to know that I have hit my target. Talking about productivity!
If we do not change our mindsets and the way we perceived things, we will always find ourselves in a situation whereby the world have moved on and we are left behind.
It is not about changing or discarding our beliefs or moral values, it is about changing the way we think and turning adversity into a winning possibility.
Empower yourself by forgiving
Because of my ethnicity I have been called names and I have lost count the number of times I have been made to feel that the situation I am in was of my own doing.
It would have been easy for me to lash out at the discriminatory practices of certain companies but this would not solve my problem and can only make it worse.
In life, every one of us has been hurt by the actions or words of someone else and if left unchecked, this can turn us into an angry, vindictive and bitter person.
We are already stressed to find ways to put food on the table, pay those never-ending bills and ensure that our family has a roof over our head. The situation will not get any better if we always blame others for the situation that we are in. These people can go home and be happy but we can’t!
I have found that by embracing forgiveness, I have inner peace, hope, gratitude and joy. I can sleep soundly and my health has improved.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act..
By forgiving, we regain control over our own life and it is a commitment to a process of change. Finally, to those faceless detractors who posted derogatory and negative comments on my blog, I forgive you!
We shall overcome!