Posted by: angmlr007 | 21/02/2011

The “Principle of Equivalent Exchange”: How our lives revolve around it (no this is not Physics)

“Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy’s first law of equivalent exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world’s one, and only, truth.” – Alphonse Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist)

It’s been many months since I last watched the Fullmetal Alchemist anime, or read the manga, but this particular quote has stuck with me since the first day I’ve started following this series. The entire story is built around this principle, and how human greed takes Man into a desperate chase to beat the system, to defy the fundamental laws of our universe – sometimes leading to rather devastating outcomes and results. For those of you who watch Fullmetal Alchemist,

As I pondered about the Principle of Equivalent Exchange, I was inevitably reminded about the science I was taught in high school, particularly in physics and chemistry classes. In all chemical reactions, the sum of all elements in your reactants must equal to the sum of all elements in your products – matter cannot be created or destroyed. In physics, we are confined by the laws of conservation of energy: energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be transformed from one form to another. In the words of my physics teacher, Mr. K. Y. Lim: “There is no free lunch”.

And indeed we realize that in life, there is no such thing as “free lunch”. For every dollar we earn, we need to put in an “equivalent” amount of time, energy, and effort to work for it. For every hour we spend on books, we sacrifice that time that could have been spent on the little things beyond education, like friends, family, exercise, etc. For security and protection, we lose the freedom to pursue risks and adventures.

With that said, our lives can be easily broken down into choices of gain and loss: What do we stand to gain if we choose this? What do we compromise in the process?

I can only think of too many examples to share when it comes to the compromises that I have made in my pursuit of my “dreams and aspirations”. In a bid to boost my CAP in school, I worked tirelessly on scoring near-perfect scores for my quizzes, tests, and exams, and consequently sacrificed the time I could have spent with friends and getting to know them better. Because I was desperate to spruce up my portfolio to increase my chances of being accepted into a top university overseas, I put myself through a lot of different programmes, so that they “rack up points” on my graduation transcripts, and in doing so, lost sight of the things I am truly interested in doing. Because I was practical, logical, and uncaring, I made most of my decisions based on what brings me the most gains, without considering the implications on others, how others would react to my actions and decisions, their emotions and feelings, etc. Where I gained a lot and people often praise me for it, I look deeper in and discovered that I have also lost a lot more than I could have imagined.

What else are we putting to the flame?

For logic, we sacrifice emotion.

For career, we sacrifice family.

For wealth, we sacrifice time – and for some, integrity.

And the irony of these compromises, is that we never realize it are until they are gone.


So… have you counted the compromises that you have made in life?



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