7th April 2024 – (Hong Kong) In Hong Kong’s perpetually frenetic hustle, the city’s workaholics cling to an alluring lie: that our incessant busyness is the hallmark of industriousness rather than troubles being stubbornly evaded. However, beneath the tireless pursuit of corporate goals and the relentless pursuit of the next business opportunity, there lies a troubling reality that remains hidden – we possess exceptional skills as escape artists, adept at orchestrating a collective illusion.

Our techniques are myriad and often inconspicuous. Many of us are addicted – not to vice per se, but to seemingly banal pursuits that omit societal stigma. We compulsively check news feeds and relentlessly reorganise our homes, exercise with religious zeal or perpetually take on new workplace initiatives. To the casual observer, we epitomise diligent professionals fuelling Hong Kong’s vaunted work ethic. However, unmask our motives, and a starker reality emerges – we are hooked on any distraction stymieing confrontation with the darker, less palatable shadings of our interiority.

When the obsessive quality of routines like doom-scrolling or feverishly tackling house repairs are our mechanisms for suppressing discomfiting self-knowledge, the hallmarks of addiction are undeniable. Our desperation to outrun our conflicted inner lives is the substance we crave, fuelling a manic preoccupation with anything staving off true self-encounter.

Then there are the chipper pandemic “motivators” flooding our social feeds with gratingly relentless pep. Aggressive jollity masquerades as happiness, but its inviolable sunniness betrays an inability to tolerate sadness. The remorseless upbeat influencer cannot risk acknowledging disappointment or grief – to do so would be to loosen the tightly-reined defences fortifying them against their own unacknowledged wellsprings of despondency.

Self-deceit also festers in our propensity to diminish and disavow the very things we might have once coveted. We disparage former friends who outpaced us; we sneer at careers we laboured for but fell brutally short of; we deprecate life paths emblematic of ungrasped aspiration. By denigrating our erstwhile yearnings, we erect psychological fortifications against properly metabolising their loss.

A malaise of cynicism metastasises for similar reasons. We cast sweeping denouncements upon humanity, seeking all individuals and their endeavours as universally flawed so that the specific loci of our suffering evade inspection. If life is a comprehensive purgatory, pinpointing any discrete source of torment becomes moot.

For the Hong Kong overachiever, nothing obviates self-interrogation quite like inflating intellectual vanity. We amass credentials and bury ourselves under tomes esoteric enough to mutate personal histories into irrelevant distractions. Our minds teem with obscure narratives – the role of Hapsburg taxation in the Crimean War, the finer points of ninth-century monastic lineages – while the seismic events shaping our own autobiographies remain unexhumed, concealed beneath avalanches of knowledge brandished as emblems of erudition.

We adorn our walls with framed doctorates and fellowships not because their subjects are innately meaningful, but because intellectual prowess deflects more essential examination. These arcane obsessions are sentries, deployed to dismiss as frivolous any excavation of our emotional arcs, superseding the need to grasp how life calcified, or to fathom the genesis of our present burdens.

Hong Kongers have become connoisseurs of the anti-psychological, belittling psychological complexity as so much new-age folderol. We scorn therapy’s overtures as unbefitting our signature “toughness.” In social settings, the notion of self-exploration is deflated through sarcasm and bravado implying such navel-gazing is self-indulgent nonsense. We tend to view emotional detachment as a sign of sanity, while excessive introspection is often seen as a pathology.

This allergy to exploring our depths is more than cultural cat-calling – it reflects a desperation to uphold a very strategic self-misrepresentation. We insist that focusing single-mindedly on work, accumulating property, or chasing prosperity’s trappings is evidence of rugged level-headedness. The implication is that deeper self-knowledge is frivolous because our identities are uncompounded, our motivations unclouded. We protest that we are transparent utilitarians shaped by unvarnished pragmatism rather than emotional consignments from antiquated pasts.

Such myth-making is hardly unique to Hong Kong’s psyche. We all defensively edit our autobiographies to dilute life’s lingering unresolved aches. Yet this city’s spiritual reticence, entrenched materialistic hierarchies and culturally encoded rationalism create catalytic conditions for personifying this delusion. Here, the worship of wealth and status cultivates an allergy to nuanced selfhood. Publicly embracing emotional candour is rebuked as self-indulgent fragility, subordinate to doubling down on prosperity-mongering.

The rampant psychological truancy is ultimately self-immolating. When we lack intimate emotional literacy, we starve our souls of the sustenance only radical honesty can yield. Inevitably, the costs materialise – in our eroded creativity, our volatility towards loved ones, our alienation from purposefulness. While we anaesthetise with the conquests of bank balances and possessions, the dimensions of our personhoods atrophy from inexcusable neglect.

This is an egoistic injunction, not a moralising one. The societal privilege of dispassionately philosophising our way to raised consciousness is mere bourgeois self-indulgence. Hong Kongers forfeit our humanity through self-deception because it corrodes the integrity and vitality of our emotional bandwidths. Our wilful ignorance spawns perpetual upheavals – in our hair-trigger defensiveness, our depressive stretches, our poisonous projections upon colleagues and partners shielding us from culpability.

The antidote is not assuming a therapist’s couch, though for many this could be a pragmatic starting point. It begins with evaluating why we are so committed to eschewing self-probing, and what core vulnerabilities we are shoring ourselves against. It is recognising that rather than lifelong stasis, our identities are fluid constructs perpetually sculpted by our experiential odysseys. It is realising that achieving an existence of unalloyed equanimity and impervious self-possession is a meretricious fiction peddled to those craving deliverance from their own very human, very flawed selves.

Relinquishing the reassuring delusions blanketing our consciousness requires daunting reserves of emotional fortitude. It necessitates adopting a perpetual, uncompromising stance of courageous self-inquiry towards unlearning the mendacious coping schemas we have defaulted into. The readiness to thoroughly explore our inner workings, even when the resulting insights challenge our deeply ingrained beliefs and assumptions about ourselves and our motivations.

Ultimately, rejecting the path of industrialised self-deceit is to accept that Hong Kong’s frenetic culture of excess is, for many, symptomatic of profound despondency – a desperate, labyrinthian flight from unresolved traumas and existential disconnects. It is a choice to no longer revel in the ego’s dazzling citadels at the cost of forfeiting the soul’s nourishment. It is an atonement acknowledging that until we brave the descent into our underworlds and honour our shadowed selves, prosperity’s delirious adrenaline will forever be a hollowing substitution for the authenticity we abandoned long ago.