Wednesday, July 05, 2017

I Am Because We Are - Ubuntu

The story is told of an anthropologist who proposed a game to some South African tribal children.

He placed a basket of sweets near a tree and made the children stand 100 metres away from the tree. He then announced that whoever is first to get to the basket would get all the sweets in it. At the sound of the whistle, all the children held hands and ran together towards the tree. They shared the sweets equally among themselves and happily ate them.
Why did the children do this?
"Ubuntu" - 'How can one be happy when the others are sad?' 'I am because we are.'

Should I live to the biblically stated age of 3 score and 10, then in all my almost half life on God's green earth, I have not experienced anything of the sort.
I would say someone point me in the direction of this place; I would so want to spend the other half of my life there, but first, let's replay the story.

An anthropologist proposed a game to some adults.

He placed a sack full of a couple of millions of US Dollars near a tree and made the adults stand 100 metres away from the tree. He then announced that whoever is first to get to the sack would get all the US Dollars in it. At the sound of the whistle, the adults took off, some pulling others down, some tripping others, those with weapons tried killing the others until finally, one, all bloodied, bruised and half limping made it to the tree.

It's not the place. It's the subjects; children.

Children inherently are wired to live according to the "ubuntu" philosophy. They play together, have fun together, are happy together; what's the point if the happiness is not shared? And then the adult factor takes over. The competitive adult. The adult who will play favourites. The adult who will pit one child against the other and let them feel the most important thing in the world is to be first. First in class, first in sports, first in everything.
Of course, for the first position to exist, there has to be a last position. So basically, children are taught to succeed at the expense of others. Children are taught to be happy when others are sad.

This anthropologist did the exact same thing. He tried to pit the children against each other by asking them to race to the tree; the first would get the basket of sweets. The children resisted and rebelled.

When I was in high school, we wrote an exam at the end of each term. In the examination room, we were seated according to our positions in the previous exams. From the back of the exam room we sat, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, to the last in the front row. I honestly have no idea what that was meant to achieve, but in all my 3 years in high school, no one moved from the first row (last position) to the last row (first position). The only movements were to the left or right. These were no more than two steps. No one wanted to sit in the first row. Why should I help you when we are all fighting to not sit in the first row? I'd much rather help myself and myself only to remain in the last row (or closer to the last row).

Thankfully, in the university, the system of ranking students did not exist. It was in the university that I experienced students helping each other out and forming study groups. If we all get a First Class, great; I do not have to fight you and make sure you don't get a First Class to ensure my First Class in ranked higher than yours.
But, by this time, it really is already too late. Children, now young adults, have the spirit of competition and succeeding at the expense of the other person ingrained in them.

'I am because we are.'
It is difficult, next to impossible to write a paragraph illustrating this statement. I doubt I know what it looks like.

But I could write a whole encyclopaedia filled with examples of, 'I am because I am', 'animal farm', 'when pull him down is the way to go', 'it's a good idea to be corrupt and line my pockets with taxpayers' money', 'when I love you is just words', 'when cheating has made me the happiest person alive', 'why worry about your happiness when all that matters is mine', 'swindling - that's the name of the game', 'so I deceived you, so I led you on and so what', and the list goes on and on and on.

Imagine the near utopian world we could live in if "ubuntu" meant something to all of us.
Our politicians would be looking out for our best interests and not looking out for just theirs. Our roads would get constructed properly because the contractor, wanting you to be happy as well, would not cut corners, doing a shoddy job just so he can line his pockets. Our psychiatric hospitals wouldn't be as full as they are because 'I love you' is more than just words. Suicide rates would decrease because people would not feel the need to lead others on and drop them when they feel like it. Crime would be non existent. There wouldn't be a need to steal, kill or destroy. No one would think about outwitting the other person. There would never be the need to lynch anyone, robber or not, accidentally or intentionally. Why?
Because, how can one be happy when the others are sad?

I once saw an inscription on the wall of a South African airport, and it read: 'if you want to walk fast, walk alone; but if you want to walk far, walk together'. I later found out it is an African proverb. It's amazing the great ideas we have here in Africa. I say ideas, why?
Do we practise them? Ever?

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