How are we to live?

2012-09-28 08:14

We exist in an age of self-interest. At a national level we compete for resources and trade flows. At an individual level we compete for parking spots and better pay packages. Life is not easy. Was it ever so? We fight to survive not perhaps because of our selves but because of those that rely on us - our families. Strikers are fighting to support their families. As we all are. The world has become an increasingly fast and frightening place where we do what we can to support those closest to us. But what if we could extend that support on a wider basis to encompass humanity as a whole? Or maybe just the surrounding neighbourhood?

There are of course examples of great humanitarians in history. No-one should be expected to give up everything and follow them. However, I would suggest that we do need to give up some things. Because in order to help and support others we first need to be free and self-empowered ourselves. Freedom comes from the lack of want. Freedom is anti-consumerism, anti-growth. It runs against everything we have been trained and socialised to do, from late hours at work to living at shopping malls on the weekend. No wonder we feel trapped and powerless all the time.

All of this is much easier said than done. Perhaps a story might assist...

In 1955 Adrian Boshier was a sixteen-year-old boy over from England. One day he walked into the African bush and never looked back. He learned to survive the hard way—by doing it. He milked snakes and sold the venom, his epilepsy made him a diviner amongst local people and eventually he assisted archeologists and game rangers. Lyal Watson (author of Supernature) wrote a book about Adrian called The Lightning Bird. However, it's Adrian's son Luke Boshier that I want to talk about. Luke grew up under a tree in the then Northern Transvaal. He managed to get funds to attend King Edward school but as soon as he could he made the break for Africa himself.

When in Uganda Luke dealt with the repatriation of people from concentration camps during the genocide, back to the land. The atrocities were dumbfounding, the fear unfathomable. Luke clearly wasn't arrogant enough to believe he could help, just create sustainable infrastructure to get the basics for sustainability back i.e. fresh water, food security and shelter. After that there is little more. It is then for the individual to decide how to piece their own lives back together. Luke would feel anger at the acres of food tents set up by the world food programs as they dished out grain in one of the most fertile countries in the world, no doubt well-intentioned but essentially control based and destroying freedom. Luke went on to develop the Sustainability Institute near Stellenbosch and then a few sustainable villages at Sicambeni near Port St. Johns and Mgwenyana near Umtata. Now he is doing much the same on a farm near Hermanus, dabbling in things like terraquaponics and growing all their own food and creating all their own energy. Whilst local farmers struggle to eke out crops with their pesticides, Luke is probably the only person growing rice paddies and strawberries amongst the fynbos fields. Luke and Diane have very few worldy possessions (other than a trusty iPhone and laptop) but I have never met anyone more free or more self-empowered. They have helped many others along their journey but ultimately we must all help ourselves first before we can help others.

We humans seem only to be able to deal at the symptomatic level, applying band aids to our wounds without dealing with the root causes. The noise and rush of life keeps us from self introspection and from taking proper responsibility for our lives. We have grown up in a system that exists through control, not through anything conscious but unconsciously as we all strive for more. Money may not be the root of all evil but it is the most effective tool of control. We throw away our freedoms and self-empowerment as we allow ourselves to be controlled by the want for more. And then when we get it we live and act from a place of fear of losing it. We doubt ourselves and others, as opposed to love. Below are two quotes that express some of these thoughts far better than I ever could:

When asked "What thing about humanity surprises you the most?", the Dalai Lama answered: "Man…. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."

"A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the 'Universe', a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

- Albert Einstein, quoted in H. Eves Mathematical Circles Adieu (Boston 1977)

Until we can reconnect and develop a relationship with ourselves, each other and our host (the earth) we are just consumers, aliens. Our one dimensional solution solving process has separated us from ourselves and our understanding of the principles of nature- balance. Again, this is all much easier said than done. The hard work begins with you. Take some time this weekend to consciously decide to start becoming responsible for your own survival. Why go to Woolworths for insanely expensive packaged vegetables when you can grow your own? They will be much fresher and far tastier as well. Trust me, the feeling of freedom and empowerment that brings is its own reward. There are hundreds of other ways you can start taking control of your life... the internet is your friend.

Bishop Desmond Tutu once explained Ubuntu as "The essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity."

That to me is the spirit and meaning of Ubuntu. It must become more than a word, it must become a movement! Ubuntu is the way we are to live. It is the opposite of the corruption and self-interest we are seeing in our country at the moment. And to achieve it you need to become self-empowered first. You cannot help others until you have healed and helped yourself.

As a commodity trader and ex-investment banker I am increasingly concerned about the state of the world economy. Things are totally out of kilter and something has to give. There will be a great financial reckoning at some point in the next few months, of that I am certain. That will force us to reconsider the way we live. Don't wait, start now. Ubuntu lives.


AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

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