During my winter vacation I found myself questioning my mere existence and that of my role in the community and fostering Ubuntu. Yes, I know you must be wondering, “Wow! Is this what people think about during their holidays? Such profound musings!” However, I was actually at a youth development camp when this occurred.
Sitting in the front of a talk entitled “Ubuntu, Suhba & its relevance to a 21st century minority Muslim community” the speaker, Rashaad Amra, asked a very interesting question. He described his journey to the venue and commented on his consumption of a cup of coffee that was probably manufactured through the existing slave trade in Africa. He proceeded to ask us the question “Why should you care?” For what reason should we care for the emaciated African child who is captured, locked up and worked to death to create the coffee that we consume?
I remember sitting in silence, totally confounded by this question. Sure there are tons of adequate and “respectable” replies that one could give to this question but the moment he opened the floor to suggestions I found myself hitting a blank wall. Why should I care? Of course I care if someone is being tortured on a regular basis to create something for us to eat or wear but what is the reason as to why I care?
All my life I lived with the notion that we should do unto others what we would do unto ourselves. I always believed that this was a very good way to live one’s life and that it was both mutually beneficial and actually did a great deal of good. As I read these statements I realise how hollow those sentiments actually are. Nevertheless, in my ignorance I raised my hand and shared the idea. To my utter horror I was told that of course if I choose to live my life that way it is fine, but how selfish is that statement. My features contorted into absolute despair and seeing the look on my face he proceeded to explain why he called me selfish.
Essentially what that statement says is that we want to be treated in a specific way and because we want that level of treatment we will treat others as such in order to obtain it. Basically, all we are thinking about is ourselves. I am sure as you read this you are probably thinking how obvious that is and how silly I must have ever been to believe otherwise but I have truly and honestly lived my life with the ardent belief that this was a fair enough way to live my life. I believed I was doing good to others and that this reasoning was sound and sure.
With everything I believed flipped upside down and inside out, I sat crestfallen as I began to re-evaluate my mere reason for being. I've always been the kind of person who would answer “end world hunger” when asked what I would like to do with my life. I don’t care much for the prestige and money that accompanies my degree but rather the level of help and change I can achieve with it. My primary reason for existence, I believe, is to make a difference in as many lives as possible but without a reason for wanting to do it, what is my motivation and drive?
The way we treat those around us as well as the way we treat those we don’t know through the things we indulge in and contribute toward, determines the state in which we will leave this world. Will we leave it having done something meaningful? It isn’t about getting your name out there and getting people to recognise you but rather about making a recognisable change in the lives of others without other people knowing. For truly the best deeds are those done in darkness.
Our reason for wanting to do good, for wanting to help others, should not be for the betterment of ourselves but for the betterment of others. Many of us are blessed with wealth and fortune whereas an even greater amount of us are not. The reasoning is simple. Will we use the tools we have gained to make the lives of others better simply because we can? How do we live with ourselves, on our high horses, when so many skulls are crushed beneath the hooves?
Being forced to re-evaluate your existence is actually a very eye-opening experience and one I hope to further share with the minority of people who frequent this blog. While I still search for the absolute reason as to why I should strive for the attainment of Ubuntu, I will always look back at this experience and be thankful. Had I not been questioned I would never have realised the selfish ideals I had made the foundation of my existence.