When I was a child, I remember driving through parts of Jacksonville where black people lived in wooden shacks on cinderblocks. It made me sad for them. Little did I know that they weren’t necessarily sad themselves. Yet, it didn’t feel right that people in general had to live like that. We weren’t rich. In fact, we lived in a black neighborhood for a while when my mother was single with two children. But later, after she remarried and we moved to the insulation of the suburbs, whenever I’d see poor people, a feeling of inequity would sweep over me. Why did people have to be poor? Was it their fault that they were born into poverty? Or born black? Or born in Haiti instead of Boston? How was I supposed to just accept that when I laid in my little bedroom at night with Charlie’s Angels pictures taped to warm sheetrock walls, somewhere out there children my age were laying in drafty rooms with holes in the floor?
It didn’t make sense to me then. It still doesn’t. How can we be a great nation if we allow our citizens to live in poverty? How can we be a great nation if we reward only a select few with the means to quality education and healthcare? I don’t have the official numbers on how many Americans live at or below the poverty level, but it sure feels like those numbers are expanding. And it feels wrong. And I’m sorry, but the answer is not simply ‘work harder.’
Last week I came across this Facebook update that a friend had liked:
Today I read a story about an anthropologist who proposed a game to the kids in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the kids that who ever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, they all took each others hands and ran together – and then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that as one could have had all the fruits for himself they said, “Ubuntu.” And asked him how any one can be happy if all the other ones are sad?
UBUNTU in the Xhosa culture means: “I am because we are.”
What happens to us as we grow older in this land of opportunity? What kind of calloused exterior grows over our hearts? At what point do the blinders grow out of our temples to keep us focused exclusively on that which we desire, individually–providing us with justification for the gulf between rich and poor? Between sharing and coveting? Between caring and indifference?
How do we get back to serving each other? And can the United States lead the way, or is our culture destined for failure because of our embedded competitive nature that encourages and rewards those who keep a foot on the throat of the competition–creating a divide in prosperity that we celebrate as some mutated form of success?
Or, perhaps children must lead the way. And if so, then we must begin to raise them selflessly, so that they can raise the rest of us out of this mess.
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Apr 1, 2012
Less is more.
Our society dictates that more is more and we should WANT more. We have some groups that plead for money to leave the country for the plight of children in far away lands yet these same groups have no intention of helping the poor of THIS country. Our government is then tasked to assist those less fortunate, but those same groups that would bend over backward for injustice abroad would then deny the poor of this country by claiming it is not the job of our government to provide anything to the poor. In doing this they implement the “dog eat dog” idea of democracy that was not the intention of our founding fathers.
Those founders envisioned all men being equal = Ubuntu or all achieving happiness as one “A more perfect Union” because they understood the downfall of society in the past – senseless greed without a means to stop it. That is why they implemented checks and balances, because power corrupts and they feared the subversion of society if we were to revert to greed un-impeded.
If you can equate the plight of the poor and under served it would be this: The poor are the Blood sacrifice to the gods of greed. No different than the tribute necessary to establish and perpetuate the Mayan or the Roman empires .
We all know how those turned out in the end.
Apr 2, 2012
Was thinking about “Ubuntu” – perhaps the closest we get to it is within some families.
In general, we’re are not conditioned to think/act/feel fulfillment from this attitude – which is sad. For example, an elderly neighbor of mine has had a major financial hiccup due to car repairs. After a couple thousand on some engine work the battery went dead. She won’t use credit to pay for a new battery and the car is sitting there. I offered to take care of the battery – but she declined. I’ve been taking her to the grocery store, bank, etc. The other day, I was at the post office and it occurred to me that she may not have stamps, so I bought her a strip of stamps.
It distressed her because she could not pay me for them. I explained that I didn’t expect to be paid for the stamps – that I picked them up because I knew she was “grounded” and might need the stamps. Suffice to say that getting her to take the stamps was exhausting work.
My long-winded point is that sometimes even if we’re inclined to help (without expecting anything in return) – people are uncomfortable accepting the help/gifts.
You always make me think. Thank you.
Apr 2, 2012
Yes, pride. Pride is a bitch. And sadly, we’ve got a culture here in America where we’re too proud to accept the kindness of strangers (or even neighbors). What in the world is that? I think it’s because there are whole generations of people who simply will never ‘get’ the whole Ubuntu concept. Our children go to Montessori elementary school. It’s as close as I’ve seen (as a parent) to this ‘all for one’ ideology. But it won’t last. Not as long as they enter a talent pool that is cut-throat. And where does that kind of thinking get us all? No where. It gets some of us to this place we think is safe and perfect, but it’s not. Not when we drive out of our suburbs into the real world.