What would you do if you found R1,000 ($440) at an ATM?
This question arises out of a speech I heard at a local Toastmasters club this morning. The person delivering his speech, which he had entitled “There must be a God”, is a divorced man with two young children from a missionary family. He used three examples from his own life that he hoped would demonstrate why, in his opinion, there is a God. One of these examples was that on three occasions in his life when he had been in dire need of money he had prayed. On the same day as he had prayed on the first occasion he had found R500 lying on a pavement, on the second he had found R1,000 lying at an ATM and on the third he had won money.
My own reaction was one of shock that a person of high morals and integrity would think that finding money at an ATM is the answer to a prayer. I certainly believe in the power of prayer and I also believe that every event that is presented to me in my life has a gift to offer me. Were I to find R1,000 (using the Big Mac Index rather than currency exchange rates this equates to UD$440 or £460) I would expect to find a gift in the journey of returning the money to its rightful owner. I would go to the bank and hope they could trace all cash withdrawal just prior to me finding the money and trace the person who had inadvertently walked away without his/her money. I would think that possibly the grateful owner of the money might honour me with a finder’s fee or that the bank might offer me job or in some way the good that I had enacted would be rewarded.
However, I think I may in the minority and that most people would see money just lying about as a just answer to a prayer.
By now everyone has seen the photo of Aylan Kurdi, the 3 year old toddler washed up on a Turkish beach after the boat he, his older brother, mother and father were travelling in sank. Suddenly the mass of Syrian refugees has become an individual, a young child, with a name, parents and a tragically short biography.
In the earliest beginnings of humanity we lived as family units, then as villages or tribes. When it became law to have a family name for the purpose of registration and taxation many families in many cultures chose names that identified them as the son of their father. Go into the townships of South Africa and ask for directions from someone who was born there and they will probably direct you using the homes of relatives and friends as landmarks, not street names or prominent features – shops, billboards, public buildings. Read books of societies a century ago and note how prominently people feature as individuals, by name and pedigree.
Today we identify ourselves more strongly as individual than ever before. We do not want to be lumped together with our family or social grouping and yet, more than ever we see everyone else as an amorphous mass. We speak of the Syrian refugee crisis, African refugees, beggars on the street corners, in South Africa we love to lump taxi drivers into a single grouping. The media possibly takes the lead in this, probably because size matters, groups are more scary than individuals.
When a face is put to a grouping, as The Sunday Times in South Africa reminded us on 6th September 2015, Aylan Kurdi becomes the Syrian refugees, Hector Petersen became the face of the student uprising in the mid-1970’s in South Africa, the naked girl the face of the war in Vietnam. When we take the trouble to meet the man begging at a traffic light we meet a person with a name, a family, a biography and a story, someone not to different from ourselves.
So, why don’t we recognise the individual? I suggest it may have something to do with how we operate emotionally: we have basically two emotions – fear and love. All other emotions are one or the other. Fear drives us to generalise and see everyone else as different from us while love allows us to see the individual. The media loves to drive the emotion of fear. Look at headlines; it sells. However, the photo of Aylan Kurdi proves that love also sells.
The US government has taken the route of fear: “if we accept refugees we may let in terrorists”. Pope Francis on the other hand has championed love calling on all Catholic families to take in a refugee family. Fear: us and them; love: see the individual.
The photo of Aylan Kurdi has caused many people in Europe to see the individual; groups from England have crossed to France to help feed the refugees being barred from crossing the Channel and the German government is looking at accepting large numbers to refugees to bring their skills and labour to Germany.
What does it take for each one of us to set aside fear, stop grouping others as different and embrace love and see the individual and learn to relate to him or her?
What is the value, dare I say purpose, of teachers in our lives? I ask this question in the wake of the recent death of Dr. Wayne Dyer and because in recent weeks, I have attended the book launch of several acquaintances who fall into this category and have attended ‘free’ talks by prominent professional speakers.
Great teachers have been with us throughout the existence of humanity, from the tribe or village elder, the ‘medicine man’, to the world teachers such as the Buddha, the Christ and the Prophet, peace be upon him. Today we have many teachers who fall into the categories of motivation and self improvement. Some of these teachers have been through personal struggles, maybe even gone into a personal retreat and through inner reflection, and maybe inspiration, realised great truths that have helped them overcome and grow. These teachers have seen the value of these great truths for other people and somehow been led to share them with ever greater audiences. Some teachers have started out as wanting to be professional speakers and through research discovered great truths and by reflecting on the impact these truths have on audiences or restricted working groups refined their teaching. Most of these teachers have written books to supplement their public engagements.
Many people in the world feel that life has a purpose. Maybe this is an existential question that most people dwell on at some point in their life. For some people it becomes a life quest to find their purpose. For these people the teachers become an attraction. I can say this because I think I fall into this category. I see many of my fellow seekers at talks by the many different teachers that ‘come to town’. The very fact that I go from teacher to teachers and so many others are also seen at the events of different teachers raises a very important question: how are these teachers changing lives?
I think it is fair to say that all teachers have changed their own lives. The very process they have gone through or embarked upon have resulted in a change in their lives for the better. The question is the transferability of this change to others. I think the very secret lies in the process that each of these teachers have personally undertaken. I think the value lies primarily in the process and less in the wisdom that comes to the surface as a result of the process. Each teacher has a different message, a different teaching, believes he or she has distilled the essence of purpose, success or any other existential question better than anyone else. I think this may indeed be true for themselves, but is it true for anyone else. I hazard a proposition that with so many people attending programmes by professional teachers we should be seeing great leaps in the number of people who are purpose driven and fulfilling their purpose. Yet, all I see are more teachers emerging suggesting instead that this is becoming a lucrative market rather than a real life changer.
As stated earlier, I think the real value lies in the process, not in the acquisition – often a complete download – of wisdom. The people who go through a process become changed by that process. I think this is the argument of most of the teachers: that their process will change our life. However, I content that this is not the case with an imposed process. The teacher did not have a process imposed on them that led them to the point where they chose to become teachers, the process came to them out of the circumstances of their life. As a result I feel that the very eloquent sales process that most, if not all, the teachers apply to persuade seekers to sign up for their particular programme is harmful. It continues the perception that an imposed process is as valuable as an inevitable process.
So what value can teachers play? Is it to share their personal story and thereby encouraging those seeking purpose in life to embark on a personal journey, a personal process, a process without fixed guidance? The question for the teachers would become one of monetising their value-add. I would almost wish to suggest that the place of teachers should be replaced by coaches and mentors. Instead of prescribing a process a coach would assist you in finding your own process, but hold you accountable to your own milestones and timetable. Or if you choose to follow in the steps of someone else they would mentor you through those steps but in your own personal way. Or maybe I just feel that all wisdom has been in this world for millennia and repackaging it and monetising this new form of the old is disingenuous. With so many people on a path of searching for answers to existential questions and then, also asking themselves when they find answers, whether this qualifies them to become teachers of the process they have followed makes the question of the value of teachers, in my opinion, one that is deserving of thought.
We live in a society that believes in one-size-fits-all when it comes to success in life. Success is measured in material accumulation and career achievements. In order to achieve this rather narrow perception of success, and forming part of this accumulation, is a scholastic path with high grades through high school and
university. Yet, most great life coaches speak of a fulfilled life as being a balanced life. These teachers speak of various components of life that we should try to keep in balance. An example of the various components to a fulfilled life would be:
This is an 8-fold division of a person’s life. A quick internet search brings up 5 (spirit, mind, body, relationship & work), 7 (social, spiritual, personal, physical, family, financial & career) and 10 (family, spiritual, emotional, work, social, financial, cultural, recreational, physical & intellectual) alternative divisions to a balanced life. It is okay to be out of balance and focus on one area of one’s life for periods of growth in that area, but to maintain balance means devoting time to the other areas thereafter. To balance an 8-fold division of life means spending on average 2 hours on each area in a 24 hour day where 8 hours is given over to sleeping. Yet, our societal demands are that we spend 8-14 hours on our career and making money and neglect six other key areas of life.
Is it any wonder that people feel stressed and out of balance, unfulfilled and depressed?
Business/Career and financial success should be about having enough instead of being about having excess. Striving for excess drives the world economy, true; has brought about higher standards of living than ever know in history, true; and resulted in people living longer than in recorded history, true. Or is the one really a result of the other?
If we include the development of consciousness of humankind (see for example Power vs Force by David R. Hawkings) then the higher standard of living and longevity, that have increased with the increase in human consciousness, have been subverted by a greed that propels the drive for greater world economy and undermined our understanding of success as a striving for excess.
“Rational” people ridicule, for example, astrology because, with 8 billion people in the world, they argue, it is not possible that there are only 12 personalities. This argument immediately presupposes that “rational” people believe that they are different from their fellow human beings and that, in fact, all people are different. How different though? Different as in having different aspirations, different interpretations of fulfilment, different understanding of success? Different in the educational needs; different in the positive contribution each can deliver to society; different in the reward each deems appropriate to their contribution? Why then is the societal definition of success so narrow, when even “rational” people argue for their inherent difference to their neighbour?
Where do we, who see a need for a broadening of society’s definition of success, begin to help society change its view of success? We see, worldwide, an increase in suicides, especially among the young in many countries of the world. Stress and depression are often at the root of these suicides: stress and the resultant depression because of not being seen as successful.
If we begin with the premise that every living thing is a miracle, because we cannot yet recreate life; and then that every person also is a miracle, therefore everyone is successful, we would have to investigate what it is in each person that makes him/her uniquely, inherently successful. We would end up with 8 billion definitions of a successful person and the one definition of living in excess would be swamped by uniquely individual definitions. Education would no longer view a child as an empty vessel to be filled with a prescribed quantum of information, but instead would become a way of extracting what is uniquely individual in each person and helping each individual develop his/her uniqueness while identifying the unique challenges of each unique individual, the overcoming of which will grow him/her uniquely to outshine the unique potential with which he/she is born. Education would become the domain of the highly gifted, the people who truly care about others, care in a way that they can identify the uniqueness and the unique challenges of each unique individual. A pipe-dream or a starting point for a new future?
(This post was triggered by the suicide of a 14 year old girl who decided to end her life quietly in a shopping mall.)