I’ve spent a week in South Africa, a heady mix of lovely people, sunshine and massive social problems. Apart from confirming that the Art of Brilliance has a message that translates across the globe, it’s also given me time to reflect on the abundant life that you and I are living.
Landing at Joburg, I boarded their swanky new train that transports me into the business district of Sandton. From the plushness of my air conditioned carriage, I watch the shanty towns sweep by. And I feel terribly guilty. In the western world we now effectively have everything we could possibly need. There is no ‘more’ to be had. But that doesn’t stop us pursuing more. The modern way is to worry about global warming and Isis while grumbling about over-work and complaining about exhaustion – while chasing, making and consuming ever more, in the hope that it will cheer you up. Is the pursuit of ‘more’ working for you?
Our instincts are to give old answers, even though the challenges are new. Living amid abundance is the reality but our minds are pre-programmed to fear scarcity. Therefore, you must consume everything while it’s still in front of you. In a bizarre twist of evolution, we were built to seek comfort, shelter and food but are not designed to have them all the time.
Mother nature has designed us to operate as perpetual dissatisfaction machines. So we seek more to the point that your garage is full. Your utility room is bursting. You have sufficient bedding and blankets stored away to furnish a small refugee camp. And does your brain cry, “Stop, you have enough stuff!” Nope, it cries, “You need more space to store your stuff”, and you end up renting a self-storage unit.
So let’s play a game. Let’s invite one of the township guys back to your house. Someone who walks four miles to work and who lives in a shack. Someone who shares his one bed tin-roofed abode with his wife and four children. “Come on in and wipe your calloused feet. Crikey that’s one helluva dirty shirt you’re wearing. Let me stick it in my washing machine. Sit down on my comfy sofa while I turn on the satellite TV. Do you want a cup of tea? And lookie here, in my fridge, enough chilled food to last you several months. And at bedtime I’ll give you my spare room. Yes, we have a bedroom each plus an extra room, just for visitors, with a soft bed and a fluffy pillow. And the best thing of all, hot and cold water from the taps and a flushing toilet (well, two actually, one upstairs and one downstairs for convenience). And tomorrow you can come to my place of work and have a look around. It’s an office, with computers and at lunch we eat in the staff restaurant.”
What would your guest say, apart from “You lucky git!”
And, most poignantly, what advice would they give you? I suspect it would be something along the lines of “You have everything and more. Savour it. Appreciate what you have and take it easy. Enjoy your work but make sure you spend time with your family. You have enough money so stop chasing more stuff. Enjoy the experience. Oh, and maybe put some books in the downstairs toilet so you can luxuriate in such a simple pleasure.”
Our primitive brain keeps digging us deeper into the consumerist arms race. Waiting for everybody else to change is pointless. You’ll die waiting. Be a living example of gratitude.