Have you ever noticed how your relationship with something changes the moment you start to call it your own?
“That’s my bike, it’s my room, it’s my rental car, she’s my girlfriend, it’s my country.”
My my my! Mine mine mine! Me me me!
I had a pretty intense “break in and theft” experience in my home in Cape Town last year. All my electronic equipment was stolen. I was telling a special friend of mine the other day about it and he shared with me this beautiful Afrikaans expression (thank you Jason, I hope I have written it right!)
“Dit is die wereld se goed” – I think the direct translation is: That is the world’s things. The literal translation I took from it – You cannot lose anything that wasn’t yours in the first place.
I realized something quite profound I had been grappling with and frustrated by for years about where entitlement and separation is born.
“It’s my bike. I bought it with my own money so I do what I like with it and use it how I please.”
“It’s my room”. We can all remember this retort we gave to our parents when they asked us to clean our room. You can even see how we laid claim of ownership over “our parents” too and this also impacted how we treated them.
“It’s my rental car. I drive it how I please. I paid for it. It’s mine for now.”
This is where we start to see how ownership gives rise to entitlement and how entitlement is responsible for a lot of the ill treatment of the planet and the fellow living beings we inhabit it with.
The earth is just like a rental car. It’s not ours. In fact it doesn’t belong to anyone. And because of this we have two choices “it’s a rental and I have paid for it so f@ck it let’s burn some rubber” or “let me use it respectfully so I can hand it over in the same state or better for the next person to enjoy its use”
When we have the deluded thought that we own something we start to convince ourselves we can treat it however way we please. Just like our bike we use to leave in the rain or how we used to leave our room in a complete state. “It’s none of your business. It’s my room. It’s my bike. It’s my this. It’s my that.”
What about “your girlfriend?” Does that mean she belongs to you, and so you can treat her however you please?
“It’s my country”.
Mmmm… This is when it came to me that ownership not only breeds entitlement but it also is at the heart of separation or otherness. It seemed so random as I commuted across NYC in the Metro listening to a plethora of different languages, dialogues and dialects fill the air that anyone should have more of a right to be here than the next person. We are all just co-inhabiting one earth and lest we forget.
The sooner we stop trying to own everything. The sooner we realize we are just us and we have been put on this earth all together. We will start to see ourselves in everyone and everything around us. And instead of entitlement and separation there will be gratefulness and willingness to really serve beyond self.
“Let me use it respectfully so I can hand it over in the same state or better for the next person to enjoy its use”
Think of an example in your life where this has applied and you have been determined to hand something back in a better state that you received it. In general it will be when something is “not yours” and you are truly grateful for the chance to benefit from it. Ask yourself why this isn’t the case for everything you can see and feel around you.
It does however remind me of a funny story when Monsieur and Madame Baqué put me up in “their home” in Bordeaux, France in 2004. I didn’t quite get this right in this instance as my “contribution” to the downstairs sewage system managed to block the drains and almost flood “Monsieur Baqué’s prized wine cellar”. Let’s just say it was a shitty situation!!! I remember how embarrassed I was about it! If we realized we are guests on this earth just as I was in Monsieur and Madame Baqué’s house we would be truly embarrassed about how we have been behaving despite the incredible hospitality and opportunity that has been afforded to us.
Nothing is yours and the moment you realize this, is the moment everything will change. Thank you to the person who took my things that day in July last year. It just reminded me that they weren’t my things in the first place and for the first time I started to see and understand the source of entitlement and separation. And how we can truly change the world. It starts with you.
Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu: I am because you are
You are after all, just like me. And nothing is yours (especially not your girlfriend!) so stop acting that way!