“No One Owes You Anything!”

Do we believe that we owe each other nothing?

This morning, I got onto LinkedIn. While getting to what I was on there for, a notification caught my attention. It was a post by a connection.

The thrust of the post was essentially an emphatic and absolute “no one owes you anything!” At first listen, I agreed with the entire message. Of course! “No sibling, no relative, no neighbour, no colleague, no acquaintance owes you anything! You should think about and look for opportunities to add value!” Even with the speaker saying that we should not blame the unfavourable policies of Government – an institution that exists fundamentally, I imagine, to owe us something – I agreed with it all.

There was a lot of truth in what he had to say. If we are to forge ahead in our aspirations and careers in spite of the obstacles rife in this existence of ours, we must suspend indefinitely the thought that anyone owes us anything that would add value to our lives. Indeed, for our own mental well-being, it is possibly more advisable to adopt this mindset that no one owes us anything.

Still, as an exercise of mind, I chose to give further reflection to the topic. I asked myself, “Why do I have to think of a way that I can add value or bring value? Could I not just sell society beautifully, elaborately wrapped empty boxes?” This, I thought, could be a reason why we have no shortage of preachers, gurus, life coaches and motivational speakers – people (a lot of them, but by no means all) essentially selling the appearance of value, selling beautifully, elaborately wrapped empty packages.

I reflected more on the topic: Why do I have to think of a way that I can actually add value or bring value? Do I owe society actual value? Do I owe society actual value for which society would compensate me? If this were the case, why was it being said – with all the absoluteness that modern-day motivational speakers can muster – that no one owes me anything? If no one owes me anything, do I owe anyone anything?

I tend towards the belief that we – homo sapiens of the twenty-first century – have, increasingly, found motivational and rousing ways to rationalize a decline in community and a rise in selfism. In the African setting, for example, selfism can be seen often: in a family where one relative uses varied means to keep other relatives behind so as to be the “progressing” one in the family (trust me, weird things are weirdly possible in post-colonial Africa!); in a workplace, where one colleague says all the right things and wears all the right body-language to come off as the shining-star in the team or department; in modern-day Christendom (ironically, a belief system that started out as community) where I increasingly pray “for kings and queens to come to the rising of my sun” and “for me to heap up gold as dust” – what I would do with so much gold I don’t know for now, but let me have it first!

Increasingly, there seems to be emphasis on how well I do and how well I am doing. If, even for a moment, we were all to think deeply about this topic, maybe we would realize that the human experience or existence is about community, and community is about how well we do and how well we are doing! Why else would the Universe endow us with such intellect and such capacity for civilization and socialization! Maybe we would realize that we do owe each other things: ways of adding actual value to each others’ lives; a helping hand, as much as is within our capacity. This is tied to our humanity. Absolutely!

(Originally written on the 27th of August 2020)


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

By Chetam

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