It seems as though the entire planet has been conditioned to accept the ideology of self and trained to seek individuality above the collective whole. This singular focus on “me” has a devastating impact, instead of thriving as a community, we are taught to succeed on our own. These pursuits often lead us to dead ends; the more we climb ladders and check off lists, the more we find unhappiness alone. There is a reason for this of course, human beings are inherently communal, no amount of riches and attainment can fill the voids of being disconnected from our roots.
I’m not writing this to disavow our individual dreams or to espouse an ideology of manufactured equality, each one of us should chase life fully and aspire to realize our potential. However, we must recognize that we are part and parcel of a wider community, if our success comes at the cost of others, all the riches in the world will only ensure a spiritual brokenness. Give as we are given, conserve more than we consume, and build bridges as we work towards our goals—we can find happiness without being selfish in quest to do so.
I write this article in light of what is taking place in my birth land Ethiopia and to show the connective nature of humanity given the political and social upheaval that is unfolding in America and beyond. The glue that kept my once homeland intact for more than 3,000 years was our communal nature. Most of our lives are shared experiences; we eat together, dance together, pray together, celebrate life together and mourn together. Our source of happiness and resilience was always rooted in our goodwill towards others and kindness to family and strangers alike.
Our single greatest failure are actually two folded into one, our conniption to idolize leaders while we simultaneously try to be gods to others. The ego is the source of our tribulation.
— Teodrose Fikre ✒ (@TeodroseFikre) July 15, 2018
The most vivid memory I have of Ethiopia is wandering out to the country side when I was six years old. I ran into an old couple living in a gojo (mud hut); their initial reaction was not to shoo me away but to embrace me as if I was their own son. I grew up privileged in Addis Ababa, compared to the rest of the population, my family enjoyed upper-middle class status. The couple in the gojo were by no means well-off, they lived a modest life and many would have considered them poor. Given their circumstances, their unselfishness and willingness to share made them wealthier than some of the richest people in the world. This is the giving nature and kindness that I always hold in my heart about my birthplace I left in 1982 when I was seven years old.
For the past 27 years, if not longer, this spirit of unity and solidarity has frayed as Ethiopians were by convinced external influences and internal malfeasance to chase modernity at the cost of the whole. What we witnessed was an influx of capital and a boom cycle that led to all the trappings of capital first country, but these advances came with a heavy dose of regressive realities. A country that already had a wide gap between the haves and the have nots became an abyss of hopelessness for the vast majority of Ethiopians who were being excluded from gains realized through development. Those who were not blinded by tribalism and drunk on power learned that individual riches is immoral when their fellow citizens are excluded from the wealth.
What good is a sky scrapper if the people are suffering? What is the use of technological gains if street children are teeming on the sidewalks of the nation’s capital. We need to stop weighing progress through quantifiable measures and cold statistics and instead gauge the wellness of society by the quality of life from the perspective of the most vulnerable. The hoarding of this planet’s resources by a few people and the vast accumulation of wealth by a fraction of humanity is not something to be admired but to be condemned; if we are going to have a future to pass on to our children, we must seek inclusive growth instead of celebrating exclusive prosperity. We are not greater than the whole, that does not mean we have to silence our individuality but neither does that mean we forget about the rest—we can thrive as we give if we believe in andinet (togetherness). Click To Tweet
What I write about my once homeland Ethiopia is germane to my new home America. If individual achievements and material riches were pathways to happiness, the United States would be the most joyous place in the world. Instead, in a land that has more wealth than most countries combined, the level of depression, anxiety and loneliness is off the charts. We keep waiting for political gods to be our saviors and thinking that the next new car or buying a new home will fill the emptiness we feel in our souls. The answer is not more consumption but a connection to community.
Most of us want to change the world for the better and care deeply about justice. But I humbly submit to you that the most important step we can make towards a more equitable world is by healing within first and discarding the ideology of me first. We don’t need a revolution, things that change fast devolve right back to the misery that gave birth to the impetus. What we need is an evolution, a slow and incremental change that is barely perceptible until a critical mass of people leads to a paradigm shift.
Instead of being outraged by the latest manufactured political drama, be kind and give encouragement to someone who is struggling right next to you. If enough of us do this, the world will change not by force but through osmosis. Our strength is our numbers, we don’t have to pick up guns or revert to violence. As Martin Luther King once noted, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” One by one, let us commit to being the light to the world and driving out hatred by returning to our connective roots as humans. As we say in Ethiopia, fiker yashenifal—love wins. #FikerYashenifal
None are greater than the rest, we are all the greater when we love and help one another::
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Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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