I Am Because You Are

           When did it become easy for me to stop caring about the people around me? There was a time when I would go to all sorts of politically active events from poetry to clubs to dances. I believed that I was doing something for people. I believed I could fix something and make the world a better place. Somewhere along the way, I feel I have lost that belief. I look at many socially active groups and think it’s “cheesy.” How can I look at someone fighting for change and think they are being overly dramatic? I now feel I don’t need to listen to someone’s plea for equality because, “I have heard it before” or because “I am on their side anyways, I don’t need to know the specifics.” I have a “been there done that” attitude to social change. Have I stopped fighting because it is hard? Have I stopped fighting because I don’t see any change happening? If either of these are the case, shouldn’t this be the exact time that I should be helping? I say, “I can’t help your cause I don’t have any money.” Without missing a beat. Or more likely, I see a person on the street corner with a clipboard and I will cross the street to avoid them. No “Hello” or even eye contact. I am so practiced at this that it comes second nature to me. But it is true that I do not have money to donate to every campaigner that I see, but can I at least treat them as human rather than something to be avoided? Is five minutes of my life so important to me that I cannot spend it listening to the needs of other around me?

           When I leave for Senegal I am certain that I will see problems that I will want to fix. I will meet many people who ask me for money. There is a whole culture surrounding talbié, children, religious students, who beg on the streets (I explain it poorly I recommend looking it up). Beyond money, I may get marriage offers from people hoping to get into the US. I know a whole lot of what I cannot do. I cannot get married. I cannot pay anyone’s way through college. But what can I do? If there is so much that I cannot do, do I just shut myself down and say there is nothing I can do? That spare change here and there would eat away at my coiffeurs and so I should be fair and give nothing? I do not want to shut my eyes to those in need because it will be difficult for me to help, but at what point must I realize I am fighting an impossible battle? I do not want to return from Senegal and expert at ignoring those who need help. I feel those skills are well honed enough. I want to go and learn how to lift up the people around me. I want to set others before myself.

            As I prepare myself for Senegal before I have even left my home, I feel life-changing questions arise one after the other. Ultimately, they boil down to, “what are my priorities?” It is true that there is no way I can tackle every problem in the book. I cannot fix the world single handedly. But. I won’t fix anything if I don’t try.

            In my life now, I am completely self-focused. I organize my time by what will most benefit me and I live fairly closely to the rule that time is money. If I do my dishes, I do them because, “I don’t want my roommates to be made at me, I don’t want to make MY situation worse” rather than “If I do my dishes, we will have a nice clean living space for all of us to enjoy.” Last Friday, at a dining hall I was waiting for my veggie burger, which was taking an unexpectedly long time. As I stood waiting impatiently I was thinking to myself, “I would get paid more than the cost of this burger in the time it takes to make it.” And in my minimum wage job, I felt that this was saying something. But why is this time so important to me that I should put myself in a bad mood over the length of time it takes to heat a patty? I believe the answer is that I am always looking forward to what comes next. At school, I worry about having enough social time, while socializing I worry about work, and at work I worry about school. When do I take the time to enjoy the moment I have? (I understand some of the irony in this writing because currently I procrastinating a big assignment)

           I want to be present in my life. I found the concept of Ubuntu gorgeous. It is the concept that “I am because you are.” If you weep, I weep with you. If you smile, I smile with you. Our lives are tied together.  I hope to open my mind to the consciousness of those around me. I want to be aware of others’ emotions as well as I am aware of my own. I want other hardships to be my own while also reveling in their fortune.


Here is a link to a beautiful video about Ubuntu:



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