I was looking through some old photos taken by my son Jake a few years ago on a trip to Africa, and I was suddenly struck by the contrast between the lives we in the Western world live and those of those in so-called Third World countries.
Much of our lives are caught up on trying to achieve something and measure the achievement by our standards. It starts when we are children and we reach “milestones”. We learn to talk, stand, walk, read and write. All through school, from pre-school onwards, our progress is observed and measured and we are given a result, measured against our peers and the standards expected of our culture.
It doesn’t only apply to academic achievement, but also to sport. Children and adults are subsequently labelled either talented or high-achievers if they fit the criteria, or if they don’t fit in with expectations their behaviour becomes “challenging”. Those with so-called challenging behaviours are often diagnosed with ADHD and medicated accordingly, whilst they might just be exhibiting a lack of interest in their environment and a lack of stimulation. My daughter was treated by her kindergarten teacher as someone not achieving the desired level, and was subsequently found to have a hearing problem which was hampering her ability to keep up with the others. If it had not been diagnosed would she have been classified in some other way?
We even have schools called “selective schools” in Australia, where children who pass a particular set of academic tests and are then deemed to be of high intelligence, attend. This separation from their peers, as well as State or Government schools, private schools (which charge ridiculously high fees) and independent schools (some religious, some not) create a vast array of different standards and ideals through which children are moulded and come out the other side as adults, although with vastly different experiences of education and life.
When it all boils down to it, is it better to pay a fortune and reserve a place for little Johnny, (sometimes before he is born) in the hope that this huge investment will result in a doctor or lawyer or at least someone who will be at the top of the pack, or to let the child go to their local State school (often woefully underfunded) or even homeschool? Does it all really make a difference in the end?
Our society measures success by the attributes of money, education and fame. If you haven’t got a fabulous, well-paying job, an opulent home in a moneyed suburb or are a humble checkout chick or roadworker, you are not considered to have succeeded. People like James Packer are lauded and envied for their massive fortunes, huge yachts, hideously enormous homes and trophy wives, yet do nothing with their fortunes but buy casinos, where those with addictive or fragile personalities can waste all their money and subsequently lose everything and everyone they love. Is this the measure of success we should aspire to?
Should we really spend most of our lives working (often in jobs we hate) just to have a bigger and better house or car than our neighbour or friend, a more successful child or more money?
This doesn’t seem to me to make anyone any happier. More possessions means more fear of loss through theft, bigger houses cause more to upkeep and have higher rates and more money just means that when we die more people will be fighting over it.
No it seems to me looking at the photos of these Bushmen of the Kalahari, that they have none of these things, yet have a sense of connection to the land and their community that we are in great danger of losing completely. Their houses are by our standards crude grass and stick structures, their clothing minimal, and there is not a piece of furniture of any kind to be seen. They have no air conditioning or sophisticated means of transport, and use fires to cook the food they still largely catch themselves.
Their children grow up without any form of measuring or comparing, or expensive education, and yet seem happy with their lot. They don’t need expensive toys created to stimulate their senses and develop their brains, but make their own out of old plastic lids and bits of string they find lying around. Does this make them any less intelligent, creative or sophisticated than our children or would an education expert or psychologist consider them deprived and their behaviour challenging?
It seems to me that they are just happy being. They have each other, the peace and expanse of the beautiful environment in which they live and that is enough for them.