By Derrin Slack | Nov. 03, 2016
I am, because we are.
Guest Blogger: Derrin Slack, Executive Director/Founder, ProAct Indy
I was doing the daily perusal of my Facebook Newsfeed (don’t judge, you do it too!) when I came across a compelling anecdote and photo posted by Success Nation. It read like this:
“An anthropologist proposed a game to children in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the children that whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that when one could have had all the fruits for himself, they said, ‘UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?’”
Wow! What a wonderful story! How can a group of youth who have little to give to others be so selfless and humble? I’ll tell you, they are this way because they learned at an early age one simple truth- UBUNTU (in the Xhosa culture, this means: ‘I am because we are.’). In my work with ProAct Indy, I always stress that humankind is intricately connected, and this story is the perfect paradigm of that notion. When it comes to service, these children in an African village completely understand self-service as it is directly correlated to service of others.
I am because we are
Whatever we do in life, whatever decisions or choices we make, whatever actions we take, we always affect someone else. We exist, in part, because of the decisions others make. Therefore, it makes sense to assume that if we give to someone or help them in some way, we are helping ourselves too. The work we do to help others or to help our environment, is deeply rooted in this valuable lesson. If we help someone or something then we get something in return – joy.
How many times have you shared or given something away and walked away knowing that you made someone smile or that the contribution you made (running a 5k, making a donation, participating in a benefit concert, etc.) helped a greater initiative? How did that make you feel? To knowingly give to someone, to help them, or to serve them, makes you feel better, it makes others feel better; and so, we can assume that enough of that giving and serving others makes you better over time. We must immerse ourselves in service to others, for we are all connected in some way. What we do for someone else either directly or indirectly affects the next person no matter where we are. Amazing isn’t it? “UBUNTU! How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”
As a testament to this notion, on Friday, October 21, nearly 30 individuals representing several different companies joined together in service at trueU’s first trueServe event powered by ProAct Indy. These volunteers facilitated a field day at Outside the Box, an organization that proclaims it is “the happiest place on earth” as it lives out its mission to empower people with intellectual disabilities toward personal growth, through education, self-discovery, leadership development, and a customized career path. As participants worked through each field day activity we planned for them – including a dance contest, sack races, mask painting, etc. – one thing was evident; volunteers were working together to make those they were serving feel special. They accomplished this not by going through the motions and dictating to the participants of Outside the Box; they accomplished this by being themselves and letting loose to make it easier to build a relationship with those they were serving. In doing so, the comfort zones of the trueU volunteers were challenged, yet by remaining positive and inviting those people with special needs into their personal space, the participants being served had the time of their lives and Outside the Box truly exemplified why they say they are “the happiest place on earth.”
It was a great day with lots of fun, smiles, and laughter. Perhaps more important than the accomplishments of a single morning of service, were the life lessons volunteers learned while there. Most had never before done a service project of this nature. Feeling fulfilled and rewarded that they had made a difference in the lives of others, and therefore, themselves, allowed them to reflect on how much the experience taught them about communication, confidence, and empathy.
The group reflected on the fact that every single person, no matter their abilities, possesses an intangible gift that others need. The day reminded us that our gifts are not meant to be kept to ourselves. In challenging ourselves to be uncomfortable in order to make others comfortable, we become more aware of how often we give small pieces of ourselves to make others whole. We learn the importance of taking the time to engage in others, to ask the right questions, listen effectively, and remain patient and empathetic to the people with whom we engage.
As we grow through life, let us not forget our intricate connection with others, for our actions affect them either directly or indirectly. We must learn to give and to receive and to seek out gifts in others to build relationships. Whether you are a singer, writer, athlete, teacher, business executive, or parent; whatever your background, whatever your upbringing, whomever you are, you have something you can give. And in return? Joy. Growth. Change. UBUNTU!