What is our legacy?

Is guilt ever useful? When does it help to ask ourselves what we have done for others, or to fault ourselves for not doing enough? Should we do that at 20? At 30? At 50? A good friend who lives in Maseru, some forty minutes away by car, came to visit me with another friend of hers today. She and her friend are Basotho women, well-educated, in their sixties, now retired. They were educators and translators, skilled communicators., and their feelings about Lesotho are deeply pessimistic.

They are distressed by the over-crowding and decline of standards at the University; by the government’s favoring a Malaysian technical institution which they say gets more funding than the University; by the number of orphans growing up on the streets; by AIDS and the lack of medical care; by the paucity of services for the poor.

Lesotho’s two main natural assets are water (snow-melt from the mountains) and diamonds. If the infrastructure were ever developed, tourism would be a third, but that is pie in the sky. Do the people get any benefit from the sale of these assets? No. A few government officials rake off inconceivable benefits for themselves. But the people? Nothing.

The two women were hard on themselves. One said, “Our generation had superb education, both from our University in its heyday and by being sent abroad for graduate studies. We were handed privileges, we were encouraged, we were coddled and admired and primed to become leaders. We were raised in the spirit of Pan-Africanism, freedom, democracy, and power to the people. And what is our legacy? Self-interest.”

“Even me,” her friend agreed, nodding sadly. “I was a teacher, a fine teacher. But what did I do with my gift? I went off to teach in South Africa, where I could make a better salary, where there was more to do, more to live for. I worked there my whole life, and I have a South African pension, and now I come home for my last years and have to see what is happening and know I gave nothing to my country.”

Do Americans, do the British, do Israelis or Australians fault themselves for self-interest? Isn’t that what “success” is, in western cultures? Do people in my country ask themselves what they have done for their country?

About Kendall

Undoing white supremacy and capitalism, one photograph at a time.
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6 Responses to What is our legacy?

  1. Sounds to me just like a microcosm of human life generally, the same as everywhere. Most of it is is wretched, stupid, miserable and poor in every sense, and nothing you or anybody can do will make the slightest difference because that’s how the human race is and always has been. Education should be for the purpose of enlarging and cultivating the mind but when it’s applied indiscriminately to minds which are inferior to start with as a means of stepping up the social ladder cultivation goes out the window. ‘Democracy’ simply panders to the lowest common denominator and combined with the aforesaid ‘education’ promotes the most savagely opportunistic, as apparently is the case in Lethoso judging by its administration. Hand the poor all the world’s diamonds and they’ll be back next week for more because need will immediately give way to want. That Freudian invention ‘guilt’ is another of his own neuroses; if you think about it isn’t it half-mad to lacerate your conscience on behalf of anonymous others who’d never spare you a thought? If by Australians you’re referring to me, the answer to the question is assuredly no. I’m not particularly selfish, I’m not grabby, I’m not dissatisfied with the relative good fortune I have, but my god an awful lot of my compatriots are, and so they can wallow in the mess they’ve made for themselves while I leave without a qualm to practice self-interest in whatever other place I can be best left alone. If one attends to oneself first those few to whom in the course of existence one becomes attached are also the beneficiaries, and if the rest can’t learn that lesson it’s just too bad. In the meantime, instead of doling out charity, set a good example for those who have the wits to see it, and that’s enough good done in this foolish world.

    What they call jet-lag, the too rapid and unnatural transition over time and space, dulls the mind and the sensibilities and probably affects the body for a week or ten days. And of course you’re afflicted anyway with that major disadvantage, a kind and generous heart. Just ration it rationally and it will do better service to yourself and those who warrant its solicitations. Concentrate on the physical world, which there I think is very glorious, and that should tell you what you want to know…

    Conversationally, as always

  2. John Guarino says:

    Kendall, I see constant reminders that folks in your country care for others. I see it often through church groups, helping out in their neighborhoods, and even overseas. Is it enough? Never. Guilt? Sure that’s the Judeo-Christian way.

  3. elli says:

    I think guilt is over-rated. It’s natural and human to be more interested in ourselves and our immediate surroundings than those far away. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to ‘do something’ – I work for a charity, I try to make changes, I donate money and help out places. But will those people in Lesotho really be better off if I deny myself something here? I don’t think so, to be honest. I think that the most we can do is to raise awareness that this kind of poverty and dispair really do exist – that the glossy, well-fed lifestyle of our countries is hiding a reality that is hungrier and darker, that poverty exists *even in our own countries*
    Your words are perfect awareness raisers and help to fuel me in my mission to make sure we all remember that people are hungry, children are orphaned, resources go to the wrong places….and try to spread warmth and care and joy.
    I’m so glad that you have an internet connection 🙂

  4. revjett says:

    For me, the issue isn’t as much guilt as it is helplessness. I see people suffering, dying, every day and there is not much I can do. What little I can do (provide emotional and spiritual comfort), many don’t even want, or at least can’t bring themselves to accept. It’s such an impotent feeling for me, and I think perhaps that is some of what you’re dealing with, as well. I pray that you won’t suffer immeasurably by their suffering. I believe we are called to take the burden of others upon ourselves, but we have limited physical and emotional resources with which to do so. What a difficult place in which to be–for you, Kendall, and for all of us. Much love and strong hugs. Take care of yourself; otherwise, you can be of no help to others.

  5. Kendall says:

    Each comment expresses a point of view, each a way of seeing. Thank you. I have added a few pictures, but your comments are treasures, each a way to cope with what is.

  6. Keith says:

    Kendall, you are posing questions that cut to the very core of humanity, whatever ‘humanity’ means. Are we each responsible to solving the problems of poverty, homelessness, hunger etc. wherever the occur in the world? Not in my opinion. So where do our obligations end: to ourselves; to our immediate family; to our immediate community; to the country in which we live? Like Stephen, who commented earlier, I am cynical about the efficacity of helping people who squander or misuse that help. To my own recent posting about Gypsy beggars in Europe, one respondent told a story which suggested that, in her particular case, it wasn’t really “help” that was being sought, even though she herself believed that it was needed. This is not an excuse to avoid helping, but simply a recognition that the problem is much more complex than a straightforward imbalance of wealth.

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