‘Life is like coffee’ – author unknown. So begins and ends a mail forwarded by a friend, among the many that keep entering the mailbox. Most are of the spam variety, and a few are of the in spirational type, accompanied at times by video clips featuring nature views of stunning beauty from around the world. Making one feel like catching the next flight and be off to these paradisiacal locations! But I forget: we are supposedly in paradise island aren’t we? Only, we do not know how much longer it will remain so…
So the story here is about a group of highly established professionals who get together and decide to visit their college professor, who receives them warmly and they start chatting. The conversation soon turns to complaints about stress at work and in life. Offering his guests coffee the professor goes to the kitchen and comes back with a large pot of steaming coffee and an assortment of cups: some porcelain, some plastic, some glass and some crystal. Some are plain looking, others expensive and exquisite.
The professor asks the guests to help themselves as he makes a cuppa for himself too. When everyone has his cup of coffee in his hand, the professor address them thus: if you notice all the nice-looking cups have been taken up first leaving behind the plain and cheap-looking ones. While it is normal for you to want the best for yourselves, that is the source of problems and stress. Be assured that the cup adds nothing to the quality of coffee. In most cases it is just more expensive, in some cases even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was coffee not the cup. But you consciously went for the best cups and then you began eyeing each other’s cups.
Now consider this: Life is the coffee; jobs, money, position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life. And the quality of the cup that we have does not define, nor change the quality of life that we live. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee.
Savour the coffee, not the cup!
The happiest people do not have the best of everything, they make the best of what they have.
Live simply: Speak kindly: Care deeply: Love generously. The richest person is not the one who has the most but the one who needs the least.
No doubt there are some very powerful messages in this story, but there are also some aspects that we can go a little deeper in.
For example, there is no harm in wanting to have the best. After all, it is the search for excellence that leads to innovations that in turn are of benefit to society and the prosperity of nations and of people at large. What is important, though, is how one goes about getting the best, in other words what are the means we choose to achieve a desired end?
Whatever be the temptation, especially through alluring advertisements, we must resist living beyond our means. Experience of life teaches us that material things that we once ardently yearned for and were prepared to make great sacrifices for are no longer as desirable later on. So we should not cheat or steal while pursuing our objective. In other words, the end must not justify the means. This is in fact the basis of ethics.
Look around, starting with paradise island. From the local scams to the tsunami that followed the financial crisis, to the cricket scandals that have been rocking India for the past several weeks: we will find that the common denominator is the greed of individuals. For some, money is never enough. Think Khadafi, with his billions stacked away in South Africa and that the current dispensation in Libya is trying to recover. How did he end!!
Khadafi is the most recent example around, but there are so many in his category. However, we do not even have to go that far. If we reflect a little, we will surely find in our own spheres, social and professional, examples of people who stress themselves and at the end of the day their appetite for quantity has had the better of their health and peace if not that of their families as well, not to speak of falling foul of friends and colleagues.
On the other hand, an alternative way of looking at the cup is as an object which has been carefully crafted, and perhaps the more expensive ones have generated employment for a larger number of people. If we can afford it without depriving ourselves and our families of our other needs, then we are not doing anything wrong in acquiring it. But mind you, the same reasoning does not apply to all objects that exist, in terms of acquisition. Many people want to have something bigger and more expensive just for the show of it, but one soon finds them out. The Creole language has a beautiful expression in this regard: pas guette zozo par so plume!
And there are many more points of reflection that we could elaborate upon on this topic, but those interested may pursue them at their leisure. Suffice it to say that while the plumes of natural zozos do reflect an innocent beauty, those of the man-made zozos reveal their superficiality, cheapness and ugly, dirty interiors.
In that sense therefore, yes, let’s savour the coffee and not ogle the cup: let us not allow ourselves to be fooled, specially by our local zozos.
* Published in print edition on 14 June 2013