Usually the answer we give to the first question is, “Just a little more than I have.” And the answer to the second is, “However much the people I envy have.” Will we never be satisfied?
Those of us who have so much in the way of possessions have little or no idea of just how much we take for granted. I was brought up short yesterday, and was reminded of just how wealthy I am in relation to most people in the world, and even most people in this country. I was forced to ask the above questions again and to try to answer them more honestly.
PROTEC Pietermaritzburg Academy runs an educational enrichment programme for high-school students, focusing on Maths, Science, English and Life Orientation. The overarching aim is to help create more engineers for the South African economy from disadvantaged communities. Recently the Academy entered seven three-member teams into the regional (KwaZulu-Natal) finals of the national Technology Olympiad. The task this year was to devise a machine that would, under its own power, drop bottle caps at pre-arranged intervals as it was pulled or propelled along a straight line. “Horrendously difficult,” one seasoned participating teacher described it. PROTEC Pietermaritzburg was thrilled when two of its teams made it through to the national finals in Pretoria last month. It was the only institution in the country to have two teams in the finals, to which only ten teams were invited. One of the local teams came sixth, an achievement of which the PROTEC family is very proud.
The six team members were asked afterwards what they had enjoyed most about their trip. For all six it was their first aeroplane flight, first trip to the big cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, and first-time participation in a national competition, all of which must have been mind-blowing, and all of which were mentioned by the students. But one of the six said, “It was the first time I have ever had a hot shower.” And that just stops one in one’s tracks. Not an aeroplane trip in which we only occasionally indulge, nor any other luxury we also feel privileged to enjoy. We expect the students to be excited about those things; we are also pretty pleased when such things come our way. No, this is something we take completely and utterly for granted: convenient, running, hot and cold water; something that is so much part of our lives we no longer think of it as a luxury, as a privilege to enjoy.
Suddenly we are reminded again how incredibly wealthy we are. Just how much is enough? How much is too much?