By HOWARD FELDMAN
The conversation went something like this. “I really want to climb Kilimanjaro. Do you know any good causes?” “I know plenty of causes”, I answered, “but why would you need one to climb a mountain?” “For a cause!” she repeated slowly, but emphatically, as if I was either slow of hearing, or just slow. “For. A. Cause.”
Here’s a thought. We don’t need to know a cancer sufferer for us to climb a mountain. No one needs to be in desperate need of an urgent bone marrow transplant for us to run the Jerusalem Marathon. Diabetes might be a horrible affliction, but we need to accept that running 42km through the boroughs of New York with 50 000 other runners, is not going to raise the awareness that we think it will. There is even a real chance that the disease might be better known than we are, which is a bit ironic. Maybe even a bit arrogant.
It is quite possible to do something like running or climbing a mountain just because we want to. Not for a cause. Not for cancer. And not in memory of child who died tragically. And whereas it might not seem possible in a world of faux-meaning and duplicitous depth, there is no actual requirement to attach a lofty ideal meaning to it. People, in fact, have been climbing mountains long before we even knew what fibromyalgia was.
We don’t need to immigrate “for our children’s sake”: We can leave because we want to. We can stay in South Africa because we choose to and not because we feel responsible for the elderly. Similarly, there is no requirement for us to hashtag “Blessed” and “Grateful” from our holidays in Mauritius. Sometimes it’s actually okay to let our hair down, revel in the lack of substance of it all and just have a good time. Because we can. And whereas it might be ridiculously important to appreciate every moment of the good times, letting everyone know that we do, or at least say we do, is pretty meaningless.
Of course causes are good. And raising awareness and some money can hardly do harm. It is unlikely that a whale in Japan would object to someone donning a whale-coloured T-shirt with a witty, thought-provoking catchphrase on it in order to stop fishermen armed with a harpoon and a blood lust. But it also is hardly likely to prevent it from ending its life in the whale blubber section of a Tokyo supermarket.
Social media, along with virtue signalling, has prescribed that social causes and search for meaning is valued above all else. Add a healthy dose of Jewish survivor guilt to this, and it is little wonder that we have become a jabbering, nervous species who think the only way that we can actually do something for the heck of it, is if we attach something sad and powerful to it.
It’s time to let that go. It’s time for us to run a marathon with someone’s name on it because we want to and not because it gives us permission to do this. And not because it absolves us of the guilt over the time we spent training, over the cost of the trip and over the fact that we are going to enjoy it.
We can climb Kilimanjaro “because it’s there” and because we choose to, and not because somewhere it’s a lesson in leadership.
And when we get to the top of that mountain or to the top of anything else, we need to feel gratitude. But we don’t need to hashtag it.
Howard Feldman is one of South Africa’s leading entrepreneurs. His experience is global and extensive, spanning more than 20 years of working as a business strategist, keynote speaker, published author, both locally and globally, social and political commentator, morning drive show host and philanthropist.