The greater the contribution

Watching a TEDx talk

I was watching this TEDx video a couple of months ago, when I suddenly was halted by a very profound statement by the presenter. Rodney Mullen talked about context shapes content. As a world champion skateboarder, he is in an excellent position to comment on that. After all, as he described and showed, a skateboarder needs to adapt to context, usually very fast. Because if you don’t, you get to collect your teeth from the ground. And life is not very different, now is it?

A haunting sentence

But that is not what hit me, although the entire talk is worth every second to watch to the very end … at a certain moment, he stated that “the greater the contribution, the more we form our individuality.” I wrote it down and that sentence has been haunting me very since … because I really wanted to write about it.

Think about that sentence for a minute. “The greater the contribution, the more we form our individuality.” Reflect on that. Compare that to current, often highly individualistic attitudes.

A high degree of selfishness

Nowadays, I’m often struck by the incredibly high degree of selfishness people show in their relations to others. It’s about me, me, me. There is no them, there is no team, there is just me. I want to get rich, I want to enjoy my life, I want … I want … I want …

A sidenote on where I work

Our agency works out of one of the poorer areas of Brussels. For those who know Brussels, “De Marollen” is an old part of Brussels which still has a lot of true “Brusseleers”, the original inhabitants of our capital city. It’s a folksy neighbourhood where artists live and breathe. For those of you who have seen Spielberg’s TinTin movie, the opening scene on the square is literally about 200 meters away from my office.

The thing is, this neighbourhood has become popular. Give it about 10 years, and the locals will be gone, and the new rich will have moved in. It’s cool to live here now. So we see a lot of richer people moving in and living here, and a lot of poorer people trying to find a way to cope with the increases in cost of living that new development brings along. And you see a lot of richer people avoiding any type of contact with the poorer population … and that draws some of the life out of this wonderful place. Because the new rich want, and there is only so much people here can give before running out.

Wanting more and more

But what do you want? More for you? Even if it means less for another? More money? More bonusses, even if those bonusses are based on your success in making others more poor than they were before? Can it really be all about that?

How about you bring you to the table?

Well, no. As Mullen states, the more you bring to the table, the more you will become who you really are. I interpret this as follows: what I contribute to the world, to society, to the people around me, is what defines me. I am not defined solely by what I own, by what is mine … rather, I am defined by what I can give.

Turning around the dynamic

Hence, the entire dynamic is turned around. If we want to really become who we are, or rather, all we can be, it is not about focusing on just us and our needs. It is understanding what our unique proposition is and how that can assist, help, aid people in their lives.

And that makes a lot of sense. We all have limited time here. This is where we lead our life, this is where we do our deeds. This is where we make our stand. This is where we make choices about what we choose to do. Now, do we do it alone, selfish, looking at what we have on our mountain of possessions and comparing that mountain to what others have, or do we look at ourselves, really closely, and see what we have there that can make a difference for other people? Are we ultimately defined by what we have, or what we can do, ideally for others …

Getting to know you

Or, in the words of Rodney Mullen … “the greater our contribution, the more we form our individuality.” The more we bring to the table, to better do we get to truly know and understand who we are … or who we can be.

I for one am glad I found the words to describe how Mullen spoke to me. I hope it is a contribution for you as well.