Freedom from Toxic Ownership

It is interesting how we are conditioned and programmed to use words and concepts that can cause us a lot of harm and pain. Some of that is just primitive human nature. One of the primitive words most toddlers learn to use quite early is “mine!”. To them their toys, sweets, clothes are extensions of themselves. When you touch that, you touch them.

Recently I was asked to work with a group of agents (crop solution specialists) in the agriculture sector. They are all from the Southern Cape where farmers, their clients, in some areas are now going through the third or fourth dry season. Some farmers have even committed suicide, others are very depressed, and most of them are struggling. My mandate was (1) to motivate these agents who struggle to stay positive while trying to give hope and courage to their clients, and (2) to give them “tools” to help themselves and their clients.

As you might know, farmers in South Africa are facing the effects of climate change and global warming, political threats of land expropriation, and safety issues. Realistically, quite a few of them can lose their farms. It is tough out there!

So, what do you say at an occasion such as this?

I have an arsenal of good “antidotes” for trying situations. I spoke about resilience, mindsets, the power of choice, social skills such as standing together and emotional management, and also how to draw from your spiritual resources, etcetera. Well, that all helped. But I want to share one of the most crucial insights I got from all of this – coming back to the word “mine” toddlers use so often.

Farmers tend to see the farm as a lifeline, a source of life. That is where they usually find their identity, security, joy, success, meaning and purpose. They refer to the farm as “my farm” or “our farm”, and they will easily say “I am nothing without my farm”. They will sacrifice their health, marriages, and family relationships, but not the farm. Many of them inherited the farms, dating back two, three or four generations. So, the sentimental and emotional attachment is understandable.

Of course, there is nothing wrong to enjoy the material side and the many gifts of life. The danger is that when you unilaterally view something as “mine”, “my farm”, “my business”, “my children”, “my car”, “my career”, it can become your idol or god. It becomes toxic, takes over your life, identity, and thinking. When you take “ownership” of your farm or work in that way, it can emotionally and spiritually own you and harm you, dictating and controlling your thinking and actions. And when you lose it, when you retire, or the idol moves away from you, you don’t know who you are, what your life is all about, how to be happy and joyful again. The fact is that we are temporary beings who spend a few years on planet earth, and then we leave every materialistic thing behind. Ownership, in a sense, is a myth.

I challenged the agents to see themselves as more than their jobs. And I encouraged them to help their clients to understand and discover that a fulfilling and joyful life outside or without a farm is possible. They and their lives are more than their farms. I believe their sustainability and emotional wellness depends on this.

Freedom from this kind of “ownership” can lead to a better definition of your identity, greater happiness, and help you to make more rewarding choices and decisions. It can also help you to be a steward and a custodian, and to leave a legacy behind that will benefit many others after you. Then you will be free to live a more integrated and happy life, and open your eyes to what your purpose on planet earth is.

So, let us ask ourselves: am I an owner or a steward? Let’s travel lightly, stop holding on to things and choose to be free and be stewards, fulfilling our callings and purposes, knowing that everything belongs to One much higher and bigger than us!