Achievements vs Natural Accidents

By Abel Merawi

AchievementFebruary 2, 2020 ( -- There are some common, yet meaningless statements we hear all the time. The more we hear about them, the more we tend to accept them at face value and take them as the true definitions and meanings of our lives. To begin, when children are asked who they are, they reply by talking about where they come from, who their families are, or similar things. However, those things do not say anything about themselves. In the same manner, adults talk about their ethnicity or their country as their source of pride, even though they have not contributed much to their country. Being born in a certain place and from a certain family is a natural or accidental, rather than a personal accomplishment. Hence, a person who spent a lifetime doing trifle things cannot attach meaning and worth to life by stating the accomplishments of the country or the family as one’s own. For these reasons, I believe it is incumbent to draw a line between natural accidents and achievements.

In discussing any issue, it is preferable to begin by clearly defining the meaning of concepts and by showing the features associated with them. This is necessary since it is common for people to argue by interpreting the meaning of an idea according to their own personal definitions. Our discussion centers on natural accidents and achievements, so let us begin by defining them on the explanations of great thinkers such as John Rawls in his work ‘Justice as Fairness’. Natural accidents are occurrences and facts in our lives that happen to us naturally and randomly without any influence from us. In most cases, natural accidents are unalterable facts that become part of our existence despite our actions. They play a significant role in our starting position in life since we are born into them. However, they are not bound to define our remaining life because, through our actions, we can significantly alter them. On the other hand, achievements are occurrences that come into existence from our intentional or sometimes unintentional interactions with nature and our influence upon them. Achievements are manifestations of the human capacity since they bring into existence something that requires the interaction of nature and human volition. Accordingly, the basic distinction is found in the thoughts and actions of the individual which is lacking in natural accidents but is a necessary component of the achievements.

In order to shade some light, let us illustrate the idea by mentioning specific examples and how they influence our personal and shared experiences. People make speeches, write history books, compose poems, paint pictures or sing songs about the pride of being an Ethiopian by mentioning Emperor Tewodros II, Emperor Minilik, or rulers and warriors from every region. They pride in producing creative people like Maitre Artiste Afework Tekle, Scientist Dr. Kitaw Ejigu, and the likes, as if these were their own accomplishments. The fact that they are born in the country of these great personalities is a natural accident. Furthermore, some of these renowned individuals have endured opposition from their own society, at times leading to their death. Thus, the people who opposed them have lost all the privilege of taking credit from them.

Oftentimes, the people who take pride in natural accidents lead a mediocre life and such pride makes them neglect their individual responsibilities. On the opposite side, we find individuals who possess the will power to shape reality. Think of the carpenter, the teacher, the doctor, the farmer, inventors or even people overcoming their personal problems to realize their personal goals and contribute to the progress of society. It is these kinds of people who deserve to take pride because they have accomplished something. Because, the things they do would not be done without their involvement, which gives them the right to take pride in their actions.

The case of many Ethiopian political activists is similarly absurd when seen from this angle. We see many of them narrate our ancestral achievements every day although they have none of their own. By doing this, they appeal to people’s emotions to pass as one of their leaders, notwithstanding the very thin background. When we observe the individual achievements of most of these political activists, it is easy to see how intellectually barren they are. What they lack in personal achievements, they try to make it up by associating themselves with an entity dear to the people, such as national pride, ethnic identity, religion, or region – whatever works.

On the other hand, with genuine activists, we see personal contributions to the cause they champion. For instance, an environmental activist usually leads an ecofriendly life and attempts to contribute in various ways. The same goes for the animal rights activist who becomes a vegan or vegetarian and engages in various ways to protect animals. Contrary to this, most political activists, particularly in Ethiopia, are rarely seen fundraising to build local schools, health centers or basic infrastructure for the people and the place they claim to represent. Despite the wide media coverage at their disposal, you rarely hear them promote the culture of the people they are so eager to represent.

The above patterns show us how some people in politics and other fields attach themselves to natural accidents to compensate for shortfalls in personal competency. They hide this truth not only from others but also from themselves. I am not suggesting that such people are playing this card intentionally, for that implies an intelligent design they never had in the first place. Nevertheless, such attachments to natural accidents are shameful because it means leading a life of falsehood to excel in life or in politics.

It is important that we make a distinction between natural accidents and personal achievements for this helps us prioritize the significant aspects of our lives. It is good to use our ancestries as a source of inspiration because it gives us a clue to the greatness human beings can accomplish. We should also not be ashamed of natural accidents because we are not personally responsible for them. For instance, a young man born in present-day Germany should not be ashamed (or proud) of the Nazi regime. Similarly, a person born from a criminal family should not feel ashamed just as the child from a noble family should not take pride in his parents unless they grow up to be like them. At the end of the day, we should remember that life is what we make of it individually. Thus, let us focus on our personal abilities and accomplish something which we will be proud of.


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:

The Grip of Sacrifice

Injustice is Never Justifiable

Education Demands of the Future

Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future

The Shift From Racism to Culturism

Sacrificing Meaning for Power?

Culture and Market Forces

Intersubjective Reality

Seeking Cosmic Justice

National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations

Are We Truly Free?

Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy

Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group

The Value of Work

The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System

Intellectuals and the People

Where Are Our Pathfinders?

The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders

The Truth Behind Humanity

The Seven Virtues

The Seven Deadly Sins

What is the right thing to do?

Building National Identity

Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change

Mob Violence

Living the Truth as a Human Being

Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others

The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them

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