The coffee or the cup?

The story goes thus:

A group of successful alumni who were talking at a re-union dinner decided to visit their old Professor, then retiring. During the visit, the discussion soon turned into complaints about stress in their work and lives.

Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups – porcelain, plastic glass, crystal, plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite – telling them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the alumni had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: “Notice all the nice-looking and expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. In most cases, it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What all you really wanted was coffee, not the cup; but you consciously went for the best cups…and then you began eying each other’s cup.

“Now consider this: Life is the coffee; your job, money and position in the society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life. The type of cup one has does not define or change the quality of the life a person lives. Sometimes by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee God has provided us.

“God makes the coffee, man chooses the cups. The happiest people don’t have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything. Live simply for others to simply live. Love generously and you will surely be loved. Care deeply and get the best care you deserve. Speak kindly and God will surely bless you. Please enjoy your coffee!”

I cannot help admiring the story and the lessons it engenders since I came across it a few years back. This is because the root of violence, corruption, armed and pen robbery, wickedness, oppression, terrorism and all social evils that assail our country lies in this craze for cups, the best of cups. Few people only appreciate that whatever you are called does not change the quality of your person.

Today, everyone, including entertainers and social vermin, is in politics to have access to public money. In a state, at least 60 people want to occupy the position of Governor. People kidnap, kill, torture, blackmail and harass others just because they want to have the cup of President, Governor, Minister, Senator, Commissioner, Chairman, Managing Director or what have you. They even strip revered judges!

There are people who hide under political and religious cover or cup but their real identity is that there are criminals. In saner societies, they would be behind bars for the atrocities they have committed. That a person is a Governor or Minister or man of God or anything is just a façade: a criminal is a criminal; a drunkard a drunkard; a womanizer or a womanizer; a whore in a whore!

This life is short and we can choose to enjoy our coffee rather than quarrel over the cups. We cannot all be Presidents or Governors but we can all be happy if we choose happiness. The sky is so wide for all birds to fly without collision. You hold the key to your own happiness, if you have the right education, the type of which Jean Jacque Rousseau described as “a nourishment to the soul”. You have yourself to compete with; no one is truly your rival.

The secret of life’s sweetness is not in money, power, position or fame. The secret of life’s sweetness lies in knowing that the purpose of this fleeting life is serving God and humanity. The legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali, put it succinctly when he said in a 1978 Time feature, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

Which one would you prefer, the coffee or the cup? The coffee is the content, the cup is the container. The coffee is the real you, your character, your humanity; the cup is your office, your position. Enjoy your coffee!