Heritage and the Inquisitive Listener

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Heritage. Heritage, in South African terms, is such a broad term. If heritage is something that is handed down from previous generations, then how do you quantify the heritage of South Africa? Well, that is probably impossible. In terms of our South African heritage, beauty and shame is in the eye of the beholder. As Afrikaans-speaking man, I carry some heritage baggage that I am ashamed of or that is of little significance to me, where others might have an opposing view on the very same thing.

If we page through history (local and global), one thing that we regularly come across is conflict. People didn’t, and don’t always get along. If I could wear my pessimistic glasses for a moment, history sure shows us that we are a people in need of redemption. We cling to power like our lives depend on it; we stir up masses with the rhetoric that we are better than others, and when we get others to believe that the other is sub-human or that we are a superior people, that is the perfect recipe for oppression or genocide. Here’s the thing: history repeats itself; and we are so blinded with fear, selfish ambition, hate (or whatever else) to see that we are repeating the shortsighted mistakes that others have made before in history. There’s a poignant piece of Scripture in Romans 8, where Paul says that creation groans for redemption; and we are to blame.

I think Heritage Day gifts us the opportunity to explore, to be inquisitive, to listen. I often get stuck in small talk vocabulary. My questions often go nowhere, and, to be honest, my questions often exposes the fact that I do not really wish to know people.

In our national context, when we care to ask someone where they come from, how they were raised, what memories of their childhood they hold close to their heart, what element of their heritage or culture they wish to hand down to the next generation, we will be all the richer for it.

In our country, people have many different opinions on a wealth of things: economics, politics, sports, race, religion. When a person or a group holds a view that differs from mine, or even a view that offends me, what is my first reaction? If it is to pressure her/him/them to change their view, or if I react by attacking or defending myself, how is that helping me to understand? An inquisitive mind asks questions before it reacts. When we learn to be inquisitive, we often end up understanding. That doesn’t mean that we agree, but it teaches us to appreciate where people come from.

So next time you meet a stranger, try asking: “Please tell me where you come from?”

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Why Federer would KO McGregor…

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Could you imagine a world without sports? We have always had a kind of reverence for people who were excellent at something. Historians reckon that the first ancient Olympic games took place during 776 BC. In those days athletes would compete naked… I’m pretty sure most athletes are relieved that things are a bit different today!

I have always had a fascination with some sports. Some of my favourite sporting moments are when the underdog defies all odds to come out on top. That makes for a great story.

Maybe it has always been the case in some or other way, but for me, the over-commercialization of sports often takes away the potential for an epic story.

Take Neymar’s move to PSG, which amounted to $263 million. Al Jazeera wrote an article on different things you (or Neymar) could do with $263 million. One of the things they mention, is that you (or Neymar) could educate 1.15 million Indian primary school students for one year. Now that would be an extravagant story.

Speaking of India: if you know a little bit about cricket, you would know that India are the international bullies of cricket, because they generate the most money in the world…by far! They basically have a monopoly on the way international cricket is played. That sounds a lot less like sport, and a lot more like business to me.

I am not a fan or an expert of boxing. I can count the amount of boxing matches that I have watched in my life on my two hands. I am struggling to see how the most recent over-publicized international boxing match is helping to maintain the longevity of the sport of boxing. From what I have seen and heard, people have argued that the McGregor story is inspirational, because he was very poor, and now he is very successful and very rich. So what is the moral of his boxing story, then? That if you have nothing and you end up having everything (mixed with a tinge of arrogance), you have won?

I’ve been a Roger Federer groupie for many years. Whenever Federer has a chance to win a major tournament, I watch with bated breath to see if he can do it once again. But I don’t like Federer primarily because he is a great tennis player. I think he has a phenomenal outlook on his talent and his involvement in professional tennis.

Federer is currently playing in the US Open and he has had to play a few five-setters early in the tournament. He has recently recovered from a back injury, and he is still trying to find his sweet spot. When he finally won against Mikhail Youzhny in five sets the other day, he had the following to say in the post-match interview: “It was quite a lot of fun out there – I feel quite warmed up by now…” This guy sure knows how to end his career well! I might be wrong, but the thing is, Fed is an all-round nice guy with a racket in his hand. I’m pretty sure he’ll still write a good life story when he eventually retires.

So do we watch sports because the athletes are great moral examples? Well, no. Many athletes have been idolized as great people and have fallen from grace quite spectacularly. And of course, we can admire a person’s skill. But when I can see authenticity and humility in a team or an athlete, I am drawn to them a little more.

Actually, that goes for all people.

What camping teaches us about Community.

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Are you one of the weirdo’s who enjoy camping?

I grew up in a family where we would religiously spend two weeks at the South Coast every year with our caravan. Needless to say, I needed a bit of a break from the camping subculture for a while!

It just so happened that I recently spent a whole week in the northern part of the Kruger National Park by myself. Some would say solitude is bliss; others might argue that solitude is torture! I tend to agree with the former.

I chose to join the camping crowd for a few days, and I have to say, it was a sobering experience. Armed with only a one-man tent and a gazebo, I suspect that the other campers really felt sorry for me!

When you join the camping crowd for a school holiday, just remember this: nothing is done in private! Your conversations are not your own, you join others for your bathroom routine, everything your children will do and say will be heard by those around you.

To name a few of the things that I happily shared with my recent extended camping family: a man volunteered to help me pitch my one-man tent (seriously!), one guy chased away the monkey that tried to hijack my car, I overheard a few parents giving their children a quick hiding, I was invited to enjoy wine with a couple who had recently become pensioners, and a slightly drunk but hospitable man gave me his number so we could keep in touch.

So here is the beauty of camping: we are forced (or invited…your attitude will determine your perspective) to share a piece of our lives with others. Today, we are connected to each other through WhatsApp groups and social media, but I reckon we have never lived more isolated lives.

You would think that being part of a faith family will change this; but sadly that isn’t necessarily the case. A young couple is married for a few years. By the time this couple starts sharing with people close to them that everything isn’t OK, they have already chosen to file for divorce. What is up with that?!

Some of us have financial trouble. We choose to apply for a loan at some dodgy business that will cripple us even more by charging a crazy interest percentage. And if we can’t pay them back, there will be no grace. Ironically, no one close to us are aware of our struggles. Because we are too afraid to share what’s up.

None of us can afford to live like this. We need community. That is why the church of Jesus is called the body of Christ. Our welfare is important to the rest of the body.

My camping experience reminded me that our lives are messy and awkward, and being able to share that with others is a gift. One of our social ills is that we think we need to impress each other. That’s not community. Be real. Share your life with others who care; and be open to do the same for your friends.

What is your Currency of Preference?

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What is the currency that you find most difficult to spend?

Many of us have been on a short term outreach to people who are far away from us; literally and figuratively. I have never, after visiting people on an outreach, felt that I was the biggest spender. I always feel indebted to the people we go to visit.

Many of us have much… opportunities, comfort, transport, money, Wifi, social networks. But a lot of us have very little, really. After visiting a community with few of the above, I realized that they depend on the graciousness of the people around them. They know how hospitality tastes, smells and feels. And they know how to appreciate a cup of tea or a simple act of kindness.

An over-worked father knows that his wife and his children are resentful because he is always busy. He is sincere in his intention to make things right, and craves for approval from his loved ones. So he decides to spend his default currency on them: cash. Yet, the currency they crave is something way different.

How easy do you find spending the currency of undivided attention? How about spending words that force you to open up your feelings to someone? Are you generous with the time you give away? These currencies are scarce, and precious.

Sometimes we tend to cling to cash like it’s the most precious currency in the world. And yet, upon closer inspection, we discover that cash is only a good currency when it is spent in partnership with currencies like love, gratitude, humility.

May we inspire each other to deal in the currency of love; love that urges us to spend ourselves. If you spend your life spending yourself in love, you’ll be rich.

The Resilience of Youth

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What contribution is the youth making in our communities?

On the day that we commemorate Youth Day in South Africa, it’s a question that I ponder about. We have come a long way, thirty-odd years down the line. Youth are still demonstrating (still often about education). We certainly have a long way to go.

According to the most recent stats, about half of the young people in our country are unemployed. Let that just sink in for a moment. Fifty percent of the youth don’t have a means of income. They are dependent. And the family that they are dependent on, are often domestic workers or general workers, with a minimal income.

So, looking for a job when you have very little financial means is not a joke. Many of these young people can’t quickly access Wifi, use their laptop to work on their CV, or print a CV. Often they can’t use their smartphone with data to look for jobs, because they simply don’t have it. So for myself, a rich (compared to the majority of fellow South Africans) young white man, it is nearly impossible to really understand the plight of the young poor. I honestly don’t understand their struggle, their despondency and their anger.

Then we haven’t even scratched the surface on education. The point of this blog is not to paint a comprehensive picture on the state of education in our country, but let me just say this: if I had access to sub-average education and I didn’t have selection for university, my life would be profoundly different.

So we have many systemic issues that will not be solved easily. But I want to say something about the mind and the spirit of young people. I have been working with young people for quite a while, and I get loads of energy from them.

You see, today’s young people don’t take no for an answer…not necessarily because they are spoilt, but because they believe in an alternative. They prefer the road less travelled over the status quo. They don’t simply accept that things are the way they are. That is a great thing. As a nation, we need to question so many things on the way to building new roads for the future.

Young people are a resilient bunch. If they fall, they get back up.

Young people must also remember that with the gift of resilience, comes the gift of responsibility. You see, about 66 percent of our population are under the age of 35. We are the majority. We are the heart, the hands, the feet and the mind of our country. When our country suffers, we are co-responsible. All the systemic issues in our country might not be our fault, but it becomes our responsibility. Our responsibility towards the future of this beautiful country should be our driving force.

I believe that, even though the youth may not be responsible for the unemployment crisis that we face, the youth has a great contribution to make. Many young people are entrepreneurs waiting to be launched. The young woman or man who has the privilege to be receiving tertiary education, will be the change agent who creates jobs, makes a tangible contribution to society and shares some of their intellectual, practical and financial capital, where the need is great.

The youth are a resilient bunch. They often just need a supporter, sponsor or coach that believes in them.

(Please don’t) hit me, baby, one more time…

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The stories that surface almost daily about women and children who suffer at the hands of men (and often boys) are worrying. Well, maybe ‘worrying’ is a bit of an understatement.

These stories (rightly so) cause outrage. This outrage often leads to social media activism, with hashtags doing the rounds, and days, weeks or months of awareness. Nothing wrong with hashtags or creating awareness…if one or a few persons’ mindsets are changed through this, then it serves a purpose.

I have, however, realized that I am touched by reports of the abuse or killing of a woman or child; but I am not moved (in the physical sense). There is a difference between a report and a story with the face of a human being with hopes, dreams and fears. Like the story of Anine Booysen, or Karabo Mokoena, or Courtney Pieters.

Sky News recently sent some of their journalists to a township near Joburg to do a quick survey about men and their conduct with regards to women and sex. In a survey involving 38 respondents, 28 admitted that they had raped at least one woman before. Click here to take a look at the article.

I seriously believe that we are at a crossroads with regards to this. We can hashtag and create awareness all we want, but some of us are at a place where we need to move our bodies to a next step. I am one of them.

We could spend hours talking about the effects of abuse and violence against women and children. We can reflect on the systems that create these incidences of violence and abuse. But some of us will have to jump into a system and into a story, and help to change it.

There are many factors that lead to the predicament we find ourselves in. I am no sociologist, but there is one factor that we can’t ignore: the fact that so many boys (and girls) grow up in a family environment where there is no father, or an absent father.

I believe many of us can make a difference here. You see, to raise our own kids well and to teach them to treat all human beings with dignity and respect is an admirable thing. But that is basically what is expected of us as good citizens of this country. Some of us will have to move our bodies further than this, and find families who could do with a father figure. Imagine the difference we could make if thousands of us chose to start investing in the lives of thousands of young boys, who will be future boyfriends, fathers, uncles and grandfathers.

There is a boy in town that I often come across. He is a beggar. I remember once giving him a lift to the community where his family stays. But the more I crossed paths with him, the more agitated I got. I started scolding him for not telling the truth and not making something of his life…from my ivory tower. One day I realized that I might be the father figure this boy so desperately needs. This story doesn’t have a great ending yet. J

It’s easy to find answers to broken systems. But broken systems will stay broken…until some of us get our hands dirty.

Different sets of eyes; different stories

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So after what seems like an eternity, I’m back, baby!

I have missed writing about stuff that helps me grow, so I have decided to do a resurrection of sorts.

I went for a jog this afternoon (yes, I am one of the crazy ones who will try to do my first Comrades this year), when I ran past a woman. She was either faking a cry or crying for real. She couldn’t understand English or Afrikaans and I couldn’t understand her language. From what I could gather in our sign-language-and-different-languages conversation (I think) she is from Mozambique, and someone hit her and took her money.

I can’t vouch for her story, but it was a frustrating, but profound moment.

I have to be honest: my first reaction was that she had to be the con-artist for the bunch of thugs behind the bush that would rob be. But when I realized that wasn’t the case and I couldn’t really say anything to her, I greeted her (clumsily) and off I went.

A numb sadness came over me. I knew this woman had a story(ies), but I couldn’t hear it. I could see it, though. In all the scars on her face and arms. And in her eyes. Here was a battered woman, and a woman on the outskirts. If only her voice could be amplified.

All of us have a story. Some would love to start a new chapter. Some wish people would actually care about their story.

Don’t be too busy or too selfish or too caught up in your own world to listen to the real, messy, honest stories of beautiful people (Note to self).