i spoke yesterday about the search for a new normal.
When it comes to a new and exciting more-unified South Africa [which i what i dream and try and live towards] then one of the areas we need to see this in is moving away from the idea and practice of “Us vs. Them”.
Let’s look at some actual comments made on my blog recently:
‘The shack fires are caused by the shack dwellers. They should maybe go back to the EC? It is illegal to build shacks on open land.’ [Viv]
‘Further, they have a deep seated jealousy of the colonist whom they can see on a daily basis is more sophisticated and superior in intellect and behavior to them. What they cannot have or be…they want to destroy.’ [ClaytonAndrew]
‘I fear I’m out too. lol. Why bother when they vote ANC?’ [Marcia]
‘All they want now is for whites to come back and bail them out. They want whites to come and do all the donkey-work, get paid peanuts and be refused promotion for efficiency. Stuff that, I say. Let them sink. If they are so good then they must show us what they can do. They should show us, without the help of white consultants, how they can save themselves and the country.’ [Derick]
And many more…
Us vs. Them
What i typically hear in the Us vs. Them discourse that regularly rears its ugly head in my blog comments is a sense of the Us [typically white people] being superior to the Them [typically black people]. Sometimes it is clearly stated in terms of the idea that white people have a higher IQ than black people [and the assumption that even if that was true that it meant anything significant beyond having the specific skills that make you good at IQ tests as opposed to the implied consequence of it meaning something about being more clever] or better skills [cos of how white people invented everything, apparently] and other times just more subtly insinuated or assumed.
And as long as we divide this country into an Us and a Them [or a number of Us and Thems – men vs women, Cape Town vs Joburg, Local vs Foreigner etc] i think we will have problems when it comes to transformation. No, let’s be stronger on that – we WILL have problems!
The major issue is that the moment we speak [think/act] Us vs Them, we build a wall that is impossible for the Them to climb. We ‘protect’ ourselves behind walls and wires and alarms and as much as it all may give us the impression that we are safe from outside harm, we have also very much cut ourselves off from the very relationships needed to break down and do away with any feeling of need of the barriers we have put up.
Protect from hate and hurt? Maybe. But also definitely ‘protect’ from love, understanding, unity, growth. Mutual togetherness.
A guy in a hat once asked ‘Am I not destroying my enemies by making friends with them?’ [Actually i think we can give Jesus Christ credit for the idea when one of His principle teachings was to ‘Love your enemy as yourself’ – enemy love being one of the defining marks of the early Christians]
And that is where the Us vs. Them has to die. And it really must die, if we are to have any hope of moving forwards and creating something new and appealing and workable. I have no doubt that the solution for the majority of South Africa’s problems is relationships: genuine, authentic, sacrificial, costly.
‘To love is to recognise yourself in another’ [Ekhart Tolle]. A Them is nameless and more than likely faceless. It is very easy for a Them to quickly be seen as a thing or an it. A Them dehumanises so that the person we are dealing with can quickly become an issue or a problem and we can be very cold and calculated in how we deal with it. But the moment a Them has a face, and then perhaps a name, and the moment we lean in and start to listen [and i mean really listen – to hear and understand with not sense of judging or comparing or explaining away] and hear the story of the other, that is when the Them starts to transform into an Us.
That is when the walls and wires start to seem a lot more unnecessary.
Black guy begging at my car window for money at the traffic lights is easy to drive by, without looking at or giving a second thought to.
But Xolani, who is trying to make money to keep his younger sisters in school and put enough food on the table today so that they don’t go to bed hungry again. Whose father was never on the scene and whose mother died of TB. Well, suddenly it is a whole lot easier for me to start to empathise and draw alongside and see if there is any way that we can walk a journey together.
One of the refrains we heard a lot when we were at the Simple Way was the line that ‘It’s not that the rich and poor don’t like each other. It’s that they don’t know each other.’ So typically donations from rich to poor were handled by a middle person or organisation in the form of a church or NPO and so rich and poor never got to lock eyes or share a meal or hear a story.
It is the same with the Us and the Them.
i don’t believe we will be able to argue this one out. i think we desperately need to relationship it out.
One of tbV and my decisions when looking for a place was that we didn’t want to move into an area where everyone looked like us. While our priorities changed somewhat during the searching process [as we realised looking back on almost 6 intensive years of marriage that we actually could use a season of giving some focus to us and working on our marriage and having a space conducive to that] we didn’t let go of that one. Even though Southfield is not Mannenberg or a township, the area we live in has a variety of different people living there and the next step is figuring out how to engage well with our neighbours as we settle in.
But i do think where we choose to live will play a key role in this conversation.
i think who we choose to regularly engage with will play a similar role – i have loved ‘meeting’ some new black friends via simply creating some space for them to write on my blog and look forward to growing those relationships offline. My friend Nkosi is an absolute joy to me and is teaching me so much through some of the live conversations we have been able to have. Both Avuyile and Sindile wrestle with cricket-related issues with me online and share in the joys and frustrations of our national team, and were the matches not regularly at 3am i have no doubt Avuyile and i would be watching the quarters together. i do love and enjoy my many white friends but we definitely need to be more intentional in who we spend our time with if we are wanting to be a part of a new and diverse country that takes time to listen to each other and wrestle out issues together. It has been incredible watching God bring people of different race and culture into our lives in a way that has felt natural as opposed to us feeling like we need to go and find black and coloured people to be friends with. But i do think that if we look around in life and discover that everyone looks a lot like us, that there is something that should probably change.
Obviously there is a lot more. But i think it begins with us taking on the whole Us vs. Them mindset and relegating it to the garbage dump. And then setting fire on it. And feeding the remains to ants. And then nuking them. You get the point.
While it remains, it will continue to devalue and desensitise and especially dehumanise whoever we refer to as ‘the other’. We need to have our lives renewed by the transformation of our minds.
And it has to start with me. Because as much as i want to believe i am not afflicted by the disease of Us vs. Them thinking, i more than likely am. So i need to make myself accountable to those who love me and invite them to point it out and challenge it any time it surfaces. And squash it immediately and every time.
And it has to start with you. Will you commit with me to actively trying to move away from an Us vs. Them mindset and Us vs. Them language?
Let’s see if we can find the ‘We’ together in this. Because that is when the dreams will really start kicking into action and be being realised.