The ‘Eureka’ moments of life – those moments when the clouds part and the sunshine streams through; those moments when we ‘get it’; perhaps even catch a glimpse of the eternal– are infrequent but always extraordinary. In these moments it feels like something falls into place deep within us; like we are found; like life suddenly has new clarity. Sound like I am smoking a little wacky as I write this? Would that it were that simple.
A little while ago a talk by Professor of Practical Theology Wynand de Kock provided me with just such a Eureka moment. It was simple – as such revelations often are – but it gave me great insight into some of my own personal dilemmas and more interestingly into some of the dilemmas of life here in South Africa. The talk was on the concept of ‘spaciousness’.
To summarise in my own terms a spacious person is one that lives with open hands and an open heart; someone who sees the best in others and the world around them; forgives easily; smiles often; someone who is filled with the breath of life; focuses outwards and upwards rather than inwards and downwards; someone who will choose to see the glass half full rather than half empty.
In contrast, an un-spacious person – or if you like a cramped or claustrophobic person – may live with one or more of the following ‘symptoms’: closed; metaphorically – perhaps even physically – out-of-breath; tight; worried; unforgiving; mean; negative; glass-half-empty.
Of course as one digests these too contrasting states one realises that there is something of them both in all of us. The point of the talk was to illustrate how spaciousness – even in the midst of adversity – is a wonderful, life-giving state of being; one that we should all strive for.
Throughout this profound talk I became painfully aware of some areas of personal un-spaciousness. It also caused me to question how spacious or un-spacious we are generally as a people; as a nation.
It is fairly straightforward to note the areas in which we are spacious. These were recently captured in a rich and emotive South African Tourism advertisement that has become an overnight on-line sensation. It tracks the journey of a young British couple touring our country. With exquisitely composed scenes of South African life the advert portrays – even causes the viewer to experience personally – the vast spaciousness of our magnificent land.
The climax of the advert – and an unusual twist in the tail for advertisements in this genre – causes the viewer to reflect on a less obvious spaciousness that epitomises South Africa as much as our wide open spaces. The final shot reveals that the young man walks with the aid of a white cane. He is blind and has fallen in love with the unseen beauty of our country; the feel of the place; the spaciousness.
And how many of us articulate this intangible aspect of South Africa when talking of our country; “South Africa just gets under your skin” or “South Africa is in ones blood.” This is not a patriotic statement. This is something far more poetic than that; it points to the fact that South Africa is an energized and energizing place; its soul is as wide; as spacious as the land itself. Of this we should be extremely proud as it clearly refers to the collective soul of its people.
But what is more challenging for us is that – as with me personally – there are areas in which we are not spacious as South Africans. Recently these areas have come to define our dialogue and how we act or react in different situations.
I see voter apathy as a symptom of un-spaciousness. Think back to the remarkable shots of long snaking queues that were the defining images of the 1994 elections. Did those not fill you with a sense of spaciousness?
Our conversations belie a lack of spaciousness. How often our experiences become defined by the negative: “How was your trip to The Berg?” Answer: “You won’t believe the potholes we had to navigate.”
Racism – which seems to rear its ugly head almost daily at the moment – is simply a lack of openness to others; a lack of spaciousness.
Our adoption rates – just over 1400 children adopted per annum – demonstrate a critical lack of spaciousness.
And some are being stifled over the political future of our country. Just the name Julius Malema often causes shortness of breath. We must stop this. Julius Malema is not a threat to our democracy. He is a necessary ingredient in a flavourful and diverse political potjie.
There are of course other areas we could highlight but the question is this; would we not rather live spacious lives in a spacious land?
I know I would.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysen: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.