“When even the custodians of the story no longer believe the story, you know its days are numbered. It is a shell with no engine, running on habit and momentum.” Charles Eisenstein.
David Cameron’s Britain? Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton’s America? Jacob Zuma’s ANC? It could be about all 3 – and indeed the world at large – though it was penned specifically about America in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s defeat by Donald Trump.
When you read the above quote you may feel like you are stood atop a very high bridge about to jump with nothing more than a length of elasticated twine attached to your ankles. Only problem is we have been given no choice but to jump. The safe and comfortable view of our world held by many, has been shattered. We have been well and truly pushed; 2016 has given us one massive shove.
It has been a shove we desperately needed but did all we could to avoid. Is that not the truth of any good shove? It flung us into a downward trajectory; a certain belly-churning freefall that would see all of us “sensible” folk losing our breakfast, lunch and dinner in a swirl of elections, referendums and reports.
And what was that shove? It was a shove out of our blinded complacency. We could longer kid ourselves that America is the land of the free; that Britain is the old grand dame of civility and propriety; that the ANC is not tearing our country apart limb from limb and cannibalising its very flesh. How can this be good for anyone?
But therein lies the bitter irony. As the masks of civility and tolerance and interbeing get ripped from the face of the world, could we ultimately be better off? Yes, I ache for us to believe the old stories once again; to believe that what our folks taught us – and what so many people on every continent have given their lives for – is still alive and well: That the world – though messed up – is headed in the right direction. But that would be to continue the deception that we have been labouring under for years; that the democratic project is largely complete and a success; that racism – if not dead – has been dealt its killer blow; that current systems of government have a handle on poverty, that women are by-and-large equal to men and that inter-faith dialogue has given birth to a generous and loving God. These deceptions must die if we are to ultimately win the fight for a free and equal society for all. Without their death, we are just play-acting a fairy-tale.
Now, seen in this light Donald Trump, Brexit – even our very own president – become necessary catalysts for humanity’s next big strides in terms of change and progress. They will cause a radical shifting of the pendulum from the one extreme to the other; the necessary swing needed for equilibrium to be reached.
It seems outrageous to call Trump or Brexit or indeed Zuma “progress”. But the truth is that if we are to advance towards a better place; a place of resurrection from what now appears to be a slow and painful death; a place without pretence or complacency or masks, we must be prepared to bravely enter a period of great uncertainty – a liminal space if you like – in which just about anything could happen.
How do we enter this space between? Perhaps a better question might be, what tools will we need to play a part in the scripting of the next chapter in world history?
We will need to reassess our non-negotiable values and hold onto these for dear life. It happens so easily and quickly that good men and women who ordinarily consider themselves to be law abiding and peaceful begin engaging in violent words and deeds to defend their position. We are seeing this in America. We have always seen it in South Africa. This is driven by our fear.
We will need to put ourselves in the shoes of the other. As Eisenstein points out, 6 states that voted in America’s first black president twice, voted for Trump. Did they become racists overnight? Or are they just deeply disillusioned with the world? Are you deeply disillusioned with the world? If so, you may have voted for Trump even if you hate what he stands for.
We will need to understand that no one wins when leaders fail. We can and must oppose where necessary, but we must also work to build leaders that will succeed. This includes our president and Trump. If you pray, then pray for them.
And finally, we must not do nothing as we undergo this necessary falling process. We must peacefully but decisively oppose everything that acts against the universal principles of love and empathy and kindness. We must embrace the fall but not what caused it. We must use every opportunity to denounce racism, the abuse and oppression of women, the hatred for religions other than our own. We must now ensure that the next few years see the world bounce back to that better place.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
This column is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.