What a joy it always is to receive my weekly attitude adjustment from my friend and colleague Steuart Pennington – the founder and CEO of the website South Africa the Good News (www.sagoodnews.co.za).
It comes in the form of his newsletter that always strikes a necessary balance between acknowledging the myriad challenges we face as a country, whilst articulating the many positives. It is a great tonic for the soul!
This week’s instalment was particularly good and – given our current very gloomy context – it was much needed. Based on the second “Reasons for Hope” document published by the Institute of Race Relations, the newsletter was prefaced by the words of Bill Gates who said: “Bad news arrives as drama, while good news is incremental – and not usually deemed newsworthy.”
It gave some uplifting stats: That real GDP per capita has increased by over 30% since 1994; University Enrolment has risen from 211,000 students in 1985 to 825,000 in 2015 – a growth of 289%. South Africa has 11 universities ranked in the top 4% of universities worldwide. And life expectancy has increased by 10 years since 2002. There is much more – and you should visit the website and register for this newsletter – especially if you are feeling a little ‘dikbek’ about the state of the nation.
But I am not writing this simply to regurgitate the content of this specific newsletter. Whilst reading it, I became deeply grateful for how tirelessly Steuart (and indeed some others) has devoted himself and his organisation to balancing the narrative in our country. We have so many committed to exposing the bad news, but so few who devote themselves to spreading the good. And we desperately need both for accountability to be driven on the one hand, but for hope to remain kindled on the other. For without hope, we lose the will to keep contributing to the South Africa we all believe in. Steuart is a true dealer in hope – and I admire him for never allowing himself to be distracted or deterred.
There are certainly others out there doing this incredible work. One of them is Brent Lindeque the founder of www.goodthingsguy.com. These people have a remarkable ability to see hope where others see none. They have a way of making us feel like we can make a difference, one small positive thought or action at a time. In the face of huge criticism and accusations of being Pollyanna’s or ‘sunshine journalists’ – they just keep exposing the good; actively looking for reasons to celebrate life in South Africa.
One thing that I can assure you is that your life here in South Africa will be happier and more hopeful if you get a good dose of the medicine that guys like Brent and Steuart dish up. Go to their websites, sign up and support what they are doing.
I salute you gents. Keep sowing our fields with seeds of hope and all will be well in this marvellous place.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter
If you happen to visit us anytime from June onwards, you will notice that our house is more of a Christmas workshop than a home.
You see, my wife Cathy is Santa’s undisputed elf of the century! If Christmas was to be cancelled for whatever reason, my wife would immediately cease to exist. This is at once very charming and deeply concerning; concerning because in my wife’s world, literally every person we have ever met gets a Christmas gift.
So, you can just imagine the shock and horror for her when people say things like; “Christmas has become too commercial! We should be giving presence rather than presents,” or “we should be avoiding gifts like toys and games and rather give our children something more useful like annual membership to the local botanical gardens.”
There is a growing movement to put Christ back into Christmas and that is all good and well. But in practise, what does that mean? Whether you believe in Christ as the saviour of mankind or not, what would you imagine He would want his birthday party to look like? Now, before we get all religious about this, let’s remember that His first miracle was to create a vast quantity of very good wine at a wedding. So, Jesus was not the pious nerd that we have made Him out to be.
As far as I can tell, He would want us to give both presence and presents. And the latter is not a money thing; gifts come in all shapes, sizes and prices; Cathy makes a lot of her own presents and decorations. You see, theologically speaking, Christmas and generosity are inseparable. So why use this celebration to teach our kids about being frugal or practical? Surely, this is the time when we teach them about selfless giving and generosity?
If we examine our motivation for giving less at Christmas, might it reveal some meanness in us? I know it does in me. I watch Cathy’s gift giving and my blood pressure skyrockets just about as fast as our credit card bill. But then, I see the look of joy and amazement as her and Lolly hand out the carefully chosen and wrapped gifts to school security guards, cleaners and cooks (those who are most often forgotten) and I think this is probably the kind of birthday Jesus would have loved.
Having given the presents, how do we give ourselves in terms of our presence? I recently came across some suggestions from an American Lawyer by the name of Howard W Hunter. Apologies to Mr Hunter for tweaking this in the interests of space and our local context:
“This Christmas mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Replace negativity with hope. Give a soft answer. Encourage a young person. Keep a promise. Let go of a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Reach out to someone who doesn’t look or sound like you. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Give people your time and attention. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.”
Christmas is an invitation for us to move outside of ourselves and our comfort zones and into a world that is desperate for people to extend a kind word, a gentle touch or a helping or giving hand.
Finally, you will notice that Hunter doesn’t say we should stop anything; on the contrary. He suggests we start doing small things that bring heaven to earth. This is a world in which charity – kindness and generosity – should begin at home, but not end there.
So, from me and my family to you and yours, may you have the most glorious and abundant Christmas ever.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.