Today I was touched by an e-mail forwarded to me by a dear friend Dr Leann Munian. She is a Paediatrician who was writing a farewell note to her colleagues before transferring to another hospital.
In the note she wrote a fascinating line about a major shift in her thinking and her career that took place some time ago after a stint in Syria with Gift of the Givers:
“…I returned to the hospital of my birth, “to save the world”, “one baby at a time”.” What a remarkable thought process; that changing something as huge as the world can happen one very small baby at a time.
But it jogged my memory, because my dear friend and colleague Dr Rama Naidu puts the same thought in a slightly different way. Now for some context, this man is a world class agent of change who has impacted on countless numbers of people during his remarkable career. But he works in small groups of between 8 and 80 people at a time, facilitating their growth and development. He says: “We change the world one conversation at a time.” This echoes one of my gurus Peter Block who talks about changing the world “one room at a time; the room you are in.”
Another friend and colleague Dr Louise van Rhyn founder of Partners for Possibility – the world-renowned South African program that pairs school Principals from under resourced schools with business leaders in a transformative co-learnership – talks about changing the world “one partnership at a time.” There simply must be something in this thinking if all these doctors are saying the same thing!
But it sounds fanciful, even flaky, especially within the parameters of our Western thinking that is so dominated by outcomes, measurement and numbers. In the NGO field, tell a potential funder you save the world “one baby, one conversation, one partnership at a time”, they will smile and tell you to come back and talk when you have “taken your project to scale”. In the business world, have a conversation that is about change outside of the context of a rising bottom-line and you will quickly hear terms like “soft skills” being used.
We play this game because we must – or must we? It seems that all of us in any form of people-based, healing, transformation/change, “nation building” work have been on a journey to understand and accept that change and growth can only happen one of anything at a time. And this is on the positive spectrum. Just ask Adam Catzavalos how one racist WhatsApp message can change your life for the worse.
This may seem frustrating because we want positive change to happen quicker than this. It just doesn’t satisfy our hard-wired need – and the world’s expectation – for us to “deliver results” (aka numbers). It has taken me literally years to come to terms with this “one-by-one” thinking and I thank my friends above for always reminding me about this when I get frustrated by my own or our country’s seeming “lack of progress”.
This column is about each of us playing our part in the change we wish to see for our country and our world. So, the question is what is your “one at a time”? For my paediatrician friend it is a baby. For Rama it is a conversation. For Louise it is a partnership. For you it could be one customer at a time, one article at a time, one learner, one client, one staff member, one patient, one child.
The trick? Be for that person or situation everything you wish to see the world become.
Then the world will change. Not tomorrow or next week. But right now.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered and Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.
Our country is gearing up for the 2019 election and so predictably, the seeds of division are being sown.
Racist rhetoric, polarisation, distortion of facts and even hate speech are going to be the order of the day for the next 12 to 18 months. This sets us back in our efforts to bring healing and restoration to our democracy. But there is a simple antidote that each of us can employ.
“It’s hard to hate anyone whose story you know” – Roslyn Bresnick-Perry.
Have you taken the time to tell your story to the people in your life? Have you taken the time to hear their story? I am talking about people once or twice removed from you: Your boss, your staff, your colleagues, your fellow worshippers. When we spend time together sharing our life’s journey, walls come down and unity rises.
“Stories can conquer fear. They can make the heart grow bigger” – Ben Okri.
When we hear one another’s stories, we are startled by the resilience people have; by their courage and their creativity. Soon, differences of colour, religion, class, political affiliation and age matter less as we discover the person with all their past struggles and future dreams. Fear of difference begins to evaporate.
“An enemy is one whose story we have not heard” – Gene Knudsen Hoffman
Story telling is the only way that we break down suspicion. Stories help us to see the real person beyond our pre-conceived ideas, our stereotypes and prejudices. In the process we develop understanding, empathy, forgiveness, acceptance of difference and real enjoyment and love of one other.
I recently came across a fantastic campaign that is being run by an outstanding NGO called Heartlines. It is called What’s Your Story (www.whatsyourstory.org.za) and it advocates story telling as a tonic for a nation desperately in need of that healing. They are rolling the campaign out in schools, businesses, churches and on-line. In these environments, people are beginning to share their stories and unity is being created. You can go onto their website, share your story, read other stories and even help to fund the roll out of this powerful initiative to 1 million people.
Take a look at this short clip to hear more and get involved. https://whatsyourstory.org.za/donate/
This monthly feature is our response to the President’s invitation: “Thuma Mina – Send Me”. It is a toolkit of ideas to help our readers respond to that call.
In 2007, I returned from the UK having spent 6 incredible years living and working in London. Virtually as my plane touched down naysayers began questioning my decision: Why on earth had I come back? Hadn’t I heard that we were “going the way of Zimbabwe”?
I had all this buzzing around in my head when – out on a Comrades training run up near the Kruger National Park – I greeted an old man carrying wood on his head. His reaction changed my life forever and set me on a brand new path.
He stopped dead in his tracks (as did I, which isn’t difficult when I am running) and stared at me like I was nuts. I wondered fleetingly if I had offended him, but my fears were soon allayed as a huge, craggy smile broke out on his old face. We smiled warmly and greeted one another and in that moment a bridge was built between two very different human beings; one old; one privileged; one white; one rural. It was a bridge that I knew in my spirit was strong and permanent; it was a moment when I knew beyond all doubt that love was the beginning and end of all faith; the beginning and end of all life and purpose and the true meaning of truth, reconciliation and healing. My experience with that old man stood in stark contrast to the naysayers who had been so negative on my return. To the two of us, South Africa was indeed alive with possibility.
This experience birthed a campaign called Stop Crime Say Hello. The thinking is that peace creation is an active process that we must all participate in daily with simple acts of kindness and bridge building. By doing this we slowly begin to chip away at the culture of violence that has been put in place over decades of disrespect for one another.
As a call to action, Thuma Mina is so simple. It can and perhaps must begin with small actions repeated often; actions such as greeting people – especially those who are different to us – as we go about our daily lives.
I guess the hardest part is slowing down for long enough to really see humanity in all its wondrous complexity and beauty and brokenness all around us. Because healing doesn’t happen in a hurry and bridges take time to build.
The call is to do something – however small – to make a difference in one life at a time.
I would love to dialogue with you around the call of Thuma Mina – Send me. You can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org. (www.peaceagency.org.za)
Over the 8 years that I have written this column, I have interacted with many people who have shared with me some of the incredible things they are doing to make this country a better place.
I have been very struck by the passion that people have to make a difference and just how willing they are to make sacrifices big and small each day to achieve this end. Many have expressed their frustration – a frustration I share on a very deep level – at not being able to do more. To those I remind us of Mother Teresa’s often quoted: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
By far the most common way that people participate in the healing of our nation is through mentorship. This is almost always informal; we mentor our staff in the workplace, our domestic workers at home, perhaps their kids; educators mentor their learners outside of the formal learning process; religious leaders mentor their flocks; Granny’s and Grandpa’s, aunts and uncles – most of us mentor somebody; young or not so young. It seems that being a mentor to someone is very deeply rooted in our DNA; we do it almost instinctively without giving it a formal name.
There are of course reasons for this; we acknowledge that without healthy and functional younger people in particular, the young themselves and society at large is at risk. So, on one level it is about survival – passing on from one to another the necessary skills to navigate the world and life well. On another level it is tied up in our instincts to care and nurture, which is why we react so viscerally when we read stories of the abuse of children; it goes against every instinct we have.
But science also proves the power of mentorship. Research conducted by the mentorship program Big Brothers Big Sisters tells us that when an adult mentor spends 1 hour a week with a child for one year, that child will be 53% more likely to stay in school; 32% less likely to engage in violence and 46% less likely to use drugs. It is for this reason that I maintain that mentorship – perhaps more than any other intervention – is a critical tool for the healing of our nation.
Over the years that I have been involved in mentorship, I have become convinced that everyone can mentor someone. So, for the purposes of this column I would like to broaden the definition of mentorship so each of us can get a sense of the role we can play. Traditionally, mentorship was seen as an age-based thing i.e. older people mentoring younger people. But some of my best mentors have been younger than me; for example, my dear friend Akhona Ngcobo has mentored me in the ways of Zulu culture. She is several years younger than me. So, mentorship is more about experience in one area or another, than age.
The other perception we should change is that mentorship only benefits the person being mentored. This is perhaps the biggest misconception created by the fact that mentorship relationships have typically been based on an unequal power ratio. Everyone I know who has enjoyed a powerful mentor-style partnership (whether adult-to-adult or adult-to-youngster) has reported that they grew just as much from the relationship as the mentee did – if not more. This means that we should start viewing and defining mentorship differently.
In South Africa we have phenomenal programs that work on this basis; co-mentorship or what some refer to as “thinking partners”. These programs create partnerships that are totally reciprocal and impact both parties equally. One of the most powerful of these is Partners for Possibility which I have mentioned before. They are leaders in this type of thinking as their program partners school principals from some of the poorest schools in South Africa with a business leader, in a mutually beneficial, generative, adult-to-adult relationship. Some of the leaders are active in business currently, others are retired; some are in small entrepreneurial ventures, others in multi-nationals. They come from different departments within businesses, but all share the same passion; to partner with a school principal in a way that facilitates their respective growth as leaders. This last week, Partners for Possibility achieved the remarkable success of being the only South African NGO to be ranked in the top 500 NGO’s in the world in the 2018 Geneva Rankings by the independent group NGO Advisor. They came in at 97 demonstrating the uniqueness and efficacy of this approach.For those of us not involved in business or schools there is our local mentorship program, Bright Stars. This assists adults and youngsters to effectively partner with one another. These youngsters may be ones that you are already in relationship with but that you need support with. You might not be in a partnership with a child currently and would like to be. The program offers comprehensive training and support to both adult and youngster for the length of your partnership – usually 1 year.
I extend an invitation to all of you; make 2018 a year in which you partner with someone regardless of age. The contribution you will be making – to yourself, to them and to our nation at large – will be enormous.
For more information about Partners for Possibility e-mail email@example.com and for Bright Stars e-mail firstname.lastname@example.orgJustin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.
I recently wrote a post about the incidents of rocks being thrown off bridges on the North Coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal.
The theory – and I do state in the piece that it is a theory – put forward in the piece is that systemic social injustices – i.e. poverty, unemployment and inequality – prevalent in one area compared with untold wealth in neighbouring suburbs, may be creating a fertile seedbed for resentment which can in turn lead to violence. The piece upset and angered some people. I want to sincerely apologise for this because my intention is always to provoke dialogue and promote an alternative narrative, but never to cause anger and resentment. So, let me try to clarify my position.
Rock throwing is a heinous criminal act which I denounce totally. Instances of damage to property due to rock throwing are unacceptable; deaths caused by this act are tragic and criminal and the perpetrators must face the full might of the law. Is there any excuse for violence? None whatsoever. Are there reasons for it? I argue that there are. As there are with all major crimes.
Now clearly not all people afflicted by poverty, unemployment and inequality will get onto a bridge and throw a rock at a passing vehicle. But some might. Is resentment and bitterness a justification for crime and violence? Absolutely not. Perpetrators of crime and violence should face the full wrath of the law.
But as a society, we have a responsibility – whilst we are bringing these criminals to book – to be analysing every possible root cause of such violent acts. We have a responsibility to seek out ways that we can create a healthy societal context in which violence is not perpetrated in the first place. For example, research tells us that hurt people, hurt people. This does not mean that people who hurt others shouldn’t face the full might of the law – they should. But as a society we must seek out and apply the necessary healing treatments to create an atmosphere of peace and non-violence.
This will always involve some form of dialogue and the asking of the right (and usually difficult) questions. We dismiss this thinking as bunny hugging/liberal etc at our peril for in our dismissal of the need for social healing, we in turn contribute to the atmosphere of violence and further polarise society. I am delighted that they have apprehended suspects. Now let’s work together to understand why people act violently so we can act together to prevent further violence.
I am aware that many of us – me included – don’t want to believe that poverty is itself a form of violence. When humans are told that houses they were promised 10 years ago will not materialize because a zoo is being built, this is a form of violence against those people; it makes them sub-human. And often people respond to violence with violence. Again, I am in no way condoning this. But until we recognize poverty as a form of violence we will always vilify “the other” (rock throwers, violent protesters etc.) and exonerate ourselves.
I have come to the painful realization that for me to enjoy the privileged life I do, someone (probably many someone’s) necessarily must go without. That is the real and painful truth of inequality and it tears societies apart as was stated just this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Finally, we can and should put cages over bridges. We must catch criminals. But for this not to be a case of kicking the can down the road, we must engage communities to get necessary insights into why violence happens in the first place – and then put actions in place to prevent or at least diminish the chances of recurrence.
For those interested, I am putting together a team that is going to go in and engage local community members on this issue of rock throwing and other forms of violence on the North Coast. Mail me email@example.com if you would like to get involved.