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/
There is a poem called “The Cold Within” that was written in the 1960’s by then unknown American poet James Patrick Kinney.
I first heard this poem quoted by our former Public Protector Professor Thuli Madonsela, but apparently it is quite well known the world over. What struck me about it was the fact that it could so easily have been written about us here in South Africa in 2018. It is challenging, painful and beautiful and – as the various 2019 election campaigns begin to polarise and divide us – it deserves our full attention:
Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.The poem is so powerful because it places us together around a fire – usually a space for friends. But the fire is dying and so are we. It begs for us to find our common humanity – that which will save our lives – and share what we have with one another; our kindness, our time, our resources – regardless of our differences.