Rewriting the South African story – One sentence at a time

I read a great quote recently that speaks powerfully of the role South Africans can play in creating the future reality we want for our country. It said simply: “You are just one sentence away from changing the story.” It seemed to echo another commonly articulated trope that the battle is always won first in the mind. If we can exercise the mental muscles to come up with new and more positive story lines – starting with just one new sentence – the battles we face will always be won. History proves this point every time.

What is our current story about South Africa?

I must confess that as we enter this new decade, I am surely not oozing positivity. But if it is worth considering that we are one sentence away from a different story, then what could that sentence possibly be? And would it help to spend time talking about and creating new sentences rather than rehashing our old tales of woe?

Its just a jump to the left

As human beings we get stuck in narratives that bleed us of hope. For example, if we have made up our mind that the Department of Health is inept and will never deliver improved health services to our people, then hope vanishes and we look for validation of this viewpoint, which abounds. If the battle against hopelessness (and indeed poor health care) is to be won in the mind (and hence in reality), then a different sentence leading to a new story needs to be crafted. This might be: “What if I begin to seek out and tell the many success stories in the Department of Health?”. Or better still: “What if I find ways to contribute to better health care in our country?” This kind of thinking takes some serious effort, but it disrupts our personal and collective narratives and sets us on a new and more productive course. It requires us to physically jump out of our current mindset to create new realities and when we do this, reality literally shifts.     

The power of possibility

Where are you stuck in terms of your current story of our country? If you stay there, it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you start a new sentence – and I suggest beginning that sentence with the powerful possibility words “what if….” – you will quickly enter a new realm of possibility and positivity. Suddenly, the future will become brighter as the feel-good chemicals flood your brain.


You will need to do something painful before constructing new possibility-laden sentences; let go of some stinking thinking as we call it at home. You will need to be prepared to make peace with being wrong in your current assumptions, judgments and attitudes about our country and our people. You will need to let go of your view that we are on a course of failure. You will need to let go of some stereotypical, single-story narratives and the notion that this is not your problem to solve. This is painful because many of us have held our tired old views for a very long time.

But if the battle can be won one sentence at a time, isn’t that a much better way to go into 2020 than holding onto our old negative stories that will ultimately lead only to failure?

Bottling the Hope and Unity of the Rugby World Cup

We did it – now what?

With the euphoria of our magnificent Rugby World Cup victory in Japan beginning to level off, we are beginning to change our focus and ask some powerful questions: How can we sustain the unity that #RWC2019 created? How can we maintain the heightened levels of hope and positivity? How can we continue to live out the mantra of #strongertogether?

These are the right questions because as jubilant as we are, there is a limit to how far sport can take us before we as citizens must step in, grab the baton and continue leading the charge.    

How do we “bottle” the World Cup gees? 

In order to “bottle” the positive effects of the World Cup victory, we first need to clearly name what they were. Two things stand out: Hope and unity. Now, the exciting thing about these two affects is that it is easily within our ability as individual human beings, as families, communities and organisations, to not only sustain but create them. Both are, in the first instance, decisions that we take to allow hope and unity to become our dominant narrative and pattern of behaviour.

Creating hope and unity

So, the event of the Springboks winning the World Cup did not of itself create unity and hope. We allowed unity and hope to rise in us as a response to their victory. Sure, we had turbo-boosters – a massive national surge of endorphins and serotonin and all the other feel-good hormones that promote positive, happy feelings and behaviour. But interestingly, we then translated those intense happy feelings into words and deeds of hope and unity. And by the way, this started way before the final.

We needed this

Now, an already hopeful, united nation say, Denmark, would not have had these affects triggered in the same way had they won the World Cup. They might not have felt the victory so intensely, and if they had, they might have allowed other affects to be triggered – affects that they needed at that time as a nation. But we needed hope and unity so as a result, we allowed those to be triggered in us.

Creating hope and unity: A 2-step process

Sustaining hope and unity is seemingly as simple as a two-step process: First we must decide to be hopeful and united with all humanity. Having made the decision to be hopeful and united, we decide to act on it. Here are two actions you might take for each:     

On hope:

  • Surround yourself with positive, hopeful people     
  • Speak (and forward, like etc) only positive and hopeful words

On unity:

  • Be intentional about greeting people and perhaps smiling at them
  • Spend time getting to know people who don’t look, sound or think like you

I am sure that as a family or community you could come up with loads more actions. But if all we do is these few simple things, our country will ride the wave of victory for many years to come.