It’s so easy to get sucked into a doom and gloom mentality. There is a lot of awful stuff in the world. Let’s take the last week or two in my home country, South Africa: ruthless, violent attacks on foreign nationals which have left 5 dead and thousands in refugee camps and fleeing back “home” to countries which they fled from in the first place; the murder of a young school teacher in Port Elizabeth; the rape/murder/robbery of a nun; several very serious car accidents this weekend, one of them involving two metro buses, which calls into question the safety of all commuters on our roads…
I could probably go on all day and never finish telling the bad news; there is plenty of it around. But we must not imagine that this is new, or just a product of this government. I think we forget very quickly that South Africa has never had a government that is not corrupt. What makes the ANC case special, perhaps, is that thanks to our constitution, transparency and press freedom has allowed the press to expose corruption. We must also acknowledge that even though it doesn’t seem like it, we live in the most peaceful era ever in history.
While I love social media and instant access to information, I think that they have served to give us a disproportionate view of the world. A small event which happens in one part of the world can very easily go viral or “trend” on social media. And except, perhaps, when some llamas are running loose or there is a debate about a dress, these events are often negative occurrences.
I’m not suggesting we put our heads in the sand and ignore all the darkness in the world. In fact, I think it’s essential that we tackle these issues – surely our purpose on this planet is to call out injustice and be activists when we can? But if all we focus on is the negative, we could easily be mislead into thinking that the world, or our country, is a dreadful place. It’s not.
I don’t remember where I read it, but someone said that in the event of great tragedies or disasters, look out for the people who are running towards the danger – to help those in need. This sits comfortably with a philosophy I’ve tried to follow: instead of being drawn into discussions about how horrid things are or how things are falling apart, I look to people around me who are doing amazing things, and try to point those out to others too. And there are plenty of people doing amazing things.
In my suburb, there is a group of guerrilla gardeners who clean up dingy, derelict spots and plant and maintain beautiful gardens there instead. On the subject of gardens, noticed how some people plant veggie gardens on their pavements, with signs like “Help yourself. Take what you need.” Some concerned citizens, instead of waiting for their local council to paint road signs or clean up verges, have done these themselves. Others (or maybe the same ones) have arranged a monthly clean up at the local dam, and everyone is invited to help. This kind of active citizenship makes me excited.
I was deeply moved at how many people around our country spoke out against xenophobia, from school girls picketing on Oxford Road, to thousands of people who turned up for marches around the country. The Gift of the Givers organised parcels for people who had been displaced and so many people got involved in donating and collecting goods. Armchair activism (so often the only kind of activism most citizens choose to get involved in) turned to real life difference-making. I love it!
Shall I continue with the good news stories? Some people need to be flooded by it before they realise it’s there. Sometimes a good news story starts with a nightmare but ends well: A Japanese man who has cycled around much of the world found himself in the Western Cape, where his bicycle was stolen. A call was put out on Facebook to help him, and within 24 hours, his bike was recovered, in pieces, at a second hand shop. A group of local cyclists pooled together their resources and worked around the clock to make sure his bike was in working order and he could be on his merry way.
I think we have to watch out what we expose ourselves to. I can’t read the comments on News24, because they make me depressed. People feel it’s okay to express the most horrendous racist claptrap because they’re given a platform. I just take a deep breath and remember that those “commentators” do not represent us – they are a small (frustrated) minority whose extremist views would not be heard, in a different world. I also can’t tolerate the right wing, completely propagandistic views expressed on sites like South Africa Today dot net. Luckily, I teach students to look out for bias (and, yes, everything is biased, but some views are more reprehensible than others), so I can point out to you how the writers’ choice of adjectives impacts on the reader, and how emotive language can get you fired up. I can point out how propagandists select only the information that suits their purpose, and how they always pinpoint an enemy. It frightens me that so many educated South Africans I know read this nonsense as if it is gospel.
I choose, instead, to get my news and commentary from some of the great thinkers of our land: Professor Jonathan Jansen, Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State, who writes a weekly column in The Times (Thursdays, I think). Jansen is the man who refused to expel the four white students who degraded and humiliated some black workers on campus. His reasoning: he would have failed as an educator if he didn’t try to educate them. That’s how we should deal with racists! I also like to read the views of Eusebius McKaiser, who was an Oxford debater, and is a political analyst. What about our satirists? Zapiro, Ndumiso Ngcobo, Loyiso Gola? They’re all fantastically insightful, extremely funny commentators.
I prefer to get my stats from South Africa, The Good News, which I seriously suggest everyone checks out – so much is better than it was before. Have a look at some of their “Fast Facts”: http://www.sagoodnews.co.za/sa-fast-facts.html. Here are some, if you don’t feel like clicking through: SA has the 2nd most transparent budget in the world. WorldAudit.org ranks South Africa as the 72nd least corrupt nation out of 175 nations surveyed in 2012, ahead of Italy, Greece and all the other BRICS nations (47th in 2011). Transparency International ranks South Africa 92nd out of 150 countries in its corruption perception index 2012 (43rd in 2007, 64th in 2011). SA is ranked 2nd out of 183 countries for good practice in protecting both borrowers and lenders when obtaining credit for business (World Bank Doing Business Report 2011). South Africa is ranked among the top 3 countries in the world (countries with more than 9 million tourists) in respect of tourism growth (growing at 3 times the global average) -World Tourism Council.
I could go on all day about the good news, but I have to prepare for my child’s 13th birthday. When you open yourself up to listening to views that differ to your own, without any kind of pre-judged idea of what you think about them, you make way for reconciliation and tolerance. When you choose to expose yourself to the good news rather than the doom and gloom, the world miraculously becomes a better place. What is to be gained from a pessimistic outlook, other than ill feelings and mistrust of others? I choose to be happy and optimistic about my world, rather. Happy Freedom Day, everyone.
P.S I forgot to mention the fact that bad things happen in other places too. Just this week, a South African family was attacked in New Zealand (or maybe it was Australia) and the father killed. It’s dreadful. Crime and particularly violent crime are horrendous things, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that they only happen in South Africa. There is awfulness all over the world, and instead of being part of the awfulness, let’s try to spread a little light.