Reconciliation: “To find a way in which two situations or beliefs that are opposed to each other can agree and exist together” (Cambridge dictionary).
Every 16 December we have an opportunity to reflect on ourselves, our community and our country as to how far we have come in moving forward on national reconciliation. When then- President Mandela inaugurated the Day of Reconciliation in 1994, he was intentional about changing it from its previous sentiment to a new celebration. As you may already know, 16 December was a public holiday that initially celebrated Dingane’s Day or the Day of the Vow. From 1961 the same day was chosen to initiate the Umkhonto we Sizwe movement, with the aim of defeating the Apartheid system at play in the country at the time. Both events prior to 1994 were celebrated by a smaller group of people within our country. Through President Mandela the day that was celebrated by a select few became an inclusive celebration for a country. In a way we could say that on Reconciliation Day we strive to remember what has separated our people for so many years, and then actively find ways to move closer towards one another.
It’s now 2020 – 26 years later. How far have we come? How far do we still have to go? What are the barriers that keep us from moving forward?
Let us stop and focus on the word barrier and what it stands for. A barrier can be something that stands in the way. Something we might create for ourselves. For example, if my fear of what others will think drives me to conform to a group, I may create a barrier for myself. If I lack the confidence to stand up for another person or to speak out when a situation is not fair, I create a barrier for myself. If I repeatedly become defensive about an issue but don’t take the time to explore it further, I create a barrier for myself.
Barriers can also be something created by others or a circumstance that has been put into my way and blocks my next step. These may include growing up in an environment that had certain misperceptions of other cultures, or born into a culture that caused strife on others. It may be a broken family or values pushed onto me in my early years.
How many of these barriers am I aware of? What is it that stops me from engaging with others that are ‘different’ to me – and let us not talk about the workplace, but who we engage with on our own accord. How diverse are my friendship circles? How freely do I step into conversations that may be difficult to hold, because of the emotions that may arise? Why is it that some of our fellow South Africans still to this day are made to feel inferior or still feel inferior to others and why do our young people still have similar challenges to those of their parents? We just have to switch on to a news channel and these barriers can heard.
We could continue making a list with examples… and maybe you would like to stop for a moment by reflecting on your own.
Regardless of what our barriers are, we can choose how we respond to them. We have a choice to have our emotions rule us or rule over them. Our life may have been impacted by our past, by our parents or culture, but we have a choice as to whether we want to continue on that road or change direction. Usually, the choice to change ourselves or be a change in our environment requires more work than leaving it as is…
What would happen, if more of us were to actively break down those barriers as they come up before us? What would happen if we would spend a little more time in the shoes of another and listen to their story; if we took time to learn a new language (as our President Ramaphosa suggested earlier this week) or if we stepped in and spoke out when we see inequality in the workplace, in our schools or in our community? What would happen if we reacted less to an opinion that touches a nerve and rather let it sink in, and then engage with that person from whom it comes a little more? What if we spoke out about our past perceptions, misperceptions and actively seek forgiveness? What if we would actively stop giving our opinions and actively listen to that of another?
It takes courage, honesty and humility to reconcile!
And so, as we get back to the definition: reconciliation means acknowledging that opposing beliefs or situations exist. The action is to find a way towards an agreement, and possibly even success. So, should Reconciliation Day not remind us that we live in a society where opposing beliefs, opposing situations exist? And should this day not challenge us to find ways to bring these oppositions closer together, to exist together?
To make it really practical, here are a few ways to tackle the barrier (s) and reconcile:
- Realize that there is an issue – realization implies an acute awareness that there is a problem or a grievance, and naming them.
- Identify with the other – identifying with another does not mean I have to become like them. It means that I listen, actively, to hear the story of the other, it means learning to understand, to put myself in the shoes of the other. It is this, that makes telling stories (something we as South Africans do well) valuable. Interestingly, the more we share our stories, the more we may see where we are similar…
- Prepare to do something – finding a way means doing something, getting your hands dirty so to say. It means engaging with the idea that you have a choice, a responsibility to do something to bring about reconciliation. Just remember: a good idea always has a plan!
- Get stuck in – it is doing that brings about change, not good intentions or good thoughts, or dare we say great words. So, unless I take action, nothing changes!
Reconciliation doesn’t come cheap! It is hard work, and costly. It takes energy, a huge dose of humility and possibly even sacrifice. May today offer you some time of deep reflection, realizations and conversations that lead to acts of reconciliation.