The other day i spent about an hour learning how to add some videos and subscriber links to the end of my videos. Not rocket scientistry and i’m sure the moves i learnt are pretty basic and can be done much better by the pros but you can check out the finished result at the end of my latest Erik [with a k] video, where Erik [with a k] reads the poem Self-Sacrifice by Hanane Aad.

The point is that this old dog learnt a new trick. And yes, i’m not THAT old, but it can become quite easy to discount yourself from learning new skills, especially as you start to get older. Or simply to get stuck with the things you know and not challenge yourself to try new experiences and add new skills to your belt.

The old lady and the greeting

Two weeks ago i hosted a story-telling session at a church in Bonteheuwel. It was meant to be a two-week encounter and for various reasons a whole bunch of stuff went wrong the first week [miscommunication, numbers, venue, technology] and i ended up with a handful of older coloured woman squeezed into this really cold passage-type office. But we spoke about stories and race and their homework for the week was to try and find one person who didn’t look like them and make some kind of connection and initiate a story-sharing opportunity. Another thing we spoke about was language and how it’s not okay to simply expect the other person has to learn your language without making any effort of your own.

Yesterday i went in for session two which was from three to five, meaning i would miss the beginning of the World Cup final and so while i had planned a good session i knew would work with the group i had, there was some measure of feeling like it was bad timing for such a few people. As i waited in the hall for the people to arrive [there were five or six different sessions happening at the same time so a lot of people] one of my old ladies spotted me and with a huge smile on her face, she ran over to me and blurted out, “Kunjani?” [Xhosa for “How are you?”] with the biggest sense of pride in herself. She had found a multi-language dictionary in her home and decided she needed to start learning some words and phrases in Xhosa…

Old dogs, new tricks. Just a word, right? But yet it felt so very significant. She was the same woman who at the end of the session, stopped me from summing up to say on behalf of the group, but particularly for herself that she was very grateful for the conversations and that they had transformed how she saw the country and wanted to live. A number of the woman mentioned 1994 as a significant milestone as they shared part of the stories with the group and this lady said how she had had her eyes opened the previous week in terms of realising that it wasn’t just the government but all of us had a part to play in how the country will change. Such an obvious idea to so many of us perhaps, but particularly to an older generation who thought and lived very differently, it was a mind shift that still needed to take place.

i am very grateful for those two weeks. It was a handful of old women, but their stories were so powerful [and heart-breaking in many cases] and they had all committed in different ways to be involved in their communities and being agents of change – and to challenge the leadership of the church to start connecting with some of the black churches in the diocese so that some more cross-cultural conversations can take place.

Start with a small step

There are huge changes that need to be made in South Africa and we can’t be satisfied with less than that. But, at the same time, if you have ever seen how excited a cashier at a supermarket gets when you address them in their own language, even for a few sentences, or if i find out a petrol attendant is from Malawi and greet him in his own language, the response tells me that the small steps are worth it. Just making any effort is a great start, and the beginning of making a greater effort and bigger steps. You have to start somewhere.

Too often, perhaps, the loud shouty ranting activists have scared people away from the smaller steps with our ‘All or nothing’ approach. But maybe this is just one more occasion where we need to leave space for a Both and an And.

We cannot let small steps be the end point of the work we do and the changes we are calling for. There are systems and structures which need to be dismantled and bridges which need to be built. But we also cannot let small steps be vilified or ignored or not cheered on as they are the means to preparing oneself and others for the bigger changes.

What is one small step you are busy making at the moment?