To move forward in South Africa, and, let’s be honest, the world, we have to learn to own it.
Making a mistake is not the end of the world.
Getting it wrong sucks but it doesn’t have to be the end.
Messing up horribly or completely putting your foot in it in the very worst of ways can also be recovered from.
BUT you absolutely have to own it!
This means humility, honesty, vulnerability, and the commitment to do better.
Which absolutely flies in the faxce of defenciveness, finger-pointing, whataboutism and denial.
Own your mistakes
This past week, i spoke on a panel under the broad theme of ‘Overcoming the Pandemic of Racism’.
It was a panel made up of three white men and a black woman.
In a country where white people make up roughly 95 of the population.
In an area i speak about quite a lot [be aware of the white spaces you visit and inhabit] and tend to be quite aware of.
AND YET I GOT IT HORRIBLY WRONG.
By the time i realised, two days before the event, it felt a bit late to step out and expect a black, coloured or indian person to jump in with short notice to prepare. So i tried to use the space to confess my getting it wrong and hopefully as a lesson for all of us to be more aware ofthe spaces [and mics] that we occupy.
i was a little nervous about the organisation hosting the event, because it felt a bit like me calling them out publically [although i tried to direct it more at myself and make it a learning moment] but i didn’t need to be. They responded with grace and humility, apologising to me in an email [and i believe the other panelists and i think phoned Nobuntu, the black lady panelist who is a friend of mine]. They committed to be better in the future and more aware of this.
And that is really it. That’s it. Recognise, Acknowledge and Commit to being/doing better.
Hope for the Country/World
Can you imagine a country where this became our go to?
Where social media arguments stopped feeling like a fight to the death and became genuine humble searchs for truth, marked by vulnerability, honesty and a real sense of listening to understand?
Where the moment someone was challenged or accused or shown facts that didn’t line up with what they had said, they would pause and take a look at the evidence and engage with it honestly and then apologise and correct themselves and change their narrative?
Where people replaced “Screw you!” with “I’m sorry!”
Where people faced with a term they don’t understand [white privilege, white fragility, whataboutism, intersectionality] looked it up or asked someone to explain what they meant, instead of just denying it anyway or misdirecting?
Can you imagine what South Africa might look like if our leaders started living this way? Honesty, accountability, owning mistakes, refusing to cover over corruption.
What about a church where the leaders embraced this? Integrity overlooking right. Good character over reputation. Truth over finances.
What if we started teaching these principles in schools? Or in our families? What if, as parents [or adults in general], we started modeling this to our kids? That it is okay to get it wrong or even mess up horribly as long as we own it well and move on committed to do and be better?
As always, this has to begin with me. Standing in front of my mirror and asking what work i need to do. Beyond that we can hope others will catch it and apply it to their own lives. But i need to work on my defensiveness, my awareness, being slower-to-respond, humility and loving my neighbour.
Once you’ve learned to own your own mistakes, it is important to work on responding to those of other people.
[For a piece on Forgiveness, click here]