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[OPINION] If not you, then who?

Crisis, revelations, conspiracy, protest, apathy, apolitical are all adjectives to describe South Africans' daily encounters through the media, the news and our general conversations with people around us.

I live in the world of possibility. Some call it idealism, I ensure the possibility I live in is measurable and active.

In a seemingly frustrating and predictable future, we can find ways of making life better, easier and purposeful, but we have to choose it. It definitely appears easier to live within our own 10 or 20km radius between our jobs, kid’s schools, gyms, errands and friendship circles. On our way, seeing the people looking for work at the robots, standing with expectant open hands or downtrodden mournful stares at the tarred road.

Are they our problem? We are law abiding, peace loving, hardworking contributing members of this society? Why don’t they find work, beg somewhere else, do something?

There are days I don’t listen to any news or watch any television reports. Everything is negative, I even avoid looking at the posters on lamp posts. Sensational is not what the news is anymore, it is just more of the same. So, if you believe our country is going down the tubes, everywhere you look you will find evidence to support that thought process. Some of my questions include whose truth is it, when will the guilty parties be held accountable and take consequences?

I always come back to the same responses. A big truth is that we are hacking our way out of systemic barriers created by apartheid. These did not disappear in 1994, they were built with a lifetime guarantee by the evil genius of the architects of our separateness. The guilty parties will be held accountable and face the consequences of their bad behaviour not only through the intervention of the president, but also through the actions of ordinary people like ourselves. As people we have become tolerant of much wrongdoing, we have thrown our hands up in the air and given up.

I found a solution in my frustration, I search for information and points of view to create my personal observation and understanding. I speak out and up where I see injustice and I support people and groups who stand on values to which I subscribe. There are many, many organisations making contributions to a better South Africa.

Personally, I am involved in a community near to the leafy suburb where I live. I have built relationships with some organisations and families whom I can connect to people I know who can support and assist them. There is social responsibility everywhere. I am choosing to be responsible for living out loud my commitment to transformation, social cohesion, empowering the downtrodden and oppressed by helping them find their own voices. I think it is a disservice to speak on behalf of people without their say so.

It is arrogant to go to communities or families in need and tell them what can work for them. We need to start a process of healing by listening to hear. Asking questions and working with and not for people in need.

I am committed to keeping a little boy I met 4 years ago in school. It appears natural to the people around me and around him, that he moves in with my family and I. Sure, we can materially give him a better life than the one he has. After building this relationship with him and his estranged parents, I am clear that enrolling them to the possibility of a stable family relationship is a lot more work but a lot more rewarding for them as a unit, than me bombarding them with my opinions and judgements. My interventions are with permission and coming from a place they know is love and empathy. I don’t have a conscience to ease by over compensating but I want them to have a family connection that is workable and functional.

He remains the responsibility of his parents. I will strongly encourage this as long as he is not in any danger, physical or otherwise. He has endured so much violence, torture and abuse in his short life. He now has to unlearn those common behaviours and replace them with understanding, self-care, self-love and doing better. Big steps and babysteps for all of us involved, but we are building something for the future! It is worth every uncomfortable conversation and boundary making and creating space for fun and learning.

The changes in this little boy’s life, attitude and his relationship with his parents is truly miraculous. Yes, it is up and down, a work in progress, day by day, sometimes moment by moment, but since we have taken the time to get to know each other, build trust, establish integrity by being our word and respecting a give-and-take approach, we are reaching milestones.

I talk about all this on social media. I report on the ups and down. Many of my friends comment, like and make contributions all of it welcome.

My request remains, what more can I do? Do you ever ask yourself what there is that you can do, to make life liveable and joyful for someone or people in or near your area of influence, who probably will never be able to repay you in time or effort.

If we all participated in good-old fashioned neighbourliness, we could change the world, one life at a time.
My life is being changed daily as I learn from someone so much less fortunate than I, how their world works and what their struggles are. I am happier and more grateful for my privileges, challenges, the ups and the downs in my life because as the middle class, we really have no idea how bad things are further down the chain! Getting to know is making it easy and necessary for me to be more involved and curious as an active citizen. The system does not work equally for all of us.

I know we can all do something differently but we have to do so consciously, we have a choice and we can commit ourselves to get a bigger plate if our plate is already full.

Many many people around us are doing this, some within their own families, some at the places of worship, some in their communities, some in other communities. This is how we can personally be responsible for the reconciliation and transformation of our country which many of us are leaving to the government or people out there to do. What about you? If not you, then who?

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn

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