We are currently sitting in a situation where our country is still deeply divided and mistrustful of one another, based upon many divisive factors, and largely a legacy of history, apartheid and separate development. The divisions run along economic, gender, geographic, political, racial, religious and tribal lines, amongst others. We have a society that is largely operating from a fear based mentality given the perceived and sometimes real threat from those around them. Violence and intimidation are an ever present reality and our media is constantly reporting the sad news of life in what can only be described as a pressure cooker society. How long will it be before we reach the point of melt-down and no return? At a recent talk, Clem Sunter, in his scenario planning outlook for South Africa shared how his team has recently had little option but to consider the very real possibility (a 25% statistical probability) that South Africa could become a ‘Failed State’, placing us with the likes of Afghanistan and Syria as an untouchable nation given the degree of political uncertainty and violence that exists in those countries. What a shame that the Rainbow Nation, a country that the world has been watching as something rare and of great value, like our mineral resources, with the belief that good can emerge from bad, only to see us disappear into the abyss of corruption, greed, violence and self-destruction.
As a counselling psychologist based in Johannesburg, I believe we are still very much in control of our destiny, but it is imperative that we start rolling our sleeves up and doing the right kind of work to change the dynamics of how we as people relate to one another. A lot of my work is with married couples who have drifted apart and who are questioning the viability of their relationships and the ever present possibility of divorce. I have studied a number of relational theories and have particularly enjoyed the work of Harville Hendrix and his theory, called Imago Relationship Therapy. It’s based upon the understanding of the power of the deep subconscious and how our current circumstances are often driven by unconscious processes and motives, specifically the need to heal from past hurts and traumas. I believe his ideas, which come from many schools of psychology and behavioural theories, have a lot to tell us not only about marriages, but also about human relationships in general. This includes socio-political dynamics, especially as related to what we are currently dealing with in South Africa regarding mounting tensions within many parts of our society.
My sense of the situation in our country is that we have a deep and long legacy of broken trust between the various communities of our land, and that apartheid was a particularly devastating and wounding system. The result of our past and present history as a nation is that we are all living with an experience of broken (and breaking) trust and that this brokenness is becoming unbearable and unsustainable. My belief is that we have to work hard and smart towards changing this dynamic by consciously seeking to build trust between and amongst all members of our society. This needs to start with people in positions of leadership and filter down to all individuals. This process can only be achieved by creating places of safety where people feel free and able to share their authentic concerns, issues and problems without fear of recrimination, rejection or ridicule, so that solutions can be constructively formulated. As a new democracy we face many problems and challenges and we need to show genuine consideration and respect for each others’ thoughts, feelings and wishes. If we don’t get on top of these issues, they will get on top of us.
What I have learnt is that the two key ingredients in a successful relationship are love and trust, and once again, this is not limited to couples and families. Remember the saying, “It’s LOVE that makes the world go round”, which I believe to be true. I have also learnt that love tends to follow trust. In other words, if you break trust love goes, but if you build trust then love grows. If we are to build our nation and become an example to the world, then we as individuals and collectively need to make a conscious decision to build trust, so that love can really start to grow. And we do this be creating places of safety where people are invited to share authentically what really matters to them without fear or prejudice.
At a grassroots level, I think our schooling system should be encouraging children to develop considerate and respectful channels of communication with their peers and teachers. I propose that we should look at incorporating a psycho-educational module specifically designed to teach children this way of communicating in the first year of Life Orientation, when they start Secondary school. As mentioned earlier another important place where constructive, healing communication needs to take place is in the family, particularly between spouses, hence a nationwide media campaign to educate and support couples to build strong and healing relationships is necessary. When the family is strong, then society is strong, and ultimately the nation is strong. Finally, at the highest level in the land, my view is that one of the best things our President could do is to lead by example and become far more visible and available for constructive and healing dialogue on many of the issues that trouble and threaten our democracy. He would be making a very wise decision to consciously build trust, by being honest, open and accountable, in a context that is supportive and encouraging.
I would be happy to help facilitate such a process at the highest and at the lowest level so that South Africa can take a fundamental shift in its direction and ultimate destination – to become a truly proud and great nation. To this end, I am meeting with eminent personalities and leaders from many walks of life to understand how we as a nation can take full and ultimate responsibility for our, and our descendents destinies, so that we will never have to regret the opportunities we failed to take when there was still time.
18 April 2013