I had the opportunity to be a part of the panel at the “Blacks only” evening organized by the Real Talk group. The premise was that we should get people across the traditional “racial” lines to talk to each other honestly with the intention of stimulating real dialogue. To be honest I never had the need to “say anything specific” to another group of people because their skin colour was deemed to be black. I am however convinced that we don’t talk to each other enough in South Africa. Whether this talking is across racial, class, gender or any other lines or across the increasingly high fences that separate our homes from each other. I also believe that we as citizens should talk, and not let the politicians talk on our behalf. We need to negotiate the social contract that will really move our country forward.
The next thing I knew, I was standing in front of a medium sized audience talking to them about things that come to my mind when thinking about the issues at hand. I tried to say things that I would say to any group of people over a dinner table. What an interesting experience. Speaking in a church building and coming from a Christian perspective to a (probably) largely Christian audience, did give me a connection to start with,which I know I cannot assume with all other fellow South Africans, but which made for a good first experience. Whether the content of my talk meant something is for the audience to judge. The questions and comments from the audience, however, were fascinating and clearly showed how deeply different people felt about their positions and experiences. I thought it was hard but wonderful to be able to interact with people I hardly knew, only representing myself, trying to really listen, and really trying to start a conversation about matters that affect us all. I have no doubt that it was only a start to this probably very lengthy and painful conversation, but a hopeful start nonetheless.
On the whole it was an extremely positive experience (in an uncomfortable sort of way) to be able to take part in the start of this discussion. It was almost like a married couple, whose marriage is in trouble, attending their first counseling session. This is going to be a tough and messy conversation for us all. Both have to come with the will to make it work and both have to try to really understand the other’s experiences, emotions and perspectives.
In my view we have to try our best to avoid rhetoric and politics to the extent that we are able to in this conversation. We need to really get real. This means to dig down and be open and honest about our experiences, thoughts and emotions. We will need frank admissions and open words talking about violence(often invisible, at least to the perpetrators). We will also need grace as an important part of this conversation. By grace, I mean unmerited favor. This means in practice to give people what they do not deserve and to not give people what they deserve. Some things can be fixed and others not. We must strive to have real conversations about real issues with the intention of moving our nation forward by moving individual encounters forward. In my opinion we have to all be on “each other’s side” from the start, to have any chance of making this work.
Thank you to the Real-talk organisers and to the audience at our talk for being part of making a start to our national marriage counseling. May we be on each other’s side and may we find a good way forward for us all.