What do we mean by Transformation?
Is it a set of demographic statistical targets in an organisation?
Is it handing over leadership from white males to blacks, women, and people with one leg?
Is it the process in an organisation by which we do the above?
Is it remembering not to have our year end functions during Ramadan, or remembering to touch your own forearm with the opposite hand when taking your change at the Pick n Pay till?
Well of course, it is some of the above things, and many more too.
But most importantly, it is the gradual, personal process through which every thinking and feeling person learns to regard their fellow human beings with deep respect and compassion.
This is not to say that you feel sorry for everyone, for if you do that, you may as well start with yourself. It means that you always remember to think that each other person has their own personal framework, or set of filters, through which they view and experience the world. And those other frameworks are almost certainly no better than your own, and definitely no worse than your own. They are just different. And each one is unique. You have the right to like some more than others, and to associate or identify with chosen others, but you do not have the right to think that yours is best.
You could say that Transformation is the ongoing quest for personal and organisational humility. It is the quest for sustainable happiness which is not obtained at the expense of others. I have deliberately chosen the word happiness, not success, because one person’s success could be another person’s failure.
How does this transformation happen to each of us?
In my own experience, it is currently happening through many little incidents which nudge my thinking towards constantly questioning my own framework, or assumptions. These little incidents are the ones which cause you to think about some beliefs of yours again, to re-evaluate them, and sometimes to change them! These incidents are usually accompanied by some strong emotion which serves to embed them in your mind. These emotions might include embarrassment, guilt, happiness, amusement and many more. Based upon my own experience, I now believe that for transformation to happen, some form of emotional experience is required as a supplement to one that is purely intellectual.
I can mention one which served as a lesson for me, a lessons which still helps me today, even though it took place many years ago. I still receive lessons all the time!
My family and I lived in a beautiful rural setting somewhere between Lanseria and Pelindaba. We owned a beautiful home, owned cars and money, and worked very hard for what we had. We were surrounded by all sorts of neighbours ranging from people similar to us, to German immigrants and entrepreneurs who lived and worked on their properties. We were also surrounded by many rural subsistence farmers who owned no cars, were ostensibly unemployed, mainly illiterate, and who considered us very poor because we owned no cattle! We all owned dogs.
One day, early in the morning, a huge balloon came very low over our house and blew its gas burners like a furnace. We were very impressed and waved wildly, but our favourite dog was much less impressed. He bounded over our fence, theoretically impossible, and fled in a state of pure terror. Different frameworks I suppose?
By the time we realised that he had not become a bit embarrassed and therefore not paused or returned, all we knew for sure was that he had been last seen haring through the veld in a generally easterly direction.
It was my job to find him.
I dressed, got out my legendary bakkie, and set off in not so hot pursuit. But where to look?
I soon realised that I would need some advice and assistance. Someone had to have seen Ernest. This advice was very hard to get from my white neighbours who generally had huge fences, locks and gates. In fact I did not need to be a genius to deduce that it was extremely unlikely that he had found shelter at any white neighbour because the same fences which had the effect of locking them in, also locked Ernie and me out.
So, just like the white madams and bosses who are always so pathetically grateful to the black newspaper vendors and passing black pedestrians who push their broken-down cars out of intersections (while their white weekend braai buddies drive past in irritation), I knew that I was far more likely to get help from a passing black pedestrian or subsistence farmer.
I homed in on a shabby corrugated-iron stadt which I had often seen in the distance. Someone there must have seen Ernie. I had no clue who lived there of course.
I pulled up some distance from the stadt, and decided to walk the last hundred metres or two. I didn’t want a puncture from some old piece of iron or barbed wire. I could see that a group of men were already gathered under a tree, talking. It was a Sunday. Maybe they were holding a church service? Maybe it was actually a shebeen and they were all drunk? Maybe they would see my nice bakkie (well I always liked my bakkies), and overpower me, steal my bakkie, and set me free in the veld naked, no watch, no money? I would have been worried about my cell phone too if they had been invented yet.
I suddenly wondered if they would be able to speak English. If not, well maybe Afrikaans? I wondered which language to start in. I suddenly wondered who I should address myself to. Who lived there, and who were the visitors? I also wondered if I should offer a reward. Maybe they would expect a reward, or on the other hand, maybe they would be offended if I offered. Maybe they had already captured my very nice dog (much nicer than their mongrels anyway) and would simply lie to me and send me away. Maybe I should look for signs of my dog.
What if they offered me a drink? Would it be hygienic?
And suddenly I was standing right in front of about twelve men, and all my swirling thoughts had to make way for my voice which sort of took over by itself. Funny how that happens sometimes, isn’t it?
“Good morning! I was wondering if any of you had perhaps seen my dog?”
I paused. Silence.
“He is a very big, black dog. He is about this big actually.”
I indicated with my hand.
Silence. Twenty four eyeballs all fixed on me.
“A big noisy balloon came over my house you see, and he was very frightened. He ran away, very fast.”
This wasn’t going very well. Maybe the good old Afrikaans? That always worked with the coloureds in the Klein Karroo when we were on army hikes near Oudtshoorn. But they always wanted money or alcohol!
Suddenly one spoke. Thank God.
“Who are you”, he asked,”And where do you come from? And do you not wish to know who we are?”
Perfect English! Thank God even more!
And before I could answer his simple questions...
“And you are very rude. I suggest that you walk back to your nice bakkie, turn around, and start again.”
They all looked at me. He was serious. Sheesh!
A little voice told me to take his advice. I wished I had parked a little closer. There had not been as many bits of iron and barbed wire as I had expected. I turned and walked. Maybe I should just get into my bakkie and drive away? Maybe halfway back to my bakkie would suffice? How in hell would I restart the conversation now? I felt irritated and humiliated. Who the hell did this peasant think he was? Showing off to his mates like that! What would I tell Liz? “I asked for help, but they refused?”
I found myself thinking about his simple questions. If I had been able to penetrate the defences of a white property, and meet an unknown white neighbour, what would I have said? Well, that was easy!
I would have said, “Good morning. My name is Miles Crisp. I am your neighbour. I come from the property just over the hill, and I am sorry to disturb you so early on a Sunday morning.”
If he was half normal (and some of our neighbours were not actually!) he would have said, “That is no problem. I am Giles Fortescue, and how may I help you?”
Then I would have told him about my unfortunate dog.
Maybe I should try a similar approach?
I reached the bakkie, penance done, turned around and went back. Now they really were watching me carefully.
I stopped, turned to my tormentor, and said, “Good morning. My name is Miles Crisp. I am your neighbour. I come from the property just over the hill, and I am sorry to disturb you so early on a Sunday morning.”
He said, “That is no problem. I am Joseph Masilela, this is my home and how may I help you?”
I told him about my unfortunate dog.
“Of course we have seen your dog. He went that way.”
The point of the whole long, embarrassing story above is obvious. I had been arrogant, rude and bigoted, not only in my actions, but in my whole set of assumptions, my whole framework was flawed, and badly needed adjustment. I was helped along my way that day by a wise old man. His son, Fanie Masilela, whom some of you have met at Monaghan School which is less than one kilo from the stadt, is still my friend today. The old man died, and I was invited to his funeral. I didn’t go I am ashamed to say, but personal development takes time, and he died too soon for me. I have attended other wise old peoples’ funerals since I am pleased to say, and I might never have been able to do that if it were not for Ernest the lost dog and old Joseph Masilela.
In fact, at my most recent subsistence farmer’s funeral I was invited to scoop the first spadeful of earth onto the coffin, and I cried while I did it.
I can tell you about many special people who have helped me to understand my prejudices, and helped me to address some of them. People who have shown me information about my frameworks and assumptions, and have helped me to dismantle them, and rebuild them. People like Fanie Masilela, Petros Sithole, Nthatho Motlana, Peter Matseke, Joe Neshehe, Osborne Ngubeni, Sanku Moepanyana, Maria Rathaba and her wonderful children, and too many others to count. I can tell you stories about each one like the story above. Each time I was shown that my perceived education, social standing, wealth, bakkie and other prestigious things were all nothing really. The respect that was shown to me by the people I mentioned above was only because I learned to show them respect.
I found Ernest by the way. He was cowering under a bush near a river five kilometres away, the pads of his feet worn right off. A series of ignorant peasants led me to him, and one helped me to catch him, and put him bleeding into my bakkie.
Just like the pedestrians who might push your car one day.