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South Africans Need To Learn How To Empathise When All Feels Lost

While we don’t need to share the feelings of every single person in South Africa, we do need the ability to understand their feelings.

15/05/2017 03:58 SAST
MShep2/ Getty Images

The current situation South Africa seems pretty bad, but hope is not lost. Here's why we all need a little bit of empathy. South Africa has been overturned and is in complete disarray as a result of President Zuma's cabinet reshuffle. With people (of every opinion) standing on different teams, it's easy to get caught up in the moment and say things without thinking about the consequences. I'm definitely guilty of zoning in and getting so caught up in the moment or so angry at the situation, that I react purely on those feelings.

Which led me to take a step back and really think about it. Perspective is always refreshing and often essential. I caught myself getting way too worked up and felt bad about the way I had reacted. Instead of taking a step back and getting out of the situation, I got caught up in it and reacted based solely on the immediate influences around me.

The point of this?

This whole cabinet reshuffle and junk status situation got me thinking. And thinking some more. Until eventually, I was thinking more broadly and taking every factor into consideration. I was no longer caught up in the moment, but had zoomed out to such an extent that I no longer felt like I could take sides. My main realisation was this: empathy is no longer being applied throughout society.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person

To ignore your own feelings in the matter and to understand theirs by putting yourself in their shoes. While we don't need to share the feelings of every single person in SA, we do need the ability to understand their feelings.

Why bring emotions into politics?

I know, the two seem completely contradictory. Politics isn't supposed to be an emotional, feely thing. I get that. Here's why I added feelings to it: we are so quick to jump to conclusions and form opinions on situations without taking every factor into consideration. Let's take a look at the statistics and numbers that the media throws at us about these events and then focus on what these numbers represent: people.

According to Stats SA, in 2016 there were 49,596,892 people who were of the school-attending age. Out of these nearly 50 million kids, only 17,274,011 (about 17 million) of them actually went to school and matriculated. To further this, only 1,235,250 kids actually go on to university and get a degree of some kind.

I don't know about you but those statistics shocked me. To be honest, I haven't really understood the full extent of how bad the education system was in this country. I knew that there were kids who struggled to get through school but I was always of the opinion that it was ultimately their decision to fight for an education. Until I zoomed out.

The Bigger Picture

Regardless of your colour, if you live in an urban area or large town – you're probably pretty privileged with your education. Even if you go to a run-down school with no computers, at least you have a school with teachers. You have the opportunity to matriculate (this is generalised).

There are large amounts of people living in rural areas in the middle of nowhere in KwaZulu Natal, the Free State and the likes. Places we don't even know exist. Places we wouldn't want to visit on vacation. Those places are filled with kids who should be at school but aren't as a result of poverty. Add the fact that some schools don't get textbooks and BAM: quality education, or any education, is lost.

Hence the high drop-out rates, amount of South Africans without matric certificates and people who so easily believe the lies and deceptions of a corrupt government.

Back to Privilege

As you can see, fellow South Africans, many of us reading this right now are a lot more privileged than we'd like to admit. We need to zoom out and have empathy towards the people who make up the majority of our population. They weren't given the opportunity for any education. Their sad form of education was learning how to survive on the streets with no shelter or food.

I know I may seem like a hypocrite because I'm white and went home to a proper dinner, clean clothes and a warm, secure bed every night. But the more research I do and the more I start taking note of my fellow South Africans, the more I realise how privileged I and so many others are. Yet we complain all the time. I remember being upset with my parents for not having the money to get me takeaways for dinner – now I can't believe I was ever so selfish. There are literally kids who would give up everything for my mom's home-cooked meal, and I was turning my nose up at it.

Time to Get Real

All too often we would rather live in ignorant bliss instead of educating ourselves on real situations. In the context of this article, we would rather not know about the starving children and those who can't go to school instead of learning about the truth of their situations and feeling hurt by it. We should feel hurt! It's this feeling that you get when you learn the hard truth about something that will drive you towards empathy and feeling the need and desire to actually make a change.

Educating yourself is the first step. The next step will be dictated by the ideas and desires this empathy imparts onto you. Embrace it. Feel it. Start working towards the change our country so desperately needs. After all, you just read this article about the dire situation and educating yourself is the first action towards driving change. So, well done!

Parting Shot

I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and change South Africa so that everyone is receiving equal, quality education and that everyone gets their basic needs plus some extras. Unfortunately life doesn't work that way. We need to be the change we want to see. Perhaps, look into whether you can join a NGO or organisation that works towards the same goals you feel drawn towards. That way, you're actively fighting for a better South Africa.