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18/05/2018 10:09 SAST | Updated 18/05/2018 10:09 SAST

What Do You See In The Mirror? Changing Society Starts With Your Attitude...

"I reckon when the government looks in its mirror, instead of seeing its reflection, it sees a monster."

Protesters ahead of the ANC national policy conference at Nasrec, Johannesburg.  June 30 2017.
Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters
Protesters ahead of the ANC national policy conference at Nasrec, Johannesburg. June 30 2017.

Change begins with the man in the mirror

Michael Jackson's anthem "Man in the Mirror'" declares, "I'm gonna make a change, for once in my life. It's gonna feel real good. Gonna make a difference. Gonna make it right... I'm starting with the man in the mirror. I'm asking if he'll change his way. No message could have been any clearer. If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change."

What do you see when you look into your mirror? An apathetic person resigned to the external onslaughts from society? An expedient individual believing that the end justifies the means, no matter who gets hurt in the process? A bigot who cares only for their own kind, the rest be damned? Which adjectives can be used by others to best describe the woman/man in your mirror?

The monster in the government's mirror

When I was a delegate at a Pan African Students Conference in Ghana in 1998, the overarching reasons for the plight of postcolonial Africa were taken to be the maladministration of government by its leaders and structures. I wonder how many of us who were delegates have gone on to influence the changes that our young idealistic minds demanded then. Because 20 years later, we are still singing the same sad song. I reckon when the government looks in its mirror, instead of seeing its reflection, it sees a monster.

Another face of the society that I must mention is the nongovernmental sector. This proactive, robust wing of society is on a mission to make a change by starting where they are, with the little they have. It is a glaring reality that society is divided into strata that evidence a disparity in resources because of various socioeconomic factors.

When comparing the two extremes, the top can safely declare that not only are their daily meals and needs catered for, but so are those of their great-grandchildren to come — based on the wealth they have amassed. While the bottom end is trapped in a multigenerational poverty cycle in which not even daily meals are guaranteed. There is something spine-chillingly sinister about this comparison.

When attempting to show social responsibility, individuals can be putting a spanner in the works of an already struggling vehicle. How can one begin to think about helping the less fortunate, when your liabilities exceed your assets?

NGOs warrant a smile in their mirror

The NGOs pick up government's slack by attempting to at least provide the basics for the disadvantaged through fundraising. These socially conscious souls are the ones who deserve a smile in their mirror.

On the other hand, society has a confusing love-hate relationship with commerce — it acknowledges the need for the products and services, but is suspicious of the motives of the providers. Corporate social investment (CSI) progressed to corporate social responsibility (CSR), then corporate citizenship, which has now morphed into shared value.

It's the philanthropists that redeem the face of business

But somehow we still find a push-pull of conflicting interests with buzzwords like monopolistic capitalism, exploitation, greed and corruption being bandied around. It is the odd philanthropist or business that goes above and beyond statutory compliance that challenges the stereotype of plundering, hoarding and expedient business.

Looking at the contribution scales at play, when business owners get involved in social development, their donations are often large enough to make a tangible difference. I reckon these are the businesspeople that can bear to look at themselves in the mirror with a clear conscience.

And you? Yes, you...

Maybe your instant defence is, "I already have too much on my plate of concerns." I understanding that feeling of being overwhelmed. Life is rough out there. Basic survival is a true story.

Even the middle class is struggling to make ends meet, despite some of the comforts they enjoy. Take the average nuclear family, in which one or two parent breadwinners are chained to jobs for decades; providing for children that have to be adequately educated so they can follow in their parents' footsteps by repeating the same hand-to-mouth routine.

When attempting to show social responsibility, individuals can be putting a spanner in the works of an already struggling vehicle. How can one begin to think about helping the less fortunate, when your liabilities exceed your assets? Even when you are in the higher income bracket, you have probably slaved to get there, and are determined to secure the economic future of your children and theirs. These are very real concerns, and a great source of anxiety and desperation.

Before one becomes charitable, you likely already have a holistic view of humanity. You see yourself in, through and with others. You value life in and of itself.

Change begins with attitude

I do not pretend to have answers for solving these glaring social issues. I too am battling them, and so are the majority of the people I interact with.

However, what I have become conscious of over years of working with motivational speakers, trainers and life coaches — and being intimately exposed to their teachings and the processes of formulating them — is that change begins with attitude.

Before one becomes charitable, you likely already have a holistic view of humanity. You see yourself in, through and with others. You value life in and of itself. So you know that each individual is born for a purpose that will benefit society if it is nurtured and supported.

You understand that we all have the capacity to give in one way or another — whether through our time, our advice, our care, our friendship, our prayers and our behaviour. You recognise that both your successes and failures affect society.

A person who values humanity has a living conscience that inspires them to make a difference, correct wrongs, and preserve life. So: "If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make that change."