Small acts are what are really important. Reading the newspapers over the last few weeks, it is hard to find the bright spot for South Africa. To see how we are going to move forward economically and as a society. Yet, there is hope. It is in the small act of a man in his vehicle in traffic, leaning out to give a jacket to the man selling newspapers. The reaction of the newspaper seller was clearly thankful and a connection was made between these two men.
It was not the act of charity that was important. It was the fact that someone had noticed that the vendor that he passed every day was wearing only a thin shirt even though the weather had turned colder. And then, finding a way to address that shortcoming – not through great expenditure but a simple act of finding a jacket in his cupboard that he no longer wore and passing it on to someone else who could use it.
It reminded me that, in South Africa, as with anywhere in the world, it is those simple acts that define our country. The newspaper headlines are only a part of the story. They only tell you what is happening on the surface and rarely unpack the underlying issues and drivers that led to the act that made the front page today.
It is why greeting each other is such an important small act. In African culture, the greeting means “I see you”. It is an acknowledgement of the other person, of their existence. I hear people excuse not greeting by saying it is not important in their culture, or they were distracted. Being acknowledged, being recognised is important no matter your upbringing, your beliefs or your station in life. That is why it can have such a huge impact.
Out riding with my mom, we passed a man with a dour expression. He looked angry and threatening. Until I greeted him. The change in his expression said it all. His face was split by a wide smile – because he had been acknowledged, noticed. It reminded me that we may think the simple act of saying hello is unimportant. Yet, it can change a stranger into a friend. It can make someone’s day. It can mean the difference between cooperation and connection in a world that is disconnected and lonely for many.
“I see you” means noticing the child in your school who never has lunch and packing an extra sandwich every day for them. It is stopping to help someone with a flat tyre on the side of the road. It is the simple acts of every day life that provide us with real connections and acknowledgement. You reach out to another person with a simple smile or “hi” and it can bring hope on dismal day. So, as dire as the news stories are they often only tell part of what is happening. The stabbing of a vendor photographed for the whole world to shake their heads in disgust at the violence in our country was followed by the journalist personally assisting the man to hospital, doing what he could to try and save a life.
I choose to focus more on the real, every day small acts that make this country great rather than the hugely terrible acts that gain the most attention. I live in hope, not terror.