As we enter Mandela Month, we must consider if we are following the late statesman’s example. What are we doing to cross the barriers of separation?
Every year, Mandela Day encourages us to spend at least 67 minutes – representing Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of struggle for liberty and tolerance – making a positive difference in our communities. Since Mandela Day was first instituted on 18 July 2009, we’ve turned this into an entire month of good deeds.
But when we look at the growing levels of social intolerance, we have to wonder if we are doing enough. This year, South Africans must ask: are we really living Madiba’s dream? Here’s how you can build bridges towards tolerance and unity.
Ask tough questions
Confronting our prejudices is uncomfortable but important. Ask yourself: Am I showing tolerance, respect, compassion and interest towards others, or just focusing on myself and those in my inner circle? What effect does my intolerance have on others? Most importantly, what would Mandela have done? By examining our behaviour, we’ll know where to change.
When you put yourself in another person’s shoes, it becomes easier to comprehend their actions and outlook. Try to remember that we all have physical and emotional needs in common, from breathing, eating and sleeping to love, understanding and a longing to belong. Essentially, everyone is “us”, so try looking beyond the surface differences to the actual person within. It will help you embrace the amazing diversity we all bring to the party.
Count to 10-10-10
Do you get hot under the collar when you’re cut off in traffic? Annoyed when you can’t use the park because another group is using it for a ceremony? While it’s natural to react emotionally to triggers, it becomes a problem when these situations cause social intolerance. Next time you find yourself jumping to conclusions instead of solutions, apply the 10-10-10 rule. Consider: “How will I feel about this in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years from now?” This strategy, outlined in Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, allows you to gain perspective – exactly what is needed to become more tolerant.
Nurture interest in others
Being more understanding of others starts by knowing others. Begin by being open-minded about getting to know people from different walks of life, then look for opportunities to do so. Set yourself goals, such as chatting to at least one new person a week, be it the cashier at your local supermarket or someone sitting beside you on public transport. You don’t have to be besties with everyone, but taking an interest in others makes a huge difference to them and enriches your own life. Check out these great tips on reaching out to others.
In order to make our wonderful country the shining example of unity we know it can be, we need to work at it. Not with big, extravagant deeds, but with small, everyday acts of kindness, compassion and tolerance. And not through picking one day – or even one month – to make a change, but by doing better every day of every month. We can make Mandela Day last throughout the year – if we do it together.