I was born in South Africa under the cruel and evil Apartheid regime. I’ve had to work harder than most to unpick the institutionalised biases that influenced my thoughts, words and actions while growing up. If I must be honest, sometimes I don’t want to remember who I was. While I didn’t hold a knife or a gun, my thoughts weren’t always kind or inclusive nor did I always call out behaviours that were hurtful when I should have.
But the beautiful thing about being human is that you can learn, grown and reinvent yourself. My perception shift started during the second-last year of high school when I was selected to be part of a youth leadership program and travel around the country in a specially-fitted out train as part of a national reconciliation program. Nelson Mandela had been released from prison the year before and the country was starting to focus on change ahead of his presidency.
I journeyed for nine days with 60 students from other schools, attending lectures and having debates and discussions, while learning more about the land and its people.
This was my first interaction, at the age of 16, with peers who were not from my background and it deeply moved and changed me. It changed my perception of fairness. When I returned I was not the same young woman whom my parents had dropped off at the station just over a week before
It was as if a fog of bias and discrimination that influenced my thoughts had been burnt away by the blistering light of understanding the impact of the opposite of inclusion – legalised, regulated and endorsed exclusion. I had been given a chance to sit and talk with, dance and sing with, as well as shake the hands of people who were persecuted for being different and who I’d been taught were less than me, yet they did not hate me.
On the final night of our train’s journey, the facilitators played us the theme song from the musical ‘Time’ performed by the great Sir Laurence Olivier. As the tape recorder (yup, this was the 80s) projected its profound words through the tinny speakers into the carriage, 60 young people listened in silence. For me, it cemented the start of my bias rehabilitation. When I listen to it today it still gives me goose bumps and sometimes prompts tears through the stirring of such a profound memory, so I’d like to share it with you.
After much reflection this week, following the shameful massacre by a fellow Australian of people who were on their knees, peacefully praying in Christchurch, I know that words matter. Thoughts matter. Because they become what defines us.
It’s a reminder for me to be even bolder, to be braver and not accept ‘less than’ for anyone.
Time – performed by Sir Laurence Olivier (words – accessible for those who may not be able to listen to the clip):
Stand before me on the sign of infinity,
all you of the earth.
With the granting of the law of provination
comes the application of change.
I will give you the key.
And with this knowledge, please realise,
comes the responsibility of sharing it.
I will show you the way.
It’s very simple. Throughout the universe
there is order.
In the movement of the planets, in nature
and in the functioning of the human mind.
A mind that is in its natural state of order,
is in harmony with the universe
and such a mind is timeless.
Your life is an expression of your mind.
You are the creator of your own Universe –
For as a human being, you are free to will whatever
state of being you desire through the use of your
thoughts and words.
There is great power there.
It can be a blessing or a curse –
It’s entirely up to you.
For the quality of your life is brought about
by the quality of your thinking –
think about that.
Thoughts produce actions –
look at what you’re thinking.
See the pettiness and the envy and the greed and the
fear and all the other attitudes that cause
you pain and discomfort.
Realize that the one thing you have absolute
control over is your attitude.
See the effect that it has on those around you.
For each life is linked to all life
and your words carry with them chain reactions
like a stone that is thrown into a pond.
If your thinking is in order,
your words will flow directly from the heart
creating ripples of love.
If you truly want to change your world, my friends,
you must change your thinking.
Reason is your greatest tool,
it creates an atmosphere of understanding,
which leads to caring which is love.
Choose your words with care.
Go forth … with love.