Living Alongside THEM amidst Deepening Divisions

Across the Ocean

The build-up to and the aftermath of the Presidential Elections in the United States of America, has left many unanswered questions (which politicians and media houses have been quick to speak to and in some cases appear simply to have sown greater distrust). 

A seemingly uncontested observation, is that the States is anything but United.  On one hand, a fact to be expected with a population of approximately 330 million people, on the other, a reality to be mourned in the face of the intolerance, vitriol and division that is evidenced between groups with contrasting world views.

Citing Ancient Wisdom

Many years ago, just North and East of Egypt, a controversial man made a probing statement that has proved to stand the test of time in describing a seemingly universal human experience: How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

(Jesus of Nazareth – Chapter 7 in the Gospel according to Matthew – The New Testament)

While global politics makes for engaging, energised and even entertaining conversation around the fire, it also points us to sobering and striking similarities when compared to our own country… 

Shade from a lady who identified as a Climatarian

Last year, a friend and I entered the annual potjie competition that is held in Parkview, Johannesburg.  Partway through the day, a lady walked up to our stand with a tentatively inquisitive expression and enquired, “Is that beef?”

“No mam”, I said with a degree of excited anticipation at the novelty of my up-coming response, “it is an eland pot”. 

The disdain was tangible. 

“Oh no, I couldn’t eat that, I am a climatarian”.

She walked off with a determined stride, bolstered by her having assumed the moral high ground.  A short walk to be sure, as she stopped at the very next stand and gladly proceeded to buy a punnet of chicken potjie.    

While questioning the fleeting and unwelcome feelings of guilt we should have felt for cooking venison – we shot onto Google to figure out what the hell a climatarian was.  I’ll leave you to do the same…  

Us and THEM

If you are unfamiliar with my sense of humour, please take at least some of this as tongue in cheek.  I was actually suitably impressed with the eco-awareness illustrated in our findings, not, however, with the individual’s disposition, and having our eland blamed for doing more harm to nature than the not altogether insignificant infrastructure built around the processing of chickens!

Each of us find a sense of belonging and identity in relation to certain groups.  At the same time, there are groups that we do not relate to – some by virtue of choice – and some by virtue of circumstance.  Some groups can be small and near homogenous in nature (a nuclear family), while others are coloured by a broad diversity and can be comprised of millions of constituents (an entire race)…

…And yet we are often tempted – and I believe that there those who deliberately play on and strengthen this temptation – to limit these constituents according to the understanding – and misunderstanding – we have of a particular group.  A representative attitude may hold that all white people are racist (irrespective of their role in society during and after Apartheid) or that all black people are criminals (irrespective of whether they have earned every last rand in order to provide for their family) and the list goes on, and may be applied to gender, sexuality, religion etc. 

It must be acknowledged that there are loose generalisations that do seem to be appropriate and helpful in some cases.  It must also be acknowledged, and perhaps more strongly so, that individuals identify with countless groups and attribute varying degrees of significance and priority to each.  Simply said and by way of example – in no particular order of importance: I am a white man – I am also a son, a husband, father, uncle, friend and colleague – I am an outdoors person and enjoy playing tennis, soccer, rugby, waterpolo, squash and bocce – I am heterosexual – I am a social drinker and favour shooters – I have watched many people die (including my father) and even more live with grief – I am a Christian – I am a minister – I try to see the beauty and giftedness of life in as many places as I can. 

We are all complex and nuanced people with a range of experiences, inclinations, beliefs and values.  

It is the mindless demonisation of THEM – the group(s) to which we do not relate and by which we limit our assessment of others  – rooted in fear, jealousy, laziness and political gain, that causes untold damage, and noticeably in our country. 

I learned that a long walk and calm conversation are an incredible combination if you want to build a bridge.
- Seth Godin


Thank God, that there are many South Africans who have chosen, not to simply live alongside THEM amidst deepening divisions, but who have embodied an attitude that replicates the aforementioned controversial man’s description of one another as NEIGHBOUR, and His example of what it means to live together with a cross-shaped love as Guide.  I make it my goal to try and learn from them and so from Him and am always glad of an increase of company along the way…

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  1. denise Collie says:

    Thanks Alistair for all the thought and effort behind your chats and church services via Zoom. We both SO appreciate all that everyone has done to keep us in the loop. Technology has been a godsend – and we have mastered so much of it now, with lots more still to learn to keep us busy as long as the bug is with us. I wonder if Jesus ever realised (He must have) that the lessons he taught would be communicated this way!
    Love and blessings to all your family and to Jaco’s too from us both,

  2. Very insightful as usual Alistair. I just researched Climatarian. I suppose the Pattons are all aspiring Climatarians but we will never get there – Jess is genuinely trying very hard in all aspects of her life but even she won’t get there completely – it genuinely is much harder than most will admit. It all comes down to respecting choices of others – if it is a choice. It becomes more complex when it is not a choice, such as sexual orientation, gender, race… Simply respecting the other person who who they are does not seem sufficient – more is needed.

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