Strategies dealing with duress

I recently had the good fortune to read James 2 in the Bible annotated by Max Lucado. In this chapter, Max refers to 4 strategies people undertake when they are under duress, in a biblical sense. I thought about these strategies and realized they were as applicable to the real life we live in in South Africa, as they are to the religious life Max talks about.

In South Africa, I have noticed the first group.  They follow the strategy of getting out. Quite a large number of the white people of South Africa made up their minds that the crime and corruption would be of such a nature that nobody would be safe. Given the inexperience of the new government, it would only be a matter of time before the country would implode. Large numbers of these folks subsequently left the country. I am not judging these people, but merely verbalising an observation. One of the negatives of this strategy is that frequently these people feel the need to justify their strategy by bad-mouthing South Africa and the conditions here. Some of these people, I must add, have since then realised that maybe things were not as bad and have returned. The bottom line is that we are losing greatly needed people who are highly skilled. It is probably not that far incorrect to state that we have more South African trained doctors outside the country than inside the country!

There is a second group of South Africans.  They follow a strategy of getting in.  This is a reference to those who have seen the circumstances, and have bought into the system, exploiting it to their benefit, and to the detriment of South Africa and their fellow South Africans. These are the people that become corrupt and blatantly steal from society. These are the people, frequently senior people of society, that abuse their powers to gather riches. We have even coined a phrase unique to South Africa, i.e.  “tenderpreneurs,” for some of these corrupt individuals! We have had one commissioner of Police who is currently serving a jail sentence for corruption, and a second under investigation for something similar. We have a judicial inquiry to investigate allegations of corruption during the arms procurement project. The Public Protector also investigates allegations of impropriety on a regular basis, including amongst others rental agreements for buildings running into billions of Rands!

The third group of South Africans are those that are fighting the system. They do not like the current system for various reasons, and are doing their best to fight it. Some have even gone so far as to develop military means to fight the government. Others fight the system by bad mouthing everything the government and other elements of the system do. They frequently fight the system by clinging to outdated worldviews and mental models. One should read the comments on controversial articles by the Mail and Guardian to notice the fighters. The arguments are confusing and unfocused! I read an article a while ago where Christians complained about Halal stickers on hot-cross buns by Woolworths, and people ended up attacking these Christians (actually Christians in general) for everything from homophobia to racism, sexcism, and separatism. When reading the extreme points of view in the comments, it becomes very clear that a considerable portion of those that read the articles are spoiling for a fight! The knee-jerk reactions from both sides of the spectrum, irrespective of the argument, are a serious source of concern. I read a similar article this evening (22 April 2012) of a robbery in a Johannesburg mall. In the comments the readers end up with the grossest form of racism. It is actually so sad! It is clear that Testosterone runs thick and wild in this beautiful country of ours! I do not want to say that we should not oppose the government when it strays from the straight and narrow. What I mostly do see, however, makes me concerned about the health of racial relations in this beautiful country of ours!

Then we have the fourth group. This group is far too small, and unless we can grow this group to sizable levels, we as a country are in for serious trouble and a dangerous future. This is a group that has chosen to serve. Max Lucado refers to the phenomenon that Romans could compel Jews to carry their burden for 1 mile. Jesus made the point that Christians should carry the burden for 2 miles. And I am sure that this serving principle is not unique to the Christian religion, but that it is also common in the Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and other religions of the world. These are the people that build relationships amongst the different racial groups. These are the people that live the tenets of their faith. They respect others and try and learn from the world views of others.  These are people who do not stereotype other racial groups, but respect and learn from them. We need people who are willing to reach out and be “less than.” We need people who are less inclined to demand their rights, but who are willing to serve!

I recently quoted a speech of Helen Zille, where she quoted 3 things that Trevor Manuel, head of the National Planning Commission, identified as being of importance for South Africa to be successful. These 3 issues are as follows:

  • “Good leadership at every level;
  • A capable state (Minister Manuel is quite right when he says you cannot have a developmental state until you have a capable state); and
  • Good, clear laws and regulations to which everyone adheres and is held accountable.”

One of my friends from the Netherlands made the remark that it was a pity that it was kind of a chicken and egg situation. My response was that we do not have a choice. If we only looked at what was possible, we would have been stumped a long time ago! We need to deal with miracles! We need to embrace the possibility of miracles, of achieving the impossible!

We therefore do not have the luxury of looking at it from this point of view.  We have to embrace the impossible and make it possible. We need to look at Ben Zander and his work on the art of possibility! For this we need a serving attitude. We all need to develop into servant leaders.

Following this approach does not mean that we just accept the wrongs and misdeeds of those in power. It does not mean that we sit back and let everything disintegrate around us. It does, however, mean that we approach these situations from a positive and serving attitude. It does require us to be respectful and tactful towards others. It does require us to think about what we say and the impact this could have on the bigger picture! We as individuals are less than the whole!

It is not as if we do not have role models in this regard. Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Beyers Naude, Mahatma Ghandi, and Martin Luther King are all examples of people willing to serve. They are and have been people who have been willing to go the extra mile, who looked beyond their own self-interest, and were prepared to be “less than” in order for society to grow, develop and prosper.

Unfortunately, too frequently these people are ridiculed and mocked by their contemporaries. We are not all Nelson Mandela’s or Desmond Tutu’s and easily become targets for ridicule and sarcasm.

So, to summarize, we have a choice of 4 strategies or postures we can follow whilst dealing with the complexities of our beautiful country:

  • We can get out.
  • We can get in.
  • We can fight.
  • We can serve.

Serving is losing ground, I think, because it is easier to do the other strategies. Serving requires you to place yourself second, and even third, to a higher order ideal. Few people have the guts for it. It takes a brave person to place him or herself second! It takes a brave person to accept the ridicule and even danger that goes with serving.

But after all has been said and done, it is a matter of choice. We need to decide whether we will serve and embrace the complexities and dangers of this position, or whether we will follow any of the other strategies.

You choose! And for the sake of our collective future, please choose with responsibility and respect!


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2 Responses

  1. Manuel Longueira says:

    This puts me in mind of the concept of servant leadership, which quite surprisingly started out as a secular concept in corporate America, in the 60’s.

    It’s another topic which I wish to study and learn more about.

    The analogies drawn are profound and accurate!

  1. April 22, 2012

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