Monday, 26 December 2011

A time for giving

Since returning to Pretoria on Friday after driving for three days ( we had to fetch our grandmother in Jeffrey's Bay and then stop over on the farm in the Free State where she grew up to see my cousin) the focus has been on preparing for the Christmas celebration. We celebrate on the 24th where the family will go to church, have dinner together and then spend the rest of the evening opening the presents. This year, just my family celebrated on Christmas Eve, and then we had guests for the 25th. 

Today was the first day of rest. But because my grandmother likes to keep busy, she was rearranging my mother's cupboards and therefore my sister and I did the same with our rooms. When cleaning up our closets we also clean them out and decide what can be given away and what we will still wear. I have a lot of clothes and shoes and bags and scarves. I have a lot of stuff. Even if I gave half of it away, I would still have more than enough. We take our old clothes to the farm or my mom will donate it to people she has met while on the road as a tour guide who can use it. 

It is very difficult for me to grasp what it means to be poor. We are not rich, but we have all that we need and are privileged to have received an excellent education. But seeing people on the streets begging or the farm workers who have not had the same opportunities, I wonder if South Africa will ever be able to establish its society as mostly middle-class with only a small margin of poverty and excessive wealth. Perhaps the greatest sin of Apartheid is depriving the majority of the population of a decent education. Thereby, there are entire generations who have not expanded their knowledge and their view on the world, and they can also not instil a desire for improvement in social standing. No one wants to be poor, but it seems that most people also don't have the means or the knowledge to escape it. 

I read a German article about a social experiment where the journalist and an actress went to the town where the richest people in Germany have settled and disguised themselves as beggars in order to see if the rich will give to the poor. In the article it is cited that testing by the american psychologist Dacher Keltner, professor at the University of California, showed that the expectation by the poor to be helped by the rich is in fact misconstrued. The richer a person is, the less likely they are of donating. 

Charity is fine if the press is present and the charity on a different continent, preferably in a third-world country like Pakistan or Uganda or Colombia. Also, it seems that poorer people are more inclined to giving because there is a better understanding of the situation and a greater sense of "helping one another". 

I wonder if we are desensitized by being confronted by poverty every time we stop at a traffic light or if it makes us more aware of our own privileged status. Whilst in a township, one of my mother'S tourists turned to her and asked how long they still had to endure being there. Do we at some point see the poor as less deserving, as not hard-working, as lazy, as not deserving of what we have? If rich people instil their children with the same values where money and power trump empathy and compassion, it is no wonder that the world is in a state of chaos. I believe we have lost a sense of being interconnected, of caring for one another. We live in a selfish world and it is no use denying that I am selfish, too. In some way, I could probably be helping all the beggars on the streets or the people that ring our doorbell. 

Perhaps that is a resolution for 2012. Helping more. 

No comments:

Post a Comment