The car ride through Limpopo helped me decide the name of this blog. Two words popped up – Everyone, everywhere. It came as I was speaking with my driver in South Africa…
This was the end of my work trip and I was being driven to the airport. As I watched the passing landscape, giant shopping centers that reminded me of Orange County California, the street signs with German and Dutch names- Afrikaans- the expensive cars, the wide roads developed to prepare for the World Cup, Malian music playing in the background, my driver sharing his impressions of South Africa and the new president. Lost in my own sentiment about leaving this beautiful country, his voice fades in clearly when I hear him say,
We are all just people.
His story was about corporal punishment. He was of the age that allowed for memories of life during apartheid to be more vivid than desired, young enough that his suffering was a fraction of that of his parents. Black South African schools in the villages were described as institutions of babysitting rather than a place for learning. In some villages, this is still the case now. He shared that the children were frequently beaten by their teachers, with sticks, for ambiguous reasons — for not knowing the answers to questions, for being late, for not paying attention, for not doing something, and for all of the above as a guise proclaimed by a teacher possessed by a bad mood and looking for someone on which he could release negative energy. Children learned to be afraid of their teachers, meanwhile also learning the efficacy of misusing power through physical force to acquire a desired effect. Parents were powerless to do anything about it, even when the driver’s peer was beaten so badly by a teacher in front of other children that the boy could not walk home that day. For that teacher, it was just another day. For the peer, it changed something inside permanently. “It’s not right,” said the driver. “Now, they don’t do that. These kids know that they can call the police on their parents if they are hit.”
We drove past a school and four boys in uniform were standing on each side of the speed bump, yelling at cars slowing down to drive over the bump. “These kids…” said the driver, “they don’t have any respect these days.”
The pendulum had swung in our conversation as it had swung in South Africa- from being beaten at school by teachers to knowing that you can get your own flesh and blood in serious trouble if they spank to discipline. The former bred subordination and the latter breeds entitlement.
For a country, any country, transitions are important, delicate, exciting, and scary. A society, pliant.
I silently inquired of the driver -what would be the balance? How do you get the children to behave when there is absence of fear? How do we develop positive human behavior for any group who has been subjected to hate, injustice, evil, and pain – as we all have at some point in time in history?
The car pulled up to the curb and I grabbed my things and bid my driver good-bye while moving aside for the neighboring vehicle whose passengers were scrambling to exit while speaking in Afrikaans.