Nowhere is better than where you are right now, and no time is better than the moment you’re in.
I don’t mean to sound like I’m trying to be profound, and even reading that sentence again makes me a little embarrassed, it makes me feel like a cheap motivational speaker telling a crowd of middle managers how to up their KPIs with some oft-repeated pseudo-wisdom.
But it’s true. You’re not someone else, it’s the end of the year 2023 and the place you find yourself in is precisely the place you’re likeliest to make a difference. For me, that place is South Africa and the time couldn’t be more pregnant with possibilities. Next year is, of course, an election year.
When you think about politics or elections, you probably picture some politician, a queue, or a ballot box. That’s not what politics is though. Before you get to politics you need a nation and before you get to a nation you need a community and a culture – and before those two things you need families and cooperation. Families are the building blocks of communities and culture is made up of many individuals cooperating and establishing conventional behaviours and common interests. If we don’t get those definitions right, we’ll never be able to switch on the big machine of politics. So let’s start at the beginning – what is the state of families in South Africa, and how much cooperation are we constructively forging?
I think it would be unrealistic to imagine we’re winning on the family front. I don’t necessarily mean your family, but many South Africans don’t have the basics in place, sometimes through no fault of their own. A shocking majority of births registered at home affairs in 2021 did not designate a father. Our biggest social disease is fatherlessness, and some of the symptoms of that disease are gender-based violence, crime, economic insecurity and psychological insecurity. If more men took responsibility for their families, everything would improve. We also see record numbers of young people putting off marriage altogether, and many more deciding not to have children. Those who have many children aren’t all raising them properly, and many of those who have the resources aren’t starting families. If this sounds familiar, that’s how the movie Idiocracy from the ’90s starts.
As for cooperation, most of us genuinely believed the internet era would bring us together, allow us to connect in wonderful ways and scale up the achievements of humankind to astronomical levels. Sadly, much of what people busy themselves with is online bickering, resentment, and destructive habits that alienate us from each other like gaming, gambling, porn and social media. Our virtual selves aren’t as virtuous as we’d hoped.
So at the end of the year, I do actually want to motivate you, and so far I realise I’m doing a horrible job of that. There’s good news though: The holidays are an excellent time to do some repairs and maintenance – spending time with your family, telling them you love them, taking real interest in each other and each other’s pursuits. Rituals like making food together, giving gifts and playing games are the best ways to mend bad relations and prioritise your tribe. It’s also a terrific time to think carefully about the cooperation you’d like to invest in for the next year – who, what, and how.
If we all undertake these very achievable goals, we lift society together and can then apply our minds to the big political questions – and we’ll hopefully choose better leaders because we’ll be leading in our own small ways inside our families, communities and businesses. Let’s stop electing deadbeat dads who waste money, get drunk and abuse us – both politically and in our own lives. It’s time we started getting the proximal right, before worrying about the universal. Let’s get our house in order for 2024.
Happy New Year.