Social cohesion: It is the little things that count

A Personal View – March 2014

In an older era, this would have been known as plain good neighbourliness but with the alienation caused by urbanisation, common civilities such as greeting a neighbour let alone knowing their names has become redundant.

Why should this be so & how can one promote social cohesion through common sense good manners?  But it is especially our attitude to the lower less fortunate strata in society that I am concerned about.

 One is in contact with them every day: the office cleaner, the petrol pump attendant, the security guard at work. Does one accord them the common civilities like a friendly greeting, a smile, a wave or heaven forbid knowing their name.

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My first inclination is to engage in conversion: Kuzonetha futhi namhlanje? [Will it rain again today?]. One can start with the basics like Sawubona, ngiknona, kodwa wena unjani. [Hello, I am fine but how are you?] After a month or two one will feel confident enough to say just those five words. Then one can add Age ifasitela ugeza phambile! [Please wash the front windscreen].

Do not try a derogatory political comment such a phansi ngo Zuma [Down with Zuma] even if the listener is a known anti-Zuma protagonist.

My measure of a person’s character is not how they fawn over some VIP but rather their treatment of the little people such as the waiter in the restaurant. Instead of being dismissive & arrogant, acknowledge them by greeting them. As it is said, civility costs nothing but it bridges that social divide & provides people with self-respect & a feeling of worthiness.

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An example of such an attitude from a different age where much the same attitude prevailed will illustrate the absurdity of this attitude.  With the king’s boudoir swarming with attendants, the king would peremptorily close the curtains around the bed & then proceed to make love to the queen. The fact that the servants & ladies-in-waiting would be standing barely feet away did not cause consternation. It was as if they did not exist. Because their minions were non-entities in their eyes, they could make love in close proximity without a care in the world. That is why the ladies-in-waiting were able to provide such intimate details on the sex life of King Henry VIII to the Spanish Ambassador.

Do we subconsciously by our actions treat these little people as non-entities or as non-existent? Our actions surely suggest that we do. Democratic societies demand that a social compact be adhered to otherwise the social bonds fray & the political discourse becomes antagonistic & self-destructive. Instead of the nation’s energy being focused on growing the proverbial pie, it revolves around dividing the pie so beloved of Socialists.
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That path leads to a fractious society where the various elements are in competition instead of in agreement & on a common path to prosperity. Britain from the 1920s to the 1980s was such a society. The results were labour unrest, poor productivity & discontent.

At the heart of apartheid was that the egregious treatment of other people as being unworthy & valueless. Some of the continued treatment of such people could be a remnant of our Apartheid past but as this attitude is prevalent even in homogenous societies one cannot a priori make Apartheid culpable.

A social compact agreed at a national level is only part of the solution. Unresolved antagonisms at the level of human interaction will quickly unravel such high-minded agreements.

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It is imperative that every one of us hues to the rule that even the lowly underlings are worthy people.

It is the little things in life that count in this regard.

By not doing one puts South Africa on the road to perdition.

 


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