A Nation of Thugby* Enthusiasts

I knew I was coming back to South Africa when I got to the airport in the beautiful island of Mauritius. I’d been working there for a few days, and was standing in the queue at the check-in counter, observing my fellow countrymen returning from their holidays. Now you have to remember that all of them had just spent a week or more on holiday on this incredibly beautiful and peaceful island, with the most stunning beaches and hotels, and a population that is probably amongst the warmest and most caring anywhere in the world.

I ruefully wished that some of that warmth and caring had rubbed off.

What I saw instead was anger and aggression, suspicion and wariness, glares that just dared me to even just try to jump the queue – even in the faces of the women and children. It suddenly struck me that we, as South Africans, are not always a nice bunch of affectionate people.

Now please don’t get me wrong: I am not one of those people who makes a habit of attacking our wonderful country. I love South Africa and South Africans, and I even have a speech I regularly present called “Why I’m Staying.” I love our country and its people.

It just makes me sad that we find it so hard to be so nice to each other.

Why are we like that? It’s very easy to blame so many things in our political history. We can maybe ascribe it so many of the social ills that exist, and the crooked and inefficient government which we face at the moment. Perhaps there is a sense of injustice in the past for “previously disadvantaged individuals” (PDIs,) or for the PANDAs like me – the “previously advantaged, now disadvantaged individuals!”

Possibly there are lots of things that we fear in an uncertain future. It may have something to do with that old cliché: “Misery loves company.” Maybe it’s got something to do with the belligerent and antagonistic sports that we love to participate in and to watch – rugby, (or “Thugby*,”) soccer, boxing and karate.

I don’t buy any of these excuses, because anger, antagonism, hostility and aggression are a choice.

In contrast, last week I drove through to Botswana, and, coincidentally at another border post, I encountered an incredible “random act of kindness.” I had no money with me, only credit cards, and the Botswana officials didn’t want to let me in without paying nearly R80 in Botswana Puka currency for a “temporary road permit” and a disk. My only choice would be to go back into South Africa and find an ATM in Zeerust, about 110 km. back.

A truck driver called Petrus came to my rescue. He gave me the Pula currency that I needed, and refused to accept any form of repayment. H didn’t even want to tell me his surname so that I could find him to pay him back later. He looked me straight in the eye, with a grin on his face, and told me to help someone else later. I was astounded and delighted – delighted because a simple truck driver reminded me about what was really important in life. I have tried to pay it forward as many times as I can since then, often with strange if not suspicious looks from my fellow citizens.

Ever since then, I have ask the following question to the delegates in my various seminars and workshops: “When was the last time someone did something really nice for you?” From the blank looks and silent responses of most people, you would think that I asked them to explain black holes in the universe or something.

There is some good news in this, however. Imagine if you become the Petrus for other people. Imagine if you also perform these unsolicited acts of kindness for your customers. Imagine if you reach out to help someone in trouble, or somebody who is struggling with something. Imagine if you can shine out as a beacon of hope in the sea of despair that sometimes represents the experiences of your customers. You and your business will be admired and supported from all sides, and will probably the only ones who do it to them for this year.

Apathy is easy. Doing something nice is more difficult, and may even go against your instinct as a human being. But it reminds me of the following statement which was handed to me once many years ago by a young lady after a seminar that she had attended. It was written by one of my favourite authors, Anonymous::

“Don’t ask why the world is not a better place.
To that question there can be no answer.
Rather ask: “What can I do to make the world a better place?”
To that question there are infinite possibilities.”

(Possibly by Khalil Gibran)

You know what you need to do. So why not do it today?

*Thugby – A term first coined in the early 1970’s by my English teacher, Joseph Sherman, to describe the aggressive nature of one of our favourite national sports.

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