Rewriting the South African story – One sentence at a time

By Justin Foxton

I read a great quote recently that speaks powerfully of the role South Africans can play in creating the future reality we want for our country. It said simply: “You are just one sentence away from changing the story.” It seemed to echo another commonly articulated trope that the battle is always won first in the mind. If we can exercise the mental muscles to come up with new and more positive story lines – starting with just one new sentence – the battles we face will always be won. History proves this point every time.

What is our current story about South Africa?

I must confess that as we enter this new decade, I am surely not oozing positivity. But if it is worth considering that we are one sentence away from a different story, then what could that sentence possibly be? And would it help to spend time talking about and creating new sentences rather than rehashing our old tales of woe?

Its just a jump to the left

As human beings we get stuck in narratives that bleed us of hope. For example, if we have made up our mind that the Department of Health is inept and will never deliver improved health services to our people, then hope vanishes and we look for validation of this viewpoint, which abounds. If the battle against hopelessness (and indeed poor health care) is to be won in the mind (and hence in reality), then a different sentence leading to a new story needs to be crafted. This might be: “What if I begin to seek out and tell the many success stories in the Department of Health?”. Or better still: “What if I find ways to contribute to better health care in our country?” This kind of thinking takes some serious effort, but it disrupts our personal and collective narratives and sets us on a new and more productive course. It requires us to physically jump out of our current mindset to create new realities and when we do this, reality literally shifts.

The power of possibility

Where are you stuck in terms of your current story of our country? If you stay there, it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you start a new sentence – and I suggest beginning that sentence with the powerful possibility words “what if….” – you will quickly enter a new realm of possibility and positivity. Suddenly, the future will become brighter as the feel-good chemicals flood your brain.

Disclaimer

You will need to do something painful before constructing new possibility-laden sentences; let go of some stinking thinking as we call it at home. You will need to be prepared to make peace with being wrong in your current assumptions, judgements and attitudes about our country and our people. You will need to let go of your view that we are on a course of failure. You will need to let go of some stereotypical, single-story narratives and the notion that this is not your problem to solve. This is painful because many of us have held our tired old views for a very long time.

But if the battle can be won one sentence at a time, isn’t that a much better way to go into 2020 than holding onto our old negative stories that will ultimately lead only to failure?

This column is proudly sponsored by Partners for Possibility (www.pfp4sa.org)