My grandparents, standing first and second on the right.
What you Think becomes What and Who you Are
ETutor: Early reflections on who I am 05/03/2014
These reflections form part of my eTutor training with the University of South Africa, (UNISA). I would like to record my journey here. The emphasis of the training is on forming communities of practice, where we can reflect in a safe environment, support and learn from one another. For many the online tutor environment is new.
Regarding my early reflections. I was mostly raised in my early years by my grandparents. My mother was a single mother with two children to support, so it was easier that I lived with my Grandparents. These two wonderful people influenced me in profound ways. They were deeply religious and belonged to the Nederlandse Gereformede Kerk – NG Kerk. They were warm people who accepted all. At the skirts of my grandmother I learnt respect for all. Sometimes we would travel by train to visit far flung family. Some of the family were farmers in the Karoo. The history of my grandparents is: they were sheep farmers, my grandmother was a farm school teacher. The depression came as well as a drought and they lost everything, They made their way to Durban with five small children to support. Times were very hard and they were very poor. My grandfather got a job in Customs at the Railways.
So each December we got a free rail pass, and used it to visit family. This was the first time I was exposed to not only racism but also cruelty. My grandfather’s brother treated his workers badly, swore at them and such. He was cruel to the animals, sheep and pigs, with some horses and cows, also a large black dog. From what I remember I was around 12. It left deep wounds in my being, since I had never before encountered such things. I learnt that racism is taught, it does not come naturally, as is cruelty taught. I became a vegetarian after witnessing the slaughter of a sheep. It was gruesome and horrific and has continued to give me nightmares.
These experiences deeply shaped who I have become. My children were raised without prejudice towards others and they were never aware of differences based on population group, gender, background. They never even described their friends in these terms. Again it affirms for me the importance and power of teaching and providing a living example – on how one develops.
With these formative influences I have come to see how easily people are defined by population group and other group formations. In the workplace I have even been told that I mustn’t think I am privileged because of the colour of my skin. Prejudice is easy. Standing against it is not so easy. At university my youngest daughter sees people sitting together in population groups and it pains her. However, she is lucky enough to be deeply involved in debating, where the mix and balance is more comfortable for her. They accept one another for the commonalities that they share.
Therefore, I am deeply sensitive to the issue of respect for one another. When I did corporate training I was fortunate to train members of the Department of Labour. We were doing Conflict Management and we were talking about difference and how this can lead to misunderstanding. I shared that I was a lacto-vegetarian and how this sets me apart maybe more than anything else. I related my story of what happened when I was a child. Most delegates could not understand my choice, they worried about what was left to eat. It was amazing when one delegate stood up and said: “I can understand this. I have chickens at home. I do not want to kill my own chickens, I am fond of them. I would rather go to the store to buy one there.” Then everyone had an example that they could relate to.
For me, I work from the premise that we all have more in common than we are different. I view difference as interesting and something to learn more about. I think we all have to watch what we think, because that becomes what you speak and that becomes what and who you are.
Image courtesy of Carol Knox.