Tie yourself to the mast and hang on

Author: AM Scott

Greek mythology has it that Odysseus was terrified of the beautiful island creatures called “sirens” that beckoned sailors on passing ships to their death with their irresistible songs. So he ordered his men to stuff their ears with wax and bind him to the ship’s mast. He commanded his sailors not to untie him, no matter how much he begged. When the ship passed the sirens, Odysseus heard the gorgeous melody and implored the men to free him so that he could rush to the siren’s side. Instead they tightened the knots some more, and Odysseus escaped temptation. – Morten T Hansen

Apart from being resilient, goal orientated and driven by passion, one of the hallmark characteristics identified in people with ‘grit’ is that they are optimistic but grounded in reality. It has taken a fair amount of testing of that grit to #speakSAup in the last ten days. In fact, to do so has been to taste gravel and gaze on dry bones, so brutal is our shared reality. For days there seemed no visible window open for hope. Positive utterances surely came from those who had ‘lost their minds’ if not buried their ‘heads in the sand’. What words of faith or future were possible in an environment where all around resounds the agonizing cry of people wracked in pain? Talk show hosts couldn’t find a position, an argument, or a strong enough snipe. Callers clambered clumsily over their comments. Newspapers had no hard hitting headlines fit for the task. Hashtags jumped from here to there, trying to capture, in a word or two, the label we needed to collect our expressions of outrage, despair, devastation and grief together. Words, you see, proved too feeble to describe how a young woman murdered became us and we became her; how her tragedy burned into our national consciousness; how senseless xenophobic violence shook parts of our cities and us to the core; what it meant to South Africans when a 1995 rugby hero passed; and, how stories of femicide, abuse, rape and family murders littered our days.

No words.

We wore black.

Have we lost our minds?

To understand if you have ‘lost your mind’, you need to ‘know it’ in the first place. If you don’t, ‘sirens’ will toy with it, play it flippantly and drive it to the edge of madness or despair. Few are interested in helping you find it or keep it, really. Most relish the opportunity to drive or watch its descent into madness, personally or collectively. To know your mind is to take command of your sails in a storm. Indeed, out of the heart, the mouth speaks. What we think and dwell on in the recesses of our mind blurts out when we are under pressure. We saw that all of last week, in a messy, tangled gut wrenching national conversation. It spewed out, publicly and also in private spaces, and it reeked of vomit.

Do you love South Africa and its people? Do you hold vision for its future? If you ever felt you did, what changed that? What are the ‘sirens’ that have lured you away from the joy you feel at an African sunset, the pride you hold when the anthem begins at ‘soccer city’, the awe you afford those who fought the fight for our magnificent constitution, the laughter you share with the people in your everyday world? Perhaps those around you are jumping ship, speaking rhetoric that prophesies doom, filling your headspace with the brutal truth but no solutions. These are the sirens.

Last week, there seemed no way forward. We were stuck. But a sliver of light began to shine slowly, together with the spring rains, a chilly breeze across the land and the courage of women in cities across the country; South Africans again showing the world that here, in this country, we speak up and we take action. We confront the truth. We address the atrocities. We call the behaviours out. We feel the pain. We hold our leaders to account. We stand together. We will not be complacent and we will demand change. Faith groups gather. Women rally. Good men stand up. This is reason to #speakSAup.

Our children need us to lead. They need us to see a brighter future. They need to see us learn from our mistakes and solve our problems. We need to put wax in their ears not fill their headspace with our despair.

If you don’t have an action, and you can’t see a solution, but you know in your heart and mind that there is much to #speakSAup about, speak it. Speak life. Speak hope. Tie yourself to the mast and hang on.