Of Vice and Virtue

We all have things that get under our skin. One of my pet hates are seeing disadvantaged youths posting pictures of booze on Facebook. Wasting money on alcohol when you don’t have a book in your home is a symbol of much that is wrong with South Africa. I also dislike smoking more than the average person. A filthy habit wasting cash, killing lungs and polluting the environment. These are my own personal weird dislikes and provides the ironic context of what is to follow.

Dislikes aside however, I really like and believe in people. I try to grow in character and sincerity. Integrity is a journey and we can improve, we can become. Men are not born upright, we become upright through consistent and repeated choice. Having been raised in a good home and earning a decent salary I believe in sharing. I believe in giving, free money without strings attached. Last night for example  I was at a Laureus quiz and my group won, being given a R500 Totalsports voucher. I would certainly have liked to pick out something nice in Totalsports, or even buy something for my fiancé. But I knew there were people in the room from very challenging backgrounds, people who couldn’t win the quiz, because general knowledge is part of privilege, not of merit or intelligence. I knew immediately I’d give away my voucher. I’ve figured such out and I gave away the voucher, through someone else, also from a township, so I was sure not to get the praise for being the hero.

I’m well trained at giving things away. What I struggle with a bit more is not to be the hero and to relinquish control. I’m still learning to give through others so that there are three beneficiaries involved in every gift. I mostly try to give through another person, not directly to the end recipient. In such a transaction I benefit, because I practice the discipline of secrecy and being behind the scenes, the middle man benefits from learning what its like to change lives, to be a leader making a difference and the beneficiary gets the material gift. The girl who got the Totalsports voucher lost her shack in a fire last week, so the Totalsports card will be a big deal for her. Her need materially allowed a cycle of humanity to be activated.

Now, giving clothes and vouchers to someone is a shack is a beautiful story, its cute and endearing.  In contrast to the gift of clothes, a friend asked me for my credit card in a fancy hotel, having expensive wine and whiskey with a bunch of strangers. Giving my creditcard to a friend who could buy booze while talking shit till 3 am is giving that does not naturally make me feel good. Why I did it was because I knew some of the kids around the table of celebrities could not afford drinks. Still, making the middle man the big man is something I am trying to practice and I instinctively recognised this as an opportunity to stretch my ‘giving power away’ muscles. Besides that the kids could not afford the whiskey and wine I did like my close friend being the hero, being the main man. Dignity can be expressed in many ways, but I never thought my ‘tithing’ would buy booze in a luxury hotel.

Mercedes Benz, during the same week allowed us to drive their AMG’s around a track. The trust they showed us by giving us these R1m cars and ‘playing’ with them was fantastic. Allowing a bunch of NGO practitioners to drive super luxury performance cars was one of the most developmental things I’ve seen. The execs at Mercedes might have seen it as publicity or marketing but magic was released through the combination of trust and dignity.

Reflecting back on these events, I realised that I was prepared by the Caltex petrol attendant that refused my offer of coffee one evening after church. I just drove from an evening service at ‘Third Place’ and while the car was filling up I went to buy coffee. It was raining and I assumed the Christian thing to do was to also offer the man helping me with refuelling with a coffee. He politely declined with a “NO thanks, Im ok with coffee, but Im running low on tobacco.” I was a bit surprised so I did what we should generally do as I asked him what he wanted? A short “Stuyvesant” settled the matter and I felt weird as I asked for cigarettes at the counter with another church member curiously glancing over to my side. Ten minutes after church I was buying ‘tobacco’ for someone according to what they wanted, not what I wanted to offer. The basics of charity and development are easy to grasp once we get it. To give cash without power is not natural however and we should keep on training. I had a hectic week with e few opportunities, with some leaving me more excited than others. All round a good week in my life-long attempt of reducing the amount of asshole in my character.