Pay it forward

The below article came across my desk this morning – it resonated with me as I had a similar discussion at lunch yesterday – someone criticised the entire police force due to the actions of one officer . I found myself defending our SAPS as I have met so many good ‘cops’ that don’t get the recognition they deserve due to the bad behaviour of the ones that make it to the headlines. We are all guilty of often falling into the trap of painting everyone with the same brush – after reading this article, perhaps take some time to think of the good ‘cops’ out there, who do great work, and who deserve some recognition for that from us all every now and again.


This article, written by Justin Foxton,  first appeared in The Mercury on Monday 29th April 2013

Of all the many things that America does well; democracy, hamburgers, bottomless soda and happy endings – it does overkill best of all.
The response to the Boston Marathon bombings – a dreadful and deplorable act of terrorism no doubt – was like something out of a Hollywood action flick starring Chuck Norris or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Boston – a city with a population of over 600 thousand people and a land area of more than 125 square kilometres – was locked down until an all out manhunt saw the capture of an injured 19 year old Chechen suspect as he cowered in a bloodied boat in someone’s back garden.

After the capture of this obviously misguided youth, hundreds of residents lined the streets to cheer law enforcement officers. They apparently broke into chants of “USA USA USA” and a boom box belted out Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” as US flags were raised aloft by ecstatic patriots. Relief and overkill bubbled over.

But in spite of the over-the-top American-ness of all this, there are lessons to be learnt from how the Yanks do life. Firstly, don’t you wish that we cared enough about human life here in South Africa to even consider locking down an entire city – or even suburb – when three people got killed? We can suffer over 150 brutal criminal attacks on residents of the Upper Highway area of Kwa-Zulu Natal in one month and no one talks about locking the place down. What would that even look like I wonder?

We can also draw lessons from America’s understanding of the value of celebration. When the police and the FBI caught the baddie, the public took to the streets and honoured the men and women in uniform who had worked tirelessly to catch their man. Not us. When our cops embark on exhausting and dangerous manhunts – and catch the bad guys as they often do – we don’t so much as drop KFC and a Coke at the local police station let alone take to the streets and wave South African flags around hysterically. We are quick to berate our police for being fat, lazy and incompetent but do we ever bother to honour them when great work is done?

Human beings thrive on affirmation. How can we expect our police to rise to the enormous challenges presented by crime in South Africa when all we keep reiterating is that they are overweight, useless and corrupt? What about the hard working ones? What about the honest ones? What about the ones who give their lives to protect us and our families but who still die with our scorn heaped on their heads? Do these people not deserve our thanks? Or do we just say that our taxes pay their salaries so why should we bother to thank them?

We can learn from those crazy Americans and apply the lessons to other arenas in which the dominant discourse is of ineptitude and laziness….

Our discourse is so dominated by the negative that we often fail to see the successes that are going on before our very eyes – even in areas like policing… Without creating room for celebration of the good, human beings inevitably drown in a sea of bad.

And this is what we can do to inspire an awakening of great service in our country; become people who draw the best out of one another by thanking, honouring and celebrating rather than constantly complaining and critisising.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.

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