Friday, 5 June 2015

Pardon Me... But How Hard is it to be Nice?

Today I went to a nearby Shoprite store. Although part of the same franchise, I usually opt for a nearby Checkers over Shoprite as they tend to be cleaner and better stocked with the things we like, but today Shoprite had a massive one day sale on various things, including nappies, which eats up a significant part of our budget (the Pampers were half their usual price). I figured it should be fairly quiet as it was a weekday morning and the temperature below freezing (we South Africans are not known for braving the cold).

As it turned out, half of Johannesburg had the same idea as me and it was utter chaos.People were pushing and shoving one another out of the way. People were wrestling for pot sets and I actually saw a lady KICK another lady (the victim was aggressively clearing the shelves of all the baked beans). One woman screamed at another "Los my f*kken Marie biscuits alleen jou blerrie b*tch" (Afrikaans for 'Leave my beep beep Marie Biscuits alone you beeb beep."). The baby isle was chaos- a staff member was wheeling along a trolley full of nappies to re-stock the shelves but was tackled and the trolley emptied before he had even reached the relevant shelf. If it is of any relevance (as South Africans have a tendency to generalise), the misbehaved individuals stemmed from a variety of ethnic groups.

Driving home, I got hooted at by taxis for not taking off from the traffic light when the light on the other side turned red, for having the audacity to wait until it was green for me.

Later in the day, a lady came knocking at my door begging for food. "Please can you give me something to eat madam, maybe a tin of food for my children?" Now, while I am not one to encourage begging, I never have the heart to turn them away, particularly when the request is for food rather than money. I went to the kitchen and got a half a loaf of bread and some mushrooms and carrots from the fridge which we would not be using before they went bad (but which were still perfectly good). I gave it to the said lady, who looked at the food given and said to me "why are you giving me this- I asked you for a tin". That old saying 'beggars can't be choosers' came to mind. I have read somewhere that the measure of good manners is how you treat those that do not have any, so I let it go. This is getting harder and harder to do though as I have had a few very cheeky beggars at my doorstep lately- one even demanded cutlery to eat the meal that I had provided him with.

After these incidents today, I could not help but wonder what has happened to our humanity as a nation. I know economic times are tough for some, but if people cannot even be humane to one another, we are even poorer than we think. The problem is not universal- every day I come across nice, good-mannered and pleasant people from all walks of life. However, they seem to be outnumbered by the meanies.

Who do we blame for this lack of niceness and basic consideration for others? Is government to blame? Schools? Are we not doing enough to teach our children good manners at home? We have seen bizarre examples of mass bad behaviour in our news headlines this year, from xenophobic attacks, unruly strikes, destruction of statues, burning of public resources and so many more. I understand that what is considered as good manners may differ from culture to culture, but there are some universal basics like treating others with decency and dignity that seem lacking.

All I know is that it is time to break the cycle and that each of us needs to do something to make this happen.