What does it mean to be nurturing? Who is nurturing? Who is not and why not?

The very concepts of nurturing and peace (inner peace; peaceful; peacefulness) mean very different things to different people and to people in different settings.

The belief in Western civilization that the human beings are selfish individuals who are chiefly governed by self-interest is not universally true. It is not the case in many societies living outside Western civilization.

This belief reflects the nature of individuals when they must adapt to living in the cultures of Western civilization, rather than the way individuals evolved to adapt to living in the natural world. Indeed, in the natural world in which we evolved, we could not have survived as rugged individuals alienated from each other. Our success as a species rested on our ability to collaborate and share.

I just returned from more than five weeks in South Africa. While the main purpose of my trip was business-related, my experiences were deeply personal and profoundly informing and enriching.

My journey began in Johannesburg. From all appearances Johannesburg is an industrialized city with the hustle bustle of any big city in the world. Most of the country’s leading industrial firms have their headquarters there and the city’s Stock Exchange is one of the busiest on the world. It is easy to forget that it is actually a third world country!

It is difficult to know the exact population of Johannesburg. The white population has remained fairly constant for some years at around 500,000; estimates of the black population range widely between 1 million and 2 million; plus the black ghetto of Soweto, which was separated from Johannesburg in 1983, has a population that exceeds 2 million people.

Johannesburg has three universities; and in recent years there has been a great surge of art and culture in the city. Most visitors stay only a day or so before escaping this unique city with its grave social problems. Jo’berg is not a beautiful city; its architecture has only limited appeal; and the crime rate is the highest in the world.

At dusk Johannesburg becomes a veritable ghost town. No one strolls down the streets on breezy evenings or window shops after a leisurely dinner in a local bistro. There are no leisurely dinners al fresco and no strolls after dark. In fact, no one strolls at all.

Johannesburg is a city of glaring disparities. There, much more sharply than in other cities in the world, unimaginable wealth and opulence contrasts with extreme poverty. In the affluent areas of the city concealed behind high walls protected by electrified barbed wire are exquisite homes with beautiful gardens, swimming pools and full staffs.

Individuals or small groups of neighbors hire private security companies to walk the property or the streets of the neighborhood to insure peace.

Peace. For some, peace is being inside one’s home and not being threatened or harmed by an unwelcome intrusion; being able to send children to school so they can be educated and cultured and make meaningful contributions to the greater community; parents and their children and grandchildren being able to live in the same city and not be separated by oceans or continents enduring the immigration of family members seeking a better life.

For others just down the road it is to know that they will have a safe place to live and feed and raise their children.

Poor children go to schools that are more dismal and ill-equipped than we can imagine.

Ill people having a safe and reliable place to receive healthcare for themselves and their families is a far cry from the actual nightmare conditions that are a part of the reality of those with little or no money.

My work also took me to the Eastern Cape that remains one of the poorest provinces in South Africa. The two major industrial centers, Port Elizabeth and East London, have well-developed economies based on the automotive industry. General Motors and Volkswagen both have major assembly lines in the Port Elizabeth area, while East London is dominated by the large DaimlerChrysler plant.

I was about 40 km from East London in a home nestled in the lush forest overlooking Chintsa Bay Beach with its high dunes and the most magnificent, unspoiled beaches in the world.

Peace and tranquility are the hallmark of this area. As I looked out the window at the sea with the majestic African sky in the background it was the most breathtaking sight I had ever seen. There is something so special about the vast African sky; the Southern Cross and the Milky Way twinkling and dancing above; and the exotic sounds of the animals and birds breaking through the silence of the quiet African night.

Throughout the country “townships” dot the landscape without regard to geography or topography! One day a piece of land between buildings or near the highway is empty. The next day a dozen three-sided shacks with tin roofs appear. By week’s end there are 100 or more.

This is a country whose poorest women and children carry on their rich traditions in the face of violence, crime and enormous unrest. They come together as families and extended families to nurture and take care of each other and the children. Their songs and dances are uplifting and transforming. Their hearts are full and their spirits are indomitable!

There is a lot to be learned from these resilient and hard-working women.

While the first world countries currently face tremendous upheaval and uncertainty with food and fuel shortages and the ongoing religious and ethnic rivalries and endless terrorist threats; many of the people of South Africa and indeed, the entire continent of Africa, continue to face challenges and adversity that most of us only bear witness to on television.

One of the profound reminders for me was to not lose my connection to my beliefs and values; to not let my fear invade my heart and take over; and to find that spark of joy, hope and gratitude every day no matter what.

Now, more than ever it is vital for us to be our best and most brilliant passionate selves in the presence of each other and support each other in our greatness and in our humanity.

We have lost some of the strength of “the family.” Again I am reminded that it is so comforting to connect deeply with our innermost selves–our traditions, our beliefs, and our values; and join with our families, friends, neighbors and countrymen. We are not islands and we cannot do this alone or alienated from each other.

We must NOT slip into complacency or apathy. Let’s pledge to become and stay consciously aware of our gifts, skills, and talents. Let’s decide to resist fear and being led down the garden path. Let’s decide today, and together, to be proactive on our own behalf and nurture ourselves, our loved ones, friends and neighbors and not be taken off course again.

The word of the day IS nurturing; nurturing ourselves and those we care for and about; and finding the peace within so we can intentionally create and contribute to peace all around us.

Remember, only YOU can make it happen!

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