Dr Iqbal Survé: We stand at a crossroads of the future of our world
An open letter to today's youth, tomorrow's wiser elders.
As we approach Youth Day in South Africa tomorrow, in the watershed year that is 2020, I am reminded that as a collective we stand at a crossroads in the future of the world where the direction we choose to go is more important than ever.
Such a simple and obvious statement, yet one nevertheless is filled with great portent. Given the dire state in which we find ourselves at present, I cannot help but wonder if looking back on this day, which way the world will have gone and who and what would have ultimately guided that decision.
Of late, the headlines have been dominated by Covid-19, whose influence has been beyond that of a healthcare crisis, it has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe. This is borne out in more recent events with the global conversation highlighting how ancient wounds are being scratched wide open to reveal, just under the surface, that we are hurting deeply on so many levels and in so many ways, and that our very humanity is in question. Driving this narrative is our youth who are speaking up and out on a variety of issues that have been swept under the carpet, glossed over or framed within societal “policies” that supposedly govern order.
We are a fractured society, focused on what separates and divides us rather than what unites us.
These conversations have their place and understanding why and where we have come from are critical issues that even in the 21st century, clearly still need to be discussed openly and in-depth.
However, just as important, if not more so, are the discussions as to where we are going, or more accurately, where it is we wish to go as the human race. What future do we as elders wish to leave you, our generations that follow us? What future do you, our youth, envision for yourselves and what will you, in turn, take forward for the next generation to come? Can you even dare to dream of what you would like to create, or have you been so conditioned in self-limiting beliefs, set by us and preceding generations, that you are unable to conceive of anything beyond today?
As tomorrow's generation know that one day you too will be looking back and asking yourselves these same questions that currently seem doomed to be repeated over and over unless you stop and today, reshape your future.
To explain, as human beings we are currently books that are judged by our covers. Our global systems are based on categorising us into boxes. We exist as ticks on a page, segregated by gender, race, religion, age, income, level of education (or not) and identified by number and name. In so doing, we have pretty much de-humanised and polarised ourselves. We live in a series of “isms”.
Racism, sexism, classism and so on, now finding ourselves in the ultimate “ism” - a schism - divided, ruptured and factionalised.
It is impossible to do justice to these questions in one short written piece, especially as thousands of years have passed with every generation having their version of these same issues. Instead, I would like to ask that even if it is for just one day, this Youth Day, we dare to imagine what life could be.
Whoever we are, wherever and at whatever stage in life we find ourselves, I urge you all to dream of a state in which we all belong - in our own skins. That our intrinsic acceptance of ourselves for who we are and finding the time to love ourselves, could then love, accept and respect others for who they are.
Imagine a future where if there is any need for categorising/identification at all, that we are defined for “who” we are as humans not what we are. Imagine being known for our values and our actions.
If we are asked: Are you kind? Helpful? Caring? Compassionate? Are you a listener? Respectful? Responsible? Grateful? Honest? Could we then begin to find our common humanity?
As the father of our democratic nation Nelson Mandela said in his book Long Walk to Freedom: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Today, I am asking everyone to “feel” deep within themselves as to how we can together, create our common humanity that will be all our tomorrows.
This state of feeling for another person, putting ourselves in another's shoes and attempting to get a sense of what their juncture of being means to them is vitally pertinent considering that we are rapidly marching towards a technological singularity too - whether we like it or not - which could actually result in our human extinction.
Ironically, what is limiting machine learning's intelligence to take control, is the human brain's current capacity to think.
However, what could be our saviour from technology taking over and in protecting our humanity, are the very emotions that are being stirred up by our youth speaking out and against constructs that are outdated.
Our job right now is to be prepared to hear and really listen to what is being said, and then to help change not only the course of history repeating itself, but instead, to collaborate and co-create our collective future.
So, thank you for teaching us all what matters, which is for human beings to be counted for who they are and not what they are.
* Dr Iqbal Survé is the chairperson of Sekunjalo Investment Holdings and executive chairperson of Independent Media.