The Age of the Slack

In The Witness newspaper on the 14th of March, I read an interesting article by Sibusiso Tshabalala, entitled “The Age of Slack”.

What he was writing about is the increasing tendency for people to be passive observers, lax about responding in constructive ways or moving to action when they encounter even serious problems.

I quote:

“Exposing the slack is pretty easy in South Africa. Wake up each morning, find a latest brewing saga, and then engage in cheap moralising frolics. Do this on a social network preferably, and you’re more likely to get a stream of mentions and retweets signalling approval. High-nosed and clear in your mind, do this day-in, day-out. Sooner than you know it, the slack which you so candidly live to expose engulfs you.”

Tshabalala goes on to describe the videoed response to a recent incident (atrocity) where Mido Marcia was dragged behind a police van in public. The video shows some onlookers cheering, most doing nothing, and, after a while, a few questions. But no action. Marcia was found dead in a police cell a few hours later.

I agree wholeheartedly with Tshabalala’s point, as I understand it. We South Africans (and, it seems likely, most of the rest of the world) are becoming a nation of passive observers. We are becoming so conditioned to being given the news on television, to responding by talking about issues and incidents, especially through social networking, that we are becoming accustomed to doing nothing in reality.

I would hesitate, the way the police are currently behaving in South Africa, to suggest that any bystander should have tried to interfere. They might well have been shot themselves.

But, when we hear of schoolchildren with leaking classroom roofs, who goes down with some tools and some waterproofing membrane to fix the roofs, when we can “bring attention to the problem” by tweeting about it? It is important to note that, having “done” something by tweeting, we feel better, and dismiss the issue from our minds.

Or, when we hear that patients at the local hospital are going without food, because the catering contractor has not been paid, do we get together as a local church and get some food down there, until the crisis is past, or do we just circulate some sms’s (texts) or emails until we feel we’ve done enough?

Whose responsibility is it to show our friends and neighbours that talking about problems is not the same as actually doing something?

Yesterday I had a chat with a wonderful woman whom I will call “Sally”, about practical ministry. She shared how she had met another lady, a complete stranger until that day, and been able to stand by her. When she later heard that this lady’s house had been burned down, ‘Sally’ immediately fetched clothes for this lady and her children from her sister’s house, with some food, and took them down to her. There was not a thought of tweeting about the issue. Nor did ‘Sally’, in telling me this, even realise how well it reflected upon her (that was not the focus of our conversation).

‘Sally’ is a good example. People who spend their time circulating emails bewailing the state of the world and “sharing” concerns via social networks, without also doing something themselves, are fooling themselves.

Matthew 5:13-16

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  (RSV)

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