A saying has been doing the rounds on Facebook (I am not quite sure who originally coined the phrase), but it goes something like, “When you are accustomed to privilege equality feels like oppression.” In my case, I have to confess, it actually is worse. More like, “When you are accustomed to privilege, minor inconvenience feels like oppression.” Allow me to explain. The photo below is the substance of our geyser this week:
Yes, you are looking at an urn… Long story short, our apartment’s 50 year old geyser needs to be replaced and the landlords have been delaying the process for reasons of their own, but have been kind enough to lend us the urn so that we can heat up water for bathing in the morning (you know, since Durban is freezing this time of the year…;-) So every time I step over the buckets and extension chords into our bathroom, I have the inclination to feel frustrated and upset with the presence of the urn and the inconvenience it represents, but at the same time I am completely aware of the fact that even having a bath, a bathroom, something to heat the water with…or even simply having access to water by turning a tap inside our apartment, is a privilege that millions of people in our country have never experienced in their lives.
In a dialogue I attended two weeks ago, a question was raised, “What is the biggest struggle for white people in this country?” I did not get an opportunity to answer this on the day, but I knew almost immediately what I felt a big struggle is for me. As a privileged person living in this country, one of my biggest struggles is fighting against the inclination towards comfort, convenience and ease. I am not trying to demonise all kinds of comfort. We all need a sense of comfort*. But this is a struggle for me, because I know that comfort numbs. Convenience and ease anaesthetise my desire to take part in or witness pain, discomfort or mess. Comfort keeps me safe in my ignorance and indifference about what is happening “out there” in the world. Comfort is my escapism…Comfort is my drug of choice.
I so often find myself defaulting to comfort rather than venturing out into the messy world to face the challenging and confrontational presence of evil, corruption and oppressive and systems and structures. If I give up on the struggle against needing to feel comfortable all the time, it means I give up all too easily on experiencing pain in solidarity with those who are in pain, weeping with those who are weeping, listening to those who are being ignored. Comfort tells me I can love others from a distance by simply thinking good thoughts about them. If I always settle for what is most comfortable, most convenient and most enjoyable, I know I am removing myself from what it means to be most deeply and truly human – loving others generously with my fullest presence, by paying attention and listening, by touching, by sitting alongside and weeping.
Stepping away from comfort requires courage. As Brene Brown says, “You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.” So my prayer today is for small and big steps of courage,
- May I have the courage today not to walk past and look the other way, but to make eye contact and greet the woman who sits and begs in Pixley kaSeme Road as I carry my full shopping bag past her;
- May I have the courage to tell the man who whistles at women and calls them names that we are women, not objects and that he can call us “sisi”, “ma” or “missus” if he would like to get our attention;
- May I have the courage to stop, listen, touch and pray with the man who has been walking the streets of Durban with crutches for more than a decade and have forgotten what it is like to have a home;
- May I have the courage to be with, pay attention and listen to those who I least want to hear from, those who irritate or frustrate me, have world views and opinions that differ radically from mine; may I have the courage to keep on showing up and keep on listening;
- May I have the courage to live from a place of conviction and not just act and speak from a place of fear and guilt;
- May I have the courage not to be satisfied with the comforts of charity and good deeds, but keep on partnering with God in bringing true justice to our world.
*It would be a worthwhile exercise to consider what the proper place of comfort is in our lives: Were we made for comfort? Where should we find comfort? Can comfort ignite, energise and recreate?