Going Back to Basics

Author: Sifiso Mtshali

I am writing this piece while sitting in the train station waiting to go home.

You can sense the urgency among the commuters as they drop their impatient not-so-subtle hints. One old man is flipping through the newspaper while another young lad is tapping his feet rhythmically awaiting his ride home. To my right, a clearly exhausted woman lazily zips and unzips her bag staring into the distance. You can tell her mind is already at home. Behind me, some youngsters are humming a popular tune, off-key but decent. Where am I? I am hunched over my laptop typing away and waiting just like everyone else, for this train that is 15 minutes late.

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“Time!” I think to myself. It must be divine in its very nature. It determines who does what and when. Everyone waiting for the train wishes they were somewhere else, yet Master Time decides differently. So for now, we wait. Regardless of whether the time is short or long, we simply must wait.

After a long period of waiting, the train finally arrives, fully packed of course. We all rush in to fill the tiny openings in the sea of tightly pressed human bodies. Some push to get off while others push to get off. Out of nowhere, a young man appears grabbing everything he can get a grip on. He has lightning speed, darting eyes, and fingers that glide from pocket to pocket – stealing. It is is difficult for the commuters to do anything given their space situation. Chasing after him means taking the risk to leave behind their valuables on the train.

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Just as the train begins to move, the commuters grab the young thug and pull him up. Eureka! He is captured!  I will not tell you what happens afterwards because it is obvious but I began to think. It is scary how we can change into savages: wild, uncontrollable, vicious, cold and brutal beings. It started with a slap across the face and escalated from there. Everyone wanted to seek revenge on him. Everyone was baying for his blood behaving like vultures circling a carcass. Kicking and punching. Slapping and prodding. I wanted to join them. After all, this man did steal from us! However, I just could not do it. As bad as his choices were, he was still human. What would beating a man to a pulp really solve? What made us any different from him? Was it really worth it?

I just stood there and watched. Helpless.

If the pen is mightier than the sword, then communication is far mightier than physical torture. I strongly believe that God purposefully created humans with the ability to reason. Nothing beats talking things through. When we beat up a man for stealing from us without attempting to understand the motivation behind his behavior, that is a problem. We are no different from him. When someone commits something that goes against what we consider normal – we should not seek revenge.

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Rather, we should sit down with the person, talk to them and try to help them understand why their actions are wrong. Communication builds, informs, encourages, and changes perceptions. Above all else, it is more effective in solving the ills we see daily. I could have easily taken part in beating up this young man for stealing but I just could not do it. I do not believe God created us to be violent against each other but instead to mediate situations transparently and honestly. When we brutally attack a man for stealing replaceable belongings, what are we really saying? That violence is the answer? That material things are worth more than human life? People make the world go round, not material things or money.

Using torture to punish those who we consider criminals might look like justice but is it?

Where do we draw the line between revenge, justice, and outward brutality?

On the other hand, can we act as a collective in our society and do what is just because it is just? Even taking it a step further and doing the right thing because we love doing it?

Ah! The grey areas of our lives. One can only wonder…

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