My somewhat lopsided Leopard, with all its intricate and significant markings, took me ages to complete, and finally brought me to this question : Can a leopard change its spots ?
This questions reminded me of a sweet Bible joke, – and a play on words that has the
power to make me smile.
Before I share it with you I have to set a scene from our history for you to understand my little joke, – and some of our nation’s culture tensions.
We have 11 official languages in South Africa ! One of which is Afrikaans. The Afrikaners were part of the forge from European nations e.g. the Dutch, French and German, who all had their reasons to set sail for African shores in the distant past.
In the wake of the discovery of gold and diamonds, the Anglo-Boer (the war between the Afrikaans farmers and English soldiers ) – scraping through a crippling drought, famine and poverty, the Afrikaners were instrumental in establishing a firm foundation, and set infrastructures in place for a nation to emerge here at the southern tip of Africa. Of course, not perfect, they have made huge mis-judgments and mistakes in the development of our people, that have their result in our very present day super sensitive racial tensions.
We are a very complex and diverse nation, evident in each of our 11 cultural languages with their own histories, before we even get to the collective history – which is still unfolding !!
Because of the Anglo-Boer war, before our recent history, there had always been a sharp cultural tension between the Afrikaner and the English-speaking people in the land – mainly due to the war. The ‘Boertjie’ a nick name for the Afrikaner and ‘Rooinek’ for the English were at times intentionally disparaging toward each other. One particular aspect was that the ‘Boertjie” often got his tenses wrong when he was forced to speak English.
Perhaps that’s the reason why some of my writing gets its tenses wrong – a kickback from my ancestry !!
Now let me tell you my little joke, emanating from that part of our history.
Adam and Eve were walking in the Garden of Eden, and Eve had identity issues, with questions.
She asked Adam if they were English or Afrikaans ? Adam scratched his head unknowingly and said he would ask God. So the next day when they met in the cool of the evening as was their custom, Adam asked God if they were English or Afrikaans. God gave Adam a penetrating gaze and said in a soft wisdom “Adam my son, you are what you are”
The next morning over an apple crumble breakfast, Adam told Eve he now knew the answer to her question. Eve sat forward, for she had an inquiring mind and liked to gather knowledge. “We are English” Adam told her. “And how did you come to that deduction” asked Eve. “Well” said Adam, ” I asked God if we were English or Afrikaans, and He said ‘ Adam you are who you are‘ – well now, if He was Afrikaans He surely would have said Adam you is who you is.” – (smile now)
Language, and culture make up identity. I think that mindful language will not easily offend, and a little humour can go a long way in today’s global racist climate. We need to laugh at ourselves more often – and that is easier done when you have an understanding and an acceptance of your own place in history, whatever that may be, your identity, and your own unique story, for we all have stories to tell.
History clarifies that we all come from a race and cultural group. And History will always reveal the bias of past governance. Taking the high ground of hindsight is easy, and demanding justice has its place. But we can’t truly go forward, looking in the rear view mirror. We need to get into the gear of forgiveness to take us forward to fulfil our potential and our destinies, – or stay as we are, and wait until time heals or new adversaries surface ! History has an equalising effect.
I came across a telling quote recently, it read : We are all products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it – Rick Warren. Well said.
With worldwide nation-shifting currently going on, the world is in a state of cultural and racial flux. We all have our own cultural perspectives, because we are all diverse. We would be wise to heed sensitivity and by the same token avoid a victim-mentality. After all we all have our own distinct and different spots, so to speak.
Identity, is not only language and culture, but character too. Character is based on values, ethics and morals – and choices make character.
In my little joke, God in His wisdom said : you are who you are, but we are not expected to stay that way. Through moral values and decisions we have opportunities to become more, and this can and will influence our character, identity, even our destiny.
Perhaps it is not just the social economic poverty, which is huge, but moral poverty that is the true cause of the ills in our societies today.
Attitude is telling, and shines through the filtered light of our varying societies. An often used quote is : Attitude is everything. I agree with that. It’s the place in life, where courtesy and respect begins or ends, the difference between being civilised or barbaric. I like to keep this quote in mind : Courtesy is the first rung on the ladder of civilisation. (source unknown)
‘Ubuntu’ is an African term that can take on different connotations e.g. community caring, kindness, courtesy, respect for each other. This makes all the difference to our attitudes in our societies.
My interpretation of Ubuntu is – Love your neighbour as you love yourself.
We can change our spots by changing our minds, and our attitudes and sprinkled with humour can even help to change the spots of others.
So even when we humorously retort …..’ I is who I is ‘ ….. we can change !
If we stop to think about this, it is applicable on many levels, – socially, psychological and spiritual, As a man thinks, so is he. Proverbs 23:7
I found my leopard in the Bible, Jeremiah 13:23 where it says : Can an Ethiopian change his skin, can a leopard change its spots ?
As the chapter also speaks to idolatry and pride – eeek ! – I had to pay close attention, because my spots can so easily reveal my pride too !! It is something to think on.
My spots are my spots, but if I allow God’s goodness and grace to change me, my spots, wrinkles and blemishes will change into a thing of beauty, that helps me see the beauty spots in other people. That kind of transformation is good, essential and eternal.
In today’s super sensitive racial climate, may my leopard serve as a reminder for us to love our neighbour.
Ubuntu, my friend Ubuntu !