It’s difficult to say what the long-term repercussions of 2020 will be. My hope is that even though we are still struggling through the emotional, physical and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and are likely to feel these effects for months, if not years to come, that this year has also shone a spotlight on some of the most critical issues we have been facing as a society.
Racial polarisation and systemic racism have been a blight on South Africa for over 300 years. It’s an issue I have actively worked against for more than 40 years, and this year racism is well and truly back under the microscope.
Here are three lessons that we have leant from 2020, and three guidelines around how we can make steady improvements in 2021.
THREE HARD TRUTHS THAT 2020 HAS TAUGHT US:
- Paradigm paralysis is holding us back as a nation. The large majority of South Africans suffer from a disease of the mind called ‘paradigm paralysis.’
In short, we are a country divided by people who are absolutely stuck in their beliefs. The net result is that very few people across race groups are willing or able to change their beliefs or to open their minds to a different point of view.
The failure of white people to understand the extent of the racial problem in South Africa is particularly concerning, and the degree to which it pervades every aspect of our lives is the underlying root cause of our problems as a nation.
- Racial polarisation lies at the heart of most of the problems experienced by South African businesses. This is the underlying reason for problematic corporate cultures, poor productivity, and below-par customer service.
If all employees do not feel equally respected, cared for and heard, how can we expect them to care for the business or its customers?
Similarly, how can diverse teams work together to build and deploy solutions that have a positive impact on the market?
- Hopelessness is overwhelming – and insidious. The economic, emotional and physical realities of Covid-19 have taken their toll, and the underlying racial tensions and inequalities that we have tried so hard to avoid as a nation can no longer be ignored.
To continue along this path of hopelessness, doom and despair is surely an incredible waste of energy? Ongoing racial tensions and paradigm paralysis will do nothing but perpetuate the massive inequality gap and lead to a future that is too horrifying to contemplate.
Our negative and depressing mindsets are suppressing any attempt to build a prosperous South Africa with a rosy future. Our inability to face these realities for more than two decades has brought us to this point. Unless we accept this truth, we will not be able to fully recover from the devastations of this pandemic or prevent a similar situation from occurring again.
HOW WE CAN BUILD A BETTER 2021
- Start focusing on hope. We must reverse this state of hopelessness by freeing the hearts and minds of our people.
The narrative must change from endless moaning and whining, tireless blame-mongering, and a doomsday attitude to one of deep compromise, positive acceptance, hopefulness and a win-win state of mind.
We all have an obligation to help rebuild a broken nation and it starts with every person going on a journey of self-awareness and discovery.
- Address racial polarisation head on. As a business, you can choose to ignore race relations within your organisation, or you can address them.
However, if we don’t start addressing racism in the workplace head-on, our entire nation will become more divided as a result.
I call on each of our business leaders to focus on what they can do to make a real change to the systemic racism problems we are facing as a nation.
We need to have the tough conversations and address our unconscious biases in an empathetic and transparent way.
- Get everyone involved. Racism is not a problem that can be solved in isolation. It’s important to get everyone involved, from top leadership through to everyone in the organisation.
Ending racial polarisation in the workplace must be done together. This is not about empty platitudes on the wall. It’s about really understanding each other. We don’t need to have the same culture – we just need to learn to accept and respect each other.
THE QUEST FOR A BETTER FUTURE
Sometimes, we need to tear something down in order to rebuild it. If we can take anything positive away from 2020, it’s that it’s time to tear down our paradigm paralysis, unconscious biases and racist ideals so that we can build a better, stronger and more unified nation. Imagine what we could collectively achieve if this became our mantra for 2021?
Fuhr is the founder of personal and business coaching company, The Hatch Institute