September 25, 2014

What heritage do we leave our children?

Sitting at a restaurant for Heritage Day lunch, I looked around and thought about how far South Africa has come.

We were ostensibly celebrating our 'Japanese' heritage with a sushi buffet, in a Chinese restaurant, surrounded by an Indian family, a white family gathering, Chinese owners, black cleaners, and even American tourists thrown into the mix.

Yes, South Africa has gone far - the world has gone far - but only in retrospect of my entire experience at the restaurant yesterday does the heritage that we are leaving behind strike peculiarly hollow.

Having sushi in itself raises a question mark: Fish stocks are dwindling the world over as humankind competes with nature to fill the ever-growing belly of its all-consuming appetite.

Industrial fishing has depleted the number of fish freely available, not only to the billions of people who depend on fish to live, but to the ecology of the ocean.

If man continues to fish unsustainably, what shall we leave our children? Will they only read about sushi in history books? Or will they only experience it through sushi-flavoured biscuits, or some other such invention.

At a table behind us, a family gathered for their meal, not a single person without their cellphone in their hands, madly typing, playing, or clicking away into the void. A family gathering, and no one is there.

Whenever experts discuss cellphones, they talk about how the radiation could cause tumours in your children's brains, or how having the headphones up too loud can damage ears, but they never say that the family suffers because everyone using a cellphone is addicted to the immediate rewards they get from interacting online or talking about themselves or winning a reward in a game.

Cellphones might bring you close to people far away, but they can take you away from the people close to you. And don't even get me started on the horror of text message jargon…

Don’t get me wrong, message jargon has its place, but what is concerning is that the nuances of language are being lost – I believe it’s one of the reasons for debates on ‘too’ and ‘two’, for example.

A child begins to throw a tantrum, jumping up and down on the restaurant's chair. After saying 'No' once or twice, and finding no effect, her guardian merely offered her a packet of chips - the perfect opportunity for teaching the child that throwing a tantrum will get it something good for being bad.

Through rewarding tantrums, you teach that authority will give way, there are no consequences to bad behaviour, and your parent – and anyone else in the way of your desires - is nothing but a nag.

At another table, a glass fell, scattering ice all over the floor, but when the cleaner came out and cleaned up, there was no one to thank him. Certainly, he is being paid to do his job, but everyone expects a reward for good work – all that called for was a single word.

So in the modern world today, where we are swamped in work, stress, material items, consumerism, we rage against the relentless poaching of our rhino but ignore the Cape seahorse, which is also being poached and sent around the world to adorn the marine tanks of the hobbyist.

We decry load-shedding and curse Eskom for its lack of service but do nothing to force its hand into choosing more sustainable options that will no longer pollute our skies and air.

We wring our hands at the pollution lining our rivers but don’t think twice when we discard our babies’ disposable diapers and other toxic substances in landfills where the poison will slowly seep into our water.

We tug at our hair because of the high amount of crime, and yet do nothing to help those living on only R11 a day.

We pull our faces because the Dalai Lama was denied a visa for the third time but we don’t think twice about who made our clothing in a sweat shop or how many children are being trafficked right this second.

At this rate, the only heritage our children, or their children, will have is the only the memory of good things.

We are told every day to remember our pasts, celebrate our heritage, but what of the reality of today and what we leave our children in the future?

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