On heritage and building our nation


This month we’ve been reflecting on our heritage, both in the collective sense and as individuals. Many a conversation has been had in and out of our studio regarding our collective culture (as South Africans) and our individual cultures.

I am often struck by the richness of experience that I have been exposed to in my various work environments and that one of the most valuable nation-building exercises we can ever do is to have conversations about heritage and culture with each other.

I’ll never forget leaving South Africa for the first time and being so surprised when things operated differently to what I was used to. I remember returning home after a year of living overseas and bursting into tears when the lady at passport control welcomed me home. It had been so long since I’d heard that accent and I was overwhelmed by how much love I felt in that moment for this country and her people. I have had the privilege of traveling more since then and I have to say that the tears are always close to the surface whenever I land back in South Africa.

One particular conversation that happened in our TSE studio this month was around beliefs and practices in entering adulthood and things such as marriage. In my culture, most people move out of home way before they get married and it would be rather unusual to live at home past your studies and perhaps even that is pushing it. Jason had a very different experience in that in his culture it is expected that you would get married from ‘out of the house’ - basically it would be very unusual to move out from your parents’ home before you were married. Such a wide gap here and yet it’s easy to see that there are pros and cons about both arrangements and that different belief and value systems have shaped our views on the topic.

I so appreciate the fact that I get to spend time with people from different backgrounds and that I have had the privilege of experiencing different cultures both in my own city as well as on my travels around the world. The value of being exposed to different cultures and ways of doing things cannot be underestimated and I think that this is one of the greatest robberies that our history of segregation exercised on us - and in my view, still does in many ways.

We’re working hard at developing a culture of celebration in our business and this includes being able to celebrate someone for who they are and where they come from. Our ability to handle com-plexity is surely one of the most important things that we can develop as people. The truth is that it is often much simpler to spend time with people who share the same culture and beliefs as we do. How can we create unity in a nation that has such a splintered story? I believe that in sharing our stories and building relationships outside of our comfort zones that we begin to create a new narra-tive and a joint heritage that we can all be proud of and all benefit from. This doesn’t mean that we lose the quintessential things that have formed us, but I think rather that we add to the meaning of how we’ve always viewed ourselves and the people who call this land ‘home’.

Some ways to become more aware of cultures different to your own:

- Cultivate curiosity rather than suspicion - easier said than done. If you’re using your culture as the baseline then everyone who does things differently will be ‘wrong’ (according to you). How about we recognise that ‘different’ is not ‘wrong’.

- Spend time getting to really know people outside of your own cultural heritage.

- Read up on the history of your city and work at understanding the dynamics that surround you every day.

- Celebrate your own culture and heritage, but never at the expense of another person or culture.

How are you engaging with your heritage and culture in your life and your workplace? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

As always, thank you for stopping by!

Chat soon,