Over the weekend, I wasted some time browsing other people’s facebook profiles – not in any sort of constructive way, but in a true “surely I have better things to do than this” way. I found myself, after a while, on the page of a young person who lives in South Africa and is, by my reckoning, a genuine and kind person. I scrolled down though and found a comment on this person’s page that horrified me.
Someone (not anyone I know) had joked about eating “AIDS cereal”. Shocked yet? Well, having spent a lot of time in SA, I know what they are talking about – this must be the porridge that those who are HIV+ are given to help them put on weight and grow stronger. But to call it “AIDS cereal” made me shudder to the core… that anyone could joke, so flippantly, about a disease that is tearing Africa apart made me feel as though someone, somewhere, has failed. A compassion failure? An education failure? A parenting failure? I don’t know which it is, but it is a truly epic fail. Is this indicative of a deeper moral failure in post-apartheid SA, a country that is yet to bridge the chasms dividing rich/poor and black/white. Opportunities have opened up for some since the end of apartheid, and attitudes are slowly changing – but it seems as though some have yet to move on.
I know, I know – it’s easier to throw stones at others than think about our own blind spots. Yes, that is true. But what worries me is that this flippant FB comment is indicative of something deeper and more serious – a failure for upcoming generations to truly treat others as equals, a failure to treat others with the compassion automatically shown to friends and family.
And yet I am not sure we can, with all integrity, stand in judgment over others when the same problems permeate our society too. Lack of compassion? Tick. Lack of empathy? Tick. Discrimination? Tick. There are no easy answers – judging and moralising will not help us move forward. But let’s at least try to treat others as we would want to be treated. And to keep our more heartless comments to ourselves – after all, you never know who might be looking at your facebook page.