holding space for all narratives in 2022
Just when we thought that we were getting through the worst of this pandemic. WAM! Omicron. What has hit me the hardest about the discovery of this new variant is realising how powerless we actually are and how there are only a select few who have to ability to voice their opinions and be heard. I’ve known that power inequalities exist in society – I studied it for years. Yet reading about it, doing case studies, and actually living it are two very different experiences. It’s been a long time since I have felt as hopeless and powerless as I have recently.
To give you some context I’ve been living in Thailand for the past two years. Having arrived here just as covid first took off, I haven’t seen my family since leaving South Africa. In October this year, Thailand implemented a Sandbox program that allowed South Africans to travel to the kingdom, provided they followed certain regulations. This was exciting news as it finally meant that I could enjoy a holiday and much needed time with my family. We spent hours planning an incredible vacation and revelling in the excitement of finally being together once again.
Then, three weeks before they were scheduled to arrive, news of Omicron and the African travel ban hit. Thailand closed its borders to South Africa and several other African countries. After days of processing this heart-breaking announcement, I began watching the news closely. Obsessively even. No matter how much I consumed or what I searched for, I was unable to find the answers I wanted. I was overwhelmed with frustration. I kept wondering if there was anyone that I could just call and ask for answers? Why was it so difficult for me to get the information I needed? There was no one to call. No one I could speak to. No one to hear me.
It's wild to think that even with the increased connection offered by social media, we still don’t have the ability to voice our concerns when needed. The fact is that there are prominent power hierarchies and impenetrable boundaries around decision and/or policymakers. How does the person on the street corner, or a whole continent for that matter, reach out, share their experience and create change? Why do we still allow politics and predominantly white, male, politicians to dictate so much of our lives? Where is the representation? As much as things have changed in terms of breaking boundaries to communication, huge power disparities still exist. Certain voices are valued more than others – this has been made clear with the unfair bans placed on Africa, the unequal access to vaccines, wealthy nations hoarding vaccines, and the BLM movement, to name a few.
We live in a world of 7.9 billion people – that’s 7.9 billion different narratives. 7.9 billion stories, perspectives, and opinions. All of which are equally valuable human experiences but only some of which are treated as valuable or worth hearing. What I have learnt these past few weeks is that if I can feel powerless and if I don’t feel represented, then who does? I mean, to call a spade a spade, I am a white, heterosexual woman. I may not be the most represented population but I definitely am not severely underrepresented either. When I first began to write this, it was honestly more of a rant about how pissed I was about not being able to find the answers that I wanted. But as I began to dig deeper, I realised that it was actually not about my voice being, or not being heard. It was about all the voices that go unheard. All the stories that we miss because they don’t get the space, or have the platform, to be heard because they are viewed as invaluable.
My frustrations with society, with the unequal opportunity to something as simple as communication, only makes me want to reach out and see where I am falling short. How do I embrace different voices and open myself up to listening to different narratives? I believe that we should all challenge ourselves to stretch a little past our comfort zones and try and see things from another’s perspective. Be that a different country, or another person. The world needs more unity and less othering. The more we can listen and put ourselves in others’ shoes, the more we enable ourselves and humanity, to move towards a place of true equity.
For those of us who have new year’s resolutions or commitments, why not challenge ourselves to be more aware of whose experience we are witnessing and whose voice we are listening to. What stories are we not hearing and why? Let’s follow different accounts. Listen to different podcasts and news channels. Help empower and uplift those voices that are not frequently heard. It is only by recognising the equal divinity in each human being that we can hold equal space for everyone, which will ultimately help the world move into a better place. And I for one am keen to help that shift happen.