It is magnanimous to be the teacher than the student. Taking the enlightened path demands sainthood to any attack on your person. The high road is easy when you are not the recipient of criticism and ridicule. ‘Turning the other cheek’ might be the right and prudent action to choose, but it is certainly not the instinctive reaction to judgement on your behaviour, lifestyle or values for any human being, public figure or not. Let us just think of how we respond when we have performance evaluations with our ‘bosses’ and peers which are by mutual agreement and are supposed to be constructive and developmental. To self- righteously advice another fellow human being, regardless of our opinion of President Zuma or his values, even as a public figure, to grin and bear it, shows an element of inhumanness on our part. The Dalai Lama says, “A truly compassionate attitude towards others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you.”
There is a reason why we know that a work of art like the ‘Zumaspear’ would never be produced on Madiba. This we know because the inspiration of the work exploits the common knowledge and judgements we hold and may share, expressed or unexpressed, about President Zuma’s lifestyle, behaviour and perceived values. As human beings, we categorise, label and grade each other’s values and behaviours so that it makes it easier to judge ourselves and our own behaviours as more sanctimonious or acceptable than others. After all, not all sins are equal. This hierarchy of ‘sins’ justifies our ‘picking up the stones’ to attack those that demonstrate values and behaviours that are less suitable than our own. We critic with boundless venom we deem fitting of these transgressions.
As creatives, whether we use words or visual forms, we do not select an exact word or a specific image, innocently without an agenda. We have the option of choosing amongst a plethora to elicit a particular response. The power of ‘Zumaspear’ is invigorated by the latent or overt derision and criticism of the President’s lifestyle and behaviour. That contempt makes it tolerable for us to suspend our compassion because, after all, we have the legitimacy of freedom of expression to help us sleep us better.
The ‘Zumaspear’ controversy produced deep reflection within me as a human being, as a member of society and as a writer. We seem to believe that because public figures are our ‘constructs’, that they deserve anything we fling at them because we give them the privilege of their status and they earn their keep through our sweat and hard work, directly or indirectly. For this honour, we believe that they should absorb anything we throw at them with no complaints and no conditions attached. As a member of the public and as a writer, I believe that having such a parochial and biased attitude is causing the pendulum to swing too far to the point that it diminishes self-accountability and compassion. Freedoms of expression and speech give us license to make commentaries on society and public figures, but they certainly should not sanction demigods and cruel attacks on each other. Art and other creative forms are crucial mirrors and interpretations of society. Controversies move humanity and communities forward through debate and self-analysis. What will be our undoing as human beings is giving each other unfettered power and carte blanche to be pitiless and malicious. Using words and brush strokes may seem cultured and sophisticated than using machetes, gas chambers and guns. Unrestrained permission to express disdain for others and their perceived values are seeds to genocidal intolerance.