What color is the sky?
That’s a fairly simple question with a fairly simple answer. I say fairly because once it is expanded, “what color is the sky?’ becomes a much more difficult question. The answer depends on what day it is, it relies on the refraction of light and the composition of the earth’s atmosphere. In the past few weeks, things that could be categorized as simple questions have struck me as awe inspiring and integral to finding a sense of place and moving forward with our projects.
The first occurred at an HIV and AIDS in the workplace panel when the speaker, in the middle of hitting his audience of undergraduates and MBAs with huge amounts of factual and emotional information, asked me “Who are you?” With only three words, this initially looks like a simple question. It should be a question with an equally concise answer. It was an answer that, when put on the spot, seemed like the hardest thing to find in the world. An impossible test on with my life depended, due to the fact that this question, in and of itself, is my life. Yet, I was brought into the dilemma of “what color is the sky?” because while I know what I am; I am human, I am made up of cells that make up organs and neurons that spark ideas, but these things also change like the weather, growing each and every day with new experiences and environments.
I answered the question, but it stuck with me. If I couldn’t answer who I was for myself, an expert in all things me, how could I make decisions for a community for which I was an outsider?
The second simple question I was faced with was “why South Africa?” Now this is a question that I had answered before I left, being confident in the answer that I provided. I sighted developmental issues and the unique atmosphere that is South Africa in that its incredible inequality can provide a sort of controlled environment. You can look at policies that affect people who live in very similar areas, with the same ruling government but on opposite ends of economic and cultural spectra. After experiencing South Africa, I remembered this answer and realized while that it touches a lot of why I wanted to come here, it misses things as well. It misses the absolute diversity, the differences between where we lived and where I work and the beauty that lies within that. It misses the fact that SA has the most official languages in the world and the beauty and difficulty that comes with that. And it misses the fact that while business seems to run the world that we are living in, and it ran this program, that the cultural range that spans South Africa has to come head to head with that. A battle that has been raging since apartheid continues now through the business sector, and while there are many many people working toward changing that, there is still much work to be done. South Africa provides a picture perfect example of history, culture, diversity, language, education, human rights, and the public sector working in tandem in a way that hasn’t found its sync yet.
Often it’s the simple things that bring us to complicated answers, but they also have the brevity to remind us to keep things short. A few words can create everlasting conversations.
Keep the simple questions coming.