The Jewish Report Editorial

The challenge of being inspirational

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This week, a former editor of mine, who inspired me to pursue great journalism and to make a difference through the work I do, passed away suddenly. And while Shaun Johnson wasn’t a part of this community, remembering him invoked in me what it means to inspire others. Also, I realised how important it is for us to have people in our lives who inspire us to be better.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Feb 27, 2020

Astonishingly, some people even look to Julius Malema for inspiration. Now, that’s really concerning considering his often threatening and racially divisive rhetoric.

However, inspiring others often means stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a stand for what you believe. Perhaps Malema does that, but at whose expense? This week he apparently flouted the law by not appearing in court when he was ordered to be there. So, a warrant for his arrest was issued.

He is the leader of a political party, and this is the example he sets. This is hardly inspirational.

Inspiring people is about expecting the most from them, and allowing them space to fulfil your expectations. It’s about challenging people to be the best they can be. It’s about taking a stand for what you believe in, and having the courage to change course if need be.

Often inspirational people aren’t public figures.

This week, my colleague brought to my attention a story of a Jewish woman from Iran who was sentenced to death in absentia. This soft-spoken woman emigrated to the Netherlands in 2012 from her native Iran. She was volunteering at the local Chabad House in Utrecht when she was condemned back home. Now 62, she was sentence to a public execution for running an underground organisation that found housing for women with abusive husbands who were unable to get divorced.

This woman left Iran a year prior to the sentencing to help her daughter – also a political refugee – with a difficult pregnancy in the Netherlands.

Although she was battling to get residence in the Netherlands and desperately missed her husband in Iran, she had no regrets about helping abused wives. She said she would do it all over again.

This woman is truly inspirational. Her life certainly wasn’t enhanced by what she did for others, but she did it anyway.

Her antithesis is the evil that is Harvey Weinstein, who this week was found guilty of rape and criminal sex acts in the United States. Here is a man who was lauded in the film industry for his work as a producer. However, he used his power to sexually abuse vulnerable women. Not one but more than 100 women came forward with allegations of abuse. Now, people have made many an excuse for him and claimed that the women knew what they were getting into, but nothing can excuse this man.

More than that, he paid people to enable him to corner the women he wanted to abuse, and to make sure they couldn’t do anything about it afterwards.

Instead of being an international inspiration, he is a global disgrace, and the reason behind the #MeToo campaign.

In the same industry is movie director Steven Spielberg, a man who has used his power in the industry for good. Not only is he an icon for dyslexia, having had a lifelong struggle to read and write, but he has made sure that 52 000 Holocaust testimonies were filmed in perpetuity and housed at the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation that he founded.

I guess we all choose our paths in life. We can safely be followers and lead upstanding lives with integrity, but still play it safe. There’s nothing wrong with that. Or, we can stick our heads above the parapet, and do our best to do something substantial with our lives.

The latter path is never easy, and people always try to throw stones at tall poppies. Being inspirational or going against the grain for the right reasons is never easy.

We look to our leaders – those who have chosen to occupy ultimate positions of power – to step up to the challenge of doing what it takes to heal our country.

Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni this week proved inspirational. As the country was convinced he would slap on more taxes, he chose instead to find the necessary money by reducing the public-sector wage bill. Well done!

As for our president, Cyril Ramaphosa, I still believe him to be a man of integrity. However, we need him to be inspirational. We need him to challenge his government to do so much better, and then to have the courage to change the course of this country. He needs to be seen be tough and determined.

As I see it, he’s between a rock and a hard place. He doesn’t have an easy task. However, he appears to be hamstrung by the members of his own party. It’s time to choose South Africa over the party, and be the inspiration this country needs.

It’s time for Ramaphosa to stand up and stand out! It’s time for him to show us leadership, and steer this ship in the right direction.

Shabbat Shalom!

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