Restoring Dignity Requires A Desire To Honour

29 Dec 2016

This article first appeared in The Pretoria News as part of The In Good Company column.


The Christmas season is a time where many South Africans are accustomed to the practice of giving and receiving. Whether it be in work, family or community context, gifts often form part of the interactions between people over this time. 


Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, somewhere along the line we make conscious decisions to either give, or not give. 


We might choose to not engage in the culture of almost-forced gift buying in moral protest to consumerism. We might choose to give in other ways. 


When we do however choose to give gifts, we need to take the time to consider how our loved ones feel when we present them with the gifts. 


Thoughtful gifts are way more valuable to me than expensive ones with no personal consideration. 


To give a thoughtful gift, in my opinion, is to honour the person you are giving it to.


In that sense, giving is about hearts that connect through mutual honouring. We honour when we give with consideration. We also honour when we receive with grace. 


If we take the very personal experience of giving and receiving (or not) over the Christmas time, we can draw a few heart-matters through to the practice of corporate social investment (CSI). 


We often see the phrase “restoring dignity” when we read about CSI projects.


To be involved in someone’s life in a way that truly does restore dignity, we probably first need to consider our presuppositions of how dignity is “lost”. 


To assume loss of dignity by only observing someone else’s economic reality, and perceiving it to be somehow “worse” than your own, is a snare. 


I made that mistake in Botswana once. In my youthful zeal for “helping people”, I voiced my concern over the perceived hardships that I thought people were facing by living in straw huts in the semi-desert in winter. I put my ignorance on public display by naively asking if we could build them brick houses. The leader of the project that I was involved with thankfully stepped in to challenge my incorrect perspective. He pointed out how the people in the village we were visiting communally owned more cattle and land than what I would probably ever be able to afford, and that they had all the resources they needed to build their own brick houses if they wanted to. If I really wanted to contribute, it would be more helpful to serve as a firewood gatherer … 


If I gave them what I thought they needed (ie brick houses) I would probably have dishonoured the chief by unintentionally implying that he is incapable of caring for his people. I would also have wasted a lot of resources. Rookie error. 


We simply cannot assume that we are “restoring dignity” by giving what we think people need. 


Have we spent time to consider their definitions of dignity? Have we spent time to consider our motives? Are we being honouring in how we go about deciding what and how to give? 


Are we as willing to receive from others, as we assume they are willing to receive from us?


Let’s take this Christmas season to honour people in how we choose to give, and receive.


We will only be able to invest in people’s lives in a way that restores dignity when we give (and receive) with an attitude of learning and a desire to honour. 


Cilnette Pienaar has lectured Business Management and Marketing at the University of Stellenbosch, University of Pretoria and Vega. Her passion for CSI was catalyzed during her student years when she was involved with Tuks R.A.G./J.O.O.L and community outreach initiatives through church. She has consulted various non-profit organisations on marketing communication, and has presented workshops on non-profit branding and social media. She currently works with the Nation Builder team as PR Account Manager at Hatch Communication in Stellenbosch. 


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