Throughout our history, and in every culture, South Africans have viewed the family as the basic unit of society. The family is the space in which we begin to form our individual identity and learn about the world. It is also where we first learn about unity, love, kindness and justice which the spirit of Ubuntu signifies. We begin developing such skills and qualities that we need in order to contribute to the advancement of society.
In this space, however, we can also learn harmful tendencies. We can learn to dominate others, to be unfair, to suppress tender feelings, and to behave selfishly. And once these habits are formed, we carry them into our school, work and public spaces. They cause damage, impede progress and destroy the very foundations of our nation.
Like many other institutions of society, the institution of the family is now in crisis. We are living in a time of major transition. The principles and values that used to shape and keep families together are fast eroding, and this has serious implications for the building of a sustainable and happy future.
At the same time, if we want to build a nation based on true prosperity for all, and on unity in diversity, we cannot revert to some of the previous notions of the family unit. One of these is a conception of family as the space in which one or two individuals dominate the rest. Another is of the family as a unit bound together in unqualified loyalty, protecting their own interests even at the expense of the rest of society.
The answer lies in raising South African boys and girls in families that are based on certain spiritual principles. Chief among these principles is the equality of women and men. It has profound implications for family life, and by extension, for the life of society as a whole. Another spiritual principle of major importance is justice. Justice promotes the rights and responsibilities of each member of the family. It allows love to truly flourish within the family and beyond.
A useful tool in this endeavour is to learn and practice the skill of consultation. Any family can use consultation as a tool for seeking the truth and for better decision-making. When decisions are made together, they are supported wholeheartedly and with joy, rather than through force and coercion. In the words of Bahá'u'lláh, “Say: No man can attain his true station except through his justice. No power can exist except through unity. And no welfare and no well-being can be attained except through consultation.”
If we strive to apply such principles, and to gradually nurture and foster them within our families, then generation after generation will be able to improve on the current situation of our country. These principles can even assist families in their efforts to lift themselves and others out of poverty. All of this will bring us closer to the day when true freedom, peace and prosperity will be established, and our people will live as one.
In a practical sense, how can we foster the equality between men and women within our own family? Are boys and girls receiving the same access to education, both at home and beyond? What is the role of men and boys in promoting equality between the sexes? Equally what is the role of women and girls in promoting equality between the sexes? How is the wider society affected when, in the home, we learn to escape accountability for our own actions? How are decisions made in a family that exercises equality of genders? How can children be taught discipline? How does the role of parents become apparent without the use of force? How do families collectively foster the development of the entire society, genuinely seeing the needs of non-family members as important as those of the family? What significant role will consultation play in family life? Engaging in the discourse of family life will help contribute to the effort of working towards an ever advancing civilization.