Psychologist Christy Heacock’s African Lesson: Unity Undergoes Training

I recently visited the nation of Tanzania with my husband and a group of Rotarians who wanted to both experience the adventure of a photographic safari in Africa and support the St. Jude Schoolwhich provides free education to some of the poorest and brightest children in Tanzania.

Traveling is special to me because it’s such a fun way to learn new things and broaden my perspective. Our trip did not disappoint, as I learned from People and Wildlife of Tanzania – African People and Wildlife (africanpeoplewildlife.org).

What did I learn? I learned that a generous thank you gift from the family of a sponsored child at St. Jude (seen above in a photo taken by Christy Heacock) was often a live chicken. We were fortunate to have live chickens from the family that my husband and I sponsored as well as the family that our local club supported. No, we didn’t take them home. We were able to pass them on to needy families at the school.

More importantly, I learned that it is possible for a nation with more than 120 ethnic, linguistic and religious groups to build a national identity that unites them. They drew their strength from their various customs and traditions. But unity does not happen by chance, it requires strength training.

Tanzanians have problems, like people of all nations. They struggle with issues like poverty, climate change, international relations, resource management, corruption, injustice. Tanzanians, like Americans, have all the instinctual human emotions that keep us from getting along: fear, greed, envy, anger and the list goes on. Unity is difficult.

Christianity is the most widespread religion in Tanzania, but there are significant Muslim and animist minorities. The current President of Tanzania, Samia Suluhu Hassanis a Muslim woman who took office on March 17, 2021. She, like Tanzania’s first President, Julius Nyerere, has emphasized unity both within Tanzania and with neighboring countries.

Upon taking office, she said: “Now is the time to stand together and connect. It’s time to bury our differences, show each other love, and look to the future with confidence.

The people of Tanzania took up the challenge of creating a new nation in December 1961, when they gained independence from Britain. The territory of Tanganyika and the archipelago of Zanzibar were combined to create Tanzania in 1964. Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyererebelieved that unity was the key to the future and focused his efforts on establishing a national identity and language, minimizing ethnicity and the divisions that could have torn his country apart.

He said, “Cooperation and conflict are two sides of the same coin; both flow from man’s relationship with his fellows. The larger the group, the greater the possibility of development through cooperation and the greater the possibility of conflict.

Our Rotary group has benefited from the efforts of the people of Tanzania to create a harmonious and friendly nation. We were greeted like American tourists and felt safe and respected throughout our travels. We visited public schools where children of different religions and tribes mingled peacefully with their classmates. Young Tanzanians, like those around the world, enjoyed having their photos taken and posing with us for selfies.

St. Jude’s is a Christian-based private school but welcomes children from all religious and ethnic backgrounds. Diversity is accepted and respected as a norm. But it didn’t happen without a determined effort. For example, the student my husband and I are sponsoring wrote to us that she was preparing for the school’s Cultural Day.

She said, “There will be many groups presenting their cultures and our theme is ‘My culture in a modern way.’ It’s about how I can present my culture to society and others in a modern way. »

Sharing cultural information creates understanding and trust. Without trust, we build elaborate defense systems. Our energy goes towards attacking the “other”, whom we see as an enemy, not a neighbor with needs and fears similar to ours.

The United States is, as our name suggests, meant to be united, but we struggled. It seems that we don’t really want to be united — to listen to and learn from each other in all of our splendid diversity. We want to be divided so that we can prove that our side, our group, is superior. Could it be that deep down we believe that equality and cooperation are grossly overrated?

We are proud to be Americans and like to think of ourselves as exceptional – a first world nation, better than the second and third worlds. But Proverbs 16:18 reminds us that “pride comes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall”.

The United States is a rich nation in terms of GNP (gross national product), but there are many ways to be rich.

The founders of our United States were starting a new nation and knew that compromise was needed to create unity. We idolize the framers of our Constitution who laid the foundations of our democracy, and if I had a discussion with them today, I believe they would say, “The Constitution is a living document meant to adapt to its era. Listen to the diverse stories of all Americans and refrain from complacency. Work towards unity – not holding power and proving one side is better than the other.

The psychologist Carl Jung is credited with a quote he never said: “Thinking is hard, that’s why most people judge.” If we want to refrain from blaming and shaming ourselves, we must think about how to create unity and then act.

At St. Jude’s School, graduates are encouraged to use their education to help their family, community, and nation. Their motto is “Combating poverty through education”. The father of the student we sponsored said, “I’m so proud of my daughter. She will receive an education and come back to help us.

The goal of St. Jude’s school is not to educate students so they can get rich and live somewhere with a higher standard of living – to propel themselves from “third world” to “first world”. It is to educate them so that they can help others. A sign in the school highlighted their emphasis on kindness and read:

We believe that compassion, support, empathy and a friendly smile can go a long way in showing you care. We strive to approach each new day with hope and positivity, knowing that we are working together and fighting poverty through education.

The animals of Tanzania also showed me the importance of unity. At least the herbivores did. One of my favorite sights on our safari was when we passed what I called a colorful party. There were areas where we saw zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, elephant, impala, ostrich, cape buffalo and more all in one place.

Why were they partying together?

Our safari guide explained that one of the reasons the animals love spending time together is: “They all have different strengths when it comes to defending themselves against predators and finding food. For example, some have good hearing, some have excellent eyesight, some feel vibration, some feel cloudiness.

I like to think that they also enjoy being together and enjoying a party with interesting guests who aren’t like them.

If we want unity, we will have to do strength training. It is not easy to appreciate the differences. But like animals, we humans, if united, can protect each other from the dangers of natural disasters, diseases, environmental degradation, etc., instead of wasting our energy on fight us.

But unity means inviting everyone to the party.

Christy Heacock, PhD, is a research psychologist, educator, and author of Being Human Is Hard: Choose Forgiveness. She grew up in Redfield, SD, and has lived in Rapid City for the past 38 years with her husband Roger. Contact Chris at [email protected] or via his website: chooseforgiveness.com.

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