Friday, February 24, 2012

A different perspective

“My cat was arrested for stealing my neighbour’s milk and fish. Need money for bail.”

I had to look twice to make sure I had read the message on the street beggar’s sign correctly. Normally I’d avert my eyes and sheepishly fiddle with the radio or my cellphone each time a beggar or vendor sidles up to my car window, silently pleading with the robot (traffic light, for the Americans) to turn green so that I wouldn’t have to unsympathetically shrug my shoulders and shake my head. But this guy tricked me.

I laughed. He saw me laugh. His cheesy, toothless grin didn’t help, either. I had to give him the R2 coin, reserved for helpful car guards, that was lying in my car door storage compartment. He tucked the sign under his arm, screamed thank you in my direction, before rushing off to collect more money from more outstretched arms. His tactic was working.

This got me thinking. The “industry” this guy operates in is so saturated. It’s uncommon to see a robot (traffic light, for the Americans) sans beggar-slash-street-vendor-slash-child-abuser. We’ve become immune to the “No work, no food, 5 kids, 3 wives, 20 dogs” signs; they’re as common Julius Malema’s word vomit.

Until one guy thought up a way to stand out from the rest, to force people to notice him.

Sure, we quickly wind up our windows as we approach intersections; avoid eye contact with those regarded by most as a nuisance. But the fact of the matter is that the government has failed them. There are no jobs, no skills training. This guy made the smallest change to a tried-and-tested model and probably got R10 in the two minutes I was waiting for the light to change.

It’s something we should all apply in our lives; one small change could make the biggest difference. Rewrite the rules, don’t be afraid to break away from tradition, and force people to acknowledge you.

It’s too easy to go with the flow, to blend in. It takes guts to dare to be different, with the thought of failure looming in the background.

For the street beggar, it’s the only way he’s surviving.

For those of us who are already surviving, one small change could be the key to living.

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