Bring back trust via empathy

Develop me: Tapiwa Gomo

While chatting with one of my nephews recently, I asked what he would do with the money if he won lotto.

He responded that he would first take the money out of the country because he does not trust the system and the authorities in Zimbabwe.

Secondly, he would decide on what investment to venture into in that country.

He is currently a teenager working to complete his high school and already, that is how he views his country.

His line of thinking, however, was very simple and based on a very basic natural human instinct; safety first and then investment.

However, that got me thinking that even our young generation does not have confidence in our economic and political environment to the extent that they think somewhere outside the country is safer for their money and provides them a better environment for investment.

Our story so far epitomises a profound degree of a trust deficit. We have made our country a battle ground — an arena for political grudges where both citizens and those in government do not trust anyone or anything.

For those citizens with money, they too do not trust the environment with their money and some keep it in offshore accounts, while others invest outside the country.

They cannot be blamed given the capricious monetary environment, where the currency is as unpredictable as the weather.

Those that have taken the risk to invest in the country extract their profits for safety in offshore accounts to minimise the risks.

We have seen headlines about government officials flying out of the country to seek medical attention, even though our own medical doctors are known to be among the best in the region, if they are given the right equipment and medical supplies. Some of our leaders cannot trust their own health institutions.

Similarly, the same government officials responsible for improving our education system send their children overseas to acquire foreign education because they do not trust their own system.

The same politicians promising us a brighter future today are the same people who condemned our lives into destitution since 20 years ago.

It’s a case of your parents’ murderers promising to treat your ailing child. Trust is the missing currency.

Trust is both earned and given, depending on circumstances. Given that we live in the era of electoral democracy, the elected need to earn the trust of the people through delivery than rhetoric.

If that is not done, both investors and citizens have every reason to withhold their trust to protect their interests.

Those who decide to take the risk and invest their resources in the country are burdened by micromanaging those resources to maintain control and create limits and boundaries to their relationship with the authorities.

Such paranoia will not take the country anywhere and it is the responsibility of the elected government to demystify this and bring back confidence.

However, the beginning of confidence is empathy. Those in power need to empathise with the people.

Empathy is simply about identifying what the people are feeling or thinking about the current state of affairs and to reassure them or respond to them appropriately.

The authorities need to earn the trust of the people. The capacity for profound empathy and the compassion it engenders exists in almost everyone, including those who pretend to be thick-skinned, but the degree to which they empathise with the people varies.

We may differ in opinion and perspectives on the way forward, but we all agree that whatever way forward we adopt, it must deliver a better future for our people.

This perspective creates the possibility of deep solidarity among ourselves as citizens, one built on the understanding that, had those in power truly been in the same situation as the suffering citizens, they would have done better to improve the latter’s lives.

A profound equality and solidarity emerge from this realisation that provides a firm basis for compassion and empathy, the two values that have historically propelled humanity into unity and progress.

Most systems of oppression and exploitation have relied on the denial of this equality.

For example, why can an ordinary citizen not be funded by the government to seek medical attention outside the country, if senior government officials can do so at taxpayers’ expense?

While today’s politicians have proven to be driven by nothing but greed, concerned primarily with their own preservation, pleasure and comfort, history shows us that empathy — the capacity of the leadership to be in the same shoes as their citizen is an integral part of what makes meaningful progress for many societies.

When there is lack of trust and a serious lack of empathy, leadership tends to find it easy to treat people as less than human, to ignore their subjective inner world and see them as objects to be used for their own purposes.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa

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