Go on, apologise!
Riana Scheepers’ father taught her how to handle undeserved accusations.
TThere’s one thing that drives me crazy, and that’s litter. I honestly believe that our country would have far fewer problems if we all could live in spotless surroundings. Someone who has respect for themselves, their environment and their fellow human beings won’t litter. Respect is a good place to start to make the world a better place.
Those who know me well, know that I pick up the rubbish that others so carelessly scatter. When I go for a walk every morning, it is always with a plastic bag in hand. As I walk and pick up cans, bottles and plastic bags, I ponder what it would be like to be appointed as the Minister of Litter. Believe me, South Africa would be litter-free within six months. And many people would be given hefty fines. Or end up in jail.
The other day, while walking along and picking up litter, the plastic bag I had with me soon became full. It happened to be rubbish collection day, with all the local households’ black bags out on the pavements. When my rubbish bag became too heavy to carry, I stopped at the nearest black bag, untied it and dropped my bag inside.
Just then, the homeowner came outside and saw me. She was seething because, naturally, she had assumed that I was one of those people who tear open garbage bags to rummage through them. She started yelling at me. I tried to explain that I had just picked up a lot of rubbish from her pavement and that I simply wanted to add the debris to her black bag, but nothing would convince her that I wasn’t a vulture.
In the end, I simply walked away as she yelled and threatened me in all kinds of colourful language. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.
As I walked on, I recalled how my father had handled a similar situation.
My dad is the softest, kindest person I know. He has a big heart for others, often to his own detriment. For years, he ran a butcher shop in a rural village. One of his customers was an elderly lady who was good friends with my grandparents. My dad, who had grown up right in front of this lady, loved her. This lady, let’s call her Aunt Mara, had obviously not kept up with soaring meat prices. She regularly went to the butcher shop and bought five rand’s worth of meat. My dad knew that she didn’t have much money and that she cooked a meal for herself and her housekeeper with that small portion of meat. He would take her money, but each time saw to it that she received more meat than needed for one meal. One day, Aunt Mara again entered the shop, deeply distressed. She asked my dad if she could talk to him in private. Yes, he said, leading her to his office. And out came Aunt Mara’s many years of accumulated bitterness. She said she had tried to ignore it for a long time but it could no longer carry on this way. “What can no longer carry on?” my dad asked. The fact that he had deceived her for so many years with her meat purchases, she replied crossly. My dad was absolutely dumbfounded. “Your parents,” said Aunt Mara, “were wonderful people who wouldn’t steal a cent, but it doesn’t mean you may steal from an old person.” My dad was still confused. “Every day, I buy meat for R5,” she added, “and then when I get home I weigh it. One day it’s a kilogram, another day it’s more than a kilogram, another day it’s barely half a kilogram. How dare you deceive me like that?” When my dad told me this story, I laughed. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But what I really wanted to know was how he’d handled the situation. My dad, dear man that he is, humbly apologised to Aunt Mara. And every time thereafter, he carefully weighed out a kilogram of meat for her. And charged her R5. I learned a valuable lesson from my dad. That woman who was so mad at me is free to yell as much as she likes. But the more I think about it, the more I think I should go and apologise to her.