On social media, debates around how athletes with hyperandrogenism should compete have been dominated by inappropriate queries, insults and rants with distinctly sexist and intolerant tones. Supporters of Semenya, the athlete herself and gender activists have stepped in to try to out-shout the “haters” with encouraging trending hashtags and online petitions. The challenge for those trying to move society forward is bridging the gap between the two sides – how to best enable crossing from one side to the other.
“It is at times like these that it is easy to see the splinters within a society battling with transformation and growth,” says Garth Japhet, founder of the NGO Heartlines, which has been working to tackle the division and lack of empathy that plagues South Africa through the medium of storytelling.
“Telling and listening to each other’s stories has always functioned to strengthen bonds across generations and bridge differences of culture, language and background. When we listen to each other we are able to see the person and not the stereotype,” says Dr Garth Japhet, founder of the social change NGO.
Many shake their heads over the impact of the film and TV industries on behavior, but these mediums of storytelling play an important part in all of Heartlines’ campaigns; “We specialise in getting our values-based stories out there to as many people possible through mass media platforms, in a creative and engaging way,” says Japhet, referring to the success of previous Heartlines campaigns which include, Eight weeks. Eight values, One national conversation and Nothing for Mahala: A campaign on values and money.
“In recent years, social media and other online communication platforms have highlighted the real need to collect and hear each other’s stories,” says Japhet. Screenshots have brought rants and statements with intolerant narratives to an audience much larger than initially intended, allowing a national audience to weigh in on a comment meant to remain amongst friends.
Japhet stresses that the dialogue should not end with storytelling, but that it is the best starting point for change, which must be carried forth through behaviour. “If we can spark empathy and understanding of differences and provide the tools for adjusting everyday behaviour to meet that insight – we think there is potential for a serious shift in how South Africans interact with each other.”
Bringing more and more South Africans in to conversation around values and empathy, Heartlines produces storytelling resources for schools, campuses, workplaces and churches. Using the resources supplied by Heartlines, community leaders are able to facilitate interactive workshops with the public.
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On behalf of Heartlines:
CEO: Dr Garth Japhet