When I was training to become an executive coach one of the most important lessons I learned was the ability to switch perspectives, i.e. that often there is no single approach to a problem. Many of our problems can be alleviated if we can just look at them differently. Matt and I were lucky enough to go and see Trevor Noah on his recent tour of South Africa. His talent to tell stories from this alternative perspective is simply remarkable, he wasn’t rude and didn’t rely on foul language, he just highlighted the variety of things has come to miss since living abroad. I don’t want to spoil the joke but his sketch about the South African police coming to share their tactics with American police has kept me laughing for days.
Unbeknown to Trevor, he helped me to take a different perspective last Friday when I went to submit my police clearance for my visa (my 6th in 7 years). This time, when buying a coffee for ourselves we decided to buy a couple of extra for the police who were processing our applications. Some people reading this may view this as bribery but we asked for no favors or better treatment than anyone else around us. We simply took the opportunity to make two police officers day. They were delighted, conversation flowed and an ordeal was made more pleasant.
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As we needed the visa fairly quickly they advised me to take our forms to Pretoria….. I could have got frustrated with the traffic, the time it took to get there, the lack of parking, lack of clear signs to know where to go, and the fear of being in a strange place (with our passports, wallets and phone). Instead, I paid some builders who were working at the building site next door, they kindly moved some cones for me and helped me to park. They then asked to wash my car for a small sum, I smiled at them, the car was a little dirty, so sure why not.
I then walked right passed the building, and a young lad stopped me and said
"Mam, I think you are looking for the Police Clearance, you need to go back, and then inside, take the first floor".
He even walked me to the door and then asked me for some change. Once again, I could get frustrated at this, but he helped me out, so why not give him R20.
It can be incredibly hard to understand other people if we haven't walked in their shoes, which is why living abroad is such a valuable experience, because we get to walk right there alongside them.
In the UK, there is employment and processes that mean my police clearance costs around £50 and is done in a quicker, cleaner way. In South Africa it costs R100 but if I added in all those extra pairs of helping hands probably R250, which is still an absolute bargain. Plus it allowed me to connect with a few interesting people, outside my usual sphere.
Seven years into living here, I am finally learning to change my perspective, to switch from fear to empathy, to see’s the individual doing a pretty rubbish job (if they even have a job at all).
Will connecting with people make me more likely to become a victim of crime, maybe, but I hope its worth the risk.