For months now, South Africa has been buzzing with news and speculation about the Oscar Pistorius trial. It’s made international headlines as well, but in case you’re not familiar with the story, here’s the abridged version:
A double-amputee from South Africa, Pistorius is a world-renown Olympic and Paralympic track star. He is known as the “Blade Runner” — because of his carbon fiber prosthetics — and has been dubbed “the fastest man with no legs.” In February 2013, he fatally shot his girlfriend in his home, saying he had mistaken her for an intruder. At his highly-publicized trial this year, he was acquitted of murder but found guilty of culpable homicide — the South African equivalent of manslaughter.
In short, Oscar Pistorius is South Africa’s OJ Simpson.
Another high-profile athlete accused of murdering a woman with whom he had a relationship, his trial became a long-running televised spectacle. Pistorius’ face has been on the cover of newspapers and magazines, he’s been discussed at length in news programs and talk shows, and he’s been the topic of conversation at every workplace water cooler. (Do those even still exist? Regardless, the metaphor stands…)
It’s a complicated case, filled with complex issues. Race… Celebrity status… Gender equality… Socio-economic standing… Domestic violence… They all come to bear — both in the judicial courts and in the courts of public opinion.
Some believe Pistorius had a history of violent behavior, proving his guilt. Others see a black judge handing down a verdict to a white defendant and feel that South Africa’s complex racial issues undoubtedly played a role in the outcome of the trial. Some focus on the athlete’s great wealth and notoriety, believing he assumed his status meant he could get away with anything he wanted. Others believe it was genuinely nothing more than a mistake, a horrific tragedy. Some deem the verdict and sentencing too soft; others see it as too harsh.
Regardless of where you land in your opinion, one thing remains certain: Nobody knows the truth of what happened on that fateful night. Sure, we can speculate. We can hypothesize. We can try to imagine. But the full and actual truth? We’ll never know.
I’ve heard it said that there’s always three sides to every story: Your side, my side, and the truth.
Two of those three sides were presented in the Pistorius trial: The prosecution made their case, and the defense made theirs. And then the judge made her ruling. (All the while, the media frenzy empowered the world to feel as though we were judge and jury as well, fueling both our need-to-know and our need-to-be-heard.)
But the truth of what really happened? The truth remains elusive.
Despite our opinions and where we stand on Pistorius or the trial outcome, the only solid truth is this:
We need to continue engaging in the difficult conversations about race, gender, power, and socio-economic status.
Far beyond the confines of this case, these remain the social justice issues of our day — in South Africa, America, Australia, and beyond.
These are global concerns that impact all of us and the communities in which we live. They influence our actions and reactions; they shape our words and our understandings; they highlight our differences even while spotlighting our similarities.
These social justice issues aren’t easy to navigate. They are complicated and messy and uncomfortable. They certainly don’t come with simple answers or quick fixes. But they are crucial, and we cannot ignore them any longer.
From Pretoria, South Africa to Ferguson, Missouri, and everywhere in between, these conversations must continue — across all faiths, all political affiliations, all walks of life.
I’m not talking about ranting in the comment section of your Democratic friend’s Facebook status. Or spewing out reactions to Fox News’ coverage of world events, 140 characters at a time. No, I’m talking about real, true, actual conversations.
We must be slower to speak and quicker to listen. We must continue to engage in honest and compassionate dialogue with those who think differently. With humility of heart and openness of mind, we need to ask questions and speak the truth and genuinely seek to understand the perspective and feelings of others. We must commit to open discourse, to being learners rather than teachers, to embracing those who are different from us.
These conversations can and will lead to altered actions, kickstarting true transformational systemic change in our society.
And it has to start with us.
So let’s talk.
How comfortable are you engaging with people who are different from you?
What makes it so challenging?