Paving the way to helping others

I have always found it much easier to evaluate the things that people do for other people. However, I never featured in any part of this equation. For some reason, I found it too painful to evaluate myself regarding how I care for others, let alone allowing others care for me. The irony of it all was the fact that, even more so now, I dreamed of one day doing great things to help those less privileged than myself. With that said, I choose not to dwell in regret over the years I spent pretending my actions and needs were inconsequential.

I am twenty two years old, and to be honest, I cannot remember a time when red flowersI honestly opened myself to others so that they could help me. While I had little to no problem asking for help with my homework, getting directions to a particular place, and many other things I considered to be “every day eventualities,” I was, and still am not, a fan of vulnerability. This is the very attitude that a little over a year ago nearly shattered my entire personal internal control system as I became increasingly less capable of dealing with the many emotionally draining issues that kept springing up. Up to that point, I had always been gifted in the art of applying logical reasoning to everything- my relationships with others, actions, anything. “Feelings” and “emotions” were nouns I passionately loathed, and did everything I could to eliminate them from my life.

It was not that I thought sharing one’s insecure or vulnerable side was a sign of weakness. Not at all. I actually admired that in people, and sometimes wished I could loosen up enough to do that every once in a while. The problem for me, though, was the fact that everyone who knew me, not just knew of me, knew me as someone who could play just about any hand I was dealt. I was so used to be the one to whom people could come to talk about their problems. In a sense, I guess I dealt with my problems through helping other people with theirs. It was much easier to transfer my fears and insecurities to other people, and then think of them as not my own, but those of my family or friends. That way, I could deal with the problem without getting emotionally involved in it – sort of like a mathematical problem that requires me to only manipulate the information that I have been given using the technical skills that I have been taught.

In college, I met a lady who took me in as if I were her own child. She is about the same age as my grandmother, but the age difference was just that: a number. From the moment I first met her, she listened, she cared, and she helped as she could. I did what I had become very good at – I pushed her away as best I could.  All it took for that response to slap me straight in the face was one more piece that escaped from my controlling grasp. All the years that I had invested in unconsciously creating what I had hoped was an impenetrable fortress seemed ready to throw punches; a referee was critically needed.

One Monday afternoon, there I was sitting at her kitchen counter having had my lunch. I was stressed. Life as I knew it was being threatened, and I sensed a break down lurking very close by. I started to talk, jumping from one story to the next, making little to no sense in the process. She listened, never once interrupting, not even offering tissues when the floodgates burst open. Up to that point, I had not cried in years. At one point in my life, I had resolved that crying was a waste of energy and fluids since it only gained me a throbbing headache. Where was strong me then? Where were all my well-formed explanations for keeping my problems to myself alone? Where was my shame for breaking down helplessly? These things were all there, but for slightly different reasons. Yes, I had broken my own code. Yes, I had shared my problems with someone else. But, the only shame that came with that was ever thinking that I would be judged for having problems. She cared then, and my revelations did not stop that, they only made her care even more.


I will not claim to have made a one-eighty degree translation from the person I was before that moment, and the person I am now, post my weakest point thus far in my life. Nonetheless, I learned something very valuable that day. As much as I think I should have known that already, I learned that there being able to share my vulnerabilities with someone did not render me weak – quite the contrary! I came to realize that a great deal of trust is involved is sharing one’s unsure side with someone else. It is not easy to admit that I am imperfect, and that has generated a greater respect and level of admiration for all those people- family, friends, colleagues…and even complete strangers- who saw in me someone worth trusting. They chose me to tell their stories too, and trusted me enough to believe that I could in some way or the other help them through whatever it was they were going through. It is for that reason that when I deal with a problem – be it my own or not – I think of it not as a blemish to be eradicated, but as a sign that some introspection is in order, and that right then is the best time for such an indulgence.

Bongiwe Shongwe

Citizen Of Your World

Citizen of the world,

That is who I am.

I am Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid.  I am male and female and the box they call « other. » I am from here and I am from there.

I want my voice to be heard. The media is my ally. The media is my only ally, I am told.

I am portrayed as rich and poor, fat and skinny, living and dying.

My story is waiting to be told.

Indeed, who knows my story better than myself?

I ask you: who knows your story better than yourself?

So I will speak. I will cry. I will laugh. Not for me or my community alone, but for the world to see.

I will be heard. Not for the applause, but because. Just because

I have a unique story, just like any other story.

It is a story that matters, just like any other story.

It is not a fictional story. It is my story. It is your story. It is our story.

I am a citizen of the world,

I am a citizen of your world,

And this is just the beginning.