The "privilege" of hardship
Empathy is born in hardship

Nobody suggests that hardship is fun or something we desire. Nobody CHOOSES hardship over a more easy life. Hardship is most often a result of something we have no control over - like Covid 19 & lockdowns, an unexpected illness, or an unplanned incident.


Hardship is definitely the time we learn the most about ourselves and who we are at our core. For me, it is also the time I grow the most in empathy.

The last year has been hard on us - there is no denying that. It has been particularly hard on training companies like ours, where we don't have the option of online training with our learners. Our learners don't have technology and ESPECIALLY internet access or data which they can access and go online onto every day.

This meant that not only we had the heartache of not being able to interact with our learners and completing the courses they were on, but also that no new contracts came in. (Side note - we did finish the training of all our learners after lockdown, so they did get their qualifications or IEB exams.)

Where do companies cut first when in a bind? Training off course. It makes sense - especially if it is training that does not have a direct benefit to their current situation.

We were very fortunate that we survived the last 13 months. So many training companies did not survive these tough times. We had to really tighten the belt and cut every bit of luxury or unnecessary item. Some months nobody got salaries and most months it was a scramble to cover paper, ink, transport, etc.  We always managed to keep the business going, internet, phones, website, emails, and the basics like toilet paper, coffee, etc. 

It has been a time of intense hardship, both as a business owner, an employer, a trainer, a small entrepreneur incubator, an associate of a number of NPOs and welfare organisations, and in my private life. This is not the kind of hardship I wish on anyone, but I am grateful for how it has shaped me - hopefully into a kinder, more sympathetic, and definitely more empathetic, understanding person.

When,  for the first time, you have to choose between toothpaste or deodorant, between peanut butter or milk, between toilet paper or dish liquid. When there is no money for luxuries like cheese or ham or wine or red meat or takeaways or coffee dates, then you realise that you have had it luckier than most all your life. Then you begin to understand the temptation to "steal" toilet paper at work, or coffee or milk, or stationery. (Not that I did any of this since it would not make a difference as I am the one buying the stuff for work anyway.☺)

BUT suddenly I understood why this happens at workplaces all over the country.

I have learned a new understanding for the difficulties our unemployed learners experience every day. The absolute desperation when there is a child that needs food and there is no funds, the stress about transport, the breaking down of your dignity, spirit, and sense of hope over time.

The last year has taught me empathy and not to judge or condemn or blame or be exasperated so quickly. Hardship has taught me to look at the majority of my fellow South Africans with new eyes and respect.

Hardship has also taught me to be kind because there are so many who are in the same boat I have been in, but through pride or shame have not admitted it. How do I know this, because as I have started to openly share about the hardships I have been experiencing more and more friends, colleagues, associates, learners, and even strangers have opened up to me about their hardships, despair, and worries.

The thing I have learned most is that we cannot predict who is going through hardship - it can be our neighbour, a family member, a stranger - anybody we come into contact with, and it is not only the unemployed living in a shelter in an informal settlement. The people who desperately need our help might be sitting right next to me on the church pew.

I am thankful for the "privilege" I have had off hardship over the last year.

I have learned so much empathy and understanding. I am grateful for that.

What has been your learning curve over the past year?

The "privilege" of hardship
Akukhanya, Spotlight
14 April, 2021
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