MarkLives.com – 20 March 2013
When we think of the exemplars of the human spirit, it’s easy to think of sporting heroes, artists and other remarkable people who have truly excelled. One’s mind easily turns to extraordinary South Africans like multi-award winning paralympic swimmer Natalie du Toit; or the internationally acclaimed singer Miriam Makeba; or renowned author and anti-apartheid activist, Alan Paton. Then there’s the man who suffered greatly but overcame to lead a nation and in the process became a global icon – Nelson Mandela.
All these people have something in common: a spirit of determination to persevere, to overcome and to triumph. These are the kinds of role models we hope our children will emulate. But there are other, more everyday heroes, whose successes don’t always play out on a public stage.
Recently I heard a story from a friend who stopped at a garage near Estcourt, and happened to pull up alongside a KZN hospital outpatient bus. Whilst filling her tank, she watched as the emergency worker helped an old man with Parkinson’s up the bus’s narrow stairs. One slow step at a time, the man painstakingly climbed the vehicle’s stairs to take his seat.
All the other pensioners in the bus were grumbling and impatient, waiting to be taken to the local hospital timeously for their check-ups and medical visits. It must have taken at least 15 minutes for the man to board, but not once did the medical employee show any sign of impatience. He just calmly and compassionately supported the old man, as they worked to achieve a common objective.
Is this man a hero? How many times a day does he have to exercise such supreme caring for his fellow human beings? Can this be defined as heroism? In my book it does. Obviously he is just doing his job, but he could find plenty reason for being grumpy, curt, impatient… as many people do.
Nobody’s going to give him a medal, but one has to look at the core of people just like him, and I believe there are many in this country. How did he end up like this? A good upbringing, and good role models, no doubt moulded him. It’s to this end that many companies seek to invest in socially responsible ways – to bring about positive change and to meaningfully effect a more compassionate society.
One hopes (perhaps cynically) that it’s not just for the BEE points, but rather because corporates understand why it’s important. Investing in the human spirit is an investment in the future, in stability and prosperity for generations to come. It’s about as indirect an investment as one can make, but it’s one that governments acknowledge as important enough to promote with tax incentives. It’s what makes society human, as well as humane.
Absa has chosen to celebrate this spirit, in its latest campaign which showcases its sponsorships. “The Human Spirit: it’s not just for heroes,” begins the ad. The imagery juxtaposes successful sports-people with aspirant ones; it shows the youngsters practising, working late at night to perfect their abilities in soccer, rugby and mountain-biking, echoing the three main sports supported by Absa.
The commercial continues, showing a young girl who gazes in wonder at a piece of installation art comprising red bricks and strings – Absa also supports the Arts. “It’s inside us, it gives us the strength to push on, to follow in the footsteps of giants.” The ad focuses more intently on the potential of youngsters, steering clear of gratuitousness by not concentrating on actual ‘heroes’ – except for a glimpse of a Springbok or two, almost incidentally.
Absa supports the Currie Cup, the Springboks, Bafana Bafana, the PSL, the KKNK and Aardklop Arts Festivals, and several others. But they don’t focus on that; the subject of this ad is the young – the aspirational and inspirational human spirit that embodies the pure potential of what people can become.The pay-off line is a clever twist: “And that’s why we don’t sponsor rugby, soccer, mountain-biking or art,” the ad declares. “We sponsor the human spirit.”
The point is that for Absa, sponsorship is more about inspiring the everyman and woman, rather than just associating their brand with a successful team or personality – or hitching their wagon to a star, so to speak. It’s not about the team that wins, or the ‘hero’ who scores the goals – it’s about each individual, child, teenager, adult, whether you’re in the premier league or playing in a dusty rural field, whether you prefer dancing or acting: the human spirit is what we have in common.
In its own way the Absa ad, created by The Jupiter Drawing Room Johannesburg, is an inspiration for our times. It speaks to a magnificent quote by author, political activist, and lecturer Helen Keller – the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree who said: “No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”