I usually write articles to make a clear and specific point or argument. This time I’m going to do something different and simply relate a very short story. Although anecdotal, this story illustrates a wide range of individual and societal dynamics that are universal. But I’ll say little more and hope that it stimulates broader thought and discussion.
This story takes place in rural South Africa. It happened while I was serving in the Peace Corps there. Every day I walked past a heavy construction site. This was interesting as it was the only active job site in the village. They were putting up some sort of commercial multistory building. But what jumped out at me one day was that I never saw any men on the job. All the construction workers were women. This seemed curious.
In fact, it felt so odd that I became increasingly irritated about this. Where were all the men? Why were women forced to do all this heavy labor-intensive construction work?
I got curious enough to ask a local about this. “Where are all the men?” The local pointed down to the next streetcorner and said, “They are all in the bar.”
I was incensed. Every subsequent day as I walked past the site I became even more incensed. What kind of miserable, lazy, good-for-nothing men were these that they drank in a tavern while the women were outside doing heavy labor?
My disgust for the men of the village persisted until one day I could not contain my contempt any longer. I expressed my outrage to another local. That person patiently explained that the government gave very attractive incentives to construction companies to hire women. In fact, these incentives were so attractive and successful, that they let all the men go. Those men in the tavern were displaced and simply could no longer hold jobs in construction. And there were no other jobs.
Needless to say, my sense of outrage toward the men of the village immediately disappeared. My judgmental attitude was replaced with embarrassment over my uninformed indignation.
Amazing how just one new fact can flip the entire narrative of judgments that we passionately believe to be so very obvious.