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A story about a 6-year stand off in South African just after the Boer WarMany years ago in Victorian era South Africa, my great grandfather did not speak to my great grandmother for the best part of 6 years. They still lived together, went to church together, celebrated Christmas and raised 6 children together. Although I do understand no new ones came along after the cataclysmic event that caused the epic silence!
This whole event was based on the fact that Oupa had taken massive offence at something that Ouma had done.
Did she run off with another man? No, she didn’t.
Did she waste his money on frivolous things? No, she didn’t.
Did she burn down the house, or kiss an Englishman (Sacrilige, that last one!) or do anything that made her a bad wife? No, she really didn’t.
So what did she do then, that was so terrible? What resulted in receiving 6 years of the silence treatment?
She moved his hat from the table.
Ouma had the cheek to take his hat from the table next to him, and put it on the back of the chair. That’s all.
Oupa took this as a personal insult and an affront to his manhood. Women, in those days, had to know their place. Moving a man’s hat was not in her remit.
So he made the choice of having an old fashioned diva strop. In a huff, he refused to speak to her until she apologised. Being a stubborn Afrikaner woman, she refused to apologise. And this resistance, from both sides, lead to a 6-year stand-off.
Imagine what joy they could have eperienced if they where gentler, kinder and more generous to each other. How much happier their children would have been. How much healthier they both would have been – both of them developed lung conditions from which they eventually died. I wonder if these incidents are related?
But notice how the whole situation started off with Ouma’s unconscious act, to which Oupa’s conscious reaction was totally based on his subjective ego.
The human ego is a dangerous thing. It causes us to be judgemental, subjective and overly sensitive. If we allow it to drive our responses and actions, it will plummet us into a place of fear. We will become over-sensitive, self-protective, inflated in our own opinions, and unconcerned for the wellbeing of others in case it reflected on ourselves.
Fortunately, human beings are creatures of choice. We have mastery over how we choose to respond to situations.
If we choose to function from a place of love, we will be able to express loving kindness, forgiveness, understanding and generosity. And we won’t just be able to show these wonderful qualities to others – We will be able to treat ourselves like that too.
But we get in our way and scupper ourselves by being too focussed on our egos, the urnealistic expectations we have of ourselves and others, and the judgements we make. Because we are conditioned to listen to our egos.
This Christmas, consider letting go of the ego from time to time. Just allow life to flow. Observe the events of life and the emotions they create within you. Then, make a selection between fear or love before your respond or react.
Learn from my Oupa’s mistakes. 6 years of silence is a long time!

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