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KNOWING vs. BELIEVING

A conversation is recounted in the book # Shantaram  in which the character, Khaderbhai, says: “There is no such thing as believing in #G...

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Sunday, 28 July 2013

MANDELA SERIES: MAKING A DIFFERENCE

"What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived.  It is what difference we have made in the lives of others."  Nelson Mandela

#Nelson_Mandela made a difference in the lives of 50 million South Africans.  (A small minority of those 50 million might argue that the difference for them was adverse.  As with all change, our perception of the fairness of Life depends on from whose perspective it is being viewed, but that is another discussion altogether.)  He has also touched the lives of countless non-South Africans around the world.  Into the bargain he became President of a nation and is heralded internationally as one of the greatest leaders and Statesmen in history.  Most people in the South African and the world have never met the man, but there are few who don't love, admire and respect Madiba. 

Mother Theresa was canonized for her work.  Gandhi was revered for the difference he made.  Now weigh all of them against those who have not made a difference for the greater good:  think Hitler, Osama Bin Laden and Mugabe.  Each may have (or have had) a small band of adoring sycophants, but levels of international reverence for them remain somewhere between zero and pitiful.

The quest for self-aggrandizement is not uncommon in the world, but there seem to be two possible approaches to it.  The first is when it is at the expense of all around you.  Then you make no difference at all other than to your bank balance and ego.  You particularly do not make the world a better place.  The second is when the needs of those around you are also met in the process. For instance, Bill Gates achieved extraordinary levels of hegemony in the IT space, but if you consider that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made total grant payments in excess of  US$26 billion since inception in the fight against AIDS, malaria, TB and other health scourges in under-developed countries, they have aligned self-interest with that of others in need of support.  Ask the average TB survivor if he knows or cares how many software programs Microsoft sold.  Then try asking if he is grateful for the treatment he got to save his life.  My guess is that the Gates who created a Foundation with a purpose of saving lives is more likely to be the hero of the story than the Gates who founded Microsoft.

Making a difference propagates generosity, gratitude and a pay-it-forward mindset in the world.  Is it not a world which embraces and flaunts those attributes in which we would like to bring up our children? 

What if our greater purpose on earth was in fact to make a difference in the lives of others?  To bring about change that would enhance the lives of others?  This wouldn't have to mean that we couldn't have any other purposes for our lives, just that we would need to align those purposes with the greater purpose of making the world a better place.  It is also not a pre-requisite that you need Bill Gates' money to make a difference.  St Theresa didn't need it.  She didn't need much money at all, quite frankly.

How do we make a difference?  Start by considering your inherent blessings: your talents, mind and the creativity that flows from those.  Consider how you might apply those to making a difference in the lives of others.  Most importantly, consider what might be in it for you to make a difference.  If you're not getting out at least as much in energy, satisfaction, gratitude or whatever as you put in, you'll eventually stray onto the path of self-indulgence to the exclusion of everyone else.

Choose where you can make your mark and how you want to be remembered.  If you don't especially care how you get remembered and decide that your life is the only one that matters, that is also your choice, but I somehow don't believe that you will come to the end of it thinking that that was a life truly well lived.

As Gandhi said: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

THE WAY THAT IT IS

Why do people change?
Why do only some people make millions?
Why do friends get cancer?
It's just the way that it is.

Why do others disappoint,
Politicians lie
And mad men murder?
It's just the way that it is?

Why does famine strike,
Climate change
And nothing stay permanent?
It's just the way that it is.

And why do we battle so
To come to terms with
Life, just the way that it is?
It's because it's not the way we think it should be.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

MANDELA SERIES: THE PRISON OF RESENTMENT

The sixth in the series paying tribute to #Nelson_Mandela's wisdom.

"As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison."  Nelson Mandela, Long Road to Freedom

I had a boss many years ago who undermined me and my work incessantly.  (I never quite figured out what his problem was with me, but that wasn't the issue.)  Eventually I found myself feeling so resentful and bitter towards him that I couldn't look him in the eye, I took steps to avoid him, bad-mouthed him to anyone who was willing to listen and generally hated going to work.   

I was in my own prison: no way to change my boss, I didn't know how to change myself and I dreaded each day at the office.  Eventually I left the job, but it didn't change my resentment towards him.  It just meant there was some distance between us.

It took me another couple of years to learn that my resentment was only causing harm to me: my ex-boss neither knew nor cared about my resentment towards him.  I later took the wonderful More to Life training weekend, at which I learnt about the true cost of resentment.  More importantly, once I could see the true cost to me, I learnt how to forgive and let go of my ill will towards him.

Some of the cost to me of my resentment included massive stress, even when I was out of the office, inability to connect with others, a hardness about me that I didn't like, a closing of my heart, having to pretend all was well, loss of creative thought, leaving a job which I otherwise enjoyed and a bad taste in my mouth every time I thought about my ex-boss.  I've heard it said that resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Well, I was the one dying.

When I eventually saw the cost to me, I forgave him.  It took a while, because forgiveness is a choice we make not to hold ill will against others, and I struggled with the choice.  I remember saying to my wife, Kazalette, on one occasion that he didn't deserve to be forgiven.  She gently reminded me that the forgiveness was for my own well-being, not his. So I did some work and made that choice. 

The sense of relief was enormous.  It felt like a bad smell that had been following me around for years had lifted and been replaced with rose petals.  I was out of my prison and free again.

As it happened, I bumped into my ex-boss some years later in Johannesburg.  Our meeting was brief, but the experience was so different from when we had last seen each other.  I was able to be my authentic self when I greeted him, not stuck in pretense.  He seemed pleased to see me.

That's the thing with resentment.  When you let go of your ill-will, it makes you more accessible to the other person.

How different might South Africa have turned out if Nelson Mandela had brought his bitterness and resentment with him along his road to freedom?  Think Zimbabwe.  Think Rwanda.  Think about who's on your list of people to stop resenting.  And to forgive.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

MANDELA SERIES: HAPPY BIRTHDAY AND 67 MINUTES OF SERVICE

The fifth in the series paying tribute to #Nelson_Mandela.

Happy 95th birthday, #Madiba!  I wish you peace, blessings and joy on this day.  May you be released, one way or another, from your present confinement.

In November 2009 the United Nations declared 18 July, Nelson Mandela's birthday, as International Mandela Day.  In that year, 67 years after he started campaigning for human rights and equality, Madiba turned 90.  People around the world are now invoked on Mandela Day to dedicate 67 minutes of their time - 1 minute for each of Nelson Mandela's years of campaigning - to being of service to the world and making a difference.

Imagine a world where people are of service to others and want nothing in return.  Imagine that happening all the time, and not just on Mandela Day.  How would it be to have people offering and performing random acts of kindness: letting you into the queue, helping the elderly, distributing books in schools, looking after your kids, working in childrens' homes, walking your dog, working for free at the local SPCA, or hospice, ...?  Imagine the sense of gratitude and caring that might start pervading our society, rather than the sense of hopelessness and despair which is so often prevalent.

So the invitation is to find 67 minutes on this day, either consecutive or cumulative, and pay your tribute to the human qualities and selfless sacrifice of Nelson Mandela.


The other invitation is to continue after today being of service to others, in big or small ways, every day.  It's a type of paying it forward: be of service and let your actions inspire others to do the same.  It costs you little other than a bit of time and having to access the humble and giving part of you.  Do it with no expectation of reward: you might just be surprised by the outcome.

Monday, 15 July 2013

CHEATING AND THE ART OF PRETENSE

Stuart Broad cheated.  The English cricketers won the first Ashes test by a margin that was less than the advantage gained by Stuart Broad when he cheated.  All of the English team (and presumably all of England) celebrated the defeat of Australia.

Those seem to be the lamentable facts of the First test.  The extraordinary thing is that, not only did Stuart Broad think that was OK, but his whole team and apparently an entire nation have pretended it didn't happen and also seem to think it's OK.

The cricket record books won't record the incident, but Stuart Broad and the English team will remember forever how they won.  I wonder if the glory of their victory won't remain tainted in their memories with the incredibly bad smell of unsporting play.  Is that really the model they want to hold up for their supporters, especially the youngsters who look to them as role models?

Today we hear that Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, the great American and Jamaican sprinters have tested positive for banned substances.  Up until now, they knew, and everything was OK.  Now everyone knows, and perhaps things aren't so OK for them any longer.  Never mind Lance and all the other cheaters in the world who pretend that all is OK.

I can't help thinking that life in their heads can't be as much fun when they haven't played fairly.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

MANDELA SERIES: READY, FIRE, AIM!

The fourth in the series paying tribute to #Nelson_Mandela's wisdom.

"It always seems impossible until it's done." Nelson Mandela

"It's kind of fun to do the impossible."  Walt Disney

Some years ago I was contemplating a career-move and starting up a whole new consulting business.  I was comfortable enough where I was at the time as a mainstream international lawyer, if a bit bored, but it seemed to me that there was a whole lot more I wanted and needed to do with my life.


I remember procrastinating for months, worrying about how I would do it, where I would get work from, how I was going to make money, office space, and, and...  I was being driven by passion and purpose, but overwhelmed by detail.  So I sat in a space of desire, collapsing into impossibility, for a long time.


And one day I decided to just do it.  The details were still hazy when the decision was made, but the very act of deciding and then taking some substantive action launched me into the next phase of my life with three partners.  As scary as that was, the moment I took decisive action, the details started to fall into place and it became fun figuring them out and implementing them. As we progressed, we discovered that some of our ideas had been more ambitious than our resources would allow, and my partners and I were trying to offer more than we were capable of marketing and delivering properly, so we had to tweak the business, get more focussed and ensure that the objectives were realistic.


The point is that dwelling on too much detail before taking action can often paralyze you into inactivity.  When you are Ready, sometimes it is best to Fire first and then take Aim afterwards.  That is not to say that being impulsive is the answer: just that, when you have the vision and the passion, much of the detail will take care of itself once you have launched yourself.


So, if the task or project seems impossible, do it anyway if you have the vision for it.  It will always seem impossible until it's done.  It might also be fun.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

MANDELA SERIES: TRANSCENDING FEAR (PART 2): - EXPLORING POSSIBILITY AND SUCCESS

The third in the series paying tribute to #Nelson_Mandela's wisdom.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others do not feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."  #Marianne_Williamson (Also quoted by Nelson Mandela at his 1994 inauguration.)


Inasmuch as we fear being hurt physically or emotionally, sometimes we are fearful because the consequences of our potential success terrify us.   And so we hold back on doing or saying anything that might bring with it the weight of other people's expectations and having to shoulder some responsibilities.  We withhold our best efforts, for fear that we might then have to take some responsibility, or worse, live up to our achievements.

However, by playing small, we remain small.  By holding back, we simply don't get what is on offer from Life.


The question for you:  Is it really your Life's purpose to play small, act mediocre and then die?  Or is there a way in which you would like to be remembered as someone who explored all of Life's possibilities on offer, who gave 100% to everything you did and who added value to your own life, others and the Planet?


So what if there are additional responsibilities which accompany your playing big?  If the outcome is to reach your fullest potential, then welcome whatever comes with it.  And so what if your success results in others expecting more of you?  The expectations are theirs, not yours.  


Your only calling is to use all of the God-given talents, body and mind with which you were blessed.  Nothing more.  And certainly not to play small, because you have something to offer, whether you believe it or not.



Sunday, 7 July 2013

MANDELA SERIES: TRANSCENDING OUR FEAR (PART 1)

The second in the series paying tribute to #Nelson_Mandela's wisdom.

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."  Nelson Mandela

Inasmuch as we are not born hating or resenting others, we are also not born fearful.  We learn to be fearful, mostly after taking physical or emotional hits.  

Our fear is for our self-preservation, to stop us being hurt, especially if we have been hurt before.  Sometimes it is to avoid being found out and exposed.  And so we hold back on doing or saying anything that might induce hurt of any sort or might expose us. We withhold love, for fear that we might not be loved back in return, or that someone will take advantage of our vulnerability.  We withhold telling the truth, for fear that we won't be liked for it.  We withhold our best efforts, for fear that we may not be fairly recognized or rewarded, or worse still, that we might then have to take some responsibility.  I know one person who didn't want to try in competitive athletics lest he be beaten and found out to be not good enough.

Until we can understand that, by withholding the love, truth or effort, we in fact bring about the very result we most fear, we will keep on getting the same results.  "If you keep on doing what you've always done, you'll keep on getting what you've always gotten." 

There is no way through this conundrum other than to embrace the fear, find our courage and take some risk.  Love more, and you are likely to receive more love.  Love less, and you will receive less in return.  "...And gamble everything for love, if you're a true human being.  If not, leave this gathering..." (#Rumi)

Tell the truth and you remain in your own integrity, so that even if someone else doesn't like the truth, you get to honour and respect yourself a whole lot more.  

Give your all and you are more likely to get the acknowledgment you seek, but you certainly won't get it if you withhold your personal best.  Give your all and you advance into the realm of possibility. And truly, anything becomes possible when we give 10/10 to achieve it.  Little is possible when we give less than our all.

It is human to feel fear, but we transcend our fear by drawing on our courage, giving our all and risking the thing we fear.  There is no other way to transcend the fear.  Inevitably, when we risk what we fear, the feared thing generally fails to materialize.  Instead the act of courage presents a true gift of value: the opportunity to take back our lives.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

MANDELA SERIES: LEARNING TO HATE - KNOWING HOW TO LOVE

Nelson Mandela

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Nelson Mandela, Long Road to Freedom

As #Nelson_Mandela nears the end of his long road to freedom, it seems appropriate to reflect for a moment on some of his better known quotes and try and distill the essence of this quotes.  This is the first in the series.

Whilst it must be correct that we learn to hate, do we really need to be taught to love?  Or is it something that we inherently know how to do?  

Love is our original default state when we are born.  We have a knowing - call it a natural instinct if you will - about how to do that, just as we know how to laugh and know how to cry.  No one needs to teach us that stuff: we just know.  Sure, although we can weigh ourselves down so much with our baggage that we forget to laugh and forget to love, we don't forget how to do those things.  All we need remember is that it is our self-imposed barriers which prevent our love from spilling out.  Drop the barriers and the love flows again.

The barriers we put up are nothing more than fear-induced.  We fear the possibility of being wounded through our vulnerability, so we don't allow ourselves to love fully.  It's not that we don't know how. It's just the protection mechanism that kicks in.  Ironically, this is the very mechanism which results in us receiving less love.  Put up a barrier and the possibility of connection and mutual love is reduced.

NEXT TIME:  Transcending our fear.