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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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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

HOW FREE ARE WE - REALLY?

So our 20th #FreedomDay has come and gone in #SouthAfrica.  We have heard all about the #BornFrees and 20 years of #ANCpropaganda, but what does it mean to be truly free?

There is the obvious meaning of not being a slave, prisoner or subject to any physical, psychological or political oppression.  At a stretch, that's the point most of us have reached in South Africa after 20 years of democracy.  That sort of #freedom, however, depends on the good will and beneficence of others, meaning that on the face of it you might be free, but are you really free within?

True freedom is not dependent on a #FreedomCharter, or the behaviour of others.  For us to be truly free, we are called to be free of judgment of others, free from prejudice, free from demands that things should be different and, above all, free of spirit.

With those freedoms we can fly, irrespective of our external circumstances.  We can also cut others free.

So, how free are you?

Saturday, 26 April 2014

BEING INFLUENTIAL

Time Magazine has just named its list of 100 most influential people in the world #Time100.  The list includes #SouthAfrica's fearless #PublicProtector, @ThuliMadonsela3.  There is no doubt that the nomination is well deserved.  The listing itself doesn't say a lot about Thuli Madonsela or what she deals with each day, so here's my take on why she made the list.

The Public Protector is a Constitutionally established office, but a political appointment in terms of the Public Protector Act.  The role of the PP is to investigate complaints against the State and State-run institutions.  The Act describes the scope to include investigations into maladministration, abuse of power and dishonesty.  Despite the fact that she is appointed by the President, she is required to exercise her functions independently of any external influence.  She has the status of a High Court judge.

The challenge for any Public Protector is to deal with complaints against organs, officials and Ministers of State fairly, transparently and without fear or favour.  It is a bit like being appointed by the CEO of a large company as a type of internal Ombudsman and then having to investigate complaints against the CEO without feeling fearful, allowing yourself to be intimidated and maintaining your independence, despite the fact that you might have to make findings adverse to the person who employs and pays you.

Advocate Thuli Madonsela has worked tirelessly during her term of office to investigate and expose corruption, bungling, fruitless expenditure, fraud, rigged tenders, abuse of power and every other ugly aspect of South African bureaucracy.  She has brought down a number of Ministers and other people in high government office. Her biggest, or perhaps most high profile task has been to investigate and report upon the web of lies, deceit, corruption, disingenuous-ness, sycofancy, opulence and wasting of public funds which together make up the sorry tale which is #PresidentZuma's extravagant homestead at Nkandla.  Few public officials in this type of role have the opportunity or obligation to investigate complaints against #1.

In the face of extraordinary resistance from all the President's men, unwarranted abuse and mockery from the #ANC, obstructive behaviour, disingenuous competing investigative bodies comprising those most implicated in the scandal, threats, intimidation, public criticism, defiance and contempt from Ministers and #JacobZuma himself, the Public Protector has gone about her work quietly, courageously, impeccably, transparently, fairly and with her integrity intact at all times.  Any lesser person would have bowed to the pressure, but Thuli Madonsela has a job to do, and she does it well.  She has uncovered Nkandla for what it is: a scandal that would have brought down the President of any other country which shows any respect for the Rule of Law.

Save for those who are exposed from time to time by her work, she has the support and admiration of most South Africans, including this one, and has influenced the thinking of the country and the world about the state of South African politics.

What does it take to be influential?  It seems to me that the qualities required include unwavering commitment to the task at hand, a ruthless quest for the truth, a willingness to dig into the deepest reserves of courage and above all an unfaltering engagement with one's personal integrity.

#ThuliMadonsela, you rock!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

SUCCESS, HAPPINESS AND GENEROSITY

Here's conventional wisdom:


Success makes you happy. Happiness permits you to be generous.

In fact, it actually works like this:

Generosity makes you happy. Happy people are more likely to be successful.

With acknowledgements to Seth Godin for his blog, The Generosity Boomerang.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

THE CHALLENGE OF THE INCOMPLETE

I watched a documentary earlier about the missing #Flight370.  I felt gutted and was left thinking how unbearable it must be for the relatives: no plane, no black box, no explanation, no bodies, no hope, no completion.  This is the ultimate incomplete.  #ReevaSteenkamp 's parents have a similar incomplete.  Only two people could have told them what happened to their daughter.  The one was #Reeva herself, and the other is an unconvincing #OscarPistorius.

Most of us are blessed with the opportunity to complete unfinished business: to heal rifts, let go of resentment, apologies to others, correct mistakes and to bury loved ones.  Any piece of unfinished business impinges on our capacity to engage 100% with the rest if our life.  It gnaws away, leaves internal dischord, distracts and makes us less productive.

When we have the opportunity to complete an incomplete, Life requires us to seize that opportunity in order to maintain our personal effectiveness.

This will be the challenge for the relatives of the passengers of Flight 370, and for the Steenkamp family.  My prayer is for them to find a way to complete and to find peace.




Friday, 18 April 2014

OF SUPER-HEROES AND VILLAINS

South Africa (and much of the rest of the world) has been in the grip of the #OscarPistorius #OscarTrial for the past 7 weeks.  A tragic tale of a super-hero, #Oscar, who shot his beautiful girlfriend, #ReevaSteenkamp when she was behind a toilet door.  Oscar says it was a terrible mistake: he thought it was an intruder behind the door.  (A bit like Hamlet stabbing Pistonius through the curtain?)

Of course, most people in the world refused to believe that Oscar, the poster-boy for the concept of triumph in adversity, could possibly have intended to kill #Reeva.  A narrow-minded villain in the State Prosecutor's office, #GerrieNel, was unfairly not only accusing him of murder, but in fact of premeditated murder.

Along comes #BarryRoux, Oscar's advocate, galloping to the rescue of poor Oscar (the latter now downgraded in the world's eyes to unlucky hero).  Barry Roux cross-examines and pours patronising contempt on the State's witnesses, most of whom put up heroic and compelling evidence in the box.  Nonetheless, Barry Roux is the new super-hero, with parody Twitter accounts (@BarryRouxLaw) springing up and viewers in awe of his legal prowess.  Gerrie Nel leads his witnesses competently and quietly bides his time until the State case is closed.

Then the Defence case starts.  Social and other media are abuzz with Oscar's every word of his evidence in chief.  When Gerrie Nel starts his cross-examination, the wheels of Oscar's case start falling off.  As Gerry first starts casting doubt on Oscar's evidence and then moves up a gear to paint him as a thoroughly unreliable witness, the social media sentiment changes to turn Oscar into the villain and Gerrie into the hero.

When Oscar's expert witness, #RogerDixon, is torn limb from limb by Gerrie, the former is totally vilified through the social and orthodox media and Gerrie Nel is elevated to super-hero.  Barry Roux becomes the villain for leading such a hopeless witness.  Oscar is downgraded in much of the public's eyes from villain to lying murderer, before his case is closed and a long time before he has been convicted.  And the story has much more unfolding to do.

The point of the story is that we have 50 million judges here in South Africa and billions more throughout the world.  No matter what any of us think about Oscar's guilt, ultimately it will only be a single person, #JudgeMasipa who makes the guilty or not-guilty call, and she will and can only do so when she has heard and seen every shred of evidence and argument.

So how is it that we all attribute to ourselves the ability to judge others?  We judge them for being weak, vain, disingenuous, ugly, conniving, overbearing, pathetic, selfish, and...But the judgment is made more often than not without knowing all the facts, yet we are ready to vilify when we have heard enough and find that the person being judged differs from our own standards, whatever those may be.

What if we could all just live our lives without the judging, and leave that up to someone else, perhaps an all-knowing, all-seeing higher power?  We might just all get along a whole lot better.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

BEATING THE ODDS BY LOOKING BEYOND THE OBSTACLES

An inspirational story has recently broken about a car guard in the Eastern Cape who, against all odds, managed to enroll himself for a degree in Tourism and Hospitality, from which he graduated in 2007, going on to complete his Masters degree cum laude.  This week he graduated from UKZN with a Doctorate in Philosophy. He has moved on from directing traffic in shopping mall car parks and is now a senior lecturer at the Walter Sisulu University.

That goes against the script for car guards.  They live on the scraps motorists and shoppers give them, often having to pay some of it away to a manager and from what remains they are expected to pay for their food and shelter.  The prospects of betterment are remote.  And the problem is that the system, at least here in South Africa, ensures that they stay locked in their place in society.  The system is fueled by the public's general belief that car guards have reached their station in life and the car guards' general belief that there is no way out of the hole.

Then along comes Tembi Maloney Tichaawa and shows up beliefs for what they are most of the time: untrue and limiting.  We put the limits in place simply because the alternatives are too challenging, too hard, too difficult, too unrealistic and so on.  It doesn't matter how Tembi did that or where he found the money.  The only thing that matters is that, in his words, you should "look beyond the obstacles you are facing".

The moment limiting beliefs can be shelved and replaced with possibilities, the sky becomes the only limit with which we are faced.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

YOU OWE ME!

The words "You owe me" have a divisive quality about them.  As long as we hold onto the position that the world, our kids, God or indeed anybody owes us anything, we quickly become separated from them by our demands that we be repaid for our effort, kindness or other engagement.

By all means, take a stand on making a fair exchange with others in terms of energy, value, money, input and output.  However, the moment you demand a balancing of the books without having had any agreement in place with the other about how that would look, you take up a position at the top of a slippery slope of disconnection, demanding, disillusion and discontent.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

HOW HEAVY IS YOUR BAGGAGE?

Today I saw a seagull battling to take off from the beach with a big fish in its mouth.  It was determined to keep its fish, but the price to be paid was loss of flight and mobility.

Which of course then got me to reflecting on how much the baggage we carry around with us impedes our ability to fly.

Every time we feel resentful of others, sorry for ourselves, regret our past actions, feel fearful of the future, feel scared of taking the next step, think we are victims or make ourselves slaves to the behavior of others, we hinder our own progress.  

There is no way to take off with that sort of baggage weighing you down, so decide how much you want to hang onto.  Better still, decide if you really want to fly or not.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

IT'S NOT FAIR...

Rihanna currently has a song doing the rounds which includes the words "You think I'm crazy...it's not fair".  Leaving aside the sentiment expressed about Ri-Ri's sanity, which I shan't debate in this blog, I got to thinking about whether "It's not fair" is a reasonable complaint.

The truth seems to be that things are only not fair when we demand that they should be, but for the most part we accept inherent inequalities without complaint.  More particularly, we rarely raise the complaint when we are in the perceived better position.  For instance, if I have studied, worked hard, have a good job and earn a decent income, does that then mean that it's not fair when someone else has not followed my path and is struggling financially. Or is it not fair when someone has followed more or less the same path, but has been presented with some opportunity by Life which has catapulted him or her into a super-wealth bracket?

When a parent divides a cupcake between her two children, there is perhaps a legitimate expectation of fairness in the size of the shares, but outside of that situation why should anything be fair?  Life is not supposed to fair: it just dishes up what it dishes up to different people and your opportunity is to see what you can do with it. It is only what is between our ears that demands fairness and perceives unfairness.  Is it fair that your parents were alcoholics, or that you were born with a squint, or that you have shorter legs than Usain Bolt, or a lower IQ than Einstein or a deathly singing voice and no ear for tones?  Or is that just the way that it is?

Perhaps the only time one is entitled to expect fairness is when laws governing a group of people are made.  In a democratic society, it is legitimate to expect laws which apply and are applied equally to everyone, which is why we get so hacked off with corruption, apartheid, gender discrimination and so on.   It is inconceivable that everything in life can be fair i.e that we each get exactly the same breaks, pursue the same careers, have the same 2.5 children or whatever the national average is, earn exactly the same income and so on.  

Life is fair just as it is because you get exactly what you need to continue your journey, including some things that you consider unfair so that you can learn just how to deal with them.