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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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Saturday, 27 September 2014

HAVING YOUR CAKE AND EATING IT

"He wants to have his cake and eat it."  Words usually spoken as if this is the original sin.  What's wrong with having your cake and eating it?  Isn't that the whole point of cake? What else does one do with cake?

The original sin is more like having your cake and then also eating your neighbour's cake.

The reason that cake ownership and consumption is so begrudged seems to be the judgment of others that boils down to issues of fairness and judgment.  Others don't want you to have it all, especially when they don't. The judgment carries through to accusations of selfishness, self-centredness, self indulgence and the rest.

Perhaps there is some of that with some cake consumers, but it seems to me that if you have worked for your cake, planned to eat it, have earned it, paid your school and other fees for it, there can be no reasonable objection to you actually getting to taste it. 

The other part of the issue is that there is a principle which is in operation in most societies most of the time: if you don't ask you don't get.  So when you are negotiating a deal, your counter-party makes a concession and you ask for another concession, you get accused of wanting both to have your cake and eat it.  

Here's my take: never feel shy to ask for both your cake and permission to eat it.  Leave to eat it may not always be granted, and you may be judged for it, but so what.  At least you tried and sometimes you will actually get to eat it.


You just need to bear in mind that if you intend eating it, there may be a price to pay in extra calories...    

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

OPPOSITION POLITICS: SOWING DISCONNECTION AND LOSING THE PLOT

"Bloody bastards", "barking dogs", "mental illnesses", "tsotsis" and "buttocks" were a few of the choice words heaped by various MP's on each other in last week's Parliamentary no- confidence debate about the Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete.  Insults were flying around like confetti in what sounded like a primary school playground dust-up.  

Which seems like a strange way to deal with the real issue, which was Mbete's suitability and competency to be the Parliamentary Speaker.  Naledi Pandor was chastised for referring to the opposition as "so-called honorable Members".  Although she may have had a point in the context of the debate, the irony of her comment vis-a-vis the honour in her own behaviour seemed to have been lost on her.

To top off a fine week,  the splendid Floyd Shivambu felt the need to heckle and raise a middle finger to our Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, as the latter addressed Parliament on the Marikana tragedy.  However, he showed his clear political maturity when he later said that, after discussion within his EFF Party structures, he thought it best to withdraw the middle finger gesture.  How one does that exactly, I'm not too sure. It seems like quite a challenge to withdraw a finger gesture which everyone saw and understood, but perhaps it's just me who can't figure that out.

Little wonder that the public is so skeptical of the role and effectiveness of politicians.  
This behaviour speaks volumes about a huge political immaturity within our fragile democracy.

More importantly, what floors me is that, ostensibly at least, all of these people are trying to achieve the same thing: a better South Africa and a better life for South Africans.  Somehow that piece is missed when political rhetoric becomes personal.  As the saying goes, when elephants fight it is the grass which gets trampled.

The concern is that when the leaders heap gratuitous and unnecessary abuse on each other, firstly they lose the essence of what the issue is and secondly it divides the followers even more.  If unity of the people is the goal, opposition politics seems to be completely anathema to the concept.

Until people, at all levels and in all positions, understand that judgment sows division, we can never have a connected society.  

Perhaps that is the role of our politicians: to help us to see how not to behave, and what we don't want, so that we, the electorate, are inspired to take the high road by leading the way and rather fostering connection among ourselves.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

SAFE PASSAGE THROUGH CORRIDORS OF EVIL

I had a curious experience on Thursday.  A colleague and I had spent an intense two days in Richards Bay, presiding over an inquiry.  In the mid-afternoon we walked out of an over-cooled air-conditioned boardroom into a wall of heat, with an outside shade temperature of 41 degrees C (say 106 F) and then set out from the port to drive the two hours back to Durban.  

As we reached the main road leading to the highway which would guide us home, we saw a huge fire sweeping through the dry grass a couple of hundred metres off the road.  A little further on all traffic had come to a virtual standstill, with thick white smoke billowing across the road.

Tentatively and slowly I followed a car into the smoke.  Once we were in it we could see a different fire which was burning on both sides of of the road and had clearly jumped across four lanes of traffic.  As we moved slowly and anxiously forward, feeling how I imagine a roast on a spit might feel, we came across two cars which had collided in the smoke. A kilometre further we emerged, unscathed, from our fire-run and made it to the highway.

Driving south along the highway, we saw half a dozen other major fires burning along the way, some close to the road, others further away.  There was smoke as far as the eye could see and the heat of the day raged outside the car.  A stiff south westerly wind had blown up in the meantime, and as it grew in intensity the greyness of the smoky sky became shaded with red dust, which was being blown up everywhere.  The wind grew into a full-on gale and the car shuddered and swayed for the next 100 or so kilometres as we made our way down this treacherous piece of road.  The sun, looking like a weak light bulb, could barely pierce the smoky, dust-laden smoky sky.  It truly felt as if we were driving through hell's gauntlet, with evil lurking behind every tree and hill.  There was something a bit terrifying about the experience, especially lasting as long as it did, but there was also a part of me which simply knew and trusted that we were protected and would be granted a safe passage.

And so we remained focused and got back to Durban safely and in time for me to deliver a lecture at the University.

What's the point of this story?  Well, I'm not sure that there is a point, but in the telling it came to me that most of us will at sometime(s) feel as if or believe we are surrounded by or in the presence of danger or evil.  There may also only be so much to be done by way of physical protection.  However, I hold a view that if we can somehow push on, transcend our fear and hold our line of purpose, the danger or evil will move on to prey on those who are moving slower with little or no purpose, or perhaps those who are incongruent in their ethics and behaviour.

If we take this observation into our daily lives, we see that predators (scam artists, criminals and so on) tend to prey on the weak and vulnerable.  The predators are the evil all around us, they are the red and smoky sky and fires lapping at our flanks.  The invitation is to live our lives in a way where they are rendered harmless, or at least neutralised.

And what does that take?  A transcending of fear; a strong and resilient backbone; ethical behaviour; total congruence in aligning our behaviour with socially acceptable values; a trust and knowing that Life is for us, so long as we can align with its whims rather than demand it should be different; living with true purpose.

Of course, my experience was nothing more really than just a weird collection of climatic conditions which created an uncomfortable situation.  My mind did the rest about the lurking evil and hell's gauntlet, but the story seemed worth telling, because there is evil in the world and at some stage we are all called to deal with it.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

LIFE'S LEGAL SYSTEM

With all of the #OscarPistorius hoo-ha and arguments about whether #JudgeMasipa got it wrong or not and whether the State should appeal or not, it occurs to me that Life is a bit like a legal system.

Every legal case arises out of a set of facts or occurrences.  The facts are tested in court and a judge, representing the views of Society, decides whether the manifester or doer of those facts was wrong or right, good or bad, negligent or justified.  He or she is then acquitted or convicted and sentenced.  If the judge gets it wrong, Society permits an opportunity to appeal to a higher court and seek a different outcome.

Life offers sets of facts all the time, one after the other.  We, as observers of or participants in those facts, tend to judge them wrong or right, good or evil.  Unfortunately, irrespective of our judgments, we have no rights of appeal on facts: Life is never wrong, the facts are as they are, just as Life delivered them, and are never as we think or demand they should be.  There are no exceptions to this, even when we think we know better than Life or God.

However, like an appeal in a criminal trial, Life always allows us another chance to play our hand.  If we think Life got it wrong in the first place and is punishing us (that is, we didn't like how it played out so we blamed Life or God for our situation), Life gives us a chance to course-correct and look for a different outcome.  Unlike the court system, Life gives us an unlimited number of opportunities to try again and again until we get to a result that we like and that aligns with Life's rules.

As with the legal system, Life has some rules.  If we don't abide by them, Life tends to push us around until we start to live our own lives in alignment with Life's rules.  Play fair, don't harm others, respect and honour others, don't do evil and so on.  If we disobey these rules, eventually Life in its infinite wisdom will show us there are consequences and wake us up to another way of being, as do our courts.

Sentencing by Life is the best system: we will be sentenced to suffer for so long as we do not play by the rules.  The suffering will manifest itself in our health, relationships, well-being, finances and so on.  However, the moment we align ourselves with Life's rules, as if by magic we can get paroled.

So, the thing to consider is whether you are completely accepting of the facts of Life, just as they are, whether you have found out about and are playing by Life's rules and whether you are suffering and, if so, whether you are willing to re-align yourself for another chance with Life when you discover that you have broken the rules.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

THE ARMCHAIR JUDGE: WHAT WAS YOUR #OSCARPISTORIUS VERDICT?

The world has been in a tizz and there is widespread dismay in South Africa at the acquittal of #OscarPistorius on a charge of murder of his girlfriend, #ReevaSteenkamp.  A conviction of culpable homicide (manslaughter) is cold comfort for those seeking justice for Reeva.  As with all dismay, someone of course has to be blamed. In this case the target for blame has somewhat shifted from Oscar onto #JudgeMasipa.

Suddenly, because millions of people have lived in the courtroom through TV and social media, we have all become judges and experts in the law over the course of the trial, 43 days. We have to be careful about assuming expert status. I studied for 5 years and have practiced law for over 30 years.  Granted that I may be a slow learner, but I would not have felt fully competent to write the Pistorius judgment, even if I had actually heard and seen every bit of evidence.

The Judge and her assessor were the only people legally capable of making a full assessment on all the facts, so that needs to be our starting point when we insist that she got it wrong. Yes, another Judge might have made a different decision, but it is unfair to suggest that this Judge was not doing her best. She called it as she saw it and that is simply the way that it is.

For everyone demanding that the outcome (or indeed anything else in your life) should have been different, do you have any idea how much internal peace you might find if you could just let things be? There are those who think the Judge got it right. They aren't complaining: they're lauding her wisdom.

Moaning and bitching and demanding things be different simply sows more internal and social discord. For better or for worse we have a system and we live with it. It is simply how Life is, in this particular case. If the Judge got it wrong, we need to trust that Life has a way of realigning and restoring balance.

So, time to sit back and become the jury on Shrien Dewani. As far as Oscar is concerned, let's let Life have its way.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

WHAT'S YOUR BRAND?

was at a conference this past weekend in the beautiful Cape town of Arniston.  It is a maritime law conference I've attended annually for most of the past 24 years.  Although there has been a significant turnover in conference delegates, there are still a few left who were delegates when I made my first appearance back in 1990.

It is a maritime law conference which I have attended annually for most of the past 24 years.  And those who are still around after all this time haven't changed much.  Some are there to party, drink and eat as much as they can, seem to care nothing for their health, are happy simply to chat about superficial aspects of their lives and I suppose will drop dead prematurely one day and be surprised at the moment of reckoning.  Then there are the out-and-out academic types who live for the careers they've chosen, make a massive contribution to the law but somehow seem to be allowing the rest of Life to pass them by as they ponder on the latest changes to a particular statute.  One or two delegates are completely predictable in their unpredictability and maverick approach to his life.  Then there are those who are as constant as the day.  Some appear always to be trying to prove how valuable they are, and so on.  Different as everyone is, the interesting thing is how consistent they have all been over the years in how they present themselves to the world.  And that seems to be what marketers might call their 'brand'.

Everyone chooses a brand for him- or herself: the playboy, the nerd, the depressive,the hail-fellow-well-met, the enlightened one, the maverick, the happy-go-lucky, the indestructible, the wimp, the intransigent, the class clown, the-Life-is-serious-and-then-you-die, the optimist, the prover, the pessimist and so on.  Much of it is just dramatic behaviour, people choosing to act as if they are less than they truly are or trying to prove they are more than they are.  The reason a particular persona is chosen is that it serves a greater purpose in some way or another.  The purpose might be to hide away so that you never need to take a risk, or to present yourself as permanently and inordinately happy, so that you need never share a lingering sadness or show any vulnerability, or to be pessimistic about everything so that you need never risk feeling disappointed, or to be glum most of the time in order to garner sympathy.  

However, what the choice of brand can also result in is us never getting to discover who we actually are.  We walk around trying so hard to be something else that eventually we start believing that we actually are the thing we're trying to project and forget our true essence.

And the truth is that there is no good reason to play small, or to try and prove things about ourselves or to pretend to be anything other than exactly who we are in our magnificent authenticity, because it's hard keeping up a lifetime of pretense in order to avoid being found out as the perfect, vulnerable human beings we actually are.

The invitation is to choose the authentic, natural and constant brand from which your humanity, authenticity and lovability can simply shine through. Is that what you're doing?  If not, why not and what are you really afraid of?