Don’t Turn and Look Away – Stand and See, and Act

Don’t Turn and Look Away – Stand and See, and Act

As I get older, I find it increasingly difficult not to turn and look the other way.

I find it harder and harder to bear witness to the suffering of people and creatures and our planet: The decimation of forests, the poaching of endangered animals, the neglect and abuse of babies, the lack of education of our children, the ravages of extreme poverty and the rank unfairness of excessive inequality. I used to be able to look at all this and it used to enrage me to the point where I would act.

But recently I have found myself less and less able to keep my eyes open. I have found myself turning away. In fact, I think this could be a very neat description of privilege: The option to turn away.

At times like this I need a good dose of Pink Floyd. They remind me that turning away is no way to live. This is a Momentary Lapse of Reason. This is the Dark Side of the Moon.  They remind me that turning away can never be an option.

Be reminded too – and enjoy! Watch the video here

On the Turning Away – Pink Floyd

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand

“Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away”

It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting it’s shroud
Over all we have known

Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud

On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite
In a silent accord

Using words you will find are strange
And mesmerized as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night

No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside

Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away?

What Happens Beyond the Ballot Box?

What Happens Beyond the Ballot Box?

I have always believed that one must vote.

But an insightful piece by journalist Ranjeni Munusamy before the elections questioned this hitherto unquestionable logic and I must say – as I saw how many voters chose to spoil ballots or simply stay away – I now question it too.

Choosing to withhold or spoil your vote, is also a democratic choice. Whilst it won’t assist in putting a politician into a seat in parliament, it does send a message that you are gatvol and no party deserves your vote. This year 235,449 people spoilt their vote. Well over 9 million people registered to vote but abstained. This is massive. People are clearly tiring of a system that does the same thing every few years, but for them doesn’t produce the promised change . Surely, we are entering a “post-democracy” era? 

I have also heard it said that if you don’t vote you have no right to complain. Well, this is absurd. Firstly, everyone has a right to complain if they will. But more importantly, if you aren’t going to vote surely you should do something else to contribute to change? I am not a big fan of complaining but if you can’t vote, get involved in other ways. Write letters to your local press explaining why you chose not to vote. Get hold of your local ward councillor and demand accountability for specific needs within your community. Resolve to tackle racism in yourself and others. Get active in your local community: Start a community dialogue in which you discuss how to help your local school to perform better. Join your community block watch. Fix something that’s broken. Pick up litter. This is all doable regardless of who you are and what your situation is.

I did vote and I was excited to exercise that right. But as far as political choices were concerned, I was deeply conflicted. Had I been true to myself I wouldn’t have voted.

The truth is that to vote, withhold or spoil our vote is the end of our role as citizens of a democracy, unless we are prepared to participate for change beyond the ballot box. We can no longer delegate the running of our lives and our country to politicians and bureaucrats. This dance is up, and it didn’t work particularly well in the first place.

We must show up as active citizens every day between elections and contribute in ways that build our people and our country.        

Then we will watch our country rise.

Only When Minds Change Does Power Change

Only When Minds Change Does Power Change

We are just days away from our South African general election and still I feel undecided over which party to vote for.

Most of the people I speak to feel the same and the wildly differing research polls seem to confirm that many of us are conflicted over this election and all bets are off.

This was demonstrated to me on a recent work trip I had in the heart of the Northern Cape. My stereotypes got a severe beating when two wonderful middle-aged ladies – both white and Afrikaans – stated quite frankly that they were voting for the EFF and the ANC respectively. Change is in the air, ne?

As I reflect on this dilemma – an unusual one given the fact that loyalty to political parties can be hard to change – my sense is that this is just where we need to be. 25 years into democracy, we need to be confused, questioning our old patterns and looking at fresh options. This makes the possibility of change real.  And we desperately need change.

When I work with my clients, we often use the words attributed to Albert Einstein: “You cannot solve problems with the same mind that created them.” In order to improve the world, we need to literally change our minds (not only our decisions, but rather the actual way we think about things) in order to solve problems and create new realities. This involves changing the way we think about the world; it involves shifting our single-story narratives and it involves changing the ways we show up in the world. Christians call this “putting on the mind of Christ”. Buddhists call this sunyata. It all points to emptying the mind of the thought patterns that created the problems in the first place in order to discover a new reality and way of being.

Democracy without citizens involved in active processes of changing their minds (and hence their governments) is autocracy. We can kid ourselves that we are a democracy – and on paper we are – but robotic, repetitive voting patterns create Mugabe’s and indeed Zuma’s. Only when minds change does power change. That is what makes democracy good (citizens have the power to change who is in power) and terrifying (if the people are trying to solve problems with the same minds that created them).

Could this election be the start of a new consciousness in South Africa; the start of us changing our collective mind? Could it be that we stop thinking/voting/not voting the same way we have done since 1994? I am talking to all of us here – regardless of political affiliation. I believe so. Power won’t change, but how power shows up and how we respond to power most certainly will. We are putting power – all power – on terms. This election is a big moment.

Come on – let’s change our minds.

I’d love to hear from you and how you feel about the upcoming election, and your process of deciding who to vote for. Send through your comments and let’s be an involved community sharing our thoughts and experiences.

The Hidden Pain of Male Body Shaming

The Hidden Pain of Male Body Shaming

I have a complex past and psychology when it comes to my weight and build.

I am getting past this, but it’s taken time. Men don’t typically talk about these things, so I wonder if I’m the only guy who has these issues? Let’s see…

I was a pudgy child nicknamed “Pogs”.  As a teenager, I was given some feedback from a family member that I had “a body you should be ashamed of”. In my early adult years, I was once told that I was the only male who said person had ever met who had “child bearing hips”. This and other subtle and not-so-subtle body shaming created a wide range of consequences for me as I grew up and developed into an adult.

In my teens and twenties, I grew to my current height of 6ft 3 and my weight evened out somewhat. In my thirties I went on an obsessive drive to disappear through a combination of running and shakes and dropped 20kg’s. But even then, the body shaming continued – I remember once being called a “galloping tapeworm”! In my forties I put most of that weight back on. This was largely due to eating and drinking too much as the pendulum of my life swung and depression set it, though I tell people it was purely because of injuries that prevented me from running. It was also due to medication I began taking. Body shaming pursued me relentlessly.

Then recently, a person who I hadn’t seen for quite some time saw me and, looking utterly aghast, exclaimed at volume: “Good heavens you’ve put on a lot of weight! I didn’t even recognise you!” This was at a public gathering for all to hear. Not content with this humiliating commentary he then called over people’s heads to his wife to come and look at just how much weight I had put on. As she arrived at the scene he once again trilled: “Can you believe just how much weight this guy has put on?” I simply did not know what to say. It took me back years – in many ways.

People gain weight for many reasons: It can be because of fertility treatment, numbing the pain of trauma or abuse, mental health issues, stopping smoking or alcohol/drugs, medication for chronic diseases, starting/stopping the pill. People lose weight for a variety of reasons some of which are unrelated to dieting: illness, depression, trauma, medication for chronic diseases (yup they can work both ways) etc.   

I write this because I am genuinely interested to know about whether other men have body image issues or have been the recipients of body shaming. I also want to say that we should never ever, ever, ever comment on someone’s weight. Ever. Period. And you will notice from the above that much body shaming masquerades as humour. Don’t do it to be funny. It’s not funny. Ever. If a person has put on weight, they do not need you or anyone else to tell them so. Believe me, they have noticed. If they have lost weight, perhaps it’s because of sickness or depression. The only time it is acceptable to comment on someone’s weight is when you are VERY close to them and you know for sure that they were a) trying to lose weight or b) trying to bulk up. And even then, tread damn carefully.  

*If you would like to comment anonymously on this post please put ‘anonymous’ in the contact details section of the comments.      

The Memory of Apartheid is Nowhere, Yet Everywhere

The Memory of Apartheid is Nowhere, Yet Everywhere

When the train pulls up at the small Dachau railway station in Bavaria, Germany, you are greeted by the sight of flowers.

Boxes and hanging pots all containing a wild and vibrant array of spectacularly colourful blooms adorn the platform. They seem out of place and yet so poignant. A message from the town’s Mayor hangs above the exit. It is more than two decades since I visited the place, but it reads along the lines of: “This village was the site of horrific atrocities committed by the Nazis. Now it is our home and a place of friendship and peace. We the townsfolk are committed to never allowing the memory of the horrors committed in this place to fade. Welcome to Dachau.”

Over the years I have been profoundly moved by experiences of the many concentration camps in both Germany and Poland. I have visited Auschwitz, Birkenau and of course Dachau. You can never un-see what you see at these places; you can never un-feel the feelings. You may ask why one would visit such morbid places; stand inside gas chambers and tiny huts in which dozens of people suffered, starved and died. This may not be a thing for everyone, but my freedom somehow compels me to do it. I believe that by standing in solidarity with all of humanity that has suffered we never allow ourselves to forget what was done to them. In this way we ensure that such depths of evil and depravity are never arrived at again.

The Germans have paid much attention to never allowing the memory of the holocaust to fade. Have we done as much in South Africa regarding apartheid? Should we even be asking such a question?

Either way, the answer would seem to be that we have almost gone the other way: “Can’t we just move on?”, we ask; “It’s been 25 years – must we still keep being reminded of apartheid?” “When will we stop blaming apartheid?” Are these questions valid or do we ask them because the memory has been allowed to fade? Or perhaps some of us don’t really believe it was such an atrocity at all? “Aren’t we over all that now?” Or the worst denial of all: “We were better off then!”

We removed the icons of apartheid: the flag, the racist signs, the architect’s names on our street signs and airports (as we should have). But in doing this we seemed to remove virtually all trace of the regime itself. If you were to visit South Africa and not visit say Robben Island or the Apartheid Museum (the two big attractions for anti-apartheid pilgrims) you would be hard pressed to find any physical evidence of the apartheid regime at all. Have we denied ourselves an opportunity to remember; to continuously seek healing; to make restitution on an ongoing basis? I think we have – and hence – whilst few physical remnants of apartheid remain – there are social and economic remnants everywhere. The memory of apartheid is virtually nowhere, yet everywhere.

By erasing history, we run the risk of repeating it. Isn’t this what is terrifying people about political killings, book burning, land redistribution, attempts to muzzle the press, large scale corruption, incitement of racial hatred etc? What is stopping us from rewinding the tape 25 years we might ask? Is it just our Constitution (which very few of us have even read) or is there something more day-to-day; more accessible – something we can all get involved with?

We must create spaces and opportunities for recollection to happen whenever we can (as the media did with the 40th anniversary of Solomon Mahlangu’s murder); where people can tell and retell the stories.

Not to foster guilt, but to keep the memories alive.