Meeting the Need that Meets Me

Meeting the Need that Meets Me

“Purpose”; “meaning”; “calling”– these and similar concepts have become very popular in recent times. For many of us, it is no longer enough to work hard to support our family and pay a weekly visit to our place of worship be that mosque or mountain. We want to be a part of “changing the world”; “shifting the needle”; “making a difference”. This is because we are evolving and so is spirituality and faith – thank God.

As it dawns on us that charity (love) should begin at home, but that it certainly cannot end there, we might begin to feel a pull towards something to do that is bigger than ourselves. And we might – especially at the beginning of a year – look to volunteer at a creche or visit the sick or elderly. If we are feeling very brave, we might go on a mission trip or even think to start an NGO.

This can all be very useful, but to what extent is it ego-driven – all about my purpose; my calling; my giving back? Or possibly an appeasement of guilt or a way to shine up my personal brand? In the end, our true purpose – the kind that will have lasting impact – is found and met not by what we do, but by who we are; by how we show up in the world every minute of every day. Is it authentic? Is it about what I say it is? Is it rooted in love? Are my eyes, my mouth, my heart and my hands aligned as I reach out beyond myself?

I have come to this through involving myself in seemingly “big-hearted” works that in the end were much more to do with my ego than the subjects of my seeming love and compassion. This has been a deeply painful realisation.  

So now, I am just trying to show up differently. If there is someone selling litchis at the tollgate I will buy the litchis because this is someone’s livelihood. Do I need hangers? Perhaps not – but I can afford to buy the hangers. I will buy them as this will feed someone’s child. If I hear that people have lost everything in a fire in a small town or a flood somewhere, I will send what I can. So, what I am trying to do is meet the need that meets me, whether that is a national news story or a car guard who has perhaps done very little to guard my car.

Please note: I am generally awful at this. I get very irritated and frustrated and I often find myself miserly and tight spirited.  But I believe that my weak efforts to show up well are better-intentioned and hence more impactful than my grand gestures. I also believe that they mix with grace to create an impact beyond themselves.       

Rejecting Racism Point Blank

Rejecting Racism Point Blank

Over many years I have struggled with how to deal with racism when it rears its ugly head in conversations with friends, family or colleagues. This struggle has become ever deeper as I have worked on owning my “recovering racist” status and as I have made great Black and Indian friends. In the past 8 years it has become pressing as I raise a black daughter and as I experience the joy of my Dad being happily engaged to a black woman.

When I am in social or business situations and someone uses a racist word or weaves a racist attitude or sentiment into the conversation, I find it very difficult to take a stand in the moment. I find myself seething but saying nothing whilst trying to change the conversation. This is cowardly and self-serving. If I am going to take a stand against racism and discrimination from behind my keyboard or from a podium, I must be brave enough to do it in the real world where my work and social relationships may suffer as a result. Because values that aren’t worth suffering for have little value at all. They are just words.

After a recent racist incident (our Lolly was fortunately not in earshot), Cathy and I decided that as a family, we will protest against racism and discrimination by speaking out against it in the moment. This however will only be done in situations that are conducive to dialogue. In situations that aren’t, we will simply remove ourselves. This will be done politely but firmly and immediately.

This is not simply about overt racist words like the k-word and others. It’s about expressions like darkies, monkeys, cockroaches, coolies, non-swimmers etc. It’s about references to “they and them” and the veiled or overt questioning of black people’s abilities. It’s about references or words that dehumanise or strip others of dignity, enforce one groups superiority over another or labels other’s differences in a way that is not loving and celebratory.

And it extends beyond racism to all discrimination; derogatory names/references for women, LGBTQIA people, people with disabilities, people of other nationalities and religions and – from any person of any colour – any defence of apartheid or colonialism.

I understand we will be criticised for this stance in all kinds of hateful ways. But we really don’t care.

We just felt it was right to put it out there.  

Shifting the Needle on Patriarchy in South Africa

Shifting the Needle on Patriarchy in South Africa

2018 has been a particularly challenging year for many of us. As wave after wave of stinking effluent has rained down on us from the various commissions of enquiry; as the impact of State Capture has begun to be felt and as the economy has faltered, the citizens have been left reeling and even depressed.

Over the same period, this column and indeed this website, has celebrated South Africans who are making a difference with what they have in their hands. It has done this to encourage an alternative narrative; one of hope and action. As people we need to keep telling our good stories so that we don’t become overwhelmed by the bad.

I would like to end off the year with a rare and startling story of hope and good. Several months ago, I got a call from a Johannesburg-based CEO by the name of Thomas Holtz. He runs a manufacturing company called Multotec. They have branches nationwide and across Africa, in South America, Australia and China and they employ around 1800 people.

Thomas’s brief to me – along with the way he communicated it – was unusual to put it mildly. He wanted me to work with him (not consultant to him you understand) to help break down patriarchy within his organisation. A male CEO wanting to break down patriarchy? I checked outside to see if it wasn’t snowing in Durbs.

As we spoke it became apparent that this was no ordinary CEO; he was thinking way beyond the usual aspects of bottom-line, leadership development, customer service, team building, diversity and inclusion and safety etc – although all of these would of course benefit from this work. But he was going someplace else; someplace we urgently need to go in South Africa. How fascinating that such a brief would emerge from a manufacturing company servicing the mining industry!

Thomas and I have spoken extensively over the months and what has struck me is that his implicit questions are different: How can we continue to run a very successful business and go beyond CSI and SED to build our nation? How can we contribute to the shifting of the needle on racism and sexism, not just in here but out there? How can we turn the tables on patriarchy? How can we bring love, compassion and purpose into the workplace? You see, Thomas has realised that unless he uses his position, his power and his privilege to bring about change and not just tick boxes, then all he will be at the end of it all, is a successful CEO. The world will not have shifted at all.

Now you will notice from his name that Thomas is male and white. So was 90% of his Exco when we started this journey. And the problems weren’t just the lack of diversity and the lack of innovation that results. The problem was that although he himself (and indeed many of his team) were not archetypal patriarchs, they were labouring in and under a highly patriarchal system. A) Manufacturing b) in the mining sector c) in South Africa. Breaking down patriarchy and its cousins racism and sexism would take a concerted, long-term effort from him and his executive team. This wouldn’t happen through tokenism.

We have held several very intense workshops, one-on-ones and group interviews with middle management. His exco team has done battle with the concepts of patriarchy, racism, power distance and culture. It has been tough – particularly as this is a highly successful organisation that on the surface of it might say: “If it isn’t broken don’t fix it”. But you see in their own way, they were broken, and sooner or later this would have caught up with the bottom line. 

The business has begun to transform in profound ways as the individuals have done their own individual work. On one level, the exco is now more diverse. But more significantly, the tone, the mood and how they show up as people has shifted. There is a maturity, a weight if you like, a new way of seeing each other and others in the organisation. The smell of the place has changed.

As we look towards 2019, we can draw on the energy of Thomas and his team. Whether you run a business small or large, a classroom, a place of worship, a project, a government department, an NGO, a home, a family or just yourself – use that platform to have conversations that shift the needle in a positive direction. This team is not perfect, and the journey will certainly continue, but they are daring to speak about the issues that we would much rather pretend did not exist or impact on business. And the world is a much better place because they are doing this work. And by the way, Multotec is a better and more successful company for it and the people are loving the change in their leaders. Indeed, the business is on track to do its best year ever. Coincidence? Maybe, but probably not.

I salute Thomas Holtz and his team for bravely tackling their shadows and working to make not only their business but this country and this world, a better place. They are using what they have in their hands – no more, no less.

They inspire us all.

Justin Foxton is a Process Facilitator and Founder of The Peace Agency.  His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.

On Being a Recovering Racist – a Lifetime’s Journey

On Being a Recovering Racist – a Lifetime’s Journey

It is not simple being a recovering racist. Just as I think I am making progress I go and make a rookie error that leaves me aghast at my lack of progress.

I recently met a friend and colleague at a restaurant in Durban. At the next table was a black lady and a white man, working and drinking cups of coffee. They were clearly happening: Well dressed, laptops out, suitably adorned with the right brands and very chic.

My friend and I finished our meeting, paid our bill and got up to leave, but as I swung round in the direction of the “cool couple”, the woman was also getting up from her table and gathering up her things.

In my mind – my recovering racist (or perhaps more accurately, my recovering-stereotyping, recovering-patriarchal mind) I just saw a black woman picking things up off a table in a restaurant where a white guy was sat – ergo the waitress. She turned to face me at the precise moment I turned and faced her. Our eyes met and in my typically overly-friendly-white-guy-cum-recovering-racist-voice, I thanked her for her service and gestured to the tip I had left on the table for her. I realised my mistake mid-deed. She paused for an instant that felt like a lifetime to me, put on her outsized Dolce and Gabbana shades, and mercifully decided to ignore this white idiot and walk out.

Burning red with embarrassment, I pretended to be referring to the waitress who was indeed standing directly behind her. This only made matters worse because that waitress wasn’t our waitress at all! She just stared at me bewildered. The damage was done.

I am a 45-year old white man. I have an adopted black child whom I adore as mine. I genuinely have best friends who are black. I have done years of processing of my own racism; I read the work of black feminists and I mostly agree with what they say about white people and white men particularly.  

And yet I am still – frustratingly – a recovering racist at best. I still catch myself thinking and acting in ways that belie my genuine and passionate desire to live a non-racist and totally non-discriminatory life. Why?

Because racism is hard-wired into us. Period. We are products of a world that pumps racism and discrimination into the atmosphere in the same way as industrialisation pumps greenhouse gases. We just breathe it in. My parents were never racist – I grew up in a typical liberal South African home. But the garden boy was the garden boy. The maid was the maid. It’s just how things were. And we must work daily, hourly to dismantle that often untaught, often unintentional discrimination that placed us in “the big house” and black people in the “servant’s quarters”. Black people were always the servants.

So, in an unguarded moment I revert to type. I swing round and I give a big beaming liberal thank you to a woman who is my age, clearly very successful and a long way from her waitressing years. In

This piece is not intended to be an exercise in self-flagellation. I left and smiled an ironic sort of smile at myself and how long I still must go.

No, this piece is just an exercise in vulnerability and a humble invitation to join me on this journey – regardless of where you are along the road. It’s the most challenging but deeply rewarding journey you will ever take.

My name is Justin and I am a recovering racist.

Thuma Mina – Send Me: Thuli Our Superstar

Thuma Mina – Send Me: Thuli Our Superstar

Last week, Professor Thuli Madonsela – patron of our NGO The Peace Agency – spoke at our annual fundraising ball.

From everyone who was there, it was an exceptional night and Thuli Madonsela contributed in no small way to this success.

A great deal has been written by many – me included – about Thuli Madonsela. But after this night, I wanted to put out a couple of thoughts on what I feel makes this woman so special. The reason for this is two-fold: In terms of the purpose of this column it is to give us ideas of how each of us can respond to our President’s call to Thuma Mina – Send Me. Secondly, it is to honour and publicly pay tribute to an exceptional servant of the Republic. 

Before diving in, it is worth considering that this person has well over a million followers on Twitter. When she speaks, people listen with rapt attention and when she finishes people rise to their feet in unison and queue up – in numbers – for selfies with her. We auctioned a signed and personalised copy of her book No Longer Whispering to Power and it sold for R11,000.00.

As we watched all this going on that night, I turned to my Dad and remarked that this kind of attention is usually reserved for rock stars. So, how is it that this gentle, humble, professorial woman who occupied the office of a hitherto unglamorous and frankly rather anaemic Chapter 9 Institution, is treated like a superstar?

The short answer is that she is a superstar. To us South Africans regardless of age, race, gender or political persuasion – this woman is the saviour of South Africa. I am not saying “a saviour”. I am saying “the saviour”. First there was Madiba and then there was Madonsela and they were hewn from the same stone. And I am not using these words lightly or in any kind of gushy, sycophantic way. Trues true. As far as South Africans are concerned, she saved us. Finish en klaar.

Now, she will tell you that her team at the Public Protector was a huge part of her success. She regularly pays tribute to the many ordinary South Africans, whistle-blowers and the media for playing their part. But the reality is that the towering morality and courage of Thuli Madonsela caused many of us to find our spines and use whatever we had in our hands to play our part.

Thuli Madonsela’s presence in the world is a prescient sermon and three things about this sermon stand out for me: Whilst the world clambers for money and power at all costs, hers is a message as old as Love and Wisdom herself; be a candle in the darkness. That’s it. Will your one candle extinguish the darkness? Yes! Yes, it will. I remember confiding in her one day how I was doing battle with privilege in a sea of poverty and inequality. She said: “Enjoy your privilege but use it to help those less privileged.” Simple. Be a candle.

Secondly, when you hear Thuli Madonsela speak; when you see how people adore her, you are left in no doubt that good will always, ultimately triumph over evil. She embodies a promise that God never let’s go of the world and that all our travails and miseries are small and will pass as the work of the universe plays out; moving the world and its people forward because of and not in spite of the droughts, the floods, the plagues, the deaths, the famines, the genocides, the Zuptas, Trump, Brexit – you name it.  It will all be okay in the end and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. Hope oozes from Thuli Madonsela. Simple. Live with hope.

And finally – laugh freely and often. Thuli laughs a lot. This is what happens when you be a candle and when you live with hope.

Simple. Enjoy the ride.

Thank you Thuli. Let us never stop honouring you for what you did for us and what your life continues to teach us.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.  His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter

Moving Beyond the “Harvey Weinstein Extreme”: the Next Phase of #MeToo

Moving Beyond the “Harvey Weinstein Extreme”: the Next Phase of #MeToo

The #metoo campaign has had a profound impact on the world.

Many women have been empowered to speak about abuse at the hands of men and a few of the more powerful of these have seen their careers ruined. Some will go to jail.

With the campaign has come the inevitable push-back from many men who feel victimised. These have been epitomised by the likes of Donald Trump.

My concern: If #metoo (and related activities/campaigns in this space) are to fundamentally change culture; change the system; the way men see, speak of and treat women, we (men) are going to need to get out of the extremes of this narrative and into a place where we can take individual responsibility for what women face daily all over the world – and change our behaviour accordingly.

The reality is that women from Boston to Burundi are oppressed and abused every day; they leave their homes rehearsing in their minds what they will do if they are set upon by men (physically and emotionally); they must fight a system that places women several rungs below men on life’s ladder; they are profoundly abused and dishonoured in myriad ways from the subtle to the horrific.

Is it not time for me as a man to stand up and say #metoo? I am not suggesting this as a campaign name – this is strictly for women in my view. I am saying, “#metoo – I have contributed to a system that places women below men in every way.”

 This is different to the “men are trash” movement – although that is very powerful and necessary. This is about me outing myself and not just for the sake of it, but for a shift in my personal attitudes and behaviours; to create a consciousness in me as a man that I have a role to play in this thing.

Now, in my mind I immediately move to the extreme of this narrative when I write this and say: “I don’t need to speak up here. I am not an abuser as I have never done anything to a woman against her will. I have never raped, abused or groped a woman. I have never laid a finger on a woman.” But just because I haven’t necessarily done anything to women that would land me in jail or lose me my job does not mean I have not contributed to the subjugation, degradation or weakening of women; contributed to a system that places women in daily peril and in a constant state of preparedness for the inevitability of being taken advantage of by men.  This becomes so much subtler than the abuses of the Harvey Weinsteins or the Bill Cosbys of this world. But, is it not day after day, incident after exhausting incident – just as damaging to women? Now, I am fairly and squarely on the hook.

What does this look like in real terms?

My name is Justin Foxton and I have contributed to a system that places women below men in every way.

I have done this by being male. This is not a crime but not actively fighting against male privilege is. This is not just an economic thing; this is a system thing.

I have done this by remaining naive about the many injustices committed against women daily in our world.

I have done this by listening to men trumpet their own positions of power, privilege and wealth knowing that they are standing on the broken backs of women.

I have done this by listening to sermons in which priests and pastors have misrepresented my faith by suggesting that men are dominant over women; that women should not be leaders at all.

That is enough for me to feel most vulnerable.

But that is how women feel all the time.

I need to feel that way to identify better with women.

#doyou?