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?

First Do No Harm

First Do No Harm

“Primum non nocere” is a Latin phrase that means “first, do no harm.”

Apparently, all medical students are taught this fundamental principle and it basically means that when faced with a problem, it may be better to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good.

It may strike you that this is rather negative. If the whole world – when faced with an issue – did nothing for fear of causing more harm, then presumably nothing would ever get resolved. But, that is not the power of this maxim. Its potency lies in the somewhat un-Western notion of stillness, silence, non-doing when action or words would simply fan the flames of trouble and strife.

An example: Marikana. If “primum non nocere” had been the guiding moto of the police during those horrific days in August 2012, that atrocity would likely never have happened.

The aim of this monthly feature is to give all of us small, achievable actions that we can each do daily to contribute to the healing of our nation. But perhaps we should have begun with something even more basic; on the surface, simpler – yet fundamentally more challenging. Primum non nocere – first, do no harm.

What might this even look like for us living in South Africa? On a personal level, I think it suggests that if we have nothing positive to contribute either with words or deeds, then rather say and do nothing. Practically, this might mean bowing out of pessimistic conversations with friends or colleagues and taking a decision not to forward negative (and often untruthful) articles or statements on social media. If you have decided to leave the country to leave with the excitement of a new adventure top-of-mind rather than feeling the need to justify that decision with negativity about South Africa. You see negativity is an energy just as positivity is. We build stuff with positive energy. So, if you don’t feel positive – which is fine – then choose simply not to be negative. First do no harm.

On a broader level, I would suggest to companies and NGO’s, ask whether your actions – as well meaning as they may appear – may cause more harm than good. An example: you may decide that a community close to your business needs a community hall because you see people holding meetings under trees. You build a beautiful hall using your CSI budget but are horrified that within a couple of months the hall remains unutilized and has been vandalised.

You say: “What ungrateful people – we shall never help them again”. Trouble is, you didn’t ask them if they needed or wanted a hall. You made an assumption based on what you thought they needed. In fact, they tore down the hall and sold the materials so that they could raise money for piping water from the one community tap they have to several outlets. Now, you are angry at them and they are angry at you. Nothing good has come from what began as trying to do something helpful.

Another example of this comes out of my NGO The Peace Agency. We raised funds and built a home for abandoned babies in Hammarsdale, Kwa-Zulu Natal. We chose this area because one of our best carers from our other Baby Homes in Durban Thando Dlamini lives there and we wished to upskill and empower her to run her own facility. We built the place and it took forever. Literally nearly 3 years. But during this period, we were able to do some unplanned research. We were fortunate to discover that the community there didn’t need a home for abandoned babies – they don’t have any issue with abandonment. They needed a creche. So, we changed our plans slightly and Thando now runs a top-notch facility.

The lesson here is to conduct in-depth needs analyses before embarking on any community projects (yours or others). And if the need is not immediately evident and supported by all within the community – wait. First do no harm.

Finally, Napoleon Bonaparte famously said that “a leader is a dealer in hope.” If you can, choose to deal in hope. If you are running low on hope – just enjoy a period where you don’t deal in anything.

Rest perhaps and take all the time you need to rediscover a sense of possibility.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. 

His writing is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered and Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.

NGO’s Need Cash Donations To Survive

NGO’s Need Cash Donations To Survive

Do you ever give donations to charitable organisations; orphanages, places of worship, animal sanctuaries, community safety organisations, education initiatives, anti-corruption groups – that kind of thing?

If you do, then you make up a small but vital part of the pool of over 80% of South Africans who give generously in support of these critical efforts.

I say without fear of contradiction that this country would be in dire straits if it weren’t for our NGO’s. We have literally tens of thousands of non-profit organisations doing truly superb work with very little support except that which you and I (or our companies) might give to them.

My wife and I have run an NGO for many years now. We start and administer homes for abandoned and orphaned babies and we have teams who work for us. Some of these homes now operate under the auspices of their own NGO’s, which is brilliant. Others – like the Baby Home in Durban North, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Hammarsdale Child Care Centre run under our NGO. All our advocacy work and other projects involves orphans and vulnerable children along with the creation of the kind of South Africa we all wish to live in.

We are a very small NGO in the bigger picture, but last time I checked it cost us about R140k a month to operate. This is mostly taken up by rent and salaries (carers, house-parents and management – i.e. us. We employ 13 people in total). We are scrupulously honest, even going to the extent of publishing our annual report and financials on our website.

However, many very generous people and organisations are unwilling to give monetary donations preferring to donate consumables; nappies, formula, medicines etc. Some like to give hardware – cots, blankets, clothes. Others like to dump their old rubbish on us but that’s for another time.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. We are hugely grateful for all the (non-manky) consumables and hardware we get given. We depend on this. But we also – like every other NGO in operation – rely on money to operate. We must pay a qualified person to mix that formula up and feed it to a baby, change her nappy and lull her to sleep. It doesn’t just happen. And we choose to pay our carers and house mothers above the going rate. It is a priority of our NGO to pay poverty-busting salaries and give 13th cheques and significant increases. How else will we play our part in addressing inequality?

And this brings me to my final point. NGO staff and management should ultimately be paid according to their education and years of experience – not according to the fact that they work in a non-profit organisation. NGO employees should be paid like their counterparts in for-profit companies. Yes, we are very passionate – but passion does not pay the rent. Now, we acknowledge that we cannot pay these kinds of salaries because we do not have a culture of deep respect for NGO’s that allows this to happen. For my part I have always relied on multiple sources of income for me and my family.

All this humble NGOér requests is that you put aside past experiences where your generosity may have been abused and know that NGO’s need hard cash donations to survive. Our promise is that we will steward those funds wisely and carefully and we will always be accountable to you the donor.

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

 

Broadcasting Standards Fall Short When Vigilante Justice is Celebrated

Broadcasting Standards Fall Short When Vigilante Justice is Celebrated

Not long before one of those, “let us know if we aren’t living up to our mandate not to promote gratuitous sex and violence on radio” announcements, East Coast Radio’s morning DJ Damon Beard described in some detail a video that has now gone viral.

In it a man on a street in Gauteng is seen trying to steal a bag – presumably a laptop – from the passenger seat of a car. The driver and him get into a tug-of-war over the bag. Then, as if from out of nowhere, a motorcycle appears and hits the thief causing him to run away in shock. In a post on Facebook the driver later thanks the man for helping him and says that he chased after the thief, ran him over and thankfully, recovered his laptop with only minimal damage to his car. He then thanks Jesus Christ for protecting him.

Beard celebrated the motorcyclist as a genuine hero.  In fact, he even called him a Good Samaritan. I read literally hundreds of posts on line all saying basically the same thing – what a hero this guy is.

What has happened to us as a nation when we celebrate with such glee a man being hit by a motorcycle and then run over by a car for trying to grab a laptop off the passenger seat of a vehicle? Have we totally lost the plot? I am not saying what he was doing was right – very far from it. I am saying, that we cannot condone such a response as heroic. It is as criminal – more so in fact – than what this petty thief was doing. I have no idea whether the thief is alive or not, but if he isn’t then these guys are going to be up on charges of murder. That’s how serious this is.

By celebrating this kind of thing, we are condoning vigilante justice, and this is not the answer to our crime epidemic. We need to slow down and get some perspective and understand that we still live in a nation wracked by poverty and employment. Until this is brought under control, desperate people will steal and riding over them with our motor vehicles is a barbaric and inhumane response that will do absolutely no good in the long run.

Back to that announcement about broadcasting standards, was this story not a case of Beard celebrating and advocating for vigilante justice? Is this in line with good radio practice?

I don’t think it is.

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

 

Sowing Seeds of Hope for South Africa

Sowing Seeds of Hope for South Africa

What a joy it always is to receive my weekly attitude adjustment from my friend and colleague Steuart Pennington – the founder and CEO of the website South Africa the Good News (www.sagoodnews.co.za).

It comes in the form of his newsletter that always strikes a necessary balance between acknowledging the myriad challenges we face as a country, whilst articulating the many positives. It is a great tonic for the soul!   

This week’s instalment was particularly good and – given our current very gloomy context – it was much needed. Based on the second “Reasons for Hope” document published by the Institute of Race Relations, the newsletter was prefaced by the words of Bill Gates who said: “Bad news arrives as drama, while good news is incremental – and not usually deemed newsworthy.”

It gave some uplifting stats: That real GDP per capita has increased by over 30% since 1994; University Enrolment has risen from 211,000 students in 1985 to 825,000 in 2015 – a growth of 289%. South Africa has 11 universities ranked in the top 4% of universities worldwide. And life expectancy has increased by 10 years since 2002. There is much more – and you should visit the website and register for this newsletter – especially if you are feeling a little ‘dikbek’ about the state of the nation.

But I am not writing this simply to regurgitate the content of this specific newsletter. Whilst reading it, I became deeply grateful for how tirelessly Steuart (and indeed some others) has devoted himself and his organisation to balancing the narrative in our country. We have so many committed to exposing the bad news, but so few who devote themselves to spreading the good. And we desperately need both for accountability to be driven on the one hand, but for hope to remain kindled on the other. For without hope, we lose the will to keep contributing to the South Africa we all believe in. Steuart is a true dealer in hope – and I admire him for never allowing himself to be distracted or deterred.

There are certainly others out there doing this incredible work. One of them is Brent Lindeque the founder of www.goodthingsguy.com. These people have a remarkable ability to see hope where others see none. They have a way of making us feel like we can make a difference, one small positive thought or action at a time. In the face of huge criticism and accusations of being Pollyanna’s or ‘sunshine journalists’ – they just keep exposing the good; actively looking for reasons to celebrate life in South Africa.

One thing that I can assure you is that your life here in South Africa will be happier and more hopeful if you get a good dose of the medicine that guys like Brent and Steuart dish up. Go to their websites, sign up and support what they are doing.

I salute you gents. Keep sowing our fields with seeds of hope and all will be well in this marvellous place.

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

 

 

What is Your “One at a Time”?

What is Your “One at a Time”?

Today I was touched by an e-mail forwarded to me by a dear friend Dr Leann Munian. She is a Paediatrician who was writing a farewell note to her colleagues before transferring to another hospital.

In the note she wrote a fascinating line about a major shift in her thinking and her career that took place some time ago after a stint in Syria with Gift of the Givers:

“…I returned to the hospital of my birth, “to save the world”, “one baby at a time”.” What a remarkable thought process; that changing something as huge as the world can happen one very small baby at a time.

But it jogged my memory, because my dear friend and colleague Dr Rama Naidu puts the same thought in a slightly different way. Now for some context, this man is a world class agent of change who has impacted on countless numbers of people during his remarkable career. But he works in small groups of between 8 and 80 people at a time, facilitating their growth and development. He says: “We change the world one conversation at a time.” This echoes one of my gurus Peter Block who talks about changing the world “one room at a time; the room you are in.”

Another friend and colleague Dr Louise van Rhyn founder of Partners for Possibility – the world-renowned South African program that pairs school Principals from under resourced schools with business leaders in a transformative co-learnership – talks about changing the world “one partnership at a time.” There simply must be something in this thinking if all these doctors are saying the same thing!

But it sounds fanciful, even flaky, especially within the parameters of our Western thinking that is so dominated by outcomes, measurement and numbers. In the NGO field, tell a potential funder you save the world “one baby, one conversation, one partnership at a time”, they will smile and tell you to come back and talk when you have “taken your project to scale”. In the business world, have a conversation that is about change outside of the context of a rising bottom-line and you will quickly hear terms like “soft skills” being used.

We play this game because we must – or must we? It seems that all of us in any form of people-based, healing, transformation/change, “nation building” work have been on a journey to understand and accept that change and growth can only happen one of anything at a time. And this is on the positive spectrum. Just ask Adam Catzavalos how one racist WhatsApp message can change your life for the worse.

This may seem frustrating because we want positive change to happen quicker than this. It just doesn’t satisfy our hard-wired need – and the world’s expectation – for us to “deliver results” (aka numbers). It has taken me literally years to come to terms with this “one-by-one” thinking and I thank my friends above for always reminding me about this when I get frustrated by my own or our country’s seeming “lack of progress”.   

This column is about each of us playing our part in the change we wish to see for our country and our world. So, the question is what is your “one at a time”? For my paediatrician friend it is a baby. For Rama it is a conversation. For Louise it is a partnership. For you it could be one customer at a time, one article at a time, one learner, one client, one staff member, one patient, one child.

The trick? Be for that person or situation everything you wish to see the world become. 

Then the world will change. Not tomorrow or next week. But right now.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. 

His writing is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered and Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.