Let’s Be Whole-Makers and Bring Unity – Not Religious and Bring Division

Let’s Be Whole-Makers and Bring Unity – Not Religious and Bring Division

If we replaced the words used to describe our faith i.e. Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Hindu/Atheist etc, with the words “Whole-makers” – I think it would have a profound impact on the world.

This is not a new idea; disciples, scholars and mystics of all faith traditions have pointed us to the fact that our work here on earth is to unify; to make whole; to embody oneness. I like these terms because they denote action; they don’t describe who we are by what we believe but by what we do and how we live.

For those of us who are non-religious (or trying hard to be non-religious) I think we could probably buy into this notion of “Whole-making” far easier than religion.  Imagine the conversation:

Me: Hello, my name is Justin

New friend: Hello Justin, what religion are you?

Me: Oh, I am not a religion as such, I am just trying to be a Whole-maker like Jesus was.

New friend: How wonderful! I am also trying to be a Whole-maker like the Buddha was. Let’s make whole together.

New friends exit together as one.

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?

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.      

Open Letter to the Staff and Parents of Trinity House Palm Lakes

Open Letter to the Staff and Parents of Trinity House Palm Lakes

Hi Everyone,

Cathy and I adopted Lolly when we were a bit older than some of you. I am of an age where I remember wooden desks with flip-up lids and a hole in the corner for an ink-well…although not even I’m that old that we still used fountain pens!

My teachers used green chalk boards, I had actual text books and I played cricket and rode my bike without a helmet. My primary and secondary school both had 30 kids per class. They had wooden floors and high windows and certainly no aircon or screens or fancy halls or what are now referred to as theatres. And I went to two of the poshest schools in Joburg – Pridwin Prep and St Johns College Houghton.

Now of course I run the risk of sounding old and nostalgic. I may be old but I’m not nostalgic. I mostly hated school – especially high school. The reason for that is not that we lacked anything material, but because of what schooling lacked on other levels; warmth; love; compassion, care, balance. It was all about academic results, sporting achievement; cultural and extra-curricular excellence; “developing the young person for the future”.

I have come to understand in my adult life that what the world lacks is not necessarily smarter, sportier, more culturally gifted adults (although these are all fine characteristics). What the world lacks is emotionally intelligent, caring, balanced, conscious, present, unmaterialistic, compassionate, non-racist, non-sexist, non-abusive, well-adjusted, well-read adults who can live all-embracing lives in an increasingly fractured, violent and individualistic world.

But the funny thing is that when we look at schools for our kids, we don’t look for these things that will keep them (and humanity at large) alive and functional in the year 2030 plus (just for the purposes of location in history this is the AI, biotech era in which the caring/human careers – or those that can look after machines –  will be the ones most highly sought after).

We look for astro-turf fields, sparking pools or what we now refer to as “aquatic centres”, dance studios with sprung floors and mirrors, smart boards, iPads and airconditioned classrooms with ergonomically designed chairs. Only the best for our little munchkins. But is it?

Because we don’t ask about their approach to the education of resilience or emotional intelligence – key attributes in this 21st Century workplace – or how the child of colour is educated to deal with a world that is structurally racist. We don’t ask about their approach to the empowerment of the girlchild or their employment policy and whether it demonstrates the racial and gender demographic of our nation (and this is particularly worrying because so many of us are people of colour or have children of colour – or are women!). Or how they deal with the introverted or very extroverted child, or the anxious/depressed child or the child of a single parent or the adopted child.

But who cares about all this if there is a “deli” where they can order their over-priced tramezzini off a personalised credit card.

Like you, we were unnerved by the closing of our high school. And when a couple of teachers left and only a few people pitched at the recent open days, we too went and looked at other schools in the area. It was disturbing to say the least. Why would I want my 8-year-old kid to go to a school that looks like a corporate head office; that has all the trimmings but lacks even a modicum of soul or history? Are we really to be enticed by chandeliers and the smell of drying paint?

Yes, Trinity is a lot more traditional, simple and less “corporate” in feel. It also doesn’t have all the bells and whistles. But then why do we all feel a sense of it being a very special little school? Perhaps precisely because it is smaller, friendlier, more family-oriented, and caring. Trinity is by no means caught in the past and is also not slavishly obsessed with modernity at the expense of a more balanced, down-to-earth, less-materialistic, less overtly-privileged environment. It offers smaller classes, exceptional teachers and a solid base of spiritual and emotional care for our children.  

Why would we choose to move our children from this incredible environment? Upheave them to fulfil our desire for “all that sparkles”?

Just as an aside, Trinity is also the very best value private school in our area; the cheapest and the most exclusive in terms of numbers and personalised care and attention of our kids: Lolly’s teacher from last year came to her birthday party!

But the point of this letter is not to encourage you to stay if you don’t want to. It is your right to leave. But this I do ask; if you are going to leave, leave quietly, happily and peacefully. Don’t feel you have to spend the rest of the year justifying your decision by running Trinity down. Don’t feel you need to go on about the great facilities at other schools.

The rest of us really want this school to succeed and here’s the thing – there are plenty of us who will choose Trinity for all the reasons others are leaving; we want our kids to grow up in a less materialistic, simpler, “less shiny” environment with some older-school values. By the way, I spend a great deal of my working time in rural and peri-urban government schools. Before moving schools, go and visit some of those for a perspective on how privileged we are to have Trinity literally on our doorstep.

Our aim is for Lolly to be at Trinity until she matriculates. Maybe we will maybe we won’t – but Cathy and I are determined to do all we can to help this special little school not only survive but grow and thrive.

We hope you join us – but we fully understand if you don’t.

With care,

Justin Foxton – aka “Lolly’s Dad”.

The Truth Will Set You Free – But First It Will Kick You In The Guts

The Truth Will Set You Free – But First It Will Kick You In The Guts

I was recently invited to be part of a small speaker panel at a local church in my home town of Salt Rock, Kwa-Zulu Natal.

As I prepared for the session, I became overwhelmed by all the bad news that is currently surrounding us in South Africa.

I tend to steer clear of regurgitating reams of negativity as I feel the mainstream press does a great job of keeping us all up-to-speed with that. But my mind couldn’t help going there: the brazen looting at VBS, the constant revelations of state capture; Johan Booysen’s reminder to us of the rot at the National Prosecuting Authority; the various commissions of enquiry that literally spew forth the rotten, effluent of the Zuma years. The Rand tumbling. Petrol prices sky-rocketing. Good people fleeing for foreign shores and bad people remaining, unpunished. It made me feel quite ill to be honest.

If you are feeling a degree of discomfort or even depression at the state of our nation and indeed the world then in my mind you are simply human. It tells me you care; you desire the fulfilment of your right to happiness; you are concerned about the betterment of the world; for safety and prosperity and well-being for all and not just the entitled rich; for the well-being of our children.

But questions kept coming to me that troubled me: Is my discomfort, my depression based on reality or on an invention of some kind? Who or what is controlling my state-of-mind; me or the news media or my friends or what I read on social media? Am I choosing to believe what is negative to fulfil some need for belonging; belonging to a legion of South Africans who are trapped in their own victimhood? Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?

I asked these questions because there was appearing a genuine paradox in my mind: I cannot possibly deny that we are better off as a nation today than we were this time last year and yet I feel worse. How come?

So let’s unpack this for a moment: If this time last year I had told you that Zuma would be gone, Cyril Ramaphosa would be our President; Tito Mboweni would be our Minister of Finance; Shaun Abrahams would have gone; Tom Moyane would have gone; Nomgcobo Jiba would have been suspended; some R100 billion worth of foreign direct investment would have been committed; a slew of commissions of enquiry would have been established to investigate state capture and the demise of SARS – would you have taken it? I would have!

So again, why am I more negative today than this time last year? And why do I know that I am not alone?

The truth is that the truth will set us free. However, it will cause us considerable discomfort even pain, whilst it does. We are currently buckling under the burden of bad news. Because as much as I may list all the great things that have happened since last year, they have come amidst revelation after stinking revelation of the depth to which our nation has sunk in the past decade. And as we ingest our weekly, daily sometimes hourly doses of News24, Daily Maverick, City Press or whatever our media poison happens to be, we are systematically contaminating ourselves with the truth. And we are right at the bottom of the bad news barrel right now; we are in a very deep, dark place and we are struggling to see the many colourful and beautiful lights that are surrounding us.

I am not saying we shouldn’t expose ourselves to what is happening around us – far from it. The evangelist Billy Graham used to say that he preached with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. I believe this wisdom should apply to us all. But we must also guard against over-exposure; we must be wise in what we consume and what we believe because not all “truth” is true; not all truth is good or helpful; not all truth needs to be immediately consumed.

This column is all about giving people small things we can all do to make South Africa a better place. But without hope (as opposed to optimism) we are not able to breathe; we are not able to give or serve; we are not able to fulfil our purpose for the world. We must take time; find some quiet and stillness and allow ourselves to find the good amidst the bad; shake off this crushing weight of negativity and take some time to focus on just how and why and where we are better off today than a year ago.  

Then – charged with a lightness of being and a slight twinkle in the eye – we can be that change that we wish to see in the world.  

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

Land Expropriation – Bring It On!

Land Expropriation – Bring It On!

As a white person I do not fully understand the land expropriation without compensation issue. In truth, I cannot. My background, my thinking, my skin, my privilege precludes me from really getting it.

But what I do know – and what, it seems some other white writers are beginning to grapple with – is that the issue is not the issue.

The issue is not about people getting “free land”. It is not about what people do with the land. It is not about food security or what it will do to the economy. I would even say that it isn’t about redress, or certainly not all about redress.

It is to some extent about politics and the 2019 elections but perhaps the timing is just coincidental. Or perhaps the timing is just right.

My paradigms disallow me from seeing expropriation without compensation as necessary and good. My paradigms prompt me to say: “Who can argue against the facts? The statistics prove the point. Countries in which land is expropriated are likely to XYZ. Just look at Zim.” This thinking is one dimensional and comes from a place of strength and privilege. And fear.

As an example, food security – a big focus of our arguments against expropriation – is only an issue to the well fed and at that, when their security is threatened. I work with people in areas like rural Limpopo who haven’t enjoyed a single day of food security their entire lives. To them, food security is when the local wild vegetables happen to take root in the red dust and they get a meal. If you have read Trevor Noah’s superb book “Born a Crime” you will have been struck by a story of his Mother making soup out of river clay just to fill her stomach. Many people in our country would just laugh at us if we told them that land expropriation would impact food security.   

And what about the economy? We can argue – and we do so disingenuously to protect our own positions of relative wealth and privilege – that land expropriation will impact the economy and of course the poorest of the poor will be worst hit. This may well be true. But come on! If we really cared so much for the poorest of the poor wouldn’t we do more about them? Would we not give up some of our proverbial farm so that they may farm and eat – or for heaven’s sake screw it up if they wish to? And not just the odd progressive farmer (I have met some of these amazing people) but all of us who have?

The other point we need to understand better from within our privilege is that less of nothing is still nothing. So let’s be brutal with ourselves and say that the economic argument against land expropriation is much more about us who have, than those who don’t.

But if the issues around land expropriation are not the issue, then what is? I don’t know for sure, you would need to ask a black person without land. But from what I have come to appreciate, it’s got as much to do with psychology than anything. It has to do with closure; burying the rotting corpse of apartheid that still lies in the streets and pollutes all of us; It has to do with people being given a realistic chance (not just on paper) to exercise their rights; to be human and adult. It has to do with collective dignity being restored to a vast group of people only some of whom will benefit from land expropriation.

So, when we are tempted to say: But look at what happened in Zim – it will mess up the economy like it did there! Perhaps we can take a broader look and say: Yes, perhaps it will – but perhaps it won’t. And if it does, maybe that’s what is needed for the psyche of people and this country to heal for future generations. We cannot truly do that which so many suggest – move on from the past – until the land issue is resolved. 

Bring it on. 

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