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.

Moving Beyond Ourselves to Find Joy in 2017

As I awoke on boxing day morning and the sad news of George Michael’s passing hit social media, I began to consider the validity of the “enough-of-2016-roll-on-2017” lament.

I do not believe that one year is any better or worse than another on any kid of grand scale; a year is simply a measure of time in which both good and bad occurs depending on which side of the fence you are on. But it could obviously not escape me that we had lost a great many wonderful people in 2016; Prince, Leonard Cohn, Mohammed Ali, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher and of course George Michael to name a few. We would all agree that these deaths were tragic for the world, as of course were the many deaths of innocent people in murders, suicide bombings and wars. But not all of us would agree for example that Donald Trump’s election was a bad thing. Many would say that this alone made 2016 a fabulous year. Good and bad is a very relative thing. This got me thinking: is there a way to ensure that 2017 is a “good year” for us personally or are we simply at the mercy of the fates? Is such a guarantee of happiness possible for human beings or is it indeed true that the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes? As far as I know, there is no formula for ensuring that good things will happen. However, there is a great deal of research and common wisdom that gives us techniques and disciplines that can safeguard joy, even in the face of bad stuff happening. Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky tells us that around half of our levels of joy or happiness are determined by unchangeable factors such as genes or our personality. The other half is determined by our circumstances (over which we have limited control), and our attitudes and actions over which we have a great deal of control. Joy So, this suggests that we can at least contribute to 2017 being a joyful year by watching our attitudes and actions. What does this mean in practise? Lyubomirsky’s research confirms with hard data what many learned folk – including all the great spiritual leaders of history – have been telling us for centuries; that there are essentially 3 factors to increasing joy or happiness: the first is our ability to reframe our current situation or circumstances in a more positive light; the second is our ability to express gratitude and the third is our ability or capacity for kindness and generosity. I think two and three are self-explanatory although tough for many of us; we can all accept that grateful, generous people are happier and we know this because it feels so darn good to be grateful and generous. But how do we reframe our current situation in a more positive light, especially when it is bad? From reading the thoughts of such thinkers as the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others, there seem to be two ways we can do this without slipping into denial. The first is to actively place oneself in the shoes of other people who are suffering worse than we are, and assist them in whatever way we can. As we do this our negative situation does not change but our perception of it does. Suddenly our lot is not so bad. We move from the victim position (from which no joy or creativity can flow) to the creator position, as we seek ways to alleviate the suffering of others. Joy is produced in the other and joy follows in us as an inevitable by-product. Every time we move towards others, we move away from self-centredness and joy can rise. The second way of reframing our situation is arguably simpler than the first, but it challenges us very deeply. Contrary to what our culture would tell us, we must choose to view life through rose-tinted spectacles or “see the glass half full” if you prefer. Now, this is not to say that we should ignore the bad. It just says we should look at the bad in the light of the good. It also says we should choose to see good first – in every situation and in every person; the bad will always be there and it is in our nature to seek this out. We need to intentionally re-wire our brains on this one and as we do we will begin to experience awe and wonder again – both components of joy. Perhaps the best place to begin our re-wiring process is in our thoughts and opinions of our country, so deeply negative and mostly lacking all joy. A deep awareness seems to be stirring globally; an awareness that we urgently need to move beyond ourselves to a place of radical gratitude, generosity and positivity. In short, we need to heed a deep call to love. If this is how we choose to do 2017, then it is going to be a fantastic year. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency This column is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.