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.
“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
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.
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.
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
During the 16th Nelson Mandela lecture, former US President Barack Obama humbly and vulnerably took issue with a side of humanity that few are ever brave enough to; the side that says that more is always better.He said: “Right now, I am actually surprised by how much money I got…There’s only so much you can eat. There’s only so big a house you can have. There’s only so many nice trips you can take. I mean, it’s enough.”
The questions we might ask when presented with this thinking is, what is a former US President’s definition of enough? What is my enough? What is your enough? But by asking such questions we lose ourselves in ‘for instances’ and ‘hypotheticals’ and we miss the essence of what he is suggesting; that inequality is – at least to some degree – in our hands to fix. He is basically suggesting that as long as one of our number is in lack whilst I am not, then I have more than enough.
Of course, in our capitalist world where ‘more’ is the only game in town, this thinking is naïve. It sounds like charity speak. But that is where we have gone wrong; we have commoditized giving. We have turned what should be a normal everyday human response to inequality into a system of points, rewards and tax breaks.
But President Obama is asking us to look at inequality differently, perhaps a little more like my child who looks at the beggar on the street and says: “Give that man our money – we have enough!”
How do we do this well? It begins with a shift in mindset: What can I go without, so people can have what they need to survive? This may be a physical thing like a meal or a movie or some new clothes, or it may be less tangible like a degree of financial security or the size of my savings account. Having begun to think this way then we begin to free ourselves of the constraints of our own poverty mentality. We can then think about doing some of these things:
Enjoy the fact that our tax goes in large part to feeding the poor. We can pay it thankfully and think or pray for those who have less.
We can become radical tippers. I loved the story of the Brit who was so impressed by having his petrol pumped by an attendant that he tipped 10% of the value of the full tank of fuel. We can make 15% – 20% restaurant tips the norm. R10 minimum for car guards and bag packers in supermarkets.
R20 an hour is not a living wage. We can pay R30+ an hour which is okay but still not great.
We can employ more people – especially women – than we necessarily need. We won’t do work that someone else can do for us and be paid for.
We can help our domestics, our gardeners with educating their children, maybe by arranging that they attend a better school, and maybe by assisting with the fees.
Does all this sound naïve? It may do – but the alternative is not: The alternative is a society slowly but surely torn apart by inequality.
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 murderedand Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.