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The Experimental Journey

Throughout my adult life I have been part of many intentional networks that have shaped not only my career, but my worldview and circle of friends. I find that it is often easier to state your values with conviction when the risks are low and you have been relatively unexposed to various scenarios that life may throw your way.

With each passing year, we tend to navigate through increasing complexity. We may be swayed by a stage of life, be it the liability of student loans, sick parents, an increase in material desires or childbirth. Some may call this maturing, some an evolution in priorities. Whatever it is, there is an underlying component of what identity means to you at any given time. When in the Pioneers of Change network, we hosted a monthly meeting called The Hypocrites Club. This was a form of confessional if you like, where we shared stories on how we sold out on our beliefs…. just today a  former fellow vegetarian was surprised to hear that I ate meat for lunch.

I do get sad when I meet up with what was once a fiery doer-activist, only to see glassy jaded eyes look back at me with feedback that they’d given up. I also get frustrated by mentors who respond to a request for advice with. “I don’t know, but you seem to be on the right path.”

The truth is that none of us really know. Sometimes it takes sitting on the balcony with a cuppa tea and journaling without judging yourself. Take a deep breath and risk your next uncertain step. As author Meg Wheatley, during a workshop once invited “Live life as an experiment, make it up as you go along.”

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The Crippled Visionary

I stumble forward. My pains, my hopes, my dreams, my big hairy audacious goal, my legendary pioneering vision, my disappointments, my failures, conversations with my idealistic sixteen year old self.
I am the master of my destiny operating within God’s domain. Yet so much uncertainty, so much self-doubt, so much public portrayal of prosperity, so much self-hypnotic pep talks, so much top-layer shine covering a hillside of debt. So much self-imposed expectations.
And yet I rise. Operating within grace. For I know that the other lies ahead. Fueled by illogical hope that governs my every step. The unseen is carrying me, the unimaginable within grasp. Clumsily midwifing the birth of a new season. My small quivering frame, a cog in the new world of possibility. For dreams and faith give me wings, carrying me beyond my undeserved reality, for my contribution is greater than I. Thank you dear Father.
 
*** An ode to the collective story of so many of us chartering the road less travelled***
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Our Collective Values Will Determine The Future Of The World

I am often astounded at how we as the human race have assumed trust of each other. We trust that the driver at the next intersection won’t run through a red traffic light to end our day, we trust that the bank will hold our pennies in a safe place, we trust that the ingredients in our soft drink will be safe and unaltered from the last 500 times of consuming it.

Are we merely naïve or have we been designed to trust?

I have a passion for designing structures of belonging; be it through one-on-one dialogue, the design of social space or how we convene as groups – I am therefore overjoyed at Peter Block’s book Community: The Structure of Belonging that speaks to all of this. I am relieved that social entrepreneurs are sensitive to how we relate as people to each other and to the planet (although I hope that in the near future we can drop the word “social” with moving to a mainstream approach to doing business). I do however skip a few heartbeats when we forget how we treat each other in our everyday that detracts from our grand intentions of creating this alternate world we want to live in.

As a wannabe social architect, I conform to the belief that every conversation we have, every action and inaction either contributes or detracts from the greater good of humanity. We cannot outsource our personal behavior to the organisations we work in, or hide behind those brands. Our values are integral to our personal development, our ability to relate to others, our roles in organization and society. It determines if and how we do our part of an agreement, be it a written or social agreement. It determines whether we become armchair critics or roll up our sleeves in shaping society or merely the block where we live.

Through my work and circle of friends, I see many people battling with relationships. The choice between retribution and forgiveness is not an obvious option to select when an injustice has occurred. Applying integrity at work with quality delivery does not come easily when uninspired. Many of us begin our journey in life with hand-me-down values based on the religious principles we were born into. Through the knocks and bumps we receive in life, we may let go of a few and adopt a few new ones. I love the saying that a diamond is simply coal that handles pressure well. It’s through adversity that our true values, and thereby character shows up. This is when our ore (also core) is sharpened in the flames of life and our convictions are refined.

Who are we when nobody is watching? Are we bringing our gifts into the world without thought of punishment or reward? Are we showing up as our authentic selves regardless of the consequence? Perhaps we should not wait for the conditions of operation to be ideal. We face a gap in society where we as citizens need to be the leader examples that we need in order to overcome the state of corruption and selfishness that we find ourselves immersed in. We need to create this alternative future by both stepping forward, but also merely practicing our values.

I don’t think this is an overwhelming ambition for any of us; it starts by merely giving thought to how we show up. Are we contributing or detracting in any given situation? Take a moment to pause and breathe before acting and speaking. What good would that piece of gossip bring? Seeing that you tarnish your own character by tarnishing another’s.

While this is a constant practice in my life, I have been met by a few surprises. As an entrepreneur, I speak with the passion of intention of what my work will offer the world. While I truly believe it, the future is uncertain so any promise that I make will be done on a shaky foundation of uncertainty. I have however on more than one occasion received investment and an invitation to paid work because of the belief that I would practice integrity and perseverance in delivery. While reward is not the aim, the circle of life gifts it to us :)

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Celebrating 20 years of Democracy: a gift of subcultures

When I started university in 1998, it was quite daunting being a timid Coloured student at die Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit (RAU). Everyone from my race group knew each other and social groups were still based on the superficial quality of race. I was not the popular type, and if anything more of a social survivalist. I had very little in common with this social grouping; my thoughts lingered on philosophy and you’d find Allanis Morisette in my CD player, not some R&B jam.

For some or other reason I stumbled into the transformation conversation on campus (university). Having lived in campus residence, I found myself playing translator for black girls at residence meetings; translating very important information from Afrikaans to English – never mind that statistics at the time showed that 65% of classes were taken in English and not Afrikaans. At the time we had the choir and an African choir. It was well known that the choir had more budget and opportunities than the African choir that sang more traditional vernacular chorals. We explicitly had white parties and black parties institutionally organized on different sides of campus, including White Spring Day and Black Spring Day – at Milo Park. My heart silently yearned for the music of the White Party, but I had no access point and no business being there – I would also forever be ostracized by “my people” if I went.

University life started to shift for me when I went to an information session about Toastmasters, the international public speaking society. Coming from a family that values leadership and public speaking, I longed to be a great orator. I was hooked and soon found myself being part of the founding team along with Fatima, Wilhelm and Shelley – we could not be any more racially and culturally diverse for the South African context. I finally found a home that could nurture my philosophical mind, and great friendships were ensued. Within a year I was part of the SRC Societies Council and invited to an AIESEC conference. AIESEC is the largest student-run organization in the world with presence in 120 countries. The conference changed my life and I was soon President of the local committee. Suddenly I was hosting people from all over the world, an equal in a meta-culture.

Back to the present…

Through my work and friendships, I spend several hours per week in conversation with people from all over the world. I also get to travel to some of these locations a few times a year. Joburg is undoubtedly my city of choice to live in, but I do get tired of our national conversation through the eyes of the race lens that is not always in tune with the ordinary person’s reality. In Joburg, we have a plethora of interest-based sub-cultures. I see it every time I take part in Critical Mass or speak to my friends and neighbours about to take their mountain bike out for a ride. I see it in our vibrant community of entrepreneurs. In hanging out with hipsters at the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamies on a Saturday. In conversation with friends on our unconscious filter to like someone on Tinder and how chats are challenging assumptions. We are at a point in our electoral process where people from all walks of life are questioning the status quo. This is not race-based and has mostly emerged in the last 5 years. I truly celebrated Freedom Day yesterday by going to the Back To The City Festival. It’s the biggest Hip Hop Festival in Africa and there were thousands of people on the streets of the inner-city who were styling, skating, beatboxing etc.

While we still have work to do on building national unity and bridging the socio-economic divide I acknowledge that it unfortunately has a racial undertone. However, after 20 years of democracy in South Africa, as we debate our differences, may they be differences based on interests and exciting opportunities that valuing sub-cultures are introducing, not on the superficial and increasingly irrelevant circumstance of skin tone.

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My Day With Raul: across Mexico City

Humans are designed for relationship; it’s even biblical. But if you’re expecting a post about an encounter with a beautiful Latin Lover then stop reading now.

…It’s my last day in Mexico City and despite being pressed for time; I stubbornly decided that I will be making my way to the Teotihuacan Pyramids. If in town, I may as well go see the place where “the gods were created” and why it’s come to be a World Heritage Site. My only problem was that the least expensive and most efficient way to get there was by hiring a taxi for a day; that’s 8 hours with someone when I don’t speak Spanish!

Teotihuacan

My colleague Monica from Impact Hub Mexico City arranged the whole thing. She did intros, negotiated the price and called every so often to check in on translation needs and if everything was going ok. I started off by sitting in the back seat with luggage by my side, with a smirk and nod every time he would look my way. It was a steaming hot day sitting in a perpetual traffic jam making our way across Insergentes Avenue. Raul motioned to me to open my window wider so the breeze could flow through. We eventually stopped for fuel where I could arm myself with water and Oreos – my tummy was done with foreign food. Two hours later, after crossing a grey industrial landscape we finally found ourselves entering Teotihuacan City where I would partially walk the Avenue of the Dead.

raulThe ancient structures were breathtaking. I climbed one of the pyramids, but possibly more astonished that all the kids on school tours were wearing tracksuits in the blazing heat! This senorita had to fist pump a bunch of excited boys while a girl laughed out loud and ran to announce that senorita no habla espanol.

me at mexican pyramids

I decided on last minute shopping and after a successful card swipe at one store, I went crazy at the next. The problem was however that there was no signal for it to swipe again. After 30mins of negotiating payment options by attempting Spanglish, the storeowner walked over with me to Raul where we decided to go to the banco. Raul made a sweet gesture by offering to pay for my purchases and we decided to pay with the cash set aside for him that we’d replace later.

The ride back to Mexico City was pleasant. Raul pulled over, inviting me to sit in front. Soon we were singing (me dancing) to traditional mariachi music on his mixed tape – that he repeated one too many times. We conversed through animated expression and hand gestures. We drank from the same bottle of water and he even put eye drops in for me. By the time we got to aeroporto, we were taking selfies to the amusement of the other taxi drivers.

By not being able to express myself through voice, I often felt trapped. I have come to see that humans have not evolved to many other forms of expression. English is not the first language to a vast majority of the world so we need to be adaptable. Beyond the spoken word, what other symbols can we exchange to get to shared meaning? A dance, a smile, the shared meaning of lipstick between women, the unifying power of The Village People’s YMCA across nationalities? We want to connect; I see the frustration at airports over long layovers. Let’s keep on trying, keep on evolving.

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As 2014 dawns on South Africa – my naïve dreams for my country

ImageIt is the 2nd January 2014. I have 4 more days before work starts, but I sit here aware that you don’t go on leave from being a citizen of the country.

I am deeply struck by the question “What does our country need most now, and how may I play a part in it?”  This last month has seen us mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela, and celebrating his magnificent life.  We have been inundated by documentaries, radio talk shows and Anant Singh’s movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom providing new revelations to some of us on the great man’s sacrifice. Fresh conversations are bubbling about the values our nation should espouse and how to continue to strive for the ideals that Nelson Mandela stood for.

In Adam Kahane’s book Power and Love, he states that (and I paraphrase) in order for a group to display collective intelligence, participants need a container where there is access to information and composition of diversity. This is where the magic of sustainable social change happens. How do we create this strong container we so desperately need?  Our country already has a wealth of diversity; we now need to work on access to information (education & no secrecy bill) and resources (shared). We first need to realize that we all need each other.

Who do I vote for that will strive to intentionally create this strong container? Which party or collective of citizens will be consultative, act on corruption and will tirelessly deliver on topics that matter to our people: education, food security, integrated public transport, poverty alleviation, etc.

This year marks 20 years of our democracy. I am proud to have friends from all walks of life – across nations, cultures, races and the socio-economic spectrum. I am however of the generation that caught the end of apartheid, so my joy of progress has an undertone of sadness, and even bitterness. Partially due to the messaging still held by the generation that precedes me; they often do not understand my openness to diverse friendships and romantic relationships. Part of my bitterness is also due to the awareness of my inadequacies around my white friends who have not only inherited financially and materially, but also a sense of adventure, sportsmanship and possibility. I find that many of my black friends are so caught up in attaining financial security that we are not prioritizing a purpose-driven life. A life that speaks to your calling seems a luxury.

I long for a society where my prejudice is obsolete and I can bask in the beauty of our diversity and shared humanity without further contemplation. Where access to resources is not the limiting factor to achieving your full potential. Where we trust that our elected leaders will serve the well being of our entire nation, not be caught up in self-interest. I long for the day that we as South Africans are proudly African and not yearn to be anything else, but lovingly embrace our brothers and sisters across the continent as equals. And finally, the day that Africa is an equal social and economic player in the world; no longer inferior but not necessarily superior. We’re all simply humans living and sharing justly and appreciatively.

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An Almost 15 year old meets Nelson Mandela in 1995

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The day before my 15th birthday in 1995 when Nelson Mandela spoke at my school, I did not fully understand the enormity of the man, although I was in awe of him and thought he was a giant with big hands when they shook mine.  I remember the media fussing about an eye operation that he just had, and may not show up. He showed up, and did not fuss. I remember him saying that he wishes he could pick us all up and carry each one of us in his shirt pocket to take us everywhere with him, protecting us. As a 33 year old reflecting back, I now understand the impact of those words… and even more in awe. He was indeed a giant.

This picture appeared on the front page of The Sowetan newspaper on 20th January 1995, my special birthday gift. You keep giving Madiba, happy birthday!

Press statement issued by the Gauteng Department on 17th January 1995

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