Give and Take- What are we missing?

The_Giving_Hands_by_therealzack

The idea -and act- of giving is my passion. I have written about it on many of my blogs because it is something I value- not only in myself but in others as well. I believe if one is able to give (read share) then they’ve realized the value of a purpose driven life.

I admire individuals who give effortlessly, selflessly and without expecting a pat on the back. For this reason,it never ceases to amaze me when someone gives to another and broadcasts it to the world. An awkward incident occurred on my birthday last month, that really took me aback and made me realize that…well, we are cut from different cloths sometimes.

As the recipient of a particular gift, it was extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing to have someone announce to people around what they had presented to me on the day. Very unnecessary.

A profound tweet was posted this week: “Don’t eat with someone who is going to brag about feeding you”. It summarizes what I deem to be narcissism in  some people. This is primarily because ideally the onus should be on the recipient to show gratitude in their own manner. In all honesty, making utterances like “I gave someone X amount of money to do YZ” or “I gave Gomo’ XY because blah blah” is very distasteful.

Perhaps that is why Corporate Social Responsibility seems to be a bit of a farce. It is said that, “CSR policy functions as a self-regulatory mechanism whereby a business monitors and ensures its active compliance with the spirit of the law [and] ethical standards”.

Today CSR is firmly entrenched in many corporates (and it is a good thing, don’t get me wrong) and they can donate a few things to the disadvantaged, take a few snaps and get some publicity out of it. The more the better, so they can see we genuinely have the interests of society at heart.

Perhaps they can be forgiven because they need to do some sort of reporting? Then again, CSR is also linked to business objectives- which means the more a company is seen to be doing good, the more likely it is to get more business: that’s capitalism giving us the middle finger.

I reckon there is a significant difference between giving because one has to- as opposed to one being inclined to. Motivation is a defining factor and ultimately determines whether an act of giving is genuine. Otherwise it is nothing but an attention seeking, point scoring and meaningless gesture.

What does “giving” mean to you? Let me leave you to mull on this with the words of Mother Teresa, “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

 

Advertisements

Age is…

Human-Development

Every Friday in my office we have a culture of asking the “Friday Question” and this could be any question under the sun with the aim of getting to know fellow team members better.

Most of the time the responses from these questions are interesting, funny and give one a sense of having better understanding of the other.

My questions have always been controversial- and this is not because they have anything to do with religion, politics, sexuality or anything that is not permissible in the office. I’ve been told that, well…I’m just too deep. Perhaps I should have been a Psychologist instead?

Anyway, I posed this question this week: “At what age did you become an adult?” Pretty simple question I thought, and if not, it would be a nice way for people to apply their minds. I was mistaken and realized that what we perceive is shaped by where we come from and our experiences. All of that comes together to shape reality as we know it.

I love this quote by Martha Graham, “‘Age’ is the acceptance of a term of years. But maturity is the glory of years.”

How many times have you looked at some people and thought their age is not in line with their maturity (or lack thereof- read stupid)? How do we then effectively gauge whether someone is mature or not without imposing our beliefs on them? We can’t. Without applying our own experiences and knowledge- and therefore judgement on the actions and behaviour of others, we would probably see the world in monochrome.

I had a conversation with a friend about a family member of his who bought a car that he cannot  maintain despite the fact that he couldn’t even put fuel in it without asking for cash from someone else. It didn’t come as a surprise considering the number of people who live beyond their means.

The saying, “age is nothing but a number” is often used to define and/or justify cross generational relationships, among other things. The phrase also correctly indicates that the crux of maturity lies in discipline, responsibility and one’s ability to respond to their environment appropriately more than it does on actual age. We see immaturity in others when we realize the deficiency in these qualities.

In the same instance adulthood does not necessarily equate maturity. I became an adult at the age of twenty-two when I had my child and even though I had assumed full and unequivocal responsibility of her and my own circumstances, I feel maturity had not quite settled in. This was long after the age of 18 when I could legally drink whatever titillated my taste buds, etc.

In essence, maturity is work in progress. For some it comes very early; for some just in the nick of time and for others  – it just never shows up!

Witchcraft, The Money-Spinner

charismatic worship

God is BIG business. If you don’t believe me, ask any preacher or prophet or son of God in any charismatic denomination and you’ll have your answer. You can also look no further than Mfonobong Nsehe’s profiling of the Five Richest Pastors in Nigeria . Theirs are religious franchises- think Chris Oyakhilome’s Christ Embassy, David Oyedepo’s Living Water World Outreach Ministry, etc.

The former reminds me of my varsity years when fellow-students had a knack for doing that distinctive hairstyle that looked like an entire jar of gel was used on the hair (to mimic Oyakhilome’s, I suppose) and with the latter I recall the period just before Y2K when some were happy to swap their frilly Sunday skirts for jeans to church.

The age of men and women of the cloth living near-pauper existences seems to be a thing of the past. Nsehe sums it up nicely by writing, “…while the Bible expressly states that salvation is free, at times it comes with a cost; offerings, tithes, gifts to spiritual leaders…”

For me, this brings memories of sitting in church a few months ago with about twenty Rand in my purse-my last money- wondering if it would be enough to pay for the second of two offerings in one service (plus tithe). There were also subtle threats that one’s blessings would be locked up somewhere if tithe is not paid.

On about two occasions that I sat in that church, one couldn’t help but feel as if we’d just switched on to a sales channel as the prophet brought out the big guns: A bottle of ‘holy’ perfume that he endorsed for being able to help one attract a divine partner and any other opportunity one desired. He also brought out a bottle of anointed oil, originally bottled as a combination of olive & other essential oils from Checkers. Yep, that green bottle behind the pew. No less than R 100 a pop.

As the witchcraft trilogy comes to conclusion, I am reminded of Newton’s third Law of motion; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In this instance, the belief in witchcraft, -while for years has filled the coffers of traditional/witch-doctors through individuals who sought to ‘protect’ themselves and/or cause harm to others- also created a gap in the spiritual “market” which continues to be exploited by charismatic evangelists.

Sitting among a group of people during deliverance and hearing some bizarre testimonies, as well as a conversation with a very religious friend of mine proved just how seriously witchcraft is taken. Since I couldn’t point a finger at anyone specific for my apparent ‘misfortune’ (nobody had been killed by my prayers) I had to wonder if witchcraft mechanics fear big city lights; whether they prefer to roam around in the still darkness that characterizes most villages instead.

An article by BBC Africa Live states that witchcraft has, for many years played a role in rebellions, fighting wars and possibly found its way into every nook and cranny of society. This has made the success of charismatic churches an easy one, as they laugh all the way to the bank for commodifying God and identifying a spiritual gap that conventional churches seemingly can’t fill.

Most importantly, the charismatic movement continues to appeal to the need for instant gratification that a lot of people have. For some, money is no issue if they can get their divine partner, marriage, money, or if they can get those haters off their backs. Many are attracted by the idea of attaining things they haven’t worked a day in their lives for; many are desperate for miracles. Are they any different to a person who visits a traditional doctor to achieve the same result? Is it a case of the kettle calling the pot black?

I believe that a lot of people cannot deal with their reality, especially if it turns out to be less than desirable. I also believe that one’s overall perception can be affected by that. Some resort to extreme measures, others look to faith and others remain despondent. In all situations every action has consequences.

It would be naïve for anyone to assume that there aren’t things bigger than us-(good or bad) or people who always stand to gain from others’ misfortune – yet we must always remember that the universe works in our favour once we learn to be the masters of our individual destinies.

In closing, consider this Bible verse: Matthew 7:15

 

Between Cerebos & Celibacy

A recent conversation with a girlfriend of mine left me feeling like a deer caught in the headlights, as they say. Naturally, conversations around sex and sexuality aren’t very comfortable if one is venturing into unfamiliar territory. These only have a tendency of coming out if one is sufficiently inebriated or in the company of people they know well, and decorum established around this subject.

Anyway, my friend made a disclosure that left me with more questions than answers. I still don’t know what’s worse; revealing that one has been celibate for a couple o’ years and risking those awkward “what’s wrong with you?” moments or that you want some (like yesterday)and getting an equal reaction? She bemoaned being judged by people and, as per her observation, that even the slightest mood swing on a girl is blamed on her “dry” season. However, she reckons she can go past the ten year mark and I say, “Give that girl a Bell’s!”

Well, I certainly can’t say the same about yours truly…I need Jesus!

Sexual frustration is defined as, “the frustration caused by a discrepancy between one’s desired and achieved levels of sexual activity or what is referred to as involuntary celibacy”. In this corner of the earth it is affectionately code named letswai/cerebos, that is, salt. What we know is that, like anything linked to the thought process, sexual frustration is the manifestation of that- acknowledging it only serves as validation in the physical.

In his book “Woman Thou Art Loosed”, Pastor TD Jakes writes,  “It is sad to realise our society has become so promiscuous that many have mistaken the thrill of a weekend fling for a knitting together of two thirsty hearts at the oasis of a loving commitment”. Indeed we have become so hyper-sexualized and sex so easily accessible that the lines are increasingly becoming blurred. The mere thought of being a ‘victim’ of a tap-that-a$$-and-run situation and rampant sexual innuendos in many an inbox are enough to just make one close shop…err, I DID mention this would be a bit tricky, neh? Therefore, abstinence is arguably the best option under the circumstances.

But (and that’s a big BUT) abstinence does not mean that one is immune to getting “giddy” now and then. My friend admits that she’s had to keep herself heavily occupied with other things to avoid her thoughts drifting towards that direction. And it can become an enormous monkey on one’s back if permitted, can’t it? So, judging from the conversation I’d say she has effectively avoided experiencing sexual frustration. I haven’t… gulp!

It is fairly easy these days for singletons to hook up on a Friends-With-Benefits (FWB) basis to ward off otherwise lonely, cold nights.That is the rationale. Sometimes the rabbit does the job. Sometimes none of these works; not when what you’re looking for is more than a physical experience.I reckon that it’s easier to deal with sexual frustration when you’re not in a commitment because there aren’t inherent expectations.

According to Dr Karen Ruskin, “longing for sexual intimacy left unfulfilled in quantity and quality is a challenge and a taboo topic for many”. Oddly enough we still live in a world where the man is perceived as the one who always wants it and the woman (with disinterest) always ready to pop out a stack of headache pills from the bedside table. It is such a dangerous presumption that many men have their bubbles burst when they actually realise they’ve been cheated on. Le  rona rea e batla, hawu!

I truly envy my friend. With all the pressures of this world, it takes considerable will-power, conviction and strength of character to be abstinent. As I navigate the salty path of involuntary celibacy kicking and screaming and hollering I seek comfort in Bai Ling’s words: “Sex is like a bridge; if you don’t have a good partner, you better have a good hand”.

‘Couldn’t have said it better if I tried! 😉

Shades of Black…

tumblr_inline_mmmuc3IZMz1qz4rgp

There exists a hierarchy in society. At the top sits the White man who is perceived as a model of all that is superior and good. For many years, the so-called Coloured communities saw themselves as being inferior to Whites but superior to Africans.

Owing to the conditions of the Apartheid system, many Black people who could pull it off assumed coloured identities to gain access to social liberties that they would otherwise not be able to. The latter distinguishes himself superior to others in his group based on physical, ethnic and (interestingly) on skin complexion. The ones with the darkest complexion sit at the very bottom of this hierarchy.

At least, that is what is highlighted in “Dark Girls”. I recently sat down to watch this eye-opening American documentary about the deep-seated biases against dark skinned Black, as well as Asian women. It opened my eyes to the reality of many women whose pigmentation renders them less favourable candidates in labour markets, relationships; reproduction and to the somewhat deeply entrenched perception that they an attitude problem.

I have been regularly been mistaken for a Coloured person until I spoke my mother tongue, (un)fortunately the absence of a Cape Malay accent betrayed me. One of those occasions was when, as a child, I was shopping with my mother. A Coloured lady approached us and uttered something to me in Afrikaans. I just stared back blankly. I take no pride or pleasure in being what they call a yellow bone. As Steven Biko once wrote, Being black is not a matter of pigmentation, being black is a reflection of a mental attitude”.

light-skinned-vs-dark-black-women

We are so deep in it, and our self-image so severely distorted that bridal parties sing silly songs like, “Tswa’ng tswa’ng tswa’ng le boneng, ngwana o tshwana le leColoured” (Come out and see, the girl looks like (a) coloured).

When Nomasonto aka “Mshoza”Mnisi started bleaching her skin and announced plans to do further work on her nose so she could look White, some of us were really shocked. It was hard to fathom how in this day and age –when we enjoy so many liberties- someone could possibly hate herself so much! Of course it was simpler to dismiss it as a typical tendency of someone who had just discovered money and had no better use for it. If only it were that cut and dried.

Self-image has been distorted in the context of the Black community for centuries and the baton passed on from generation to generation. The popularity of skin-lightening products soared among Black South African women in the 1970s and 1980s* and many of those who coveted lighter shades now have “Dichubaba” (dark blemishes brought on by the dangerous combination of mercury and hydroquinone) to prove it. It remains true that what is on the outside reflects what’s inside and the price paid for a low self-image a hefty one.

According to enca.com, Nigeria tops the list for skin-lightening products, with “nearly 8 out of 10 Nigerian women bleach[ing] their skin.” It is also reported that regardless of how rich a Nigerian woman may be, if she is dark skinned, she is as good as a pauper. In South Africa, you can buy cheap skin-lightening products off a street vendor for less than R15.

On the flip side of the coin, the criminalization, virtual alienation and statutory harassment experienced by dark complexioned men is another bone of contention. It has escalated to a point where the perception is that anyone who is dark skinned can’t be South African. It’s worse if one is using public transport.Just a few weeks ago, the son of former Reserve Bank governor, Tito Mboweni was pulled out of a taxi because of his dark pigmentation and requested to produce a passport.

In a similar incident, my sister and I were travelling to varsity a few years ago from home when our taxi was stopped by police just outside Harties. Seated behind us were two men (Zimbabwean nationals)who sat quietly during the trip. I still remember the sinking feeling as the two were loaded into the police van, as timid as sheep going to the slaughterhouse.

There is a definite mental shift that needs to occur. It will have to happen at every level of this social hierarchy through the rejection of entrenched ideas that one human being possesses superiority over the other for whatever reason. Consequently, superficial and shallow masks put on by those with an inferiority complex will be dismantled.

 

 

Navigating The Grey Terrain…

A bronze ornamental piece used to adorn the wall in my folks’ bedroom when I was growing up. Encrypted on it were the words, “Count not life by the minutes but by the moments…” and more words to that effect which I cannot recall at this point.

What I do remember is that the text related to how we treat time and by implication, life. How we measure life truly depends on our different contexts; how much sentimentality we infuse into the things we do and how much value we add into ours’ and others’ lives.

Like many other things in life, conversations around age and ageing are a bone of contention. While some people may express their desire to live a wholesome and meaningful existence even if it is short-lived, others would opt for the opportunity to live a long life anytime. Many would gladly live for a while if they could have the option to fore-go the physical ramifications associated with ageing.

See all those women visiting cosmetic surgeons,and how about those old timers stocking up on Viagra…or the infamous sugar daddies all around? Insane, huh? And don’t we all want to live forever, and be forever young while we’re at it?

As usual, yours truly is quite happy to sit on the fence. Firstly because not everyone who dies young would have achieved all they set out to do (though you can probably recall a few notable individuals who died at the height of stardom and dizzying success). Secondly, having the privilege of long life does not necessarily mean that one will see their children and grandchildren grow to become well-rounded individuals who care about themselves and the society they inhabit.

 Also, as elaborated by the many fixes for this and that, it seems a lot of people don’t appreciate ageing all that much. But let’s face it, minus all the sentimentality around getting old truth is, watching gravity mess with you ain’t fun- especially if you feel you have under- achieved.

 Just put yourself in the shoes of senior citizens on the receiving end of financial, emotional, and -as is becoming common place in our country lately- sexual abuse by those around them simply by virtue of being hapless.

time

After watching the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin (yes, I know it was out six years ago already…and yes, I also know procrastination sure is a passion killer), I began to think about my ailing grandmothers. I also thought about former President Mandela. The motion picture delicately and with precision, draws parallels between old age and infancy…and there are many. It is probably for this reason some people, including me, would rather die with all their senses intact than to become a burden to others.

Yes, it sounds wrong. Naturally, in a bid to be morally and politically correct we can assert that that’s what the nuclear family and peripheral support structures are there for. That would be the case. One would imagine that the twilight years are probably the most terrifying years in an individual’s life and in the same breath, the most emotionally taxing for caregivers. Ask anyone who has had a close family member suffering from Alzheimer’s or Dementia.

It has been interesting observing the media storm around the series of hospitalizations of Ntate Mandela, and more so the odd fixation upon his imminent death. If I didn’t know any better one would easily assume that the world expected the man to be immortal; to pull off a Houdini from old age. A bit unfair, I reckon.

Ageing is a natural progression and a blessing in many respects. Some, like many senior citizens in Limpopo who age well into their early hundreds, attribute this to a healthy lifestyle and old school livin’. They, of course, make it seem like a walk in the park. Yet old age can be a very lonely place, especially when one has witnessed the passing of friends, family- children included.

Some say that being content is the first step to being truly happy in one’s skin. Others swear by a purpose driven existence and pushing barriers. Whichever way you choose to measure your life, make sure it counts.

When change comes knocking

I got the most eerie and unusual feeling sometime this week. I walked over to the job applications box in our department like I usually do when I try my luck at finding a job here. I walked over to the security area eyeing the register, bemoaning the fact that it had been moved from its usual place. I should know because I ‘work’ here, right? I’ve been around this place and I should know because I’m used to this place.

Now what was it about that feeling? Oh yes…well, it didn’t actually start on the day I dropped my applications off but rather on the Sunday before when I saw my department’s internship programme ad in the paper. As unsettling as this was, I reckon I sort of forgot about it as the week progressed. It was when one guy enquired with the security folks where the internship applications could be dropped off that it hit me…again: Our replacement is imminent. It’s the same feeling one gets when you just know deep down that your lover has given his affections to someone else. It’s that unfettered voice in your head that keeps saying, “Change is coming”. It’s daunting and utterly devastating.

It’s often hard to imagine that people may want the same things you want, isn’t it? I realized this week that I have grown fairly comfortable where I’ve been for the past six months. I’ve shared, amongst others, frustrations and laughter with my colleagues but also built profound relationships with the people I encounter outside the office; those women in the taxi, and the drivers themselves whose faces beam with smiles in my direction every passing day.

This may expose me as someone with a huge attachment complex, perhaps even one who is emotional but I believe it may also show that I have genuine interest in people who have an impact on my life, whether direct or not. So when some say that the work environment is no place to form (genuine) relationships, I understand because it would be naive to presume that everyone has your best interests at heart. But this happens everywhere! I also wonder if it is at all possible to remain completely guarded and-worse- disconnected from the people that one encounters on a daily basis; to be nonchalant. I don’t know.

What I do know, though, is that this place has become like second home to me. I have had the opportunity to learn, to grow both mentally and emotionally. I don’t like the thought of being replaced-on any level- but if I have to be realistic, this just means that someone else will be able to have the opportunity I was given to grow in similar, if not more ways. This also means that I have transcended this phase and that I can continue growing in other areas of life. In order to understand the nature of life, one also needs to acknowledge and accept that seasons come and go and that there is a place and time for everything under the sun.

There are many teachings and quotes on change, even people who have solid careers as  Change Managers; life coaches, mentors and motivational speakers- all available to the discerning individual because let’s face it, change is not easy. Though it is a bit of cold comfort as I contemplate the future (rather prematurely) and where I’m heading, what resonates with me the most is that change is inevitable. The beauty of it is that it happens to everyone and all that’s necessary is to embrace it.  That means appreciating my own experiences and graciously clearing my desk six months from now to allow someone else to get the experience they need. It’s that simple

Walking Tall: Impromptu Life Lessons

I have come to realise that most profound things happen while one is waiting. They happen when one has an opportune moment to absorb them in their entirety, when one is…ready. I have to admit that I am very impatient and as a result spent a number of days badgering myself for being unable to find the ‘right’ angle for my next blog post. I concluded that I had another onset of writer’s block. See, it’s far too easy to make rash conclusions and decisions than to let patience reign in when you suffer from an impatient streak.
When my colleague and I took a short stroll to the store across from our building one morning, we had no idea we would have something intriguing on our arrival. I bemoaned my increasing waistline and how I needed to lose some weight since spring has set in. Needless to say, it is going to be an uphill battle because I lack the discipline to combat my sweet tooth. We were about fifteen minutes early and had to wait until the store opened. Nothing major, we did a bit of window shopping at a shoe boutique nearby.

Quite the shoeshinista’s dream, we both marvelled at the sight before us. She is quite tall and slim; and her eyes were particularly set on pairs of pumps. Me? Well, I’m short and thick (in fact, my colleague and I are quite the textbook example of body types!) and I’m a heels kind of girl, it only makes sense. However, I was quite perplexed at how colour blocking has taken over everything and it didn’t help that some shoes are ridiculously high. I really think there is a conspiracy here!

We were joined by an older woman who was also waiting for the store to open. She quipped about how fabulous the shoes were and naturally, we couldn’t have agreed more. I then mentioned that though I was sold on a pair of stilettos, platform heels were really a bad idea for me. Boy, I had another thing coming! She gracefully threw my comments out of the window and prepared to give us what would be, personally, one of the most interesting lessons yet.

Lesson One: The Power of Shoes

My colleague and I both had flat or almost flat shoes on. We were told that shoes maketh a woman. Neo-feminist protests that men didn’t have to put up with ridiculous shoes simply fell on deaf ears as the woman told us that shoes have the power to not only transform posture, but they can give one an air of confidence and sophistication. She said flat shoes are capable of making one sloppy and complacent because they require so little effort. Shoes, are what sets us apart from men: They are one other thing that makes a woman sexy.
Lesson Two: Grooming

Though the woman indicated that she had put on some relaxer on her hair, I felt she could have done a better job. It didn’t matter though because she had confidence second to none; it didn’t matter what I thought because she revelled in her own skin and listening to her speak with such conviction made her all the more awe inspiring. A little make-up, a nice pair of earrings and some accessories are some of the things that can help liven up one’s mood.
Lesson Three: Always be ready
One of the most interesting aspects of that conversation was that women need to look the part –like learning to take ourselves more seriously, for instance. That means paying attention to things we deem to be miniscule or unimportant. More attention should be paid to work attire, etc. She also emphasized that falling into a comfortable space is one of women’s greatest setbacks.

Lesson Four: Letting Yourself Go

A definite no-no! We chuckled as the lady indicated that African women are significantly different from their Caucasian counterparts. African women have a bad habit of letting themselves go, and inviting early onset of old age. Once in their forties, she said, jeans and other sensible pieces of clothing are sent packing in exchange for frumpy frocks. Though it isn’t entirely about men, it isn’t fair on them either. Simply put, women need to keep those visual stimuli on.

A male friend once posted on Facebook that some women should put a “Learner” sign on the back of their stilettos so others won’t particularly mind when they fall over themselves. Let’s face it we see more of those embarrassing incidents than we’d like to recall, and more often than not men are embarrassed for us. There is no doubt that a great deal of skill is required to pull off that SEXY look. Alas, I don’t claim to speak for all women.

The woman I now know as Ma-Nkadimeng gave me ample food for thought. She reminded me that some of the greatest lessons aren’t always formal ones; that familiarity can come from strangers even. Like she said, “Some things will resonate with you, and some won’t…” and with that I confess that I’m still sceptical about those colour block platforms…sorry!
So, what impact did you have on somebody’s life today?