#CEOsleepout:No amount of money raised or things given away will fix the dissonance caused

There is so much being said both for and against ‪#‎CEOsleepout‬‪#‎4leaders4change‬ and the funny thing is that the same complaints and compliments are being repeated from last year. Why did the organisers not listen a little closer to the very loud objections and helpful suggestions given?

I will not in any way minimize the advantages that the event brings especially the vast amount of money raised and the wonderful generosity of companies and individuals combined. Those in need will get clothing, the homeless have been given sleeping bags and the named beneficiaries of the initiative will no longer have to run fund raising, but will be able to make a real difference in their respective areas.

The important thing to remember however is that it is not about the money and the giving and receiving it is about the social commentary, the implied messages and more importantly the long term impact of this event and this conversation …. the #CEOsleepout is divisive.

Standing divided is the last thing we need in this country and no amount of money raised or things given away will fix it.

The tweet that spoke right to my heart from @uMandlakazi said “It’s not a clever ploy to get you riled up.”

This speaks right to the heart of the problem created by the #CEOsleepout – whether you’re on the ‘for’ or ‘against’ side of #4leaders4change doesn’t matter, what matters is that there is disagreement, discontent, and disillusionment created.

Whilst this event wasn’t started in SA and understanding that it has become a worldwide initiative, we need to remember that South Africa is different to anywhere else in the world. We have racial, financial, cultural and educational divides that we are all constantly reminded of daily. We don’t need a CEO sleepout to remind us of the poverty and unemployment in our country. Just travel from one place to another and the reminder is there at every robot or street corner.

What I hear very loudly from the naysayers is that there is little understanding and respect given to those who struggle to make it through each day on our streets throughout South Africa. The complaints and frustration come in many forms and different words but the overarching message is this – we need to see and acknowledge the pain and suffering felt everyday instead of host an elaborate event once a year and think that the fixing is done.

I don’t proclaim to have all the answers, but I do know some deep truths that have been ignored despite many outspoken people having said them in years gone by:-

1. Be respectful to one another – and what this means is making the effort to fully understand the circumstances under which others live. Acknowledge that a person’s social standing and economic status in no way minimises their need for dignity, respect and consideration. “We’re doing something to help them” doesn’t negate or override the need to take “them” into account and respect “them” and their feelings.

2. See one another as we are – and not how we think it is. Unless we as South Africans really try to understand one another’s perspectives and make the effort to hear and see we will always have division. Stop and listen to the complaints just as willingly as hearing the compliments and then make an effort to address the needs and build solidarity and cohesion rather than host something that causes division and conflict.

3. Making a difference is not about ‪#‎MandelaDay‬ or the #CEOsleepout it is about the consistent effort to offer of your time, skills and money to a cause which can make good use of what you bring.

Giving out small change at the robots isn’t making a difference. Helping a youngster learn new skills or giving someone you wouldn’t normally give a job a chance, or helping an elderly person stay economically independent is not only more useful to them, it feeds the unity and connection in our already very divided society.

I have noticed the charged and ugly commentary from both supporters and naysayers of this event and see the real deep feelings of hurt, anger, resentment and frustration coming out across our nation in response to a single event. It is actually not about the single event it is about the underlying disillusionment that bubbles to the surface in nasty jibes and cutting retorts.

Maybe there is a more unifying way of doing something that has as much impact but also brings unity and understanding instead of fuelling dissonance.

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The Oscars

Oscar de la Rente, Oscar Wilde, Oscar Pistorius, The Oscars. The word “Oscar” has charge.

I was married to a man who named his car Oscar. I should have known when he told me the name of his car that trouble was a coming. Just as it would seem Oscar Pistorius has a tendency to fly off the handle at different people, I learnt the hard way that a violent temper does not discriminate.

Irrespective of the outcome of the trial, Oscar will need to live with himself and his memories of what happened that night. The media frenzy and dinner table discussions about the trial will be replaced with the next thing and life moves on, but will Oscar be able to?

In 1897 Oscar Wilde wrote De Profundis, a long letter that discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, which formed a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. I wonder if Oscar Pistorius will also write the real story in coming years.

In my real story, people who are quick to anger have selective memory and truly do not intend to hurt anyone. They only remember their version of what really happened, and attached is always an “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to …” or a “I wasn’t thinking clearly and I didn’t realise what I was doing.”

When I was 7 months pregnant my then-husband lost his cool and pushed me down a flight of stairs. Hours after the incident when I approached the matter he couldn’t believe what he had done and was so apologetic. He ran me a bath – with bubbles – and brought me tea. He was sweet as honey-pie for at least 24 hours after the incident and swore nothing like that would ever happen again. Nothing like THAT ever happened again, but different things happened and every single time the theme was the same:-

* I’m so sorry, I can’t believe I behaved that way
* How could I have done that?
* I never meant to hurt you
* I love you and would never do anything to hurt you
* I wasn’t thinking straight

And every time I’d fall for the sorry’s and professions of undying love.

Domestic violence and abuse is inflected on too many people in South Africa and as a nation we generally overlook the reality. We make excuses for the behavior or it is totally denied and everyone pretends they didn’t see or hear anything.

The biggest challenge is noticing and acknowledging the signs of an abusive relationship and the saddest part is that the person living in fear is the one who denies it the most vehemently.

I was in denial for years and no matter how many times I was told by family and friends that they could see the warning signs and signals of abuse, I continued year after year from one happy time to another with numbness in-between. I should have known, but I didn’t want to.

I’m not saying that Oscar Pistorius was abusive, but I do think it is the perfect time for South Africans to stand up and recognize the violence in our society.

If you or a person close to you lives in fear of your partner or if you feel like you need to walk on eggshells around your partner or that you need to constantly watch what you say and do in order to avoid a blow-up then stop and review the reality. Chances are your relationship is unhealthy and abusive. No one should be living in fear of another person’s responses.

I’m still alive to tell my tale, but a frightening number of South Africans don’t get the chance, to be alive or tell their tale. The problem is deep seated and complicated. “Leave the monster” is often not an option and it is more often than not easier to endure the pain.

Addressing the problem needs to start with the Oscars. What we watch on screens and accept as normal needs to change, what we accept as okay behavior from celebrities needs to change and how we behave when little 8 year old Oscar next door is beaten by a parent needs to be met with a “NO” instead of a blind eye.

Here is useful guide to help determine if it is abuse or not. http://www.helpguide.org/mental/domestic_violence_abuse_types_signs_causes_effects.htm

The skills of an addict

Warning: this piece contains generalisations and judgments. These opinions are my own based on my experiences. You may have differing views, which I respect and I welcome debate.

I think addicts are clever, resourceful, cunning, shrewd and astute. They’re also stupid!

In the interests of protecting the addicts I love, respect, pity and hate in my life lets pick on Philip Seymour Hoffman once again.

Recent news: “Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found in his New York apartment on Feb. 2 with a needle in his arm, died of an accidental overdose of drugs, the New York City Chief Medical Examiner said on Friday. The cause of death was acute drug intoxication, including heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines and amphetamine, according to Julie Bolcer, spokeswoman for the Medical Examiner’s Office.”

Philip was a clever, talented man. He had fought with addiction, cleaned up and then fallen off the wagon. He understood the struggle which is clear when he said:- “I didn’t go out looking for negative characters; I went out looking for people who have a struggle and a fight to tackle. That’s what interests me.”

He was also a man who was open to learning, as demonstrated when he said “When you become a parent, you look at your parents differently. You look at being a child differently. It’s an awakening, a revelation that you have. “

Obviously a sensitive, sentient being, Philip Seymour Hoffman was a person with insights into addiction and yet there was an ‘accident’ and he died.

I’m neither a user, nor a drinker, and I do understand that addiction is complicated, but there are also known facts in this equation that addicts stupidly choose to ignore.

Taking a look at these facts, we know that:
1. The high or low sought from any drug or alcohol can be “rewarding” but that the experience is short lived, which produces a need for more, which in turn develops into an addiction.
2. Tolerance for these substances develops meaning that the user/drinker must take more to achieve the same effect, which in turn means an increasing risk of overdose.
3. The effect of mixing drugs puts strain on the body and can increase both effect and the risk.
4. To prevent an overdose of drugs you:-
* Don’t mix drugs
* Don’t use drugs alone
* Don’t use drugs from an unfamiliar source
* If you haven’t used drugs in a while, don’t use at the same levels as before

Similar rules apply to alcohol, and most teenagers know these rules long before the legal age of drinking kicks into their lives.

These are not laws to abide by, they are general knowledge bits of information that highlight the risks and threats of pushing the limits.

If addicts know these boundaries, understand the risks and are clever enough to acquire illegal substances, why do they do stupid things?
* “For the high / low” many will say.
* “You don’t understand” others will say.
I say just take 5 mins to do a Google search on “the impact of drugs” and scroll through the 97 million entries which include books, blogs, facts, stats and personal stories.

I agree with the notion that we need to treat addiction with compassion and sensitivity and we need research-backed science and medicine to help people most in need of a therapeutic intervention, but we also need addicts to stop being stupid.

An addict’s skills of being able to skirt the law, dodge prying eyes, harness resources, cunningly mislead friends and family and shrewdly hide behavior is negated when it comes to the missing skill of fully understanding and embracing the facts and consequences.

The polarity addiction brings

The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman on the 2nd February 2014 rekindled the age old media frenzy around celebrities use of drugs and the senseless loss due to overdose.

A different angle to the story was published in the Huffington post, and I posted it on my facebook page. The debate that followed was fascinating.

The gist of the article titled “The Selfish Nature Of Addiction: Speaking Honestly About Philip Seymour Hoffman” mainly covers the authors interest in the children that are left behind after an addict has died from an overdose.

I found the attitude, tone and approach of the article balanced, insightful and touched with a sense of sadness and on my facebook post I said “It’s like someone detangled my thoughts and wrote them down.”

Others were quick to say that the piece was too harsh and judgmental. Yet others focused on the call to get help and felt that this was the important part of the story.

And this is where my learning happened – in the middle of the online debate. It is indeed easy be holier than thou, and far more difficult to be compassionate and understanding. It is also easy to see an article from your own perspective and experience and more difficult to see the piece objectively. It is easy to think that your view is the right one and far more difficult to see another side to the coin and embrace that perspective as right.

For me the writer did show compassion by pointing out that addicts often can’t say no – “it is part of an addicts mind” she said. She points at judgments, but then also points out the disease – and a solution for addressing an addict’s lifelong struggle.

We all see things from our own point of view and I was unpleasantly surprised at the bull-headed opinions of people who think that they know it all because of their own experiences.

The writer of the article sees the children left behind, ex-addicts and caregivers see the need for compassion and no judgment, As an ex-addict- enabler I see the wide spread pain and devastation left in the wake of a single person addicted.

Politics, religion and sex are taboo subjects at a dinner table because of the polarity these subjects spark within a group of seemingly similar people. I’d like to add another to this list – addiction.

“You can only help those who want to help themselves”

“You can only help those who want to help themselves” was a saying that used to drive me batty when I was a teenager. My mother used it on many occasions to motivate me to get things done on my own or on the other hand to not expect a change in someone I’d helped because they were not going to help themselves.

Many moons later, my youngest daughter was exposed to a situation this weekend where I very nearly used the same saying on her. I didn’t, but what I did say is that addictive personalities are self absorbed, full of self pity and fear and they very often don’t want to end their dramas.

Having a relationship with someone who is addicted is difficult because our frames of reference are worlds apart. It doesn’t matter what the addiction is, it can range from the addiction to not eating (anorexia), alcoholism, drugs of any kind and some people are even addicted to being depressed.

Here’s the thing, these addictions keep that person believing that they are the victim. In victim-mode it’s everyone else’s fault and not theirs. In victim-mode they get to blame the circumstances and not take responsibility. In victim- mode they can feel sorry for themselves and not have to take action. In a pit of self pity they don’t have to work through the problem, they get to resent others and in this state all rational thought is overrun by the problems that run through their heads over and over again.

As non-addicts we don’t understand the lack of rational thought. We ask questions like “How could you do that to yourself when you know the consequences”.

To the addict their self centered behavior is driven by being so inside their own heads that they don’t want to, or are unable to, do things for themselves or others without some sort of ulterior motive. They don’t want to deal with life.

 

So when you step forward and help someone who is battling with addiction remember to:

  1. Get professional help. You can’t do things on your own and neither can the addict.
  2. Tell them how you feel about their addiction and how it affects you in reality… but don’t write a letter. It needs to be face to face so that the reality can be seen on your face.
  3. Realise that they will feel confused and anxious and your “helping” may be seen as a threat or as a plot to control them
  4. Realise that you cannot control or fix someone. The only person you can change is yourself.
  5. Don’t give in to manipulation. Addicts are the ultimate manipulators and they know how to get what they want.
  6. They’re not going to thank you for your help because more often than not they’re in denial that there is any problem in the first place or they may think you’re trying to fix them and they don’t want to be “fixed”.

 

So then do you only help those who want to help themselves or do you always step up and help “just because”? I vote for the “just because” every time. I know I’m going to get insulted / hurt / disappointed many times but as long as I’m not enabling that addictive behavior and as long as I’m not being abused by that person I will always err on the side of forgiveness, support and loving kindness because that’s who I am and that’s what I’d like to see more of in the world.

  

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It’s just a cold

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Why is it that having a cold is not good enough to get real sympathy and time off work, but bronchitis, ear infection and “upper respiratory infections” are? They’re not far from one another and have similar symptoms – in fact a cold can include all three ailments in a less severe form – but the common cold is still the sore loser.

What is it about society that says I must see your pain before you get my help. Backache? “Ag shame” – can’t see it – move on

Toothache? “Ag shame” – can’t see it – move on

A cold? “Shame” – nothing further required

A plaster covering a small nick from shaving – “what happened? Is it sore? Can I help you carry your stuff?”

I’ve been man-down for a week. Eyeballs hurting, shards of glass in my throat, totally raw down my trachea, unable to breathe through any orifice on my head and achy everything.  Wo-man-down, unable to think, woe-be-me down!

It was a total disappointment when dragging my dying body to the Doctor I was told I have a cold. A COLD?! “I have a cold? So what you gonna give me to make me better?” You can imagine the devastation when the script had painkillers, a nasal spray and antihistamines on it.

I have known forever that antibiotics have no impact on a viral infection and despite me hating going on antibiotics, what was I going to tell my friends and family?! “I’m really sick, but the Doctor gave me painkillers and told me to steam.” Not good enough!

When I told my best friend that I have a cold her reaction was “it sounds more like you’ve got bronchitis” and that’s why I love her so much. You see I AM sick! A cold bah-humbug!

There is a lot to be said for staying in bed and getting better rather than dragging your germs through work, the shopping centre’s and other public spaces. You get better quicker and no-one else catches the lurgy. The problem is that people mostly judge you when you stay in bed for “just a cold.”

There are books and movies based on the storyline that a virus nearly wipes out the human population and yet we still hold onto “It’s just a cold” and we think antibiotics are the answer, despite the fact that antibiotics indiscriminately kill bacteria, both good and bad. The added complication is if antibiotics are not taken correctly superbugs develop and drug-resistant bacteria are a serious risk to public health. Yet we compare the size of our antibiotic pills like it’s an accomplishment. “Dude, mine were bigger than yours, you should see the size of the Augmentin ones!”

In future I’m going to delete ‘It’s just’ and boldly say “I have a cold and I’m going to bed. I’m sorry I can’t come to your dinner party as I don’t want to make everyone else sick. Can we postpone till next week?” I hope this catches as quickly as a cold.

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We’ve lost the art of creation

ImageThis is my first attempt at crochet. I’m making a scarf for the needy. It is not straight and this is my third attempt at it – the first started looking like an amoeba.

I’m really proud of myself and very excited about the prospects of what I can make next!

Then I thought of the person who is going to receive my scarf, beanie and blanket. How can they feel a sense of achievement and gratification? Wouldn’t I be doing far more for that person if I taught them how to knit or crochet and donated the wool and necessary tools so that they can continue to create something and develop a sense of self worth.

In the current school curriculum, woodwork and home economics are long gone from the compulsory grade 8 and 9 syllabus. Although there was merit in these subjects being dropped, I also feel a sense of huge loss. A part of the art of creation has been lost and with it the skills like course correction, troubleshooting, thinking things through and mental calculation.

Maybe a child learning to do woodwork or knitting would be more motivated to learn Math when they realise the value of measuring accurately or counting stiches. Maybe school subjects that engage both the left and right hemispheres of the brain are all that is needed to get our children feeling like they can achieve something again.

My scarf isn’t perfect, but I made it and I feel a sense of accomplishment – despite not yet being finished. Imagine how this could work for so many South African learners who feel like they  are a failure because the system focuses predominantly on academic outcomes.

Instead of encouraging the already engrained culture of entitlement maybe we should encourage the culture of creation? We have pockets of it on street corners. Watch the young men making wire animals and you get a sense of the creative abilities of South Africans. Sit with the ladies who do beadwork and there is a real sense that South Africans can most certainly create something out of nothing. Yet this creation-culture exists only in pockets.

There is a commercial case to be made for hand-made South African goods. The empowerment it brings to the makers, is far more than a mere income stream. Creation of anything brings the creator a sense of achievement, satisfaction, self expression (and potentially money ) Surely this is a gift we should be giving our youngsters. It is a gift we can give our nation.

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