Poem: Making Peace


My thoughts are a jumble

of disjointed affirmations and complaints.

As I try to untangle the

incoherent threads

and weave a cord

that I can hold out to you,

I realise

My suppressed feelings

inhibit my expression

and I grin.

In straining to keep them hidden

as I say my say,

the pretense is more obvious than ever

And we remain knotted

in our misunderstanding.

Only when they lay naked before you

and I am humbly unashamed,

will you hear what I say

and what I mean

and love me still.

3WW Three Word Wednesday

I’ve been thinking about the best way to reconcile with people close to us without being hurtful but also being truthful, hence the theme of the poem. However, the above poem is also written in response to prompts generated on the blog, Three Word Wednesday, an “online writers collective…to stretch your muse”. Three words are posted each Wednesday and poets, writers and word lovers are challenged to use them in a single piece. I loved what I found linked to this site and thought I’d give it a try…really loads of fun if words are your thing! This week’s words are jumble, grin, naked…find them in the poem above.

Check it out here www.threewordwednesday.com

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Word Power


Sticks and stones will break my bones

but names will never hurt me, 

When I die you will cry

then remember what you called me.

I remember singing this to my sister or friends when as children, our tiffs devolved into name calling. This was the mantra that protected our hurt feelings and let others know that we were resistant to the pain they were trying to inflict. And yet, even as kids we knew that it didn’t work…we were -and often still are – deeply hurt by names, by words. As children, we learn to either strike back, with physical force, fiercely sharp wit, or to withdraw, hardened, training ourselves in numbness, but often silently seething.

A young mum recently shared with me how her 4 year old daughter was struggling to handle her classmates mocking her. Too young for re-constructive surgery, this little girl lives with scars caused by prolonged use of a nose drip that saved her life as a premature baby. She appears to cope well at school but comes home frustrated and angry- but not sure at whom. Will the ‘sticks and stones’ rhyme suffice?

In South Africa today, we are collectively appalled by the never ending Julius Malema saga and the “Kill the Boer” song – now regarded as “Incitement to Genocide.” Today, International courts are being called upon to punish this crime of hate speech. It’s no longer a big news story, but it does provoke so much thought on the power of our words and where things can lead when we are careless and irresponsible for what we utter.

At what point do we fully assess the weight and power of our words? When is it that we will exercise our Choice and indeed our Responsibility to use words with Care? To weigh and measure them: what we intend, where and how they will land when we issue them into the world. Bullets can be dug out of wounds and the wounds sutured, but words cannot be recalled.

Now you may be nodding and thinking of all the people you know who are abusive, critical, harsh and hurtful with their words. But are you truly more careful? Are you really less guilty? Have you considered, not just the words we use to hurt and label others, but the words we use to dis-empower ourselves???

Lines like, “I’m just a (house wife/mom/teacher/______)”, “I’m so stupid!”, “I’m such a _____” and the terribly abused “I can’t…” These are the greatest abuse of words for they are  self destructive. They slowly build in us the conviction of their “truth” and we stop striving for, believing in  and dreaming of what’s possible. With this kind of language about ourselves, how do we empower a 4 year old girl to create a narrative about who she is that is more powerful  than that of her peers? How do we create a joyously hopeful narrative about South Africa’s future when our speaking about ourselves as individuals, as families and as communities lacks the possibility of being EXTRAORDINARY!

Margaret Attwood writes of our ability to “spell” words and cast “spells” with them. Yes, words are powerful. They can and do hurt. But words are also the basis of declarations of faith, oaths and testimony. Words are all we need in any prayer.

Words heal. Words nurture. Words inspire.

What is the value you place on your word?

Do Something…


Whenever I catch up with an old friend or ex-colleague, the first few exchanges are always about how “hectic” life is. “I’m so busy…no time for this…oh, no haven’t had time for that in ages…ja, that’s how life is nowadays.”

But what is it we’re so busy doing?

 

I’ve been paying closer attention of late to what people say they’re busy with and without being disrespectful… it’s ORDINARY. In fact, in relation to the hype, emotion, drama and time allocated to many of our everyday activities, there’s a case to be made for our collective insanity. With all that there is to address and transform in the world, all too often our focus as individuals and as a society is on the ridiculously mundane.

         

I recently sat in a presentation done by a very passionate Palestinian youth calling for support for his compatriots in Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank, and for an end to the oppression in his country. What struck me was how a boy so young could be so articulate, well read and so very confident. I was reminded of my own youth during Apartheid South Africa. The rage, the hope and the dreams we fed off, urged us forward. Like this Palestinian youth, we were clear that we had a cause greater than ourselves. We were the generation that would end Apartheid and bring in a new era.  Whether you led the rallies and got arrested or just toi-toid from the back, whether you made public speeches or quietly painted banners, whether you new Nkosi Sikelele or only hummed along…if you were from our side of the tracks, you were a freedom fighter! There were times when it was terrifying and times when it was just the sweetest, most thrilling thing to be on the edge of something new and RIGHT.

In my daily interaction with youth nowadays, I’m often left with the impression that being born into a free country has deprived them of  the inclination to strive, to serve, to belong to a cause greater than themselves. In a free world, it is ME that is important. My likes, My wants, My preferences become the focus of My life. And an entire life can pass with that single focus.

But we’re not living in a free world.

 

There are only a few parts of the world where freedom is enjoyed. And it is up to those of us who enjoy those freedoms, to strive to empower those who don’t.  Mostly we’re too busy seeking personal satisfaction to set aside time to care. Ironically, spiritual leaders, life coaches and leading psychologists today recommend contribution to others as a sure access to the greatest thrill in life. The ultimate satisfaction of human being is not in being self serving but in serving others. Of course I’m not advocating that we all become monks who sell our Ferrari’s! We don’t have to abandon life as we know it to make the kind of difference that makes a difference. But it would be interesting to start to pay attention to what our attention is generally on everyday. The life of Me…or the difference I can make to others?

 

So today’s blog is dedicated to social activism. This may not change the world, but it is intended to raise awareness, shift our focus, elicit ACTION.

Scroll down to the SocialVibe button on the bottom right, click it and support my Cause. It’s a really small action to take in a day full of me-business, but it’s a difference making action: everytime you press the button, you urge big sponsors to make micro donations to the project of choice. The SocialVibe project supported by Creative Introspection, is DO SOMETHING. DO SOMETHING challenges young people to become people of action. It provides them with the tools to transform their own energy, ingenuity and innovative thinking into meaningful action in the world. I found it most appropriate as the purpose of this blog-site is to engage in reflection, then take creative action and encourage YOU to reflect, challenge and take action too. Our commitments and affiliations may be to different causes, but we can only realise any of them through taking action.

Press the button. Become people who DO SOMETHING today that will bring about a change.

The Woman behind the Veil…


This painting, The Woman behind the Veil,  is one of my favourites. Many Muslims and others, aren’t always sure whether the “veil” refers to the face covering  or the head covering. In this painting it is both. The ink and bleach rendition is inspired by the controversy that the veil has caused in the world of late. In France the veil is banned in public and in Spain there is a debate about  whether to follow suit. This debate extends from government caucus groups to university classrooms but, interestingly enough, does not include women who veil…what value could they possibly add to the discussion?

But the painting is titled The Woman behind the Veil. Despite the  intrigue, the mystique and the controversy created by the veil, it’s the woman that I want to focus on.

So often, veiled women are boxed by men and other women in so many different ways. Generally she is seen as oppressed,  inhibited, restricted…probably by her father or husband. To many, she is not seen as very intelligent, but she can probably cook well. She must be very conservative and unimaginative – why else does she resist fashion trends? And she’s probably subservient, voiceless and weak…or she would “free”  herself, surely.  You don’t see her strutting her stuff on the beach or the catwalk so she can’t have great self esteem. For Muslim women who don’t wear the veil, she is often regarded as holier-than-thou, righteous.

Although this is changing very slowly, as we enjoy an age of televised veiled women marching for freedom in Palestine, protesting in Tahrir Square and speaking from university podiums, I still find that there are many people who avoid eye-contact with veiled women in the streets – especially those dressed in black- in the same way that they avoid really seeing disabled people, beggars and the homeless. As if there is something alien about them. What is it about them that begs invisibility?

What is it we don’t want to see?

And if we got beyond our tainted glasses, gave up our assumptions and got curious, what would we ask The Woman behind the Veil? It’s her I’m interested in. Aren’t you?

What does she do? What is she passionate about? What makes her laugh? What does her heart yearn for? Where has she travelled? What does she dream of? What cause does she fiercely champion? Who does she vote for? What are her fears? Who are her friends? Why does she wear the veil? There’s so much to be curious about…And what of the world she’s looking out at?  How does she see it?

At a recent conference I attended, Fadil Soloman, a well known interfaith facilitator, posed these questions in a different way through a visual comparison.

            

What if we looked at veiled Muslim women as we look at the most honoured of  women in Christianity…would that make a difference? Would we see them as women who love God, women who serve their communities, women who change the world?

Making my mark…taking on the world


17 Years down the line, is the “New” South Africa already giving up on Democracy?

I remember the exhiliration, the joy, the PRIDE with which South Africans queued to vote in 1994. Many of us do. It was a euphoric, historic day that marked the transformation of South Africa, the liberation of it’s people and the possibility of the celebration of diversity despite the ghastly past. I remember how we boasted about the time spent lining up to make our mark, evidence of our new found national pride. Desmond Tutu writes about that day as being “like falling in love- everything was brighter”.

Barriers were broken as people shared sandwiches, umbrellas and water in those queues. There was not only this new neighbourliness, there was also laughter, excitement, suspense…and there was the promise of a bright and inpiring future.

Not a promise made by government, mind. What lingered in the air, in the smiles, in the hearts of the people was their promise to live into that future fulfilled;  their promise to participate where they were not allowed to participate before; their promise to use their voice.

But a sombre atmosphere pervaded the voting stations today. Aside from the music blaring from party kiosks where sweets and balloons were dispensed, voters themselves were sombre.

I was sombre.

My spirits were dampened by the apathy I’m present to. In the conversations I have had with family and friends over the past few weeks, I have got present to the disempowering impact of resignation and cynicism. It spreads. People share complaints with such generosity, you’d swear it was charity. A group of friends or colleagues start a conversation inspired by newspaper headlines or the daily cartoon. Heads nod, mouths turn down in bitterness, even more heads shake and shoulders stoop. Pretty soon there’s a smell of disgust in the air.  The group disperses heavier than when they met. More committed to their cynicism. Less inclined to effect change.

Party politics aside, I am unhappy with government in South Africa. There are serious issues: corruption, unemployment, service delivery…yes, the list is rather long. But I do not understand the value of a complaint that is not taken to the people who can actually deal with that. How else will I get the complaint resolved? Or is there a greater a commitment to the complaint than to the solution?

I understand that everyone doesn’t want to change the world. That’s what I get a lot: “You can’t change the world, you know!”

But who says? Who says that we can’t change the world?

We do. When we aren’t willing to do what it takes to make the necessary difference. When we accept that we’ll always have complaints cause “that’s life”. When we say it doesn’t matter whether we vote or not. We say, “We can’t change the world.”

I often wonder what made men like Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Salahdin Ayubi, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela- what made them great? Were they really just extraordinary? Some of my students suggest that they lived in “troubled times that required heroes. ” I can’t help believing that they were people like us. What distinguished them was their willingness to put their life on the line, to give up their complaints about how the world wasn’t as it should be and to make the difference themselves!

If not your mark on the ballot, what are YOU willing to put on the line?

Introductions


We’re often awkward about introducing ourselves in a whole new arena. We either say too little …or too much. Is it relevant to say what I do for a living? Should I say how many degrees I have? Should I – as is custom in many cultures – say who my father’s father’s father was and where he was from…

One of my Angolan students put it brilliantly, I thought: ” Don’t tell me you’re Dr. So-and-so,” he said. “Let me see your patients take your hand in the street in respect and gratitude…and I’ll know who you are. Nor say that you are a great teacher. Let a child run up to you, taking your case to carry and I’ll know who you are in the world. Let me learn to honour you by what you are to others. Don’t tell me!”

In a cyber world where I could be anyone, anywhere…does it matter how I introduce myself? And yet on all the blogs I visit, I go and look to see who this is writing these words, whose views are these- is it another American? A girl or a guy?  A fanatic this or that? I look for a box to place them in… or to condecendingly cheer them on, for breaking out of a box I enclosed them in! Why does the introduction and the necessary value I place on random “facts” determine whether I hang round to read more, subscribe or not?

…So here is my turn – to introduce myself…I’m a lover of words, colour and life… and I use these elements as a full expression of myself and as a means of connecting with others. My name is Hani.