This blog was originally posted, on Facebook, on Tuesday, 12 July, when South Africa seemed to have exploded. As predicted below, it passed. I believe the lessons are as relevant as ever.
Every time I contemplate writing something about the three C’s (Cold, Covid & Chaos), my mind goes into overdrive. “You can’t give people platitudes (psychobabble hoo-ha, as I have heard it described); Who are you to comment? What do you know? What can you say at a time like this?” etc. etc… And then I realised that it is in this very doubting that the problem lies. It is almost impossible to quiet the mind right now. And, yet, that is the very thing that is required. And so I share this piece – not as advice, and certainly not because I think I have answers. In fact, the opposite is true. I have far more questions than answers today. Having said that, there are still a few things that work for me and so I share them with humility and love – as much for myself as for anyone who will find them useful.
I spent a few weeks facilitating in rural KwaZulu-Natal recently. On my first trip, I took all the Covid precautions I could and the company I was working for did the same – sanitizers, masks, distancing, etc., etc.
Even though I was not overly concerned, I would be lying if I said I did not think (worry?) about the possibility of contracting Covid and the wisdom of working with a group of people at this time. I returned from KZN Covid-free. The relief was short-lived. While there, I got bitten by a tick and developed serious tick bite fever! So much for Covid and my worries. A little tick nearly took me out!
I share this story because, as so often happens, the things we worry about rarely occur; it is the things that we can’t even contemplate that hit us from nowhere. Worry is truly the biggest waste of imagination possible. A week ago we were worried about the third wave and here we sit worrying about the chaos. But the chaos will pass, it always does. And then we will have something new to worry about. Or not – if we choose not to worry. It’s a choice, I’m afraid. And it’s a hard one right now. But as with Covid, which never happened, and the tick bite fever, which did, I can’t see how worrying is going to serve me in any way.
This does not mean that I am not keenly aware of the kak we seem to have gotten ourselves into again. I am very aware of what is going on. I watch the news and I listen to talk radio. Our looting leaders have well and truly failed us, and our fellow citizens are following suit. It’s grim out there. But the fact that it is grim ‘out there’ does not mean it has to be grim ‘in here’. If it is grim ‘in here’, I am the one doing the looting of my mind. I am the one stealing my peace. And I am not prepared to let the thugs loot my mind. And so I go back to basics. These are my ‘truths’. If they resonate with you, great. If not, also fine. We are each allowed to deal with the 3 C’s in whatever way works for us.
South Africa is addicted to the brink. For whatever reason, we simply cannot stop taking ourselves there – Sharpeville, Soweto, Hani, Guptas, downgrades, load shedding …. And now riots. It’s deja vu again (!). It always passes. It may leave devastation in its wake, but we carry on. And, most importantly, my life continues. I assess and adapt. We all do. It is not “the end”. The revolution has not come. A conflation of events has led to this rioting. It is possible for one thing to have multiple causes and for them all to be true. Some rioters support Zuma, some rioters are criminals, and some rioters are simply starving. All three things are true, all at the same time. I don’t need to make reality fit my narrative. Some are idiots, some are thugs, and some are hungry. Will rioting help anything? No. Can I control any of it? No. So, I choose my focus. I observe the chaos. I stay away from it. I pray it will stay away from me and those I love.
My focus remains on my life, my people, and my sphere of influence. Whether there is chaos or not, I still have a home, family, and friends. I am still generating income, thank God. I still sleep in a warm bed and I have water, food, and electricity (and gas for when that goes). My empathy levels for those who have none of these things remain as high as ever and I will still continue to help where I can. I will never let thugs destroy my humanity and instinct for kindness. To become cynical is to let them win.
Viktor Frankl observed that the survivors of the concentration camps, who were not taken to be killed, were the ones who managed to find a reason to stay hopeful:
“Once hopeless, my life is now hope-full, but it did not happen overnight. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.”
We face a real predicament here at the tip of Africa. We are tested, on an almost daily basis, to triumph above the madness. Where we focus, we will go. Watch your focus. If you don’t, it is hard to stay hopeful. And a focus on hope – for yourself and your own life – brings comfort and gives strength when you need it most. There is always something “out there”, be it a virus or a tick, a corrupt man in or out of jail. Don’t go there. Stay here.
I am replacing the three C’s “out there” (cold, Covid, and chaos) with my own 3 C’s: to stay clear, calm, and courageous. I can work with those three C’s; the others are beyond my control. I will be clear in my thinking, calm in my actions, and courageous in my responses. I will turn the predicament into my own achievement. And that achievement is to stay hopeful no matter what. Positivity is no less ‘real’ than negativity (although the naysayers will often have us believe it is). They are merely different uses of your imagination. If anxiety or hope are on offer, my choice is hope. Always was; still is.
Summer will come, so will vaccinations (and vacations), and this too shall pass. What it will leave in its wake is anyone’s guess. But let’s deal with that when it comes. For now, stay inside in all possible ways. And make sure that your focus serves you positively.
Love, strength, and hope to us all.