Monday, December 5, 2011

Being the Least - Wees die Minste #inspiration #growth

I can still hear her voice some times - way back in my mind, but distinctly so - telling me to 'be the least' - possibly in reference to the Biblical principle to be humble. And I usually listen. Mostly. But not recently. I have come to see that being humbled and 'taking it on the chin' as if it does not hurt or matter is NOT the best of ways, as humility is too often mistaken for weakness. A willingness to listen, and to be respectful of another's opinion has been misconstrued recently into being a 'softy'. I have had it.

This has started me on a path of critical reflection, and yes - I know a blog is not a therapy session. But, know this: Our business engagement, our interpersonal relationships are fundamentally injected by the beliefs we pick up and embrace when we are youngsters. One of them being: Be the least. This also means: Walk away (it's easier). Don't fight (it's not lady like). Don't be emotional (it's not business like). Don't be confrontational (it's not respectful). And then there is that ONE moment, the tipping point... that calls you...

That moment when there are suddenly clarity about the things that are WORTH standing up against. The moment that requires greatness - without sacrificing humility. These are surely not mutually exclusive. And then, dear mom, I cannot "be the least' because I am called upon to be the MOST I can be. It takes all my energies, and all my stamina to go forward and challenge the stereotypes and the assumptions, the injustices against women, against a racial or cultural kind like me, or simply a lack of faith in my ability to lead others to greatness. I will not be made smaller. I know you don't want it any other way.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Meal for Six - Nando's gets it right, AGAIN

If you visit South Africa, there is only one fast-food place you need to add to your list: Nando's and not only for their wonderful grilled chicken, but because they know how to make you smile - from advert (below!) to website to in-store posters. Chicken going viral. Well done, Nando's! Again... You GET us...

Dark Day for our Democracy on #BlackTuesday

This was a disturbing week in South Africa - filled with high drama as our democratically elected government crossed a line on 22 November 2011 (now termed) 'Black Tuesday'. It is a stark political mirror for some - of an economic disaster on 29 October 1929 with the same tag - when Wall Street crashed. It is said that many Members of Parliament failed South Africa and civil society this week, and the Press Club called for another dark Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Monday and every day...

With freedom of the press one of the corner stones of a democracy, it came as a surprise that the African National Congress actually voted FOR the controversial Protection of State Information Bill - called by most a 'draconian secrecy bill' at odds with the South African Constitution. "It takes us back to the apartheid-era restrictions on free speech" - Noel Katuwa (Amnesty International). Courtesy cartoonist Zapiro

There is an erosion of principled leadership in South Africa - we have experienced it this year at many levels, and just recently again in business. If a principled decision that would benefit many is held hostage by the narrow self-interest and gain of an individual in power, it is time for ethical determination and moral stamina. Corruption, defined as 'the action of making someone morally depraved or the state of being so' causes paranoia and consternation among the ranks. Indecision. Lack of Leadership. Hiding in the Shadows after questionable action. Refusal to take responsibility or respecting the dignity of another. All the same.

In a chilling account by Dr Lucas Ntyinyana an article saw the light this week: "The ANC has become a monster" and indeed, in a state of ill-disguised greed and personal enrichment, I can not help but wonder: How could we get this so wrong? Or am I missing something... 

One thing is certain for me, I would not call it Black Tuesday or Black any day; but rather Dark Tuesday... it was bound to become a racial issue. After all, it is not the color of the day that matters, it is the fact that we had such a day at all! Our Constitution enshrines and protects the free flow of information between citizens, and from our government to our citizens", says the Helen Suzman Foundation when it called the Bill a 'low point in South Africa's transition to democracy' (note the wording). Yes, it was the day our freedom fighters turned freedom takers... and one has to ask: WHY?

Monday, October 31, 2011

"Willing to be misunderstood" -Innovators.

Some times we have to walk through walls to achieve what we really believe deep down. We may very well be the only ones holding on to a dream, an idea, a better way or doing business. This year has been such a year for me - a year to walk through walls.

When I was in Paris last year, we stumbled upon a statue sculpted by the famous French actor Jean Marais (1913-1998) to commemorate the most famous story of author Marcel Aymé (1902-1967), "Le Paisse-Muraille” or “The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls." I share the moment with the co-founder of our company, and a good friend.

Little did I know I had to walk through another wall or two this year before breakthrough. And it was painful. It still is.

More times, we have to be 'willing to be misunderstood' to risk ridicule and loss, because we may (just may!) gain happiness or success. I have seen this happening earlier this year. But being true to self and taking risks for the sake of a better world (of becoming a better person even) is at the heart of the innovator, the entrepreneur. There are few better examples of innovators loving beauty, than Steve Jobs. 

I read the Eulogy by his sister, Mona Simpson, in the New York Times today. Wow. It helped me in so many ways, and I applaud her for sharing this very private experience with the world. It leaves me with a distinct feeling that it is really! "OK" to be exactly who you are until the end of your days - true to self. Thank you for giving all of us a glimpse into the future again, Steve. I am thankful today that there may be an 'Oh Wow!' experience waiting when I walk through another wall in pursuit of something better ...

I am thankful for you, Mr. Jobs. That is all.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

bONk!! watch where you are going...

I love the Madam and Eve cartoons, and this one about Gran texting while walking is hilarious... but also so TRUE at so many levels. Simple comic strips have a way to convey huge life lessons:

1. Don't be so quick to judge. It can happen to you as well.
2. Pay attention in the moment. Hazards ahead.
3. Even if you have someone walking with you, you can still go BOnK!
4. It hurts more when you don't see it coming.
5. Enjoy life when it is good. It can change in an instant.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Linkedin profiles get a revamp...

Very Nice...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

a Mad mood on a winter's day

I am in a contemplative mood prompted by recent events. I think about the value of life and relationships, or the lack of it for some people I have encountered. Maybe it relates to my mom being so ill and thinking about life as a brief moment in expansive time. I think about happiness as well, and about purpose; and meaning. All deep existential thoughts that barely belong in a blog post read by strangers and friends alike. 

But here it is, after my misty stroll on the beach in Cape Town, and reading Afrikaans poetry that always manages to say it better than my best efforts. I think about trust and consequences, friendships, impact and a song called 'Little Wing' by a favorite band The Corrs. I wish I could knit strong wings today for someone I care about - so that she can escape the pain. Days like these I, too, need to ride with the winter wind - eclectic days filled with thought and madness.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

a Special Daily Devotion on 27 July 2011

I don't often post spiritual or religiously-inspired posts. Today, I do. It has such truth and meaning for me, and I am grateful to have found it on the website of Joyce Meyer - one of the Christian teachers that I respect for understanding humanity and the teachings of Christ contextually and contemporary:
Like a Child
by Joyce Meyer - posted July 27, 2011
Truly I say to you, unless you repent (change, turn about) and become like little children [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving], you can never enter the kingdom of heaven [at all].  —Matthew 18:3
Today's verse describes children as trusting, lowly, loving, and forgiving. Just think about how much more we would enjoy our lives and our relationships with God and other people if we would simply operate in these four virtues. Obviously, Jesus thinks these qualities are extremely important because He says we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven without them. We cannot enjoy the benefits of God's Kingdom and maintain bad attitudes at the same time.
When I think about hearing God's voice, I see that being like a child is so important because children believe what they are told. Some people say children are gullible, meaning they believe anything, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. But I don't think children are gullible; I think they are trusting. God certainly doesn't want us to be gullible or naive; He wants us to be trusting. Sometimes we are betrayed by people we love and trust and are tempted to then distrust everyone, but we cannot make everyone pay for what one person did to us.
There are people in the world who cannot be trusted, but there are also a lot of good people and we must refuse to live with a spirit of suspicion.
God is completely trustworthy. All human beings, regrettably, cannot be trusted unconditionally, but God can. God wants you to come to Him like a child, trusting Him completely and believing everything He says to you—because He is totally trustworthy.
God's word for you today: 
Don't let one or two bad experiences rule your entire life.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Dad had Ties, but was not Tied Down

My dad worked in four rural towns, Jansenville, Humansdorp, Ceres and Herbertdale. He had a collection of ties for every occasion, and it was part and parcel of being a 'dominee' (minister). And so it came that we also gave him ties for almost every birthday. 

It was always a mission with my mom to look for the 'most fitting' ties in Cape Town when we traveled 'stad toe' (into town) from 'die platteland' (rural parts). My dad treasured his ties, and I remember how he had them neatly sorted by color and shape - thin to broad - in his closet in the master bedroom - smelling like Old Spice and leather. Almost the entire tie history behind those doors: if I read about these ties, I recognize almost all of them, from the wider ties with their patterns to the skinny leather ties .... hehehe

I vaguely remember him teaching my brother how to do the perfect knot as I sat on the bed and giggled. All such good memories.

Most of these colorful ties are still hanging neatly in his closet at our beach house, and I could not bring myself to pack them away yet. It is a bit absurd I guess, and it has been almost 5 years since he got so sick and passed on less than a year later. But I did manage to give some away to a staff member working in Khayelitsha a few months ago - and I smiled when he came to a meeting with a matching tie this month. 

Today, I saw his Face Book picture with another one of my dad's favorites. He used to wear it on the pulpit with his black suit custom-made by hand by a kind muslim man in Woodstock. I know my dad would have approved, because he simply was not tied down to earthly things; he just loved his ties while here. Maybe it is time that I give away the other ties as well... We should not be tied down so.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

as woorde goud word... #Afrikaans

Ek skryf nie baie in Afrikaans nie, maar hierdie een kan maar net in die taal gedoen word. Een van die verpleegsters by die versorgingsoord vir my ma het nou net gebel en die foon vir my ma vasgehou (sy kan dit nie meer self hanteer nie). Dit was 'n moeilike dag vol trane vandag.

En haar woorde word soos goud wat ek opvang soos kosbare vloeistof om te bewaar in my hart. Ek skryf dit kripties neer soos sy praat, want ek moet dit berg vir later, wanneer sy stil word. My ma se woorde word daagliks minder. Sy verloor pragtige Afrikaanse woordeskat en eie uitdrukkings soos 'n waterval wat oor 'n afgrond stort en wegsyfer in die sandbanke. 

Maar vandag het sy met my gepraat en ek met haar - oor die son wat skyn in die Kaap en oor kinders aanneem ("jy moet een maar 'aanbied'", stem sy saam). En ek herhinder haar ek sal gou weer kom kuier, en sy is helder om te bevestig "ons sal mekaar weer weer..." (sien) - die laaste woord bly weg, en ek voltooi die sin in my hart. Ons praat oor almal wat sy ken (of geken het) en diep in my hart weet ek eintlik hierdie woorde en name is ook besig is om te verdwyn saam met my eie. Maar ek vertel haar almal is gelukkig en noem haar suster, haar seun en skoondogter - en haar huishulp (en beste vriendin vir baie jare). Sy noem dat Nellie vandag daar was, en ek wonder of dit so is. Sal tog bel en uitvind. Volgende keer ander name, ander mense wat haar woorde soos goud vashou soos ek.

Ek vra haar of almal "happy" is daar, en of hulle mooi kyk na haar (met innige dankbaarheid vir die verpleegster wat die moeite gedoen het om te bel). "Is almal happy?" giggel sy skielik, bly 'n oomblik stil en voeg dan 'n liefdevolle goue frase by net vir my, "aaag, my kind!"... Sy onthou my :)

Moeks, ons sal mekaar "weer weer" ... 

Friday, June 24, 2011

today I called a man SCHMUCK

Yes, it is true! Today I actually said to a near stranger: "Oh you look all nice and SCHMUCK" and it was the funniest moment I had in a long time. A friend and I went for lunch and ran into an old (and he DID look old) boy friend in his Eskimo-like jump suit and well,  the word that came to me was that he looked SCHMUCK...

My friend looked quite stunned for a moment, and had the courtesy to clarify. Google further revealed I really did insult him without blinking an eye, but now that I know what it really means and think about it, he actually was a big schmuck when they were still going out. I am so naive in some ways, and actually blushed when another friend told me it has a far worse meaning related to male genitals. Oh dear...

Except, I actually meant, he looked 'nice and SNUG' in the Cape Town cold... ummm... the disadvantages of a second language - or NOT.  I had a great day. We laughed a lot today.  It was the first time I called anyone a 'schmuck'. It felt awesome.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stand-up makes the World go round...

I love stand-up comedians - what an extraordinary talent to stand up and make people laugh by being yourself, by making us laugh at the best and worst of us. Live music settles me down and make me peaceful, poetry tells my story best and geniuses like Sarah Millican just bring so much enjoyment. Here she is:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cape Town: the Mother City

There are many reasons why one loves a place - and for the City of Cape Town (because it is a city and no longer a town) here in South Africa, I have my own reasons. I can imagine staying in Paris or Texas or Perth or Maputo, but I think I will always return to Cape Town when I look for home, or Port Elizabeth and the small coastal town of Tergniet on the Garden Route when I look for memories. 

But it has been Cape Town that embraced me as a child, and our trips from the country to Town were big events of dressing up, packing warm clothes and going to special mysterious places. My aunt reminded me yesterday of our extended family meeting on Table Mountain for picnic in the late 60s, with all the cousins wearing home-knitted matching jerseys. I remember. I love this city - even though I have always hated its cruel disparities between the wealthy and the poor, defining the everyday lives of people.

This new video clip is absolutely brilliant, and it reminded me how much Cape Town has to offer to visitors and to its residents blessed to stay here - it IS our play ground indeed:

For me, Cape Town is really the Mother City for personal reasons as well. It reminds me of the times I spend here with my parents - when they visited, and when we were younger and visited the Golden Acre with wide-eyed wonder. Or came to watch the lights being switched on for Christmas. I remember my mom coming in to bargain for the best prices on the Grand Parade to make clothes for us on her sewing machine at the dining table in the parsonage. Cape Town, with its fascinating history and wonderful corners of experience, you have my heart. It is said that there are more indigenous plant species on Table Mountain than on the entire British Isles. But it is the people of Cape Town that make the place - so diverse in opinion and lifestyle and when I think of the place I choose to call home, I think of my friends that have made this home as well. We should go play more...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thinking of Caroline and Erna on Freedom Day

We are going through extraordinary times at the moment as social entrepreneurs at Uthango Social Investments and new opportunities are opening up. As co-founders, Erna Sittig and I, need to make difficult decisions and we need wisdom and courage to make professional connections. 

The TED talk 'Looking Past Limits" is coming at the right time, when another social entrepreneur (Caroline Casey) - having worked in the corporate environment and now running the Kanchi Network - tells her story of courage and finding that true freedom is in finding yourself - being yourself. Kanchi is a not-for-profit disability organisation that works to change mindsets and behaviours and I have much respect for their approach. 

I find myself often being so hard on myself for not being able to do more in our work, to BE more, or go further... and much is related to the surrounding hardship we see in our day to day work. I find myself being frustrated when I am unable to raise funds for a project prompted by our engagement in poor communities, or when an initiative fails - even if by no fault of our own. (I remain stubbornly determined to make it work - when I should let it go). When times get tough, I turn inward too quickly I guess.

But then I listen to extraordinary people like Caroline and I look at the will and strength of our co-founder Erna - invited to speak at the upcoming World Economic Forum next week (so exciting!) - and I know that all will fall into place. It is a matter of living freely and authentically; and doing the best you can, where you are... impatience and all. Thank you. You bring freedom and peace to my mind by being free and peaceful in your approach. Thank you for the personal cost you have paid (sacrifices made) to be who you have become.

Today is Freedom Day in South Africa as we celebrate the first democratic elections in 1994 and I know that too many people are not yet economically free. More importantly, too many people are not freed from their prejudice and their narrow-minded socio-political views that lead to injustice or simply error of judgement in daily lives. And many of us are not free to be ourselves, due to the consequences that follow when we will go there...

Today I am thankful for people that have the courage to live freely. May you be blessed and inspire all of us. I am glad I hear your voices when I turn inward today.

Friday, April 22, 2011

AfriForum is not doing Boere any favors in Court...

There is a current law case in South Africa where the civil society organisations, AfriForum and others took Julius Malema, president of the ANC Youth League, to court on a hate speech accusation against a segment of society. Earlier this year, he was banned to sing the song and this is a further step in the legal process. It is claimed that the song incites hatred and violence against farmers (called 'boere' in Afrikaans) which is of great concern in South Africa - with a farmer being more than 700 time likely to killed than a police person in our country. 

However, depending on its context and use, the same word 'boere' was also used (and still is) as a derogatory term, historically referring to the oppressors that constructed and implemented 'apartheid' - it was certainly in this context that the struggle song 'Dubula Ibhunu' was originally sung with the following lyrics:

Ayesab’ amagwala (Cowards are scared)
Dubula! dubula! dubula nge s’bhamu (Shoot, shoot, shoot them wit a gun)
Dubul’ ibhunu (Shoot the boer)
Dubula! dubula! dubula nge s’bhamu (Shoot, shoot, shoot them wit a gun)
Mama, ndiyeke ndidubul’ ibhunu (Ma, let me shoot the Boer)
Dubula! dubula! dubula nge s’bhamu (Shoot, shoot, shoot them wit a gun)
Ziyareypa lezinja (These dogs rape)
Dubula! dubula! dubula nge s’bhamu (Shoot, shoot, shoot them wit a gun)

Personally, I do not see how this process and action contributes in any way to the protection of minorities and how it could achieve better understandings and respect between different people in South Africa. The conversation in the court should be happening in our kitchens, in our communities, in town halls - between people...across the country. We never spend enough time with this, and should have...

This morning, I listened to the cross examination by the appointed AfriForum advocate and he has done no one any favors - least of all the Afrikaans-speaking community. His approach to enter into debate with Malema on the stand is just not effective at all and does not belong in a court in the first place. It belongs in civil society and should have been facilitated by institutions that promote democratic dialogue. You may have a few legitimate points AfriForum, but you are not winning here...and those very points are getting lost in the apparent prejudice and lack of strategy of the legal team...

Julius Malema says to AfriForum, "You cannot speak on behalf of all the farmers", and he is absolutely right - the organisation can also not speak for all Afrikaans people and I am embarrassed by the nature, content and sarcasm of the legal representative for an Afrikaans organisation representing some farmers. Do not get me wrong, I do not support the song/chant to be sung today - in favor of reconciling different races - and precisely to ensure that some young person that has not been part of the struggle, may one day misinterpret the song (against oppression) and go out and shoot a farmer, a criminal act. Only for this reason, it is indeed justified to request comrades not to sing the song. But the way in which the examination is done and the political, ideologically statements! by the AfriForum council is not doing boere any favor. 

It is maybe a good thing that the discourse displays the ignorance and fear of some 'boere' and their spokes persons so vividly. It shows all of us how much work still needs to be done in our young democracy - on basics, such as: respect for differences in heritage and experiences, socio-political linguistic interpretation of words and freedom of speech.

We have a long way to go. I am hoping the trial will have a good outcome to bring people closer together - but I fear the opposite is happening, and the upcoming local elections in our country will demonstrate if our democracy is still healthy. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Best of the Meerkats

absolutely made my day...

I have chosen the username 'metaMeerkat' four/five years ago and it has meaning for me in so many ways - least of it being that these African animals are social... and helpful - very much like the networks I belong to. I love the meerkat.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What do you want to prolong? #Alzheimers: the toughest question

When one has a cold, you come to a bit of standstill and want people around you that care. I have the flu and now have more time to think - and tonight I watched a show called The Alzheimers Project - brilliant, but oh so close to the personal pain... and one question (asked by a medical doctor to the wife of a victim) resonated with me: "What do you want to prolong?" 
If you have a moment... do watch the segment or catch it on DSTV (103). There are bits of my lovely mom in all of the people in the video clip. I have not really ever blogged about Alzheimers and have avoided talking about it in depth - but have started a FaceBook page called "Vriende of Joey Steenkamp" for our memories of her. Join us any time.

And then this question tonight: What do you want to prolong? Without going into my mom's medical details, I can only answer with the woman in the video clip: the person I love, her - I want to prolong her... and yes, it is selfish. 

I wanted to tour the world with my mom, have her hold her grand children (yes, indeed)... I wanted to prolong our endless laughter about silly things we see when driving around, or just standing next to her at the stove making a creamy white sauce...and so much more. Just a phone call, a text message... her prayer when I go back to work after a visit. It is already mostly gone... I had to let go of each one by one and the choices I have to make are getting tougher each day. And every time I have to ask myself - is this decision for me, or is it for her. Medication may prolong her life a bit, but it also prolongs her illness, and she has no access to the four clinical trials in South Africa - all for earlier stages of the disease. So, hope has been slipping since her diagnoses...
One of my friends @acidicice in Twitter rightly said today: 
@metaMeerkat I think #Altzheimers is a very underrated and misunderstood disease. Most ppl think it's just memory loss :( 
She is my best friend. I am losing her. Indeed, it is not just "memory loss" and I am not ready for this illness. Neither was she. Who is... ever?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tribe of Earth Quakes in Japan

I have seen some comments about 'the' earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan.  In the back of my mind I knew that we are not talking about one quake and its devastation but a range: However, it is only after I saw this Google Earth animated video clip of the period 9-14 March 2011, that the real magnitude of the tragedy was clear. 

Latest Earthquakes shows all earthquakes with magnitude greater than 2.5 located by the USGS and contributing networks in the last week (168 hours). It is a scary view when you look at this picture of global earthquakes the past 8-30 day period:

I was born in the year of the biggest earth quake in South Africa, in September 1969, and my parents arrived in the area a year after to help the community rebuild their lives. It is recorded that on 29 September 1969 at exactly 22:05 people thought it was the end of the world as the mountains started to burn and a thunderous noise rocked the quiet town of Tulbach. Tremors followed throughout the night after the quake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale took the lives of 11 people (mostly children) and left thousands homeless. Looking at the ChristChurch earth quake of 6.3 on the scale, it was clearly a major seismic event on the fault line running via the Boland region.

Throughout my years in primary school we continued to do earth quake evacuation and had two minor quakes scaring the living day lights out of me. I remember looking at a crack running down the classroom wall from under the desk where I was hiding - and one of my friends wetting his pants :( Significantly, a few years later, we stopped with earth quake drills as the collective memory faded, and started with 'bomb scare' evacuations from the apartheid struggle - some times targeting schools in 'white' areas. Don't know which was worse in terms of the fear these instilled amongst us as children. I would lie if I say that it does not cross my mind: what if it happened again - there in my hometown where my mom now lives.

Today I have the people of Japan in my thoughts again. And especially the children that now fear the earth and the water, and how it could bring sadness upon their families...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The First Hashtag Ever Tweeted on Twitter - They Sure Have Come a Long Way

as a quick follow-up on the previous entry on Follow Friday #FF and where it came from, I discovered this nice little entry on the first hash tag ever used. Such a simple way to group conversations together across 200 million Twitter accounts. My own favorite hashtag at the moment is #socent :)

Friday, February 4, 2011

@Micah got a brainwave one Friday in 2009 #FF

I have been thinking about Follow Friday in Twitter for some time now, and it bugs me a bit that I cannot make up my mind about it for so long: A good thing that adds value or just annoying? So I started in Google to find out how it all started again (did this some months ago when I was bugged as well, but then forgot). Need to make a call on this #FF tag for my own sanity.

If you turn to Quora - the next big thing for 2011 - the the question is already there:  Who are the "Inventors" of Twitter Popular Usage? and no one else than Micah Baldwin answers the question. It figures, he was and remains an early-adopter and innovator:

Micah Baldwin sent out that very first tweet in 2009 and even had the presence of mind to blog about his experience - including the motivation for the tweet and the response:

It only started to take off after one of the 'influencers' in Micah's network, Mykl Roventine, suggested a tag #F ollowFridays (sic, spelled erroneously with a space). And by the end of that first day a tweet was sent out every half-second, reaching an early peak with 90 000 tweets a month in the mid-April 2009. Much later, when it was known, it became #FF and was so widely adopted that applications evolved, such as FollowFriday and FollowFriday Helper.

How many people knew that Micah started this trend with this awesome seemingly small idea, and could even be considered the 'father of the popular hashtag'? Few I imagine, as he does not have thousands of followers, and it really boils down to this #truestory of Twitter 101 that he understood:
"It was awesome. By the end of the day, my name was no longer associated with the tweets. Which was awesomer. It had taken on a life of its own. Which was awesomest. Here is what twitter was able to confirm for me: People are proud of their friends".
And herein lies the essence of tags for me - when one's name is "no longer associated with the tweets" it means that it has spread so far and wide virally, that it is public property. It has become a successful hashtag to organise conversations without our own voice.  I love tags. People who know me in Twitter, know that I believe in tags for so many reasons, one being to meet new people thinking along the same lines. I have enjoyed the tags of @CapeTown (such as #capetraffic, #capemusic, #capeadvice, #capepic) in this regard, and have seen that many of these have a life of their own as well.

One of the other interesting aspects I discovered about the #FF tag (which I did not know) is that it is still used in the way @Micah introduced it: not tweeting whom to follow WITH a reason, but just listing people. (Personally, this is the part I find a bit annoying, as I would prefer knowing WHY you like your friend and suggest him/her to me to follow on a Friday). But seems that the first few tags were also only suggestions of friends to follow - no questions asked, no reasons given. Much like a closed referral system from a trusted friend. I still think it only really has meaning when it is made special and not just a name tweeted into a void of similar falling #FF tweets into the Twitterverse.

Well, that's that then. I think I shall use #FF in a way that works for me. Not an endless list of Twitter names, but mentioning one or two names (like Micah did it for @fasterstill and @megfowler in one of those first #FF tweets - at the back of his mind, being grateful for their lessons on friendship and love). Better, yet: saying why I think it may be great to follow someone from my own stream of collective consciousness. 

We certainly all have our ideas how it should, or should not work. Thank you to ThoughtPick for making my Friday!

Ps: Oh, and my #FF for today is @uthango - the company I love dearly and have invested so much energy, time and money into that it scares me some times. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nelson Mandela Foundation - silent spokesperson for a Legend #Madiba

The official 'spokesperson' of Nelson Mandela (and his family) is not speaking to ordinary South Africans and citizens across the world via social media. And their choice in this moment is not reflecting well on the ability of one of the most prominent civil society agencies in Africa to understand and use new media. 

The Nelson Mandela Foundation is one of more than 200 000 registered public benefit organisations in South Africa. The Foundation is well-known world-wide and was established to drive the vision of Mr Mandela forward in a structured way - going beyond his person and lifetime. It implemented a Memory Programme in a few years ago with the intention to offer:
"an integrated information resource on the life and times of Nelson Mandela, giving members of the public, scholars and fellow memory institutions across the globe access to relevant information, primarily through the internet and mobile phones. The programme also prioritises advocacy work around access to information, dealing with the past, and related issues". 
Believe me, I have no doubt that the Foundation plays a wonderful role in providing information about Nelson Mandela and the values that he embodies. However, I think a critical opportunity is being missed by the public relations or communications' team at the Foundation to be part of the current (relevant) conversation - as opposed to providing content only. Or simply responding in a knee-jerk way on speculations on Madiba's health that currently spirals out of control due to the selective social media silence of the 'spokesperson' (the Foundation itself in the person of Sello Hatang - out of his depth, I think)

The undated little line on the website simply did not do enough for the public and media, when Mandela's coordinates on earth shifted to a South African hospital on Wednesday 26 January 2011:
 Granted, other active users in social networks picked up the little line: "We can confirm that Mr. Mandela is at Milpark Hospital undergoing routine tests. He is no danger and is in good spirits", and it spread across the digiverse. 

More importantly, speculation in the media due to lack of further information on Nelson Mandela's health, increased security and visits of close family is running like a wildfire: this is clear from the stream of tweets from across the world via Kurrently. So much so that the South African Presidency (with a presence in Twitter, unlike the Foundation) issued a press statement, with a tweet that blazed to the top and called for 'calm and restraint'.
Of course, we should be responsible with information. However, the point is being missed by our government and the Foundation alike.  If you do now own the story (especially in social networks), someone else well. If you do not provide the information, someone will fill in gaps in ways that you may not like. As an aside, some may try and create viral trends for own benefit at the worse of times. Not sure I like what News24 is doing at the moment with its call for viral sympathy, at this time via @MyNews24
"Here's the challenge, send us a photo of you with your message of support for @ and we'll put them up on News24 - (sic)" 
Fact is: Mr. Mandela is not a young man. At 92 he had a full and event-full life. He said once: "I hoped that life might offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own contribution to their freedom struggle," and in what I have learned about him, I know that life did offer him these opportunities. He will pass on one day (maybe today, tomorrow...soon..later) and he will rest in peace. And already, his life and legacy offers his Foundation the same opportunities, but the leaders will need to get their communications' specialists together and ask themselves how to share more and better via free social networks.
Indeed, we need to respect the dignity of people and their families. In the same way, we need to have respect for the rapid (and very different) new mechanisms of information dissemination and the socio-political impact! and influence! it could have if we remain quiet for too long. It is a responsibility that the Foundation should take much more seriously in my humble opinion. They will be called upon to respond with integrity - even more so if Mr. Mandela passes on one day. In February 1990, 50 000 odd people listened to Mandela in Cape Town when he spoke his first 140 characters from a balcony, today his Foundation could have had thousands if not millions hearing virally from the Foundation every few hours (at least). It will not harm, it will create a framework for conversation and quench the thirst for accurate facts in an emotionally charged moment for world already burdened with too much information.

At the end of 2009, we conducted training for 75 of the top organisations in South Africa - in social media and communications' strategies. We did not invite the Foundation, as we believed that they already had the capacity and resources. Desperately searching the website of the NMF for a Twitter profile or Face Book fan page, I realized it may have been a grave mistake to assume so much. We really do need the Foundation to be speaking up clearly in times of uncertainty - via the channels that South Africans use: public meetings, community newspapers, community radio, MXit, Face Book and Twitter - in this order. Or appoint a PR company? No offence intended.

The Foundation says: "During 2011 efforts will intensity to make his legacy available to the world..." A good start would be to talk to the world (and not only to a few select international reporters, celebrity friends and agencies) in ways that ordinary citizens currently embrace. Madiba's legacy and voice was one for the maginalised and the poor, for those without access to information - not for the elite and the powerful. This is not the time to be so hope to hear from you soon via a press release... it will help.

The greater test for our humanity and South African society will however come in the way that we (all media - traditional and social) and all reporters (professional and citizens) respect privacy and dignity of one of our most loved leaders. He deserves no less. Until a bit later, this is all I can do:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Trusting the Pain we did not Plan

No one plans for pain. We plan to succeed, not for failure or making mistakes. We all plan to be happy. To smile back at a world that smiles upon us. Our plans do not include days of loneliness, deep misery, or anxiety about the future... Of course not.

But fact is, pain is part of life and like the seasons of the year, it is certain that new growth can only be real when we go through the dreaded cold. I remember farmers telling me in the region where I grew up as a child: "As die winter lekker koud was, is die vrugte lekker soet..." (when the winter is nice and cold, the fruit will be sweet). 

So here I am, still making peace with pain - trusting the pain I certainly did not plan. David Richo writes a book about the things we should embrace - the 'givens' in life (and pain is one such 'given'). I am enjoying this book and have been thinking it may be valuable to others as well. So as I work through it, I construct the lessons of the book into a small workshop that could be used in our community training, or even online - both? Well, whatever direction it takes me, I am grateful for authors that put into words the feelings that make us human, and carve a way forward through it to healing and enlightenment.
For our heart to yield without revolt to the hard law of creation, is there not a psychological need to find some positive value that can transfigure this painful waste in the process that shapes us and eventually make it worth accepting?... Dark and repulsive though it is, suffering has been revealed to us as a supremely active principle for the humanization and the divinization of the universe"... 

It often takes a community to hold the pain of one of its own - not only does it lighten the burden of painful experiences that we face, but it also brings people together to seek significance together, not answers - but meaning.To honour the seasons that bring us to meaning, is to embrace the truth that we are part of a cycle of life way beyond our own desires and narrow self-interest - we are connected to a universe of shared experiences. Heinz Kohut, another psychologist, speaks of 'emphatic immersion' (such great term!) which implies a dedicated presence with someone else - being there for some one else on their terms, and with a caring curiosity. We can trust the pain we did not plan - we can trust it to bring people together. This helps.

Dedicated to Lynne Thackery, Friend & PR Manager at Dementia SA

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Social Networks are not Therapy Sessions

I am contemplating the value (or not) of sharing our personal triumphs and challenges - and whether it is considered a weakness or strength to connect in social networks, and then share every day life, and our reflections and emotions. After all, most of the people we meet via these networks are not truly friends. And as much as we are tempted, these networks are not therapy sessions to resolve trauma of unemployment, broken code, illness, divorce, rejection, botched face lift, death, latest fight with a lover, or demise of reputation. Or are they?

We tend to put a high premium on intellectual content shared, but shy away from emotional content - as if this has less value and is inferior. And yet, books are written about 'emotional intelligence' (a barely disguised choice of words to make it more acceptable in the corporate world?). Even the latest technology, like BlackBerry's Empathy Phone is starting to recognise the fact that is emotions that makes us human and aid us in our connectedness with others - beyond the cute emoticons of Yahoo Messenger making us smile or frown. (I remember well the first discovery of using keyboard symbols on Internet Relay Chat when I first connected with friends across the world online in the late 80s).

The world is shifting towards a more person-centred as opposed to profit-centred framework for decision-making. At TED last year, Nicolas Christakis talks about 'The Hidden Influence of Social Networks and how emotions can be 'contagious' in certain areas - could we call it location-based emotion? :

But it is the comment on his talk by Theodore A. Hoppe - quoting from the South African project, 'Social Brain' - that really drew my attention: 
"For the last two decades, the model of the rational individual- 'homo economicus'- that has underpinned our faith in democracy, reliance on the market, and trust in social institutions has been consistently undermined by social psychology, behavioural economics and neuroscience. The notion of a profit-maximising individual who makes decisions consciously, consistently and independently is, at best, a very partial account of who we are. Science is now telling us what most of us intuitively sense: humans are a fundamentally social species.  The rational individual construct was not based on naivety, but on the belief that this was the best model to help us plan our economies and organise our societies. However, a variety of social, political and environmental challenges, culminating in the current economic crisis, makes this model seem increasingly unhelpful." (In the future, we need to allow for authentic expression of emotion in our social networks and in business and in public life, as opposed to seeing it as 'inappropriate'. And don't let me even start on the bias encountered in the workplace that women are 'too emotional for doing serious business').
The clever Dr Michael Lara, of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, describes an emotion simply and beautifully as 'a feeling of what happens' with the root of the word 'motere' - implying that every emotion holds in it the possibility to move us to action. (As an aside, I have seen emotions play out in social networks just recently by following the tweets on the 2011 #GeekRetreat here in South Africa. Such an interesting discourse. Read a bit about it via this blog, and comments, by Ivo Vegter: Circle of Jerks).

Sure, there is a difference between emotion, moods and temperament and we should not subject our fellow emotional human beings to our every-changing moods (we all have these) or our temperament all the time - unless we have no choice due to illness. Now, I think of my mom with Alzheimers - where the physiology of her brain is altered by this cruel destructive disease (my emotional words) and deregulation of serotonin, as well as degeneration of neurotransmitters, lead to her mood changing from angst to sadness to happiness (less often these days). And we should have such gentle and lasting understanding with loved ones suffering. The rest of us don't get to have excuses when we inflict our moods on innocent - or some times not so innocent - bystanders. And we should be held accountable for our temperament when it crashes into someone's peaceful day...

But there is a fine line between acknowledging emotion in social networks and in business or politics, and not being an enabler for ego-based erratic moods. It remains a fact that feelings/emotions lead to actions and are needed to bring some principle-centred person-friendly business practices back into fashion. (What we get often today is a soul-less appetite for productivity and consumerism, with deceptive advertising campaigns based on emotive slurs to increase bottom-lines).

So, I am still battling with the question: How much do I share of my emotional life? More importantly, why do I share - well, for now, to move to action - to contribute in a small way to changed mindsets about Virtual Worlds, Africa, Alzheimer's Disease, social media, women's rights, South African politics, civil society, and other areas so easy misunderstood. But more than that - to make sense of the world around me (my experiences) by finding that other people have similar feelings. Fundamentally, to know it is OK.  Does that make me weak? Or should emotion be reserved for music and poetry, and not for the board room or networking?  Or does sharing and expressing make me human? Both? Or does it make me strong when I embrace one of the givens of life: We all suffer and cry, and we all have pain. And it is important to be with the moment and the process in order to let it go. To deny it, is to live an illusion. To share it, is a choice - no better or worse than the person in my network that choose not to be disclose. Just, different. Maybe the key is in allowing freedom of emotion and expression?

Ps: And then there is the question on intellect - related to the company we keep - the question that could keep some of us awake: Is your social network making you stupid? Looking forward to your replies...

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