Why I Love Big Cities

Maybe it’s because growing up in Johannesburg has cemented the mix of danger, concrete and… I don’t know what to call it… flow? maybe. That’s always had me mesmerised by cities. It’s that constant movement, people moving through it like blood along arteries. It’s a macrocosm of life. Like blood flows through the body delivering nourishment and oxygen to organs, people do that to a city… from one place to another, keeping it alive.

It’s like the city is a living organism on its own being nourished by ideas, labour and the flow of money. I love how, generally, in a city big and diverse enough, you can always find people or a place that caters exactly to your particular curiosities. Hip Hop, Islam, Knitting, Cats, Book Clubs, etc. etc. You’ll find something that brings people together in a city. It’s so easy for ideas to mesh together… for similar curiosities to group together.

I always have the animated image in my head about the public transport system and how if you track them all in the system in a time-lapse it would look exactly like blood flows through arteries. When you think about it like that, it’s kind of weird when you jump on a bus or take a walk through the city. You kind of are the lifeblood of a city… you and millions of others.

What I don’t like is that, as a habit, you end up eventually spending a bit too much time away from it. Not really taking advantage of a city. Then again, a city is built on concepts like capitalism, which sustain it and make it grow… to a fault. Eventually seeing something like that, growth for growth’s sake… it does kind of grind against you and makes you subconsciously shy away from it… or it becomes you.

Like most things… it gets complex the more you think of it. So, in the end, you kind of end up loving and loathing it. But you can never get away from it.

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If I Had To Do It All Again…

I’ve been in countless situations like it, especially in a work context. The condescending tone, remark, jibe at me communicating their superiority with a little dig at my work or clothes or music choices (yeah, even that). It was hard at first, but I think I got used to it. I had come to the realisation like so many other people of colour that we have to work twice as hard to get half as far because this is “their” world. It’s stifling and disheartening, your ideas are overlooked or repeated by someone with a lighter skin tone before they’re taken onboard. It’s all these little things that irritate, and after a long enough time it leaves its mark, psychologically.

It takes a while to break out of it. You have to sit with yourself and just shovel through all these feelings and thoughts and beliefs and values to just remember, at a basic level, who you are and what you stand for and why the things they’ve said or done to you are bullshit. You have to figure out what to do next, because you can’t carry on like that… who in their right mind would choose to carry on in that context? After that it just becomes clear what you need to do, what you need to change.

You see, it isn’t hard to do the right thing, it’s hard knowing what the right thing is. But, once you know what the right thing to do is… it’s hard not to do it. It will burrow a hole in your mind, day by day, until you do something about it.

I am thankful I am where I am now. With the clarity I have, the place I’m at, the work I’m doing, the people who are around me. But it took a hard journey to get here. But nothing worth having ever comes easy and even though it was so hard, I’d do it again. I treasure the journey as much as the destination. I wouldn’t be who I am without it. I’d be less… me.

And, because life is what it is, it’s probably not the end. Good and Bad come in waves. There’s always tests which make you pit your values and grit against the world. They’re there to see how you react, respond… What do you do? What do you give up? What do you protect?

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EVERYBODY Needs Counselling

I think we all fall victim to the type of thinking that we’re invincible. That whatever happens, we can always handle whatever needs to be done by ourselves and make our own very insightful and wise decisions on what’s happening and what to do next.

But we can’t. Not a single one of us can do it without help in some form. Friends, family, even acquaintances… we need someone to have our back, someone we can verbalise our thoughts and feelings to, to get them either validated or to just check that we’re not fucking crazy.

The point is that we have blindspots, everybody has blindspots, especially when it comes to themselves. We either think too much, too well, or too ill of ourselves. The only way to see ourselves for what we are is to first be open that we don’t actually know everything about ourselves and then talk it through wit hsome one you trust. If that other person doesn’t exist or you’re just not comfortable talking about it with anyone you know… GET OUTSIDE HELP.

If it’s professional, get a coach. Emotional, see a psychologist. Having maritable problems, get marriage counselling. No, it’s not a deep personal fault that you’re going to see someone for help and there is nothing particularly wrong with you. You’re human. And, by doing this, you’ll already be miles ahead everyone else who’ll might judge you while trying to deal with their own immense load of baggage, by themselves. Anyway, it’s not about them.

Everybody is fighting a battle of some sort. Struggling with something at any given point in their lives. Nothing Good lasts for ever and nothing bad either. Focus on what you need right now and go get it.

Subsequently, looking at this from the other side… never fail to ask someone close to you, sincerely, “How are you, really?”, offer whatever help you can, and if there’s something you can do thats obvious and would help, do it without asking them. Everybody needs help.

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Darkness Has No Identity

So, I was going through my daily podcast listening routine and one in particular had a fantastic thought to begin with…

“Darkness has no identity of its own, all it is… is a name we give to the absence of light.”

Thinking about it… you can create light, through lighting a match, flipping a switch, whatever. But, you can’t create darkness, if you want that you need to extinguish light. Where there’s light there can be no darkness.

The metaphors around this are amazing too. Truth is often associated with the light, Falsehood with darkness. In Islam, one of the Quranic injunctions is that Falsehood, inevitably, will perish. Lies can not last because the Truth inevitably comes out and will come out.

When we think about light and dark in terms of truth and falsehood, they seem like very abstract concepts but make it more personal. What falsehoods do we tell ourselves in order to sleep better at night or to just deny the “truth” about ourselves becasue it’s a bit too difficult to face? One of my greatest learning moments was finally seeing things for what they are instead of what I wanted them to be. This was doubly hard because it happened in front of others, people I had to convince of an argument but the case I made didn’t match the conclusion I ended up with. Come to think of it, that particular learning moment had the Truth hit me straight in the face. A major moment of clarity.

This little line from a podcast made me contemplate how important knowledge of self is, as well as getting to the point of seeing things as they are, and accepting them for what they are. We need to constantly shine a light inside of ourselves to find the Truth and accept ourselves for what we are, warts and all, before we can begin to look outward and see the world for what it is.

Looking at the world today, man… Darkness everywhere. I want to do my bit by spreading a little bit of light, some truth, into that void. And, I believe, it has to begin with me, with us, understanding ourselves better and constantly striving to make ourselves better than we are in whatever little ways we can, day by day. But, we won’t be able to do that if we’re not seeing ourselves clearly, if we haven’t shone that light inside and accepted ourselves for who we are.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

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Why Am I Here? Why Am I Me?

It’s 3am and I’m alone. Billions of stars in the sky, blank desert horizon in every direction. It’s cold, really cold.  Starting the fire takes me a half hour and the effort barely sustains me with enough heat before the fire starts.

After sitting for an hour with random thoughts, my mind starts to settle.  I was here to find answers and so I might as well start with the obvious.  Why am I here?  I mean, how can you expect yourself to get anywhere if you don’t know where you’re going, right? or at least figure out why you’re even on the road.

How do you get to answers, though? are they in books? are they in you? I’d imagine both – knowing what’s outside and what’s inside. Knowledge of the world and knowledge of self.

The desert has a way of blocking out everything except you.

And then, a new thought occurs to me… Why am I, me? Me in particular. Sitting in this spot, thinking this exact thought.  I don’t have anyone else’s experience but my own. This self-reflection has me stuck right here in the present, exercising my will to move , to act, to do anything I want.  But what is that exactly? What do I want to do? What should I do?

I’ll be grappling with this for a lifetime, but for now, let’s at least answer it generically. You’re here for a reason, and you’re you for a reason. Only you can be you and, well, you’re already here, so you may as well keep asking the question why until the answer comes to you or is answered for you personally.  After all, you are going to have to live with the answer.

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The Things I Hate and Love About Dubai

The gap in my blog posts recently was due to a trip to Dubai for my cousin’s wedding.  It was a very enlightening trip simply because, before, my perspective of Dubai was mired only in its total absorption in extravagance and overt luxury.  I couldn’t see anything else. Every trip there, work or otherwise had me rolling my eyes over eating food and shopping. There’s only so much you can do… and the heat kind of limits doing anything outside.

So anyway, let’s get to the list…

Hates

  1. Capitalism on Steroids – Everywhere… Luxury, Opulence and extravagance from the $30m licence plates to the upturned noses.   You cannot avoid the show of wealth and while it’s cool to gawk at the Lamborghini’s, Bentley’s, Rolls Royce’s, Muscle Cars, etc. After a while it infects you.  It’s a place for the insanely wealthy who want to show it and the those who aren’t insanely wealthy but aspire to be… or at least in its presence.  Maybe it would rub off on them like cheap perfume.
  2. No Soul – You feel the fake.  The country did come up from nowhere, with nothing nad now hitting records for what? Biggest building, biggest light show on the biggest building, etc. etc. They’re trying too hard man and as with all shows of wealth you can sense that something fundamental is missing.  You see it in the people too ,especially the expensive places… the disdain for everyone else, how they treat anyone who doesn’t live on their level.
  3. Growth for the Sake of Growth – The place is HUGE. It reminds me of Joburg it’s so big. Like it takes you at least a half hour from place to place and you’re generally surrounded by skyscrapers.  On this last trip, I’ve heard it seems the same problem like back in 2008, where contractors up and disappeared might be happening again. There is one hell of a lot of property in Dubai and I’m not sure there are enough people or businesses to fill up that space.  All of this growth also means it’s being built on cheap labour with dodgy labour practices.  It’s a shit show all the way through.

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.” – Edward Abbey

Loves

  1. The Desert – My cousin took me to the desert with a couple of friends, a place called “Maliha”. We stayed up till like 3.30am with a camp fire, talking and listening to music and drinking chai.  It was amazing.  The vastness of the desert and the stars makes it so much easier to take breath and introspect.  Think about Life and your place in it.  Answer all the big questions for yourself.  Making new friends in such an isolated place is also very easy.
  2. The Normal People – Away from the cars driving past willing you to look at them with your mouth open. There are normal, everyday people in Dubai just trying to live their lives and get by. But when you’re going there on holiday you don’t get to see it. It’s the guys who make karak chai on the corner, the local cafeteria’s making shawarma, the others getting by day to day in corporate jobs sending money back to families in other countries.  I was looking for a soul to Dubai, these people are it. They make Dubai what it is, both the extravagant and the quotidian.
  3. Family – This is specific to my time their recently where I got to spend time with my cousins who I’ve only seen off and on for short periods and over decades.  I’m also like 10 years older than all of them, so I got to really bond with them at an age where we’re more or less on the same level.  That and spending time with my aunt and getting involved with helping set up all the wedding bits ( as family does) was a really awesome experience.

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Progress is Perfection.

 

You see, at the end… all of this doesn’t matter.

This world is nothing, man.  I mean, what’s the average age again… seventy, eighty years?  Even with modern technology, maybe a 100 years? You put that in a cosmic perspective and it’s nothing. A blink of an eye.  So what are you so anxious about?

Any problem you can think of… what? You lost your job, You got robbed, you broke your leg, you got divorced, somebody deceived you, somebody broke your heart. Whatever, pick a problem. In the bigger scheme of things, it’s nothing. You will get over it. It’ll fade away into nothing and you will learn and grow from it. That’s the point.

Little by little, each problem you overcome makes you more of who you are and progress is perfection.

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Focusing Somewhere Between Ideas and Events.

 

Drama. Everywhere.  You know where it starts and ends?  With people.

People discussing other people, judging other people, comparing themselves to other people, etc. etc.

I’m sure you must’ve come across this quote…

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s been doing the rounds so much it’s become a cliché and, ironically, the quote itself is about people.  Anyway, it’s not just about “great minds”,  it’s about living a life that’s yours alone and free of worry. People are the root of the problem, or more specifically, your obsession and focus on other people.

Leave other people alone.

Focus on yourself.

Everything you will face in life will have less meaning and be far more difficult to overcome without knowledge of self, first and foremost.

Getting knowledge of self is the hard part. It involves self-reflection, understanding everything about yourself from the small things like your favourite colour and favourite food, to what you believe about why you are alive and what your purpose is on Earth. Why are you here? Why were you born?  You need to sit down alone, ask yourself these questions and answer them for yourself and be convinced by it.  This won’t be sorted out in a single sitting, it will take time… but in order to get the rest of your life sorted out you have to do it.

Next, you need to get into reading, watching and listening everything that will help you answer the questions you need to.   This is where we tie in the title…  Your life is made up of events and, more importantly, your reaction to events. Pay attention to the things that happen to you and around you… how are you reacting to them? why are you reacting in that way? Is it the right way to react (is it better for you in the long-term)? Start a Journal. Write this stuff down. Re-read it later.

Finally, ideas. This is the goldmine. The bigger the better. But, keep the focus on yourself, what’s important for you to understand and answer.  Philosophy, Religion, etc.  may seem boring in the face of TV series and endless memes. But go after everything be ruthless asking yourself the bigger questions, seeing what questions were asked and explored before you…

Why should you do this, exactly? What will you get out of it?  First, you will know yourself in such a way that no event, or person can affect your state of being. You will be able to stand on your own, hold yourself to a higher standard. Second, you’ll start to see reality for what it is rather than what you’d like it to be. You will start to understand how things really work underneath it all.  How the world runs, with you in it… and how you can really affect change, for yourself, within your circle of influence and the world.

Little by little, piece by piece, one step at a time.

Start now.

Just a final note: Once you start this journey, it doesn’t end… but you wouldn’t want it to. I guarantee it.

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#MeToo, Women, The Golden Globes and My Commitment

The recent action by the women at the Golden Globes and the resurgence of #MeToo reminded me of what I wrote back in October last year when this topic started gaining ground, people started coming out and raising awareness about what a shit show it is to be a women in today’s world. I did have my head in the sand and was complicit in all the small jokes, the little comments, the conversations I brushed over and all of the above that I ignored and let slide.

It started with this post…


“Going through my feed. Shocked at the amount of #MeToo posts. It makes me sad and very angry. As a male I’ve just had my head in the sand about the extent to which sexual assault and harassment happens to women. This is eye opening and I feel really helpless. Short of castrating any fucker who would blatantly attempt this kind of thing in my presence… What can I do to help? I want to do something.”

After which I had spoken to a good number of women who made me realise that apart from being ignorant, I was complicit.  I didn’t see it, because it’s everywhere. We’re steeped in the culture and so we don’t notice it. We see it as normal when it’s anything but.

The follow-up post was this one, and I need to live up to it. It’s a commitment I still stand by.

Click or Read Below… I couldn’t get a better shot of this post.

 

“Following on from yesterday’s post on #MeToo. The loop needs to be closed with a commitment and an action list which I hope you will hold me accountable for, in person and online. So here goes, #HowIWillChange.

1. Recognise that I can be the bad guy without being the perpetrator, letting things slide when there is harassment is as bad as the act itself.

2. I will listen more closely to the women around me, especially those close to me, seek to understand first and then, if necessary, act.

3. Never enable any misogynistic behaviour, no matter how passive, and to not accept any excuses or diversion tactics of abusers. In private and in public.

4. Acknowledging my own capacity for this harmful behaviours and taking responsibility for it as well as my own “unlearning” of these behaviours.

5. Proactively learning more about women’s issues instead of expecting them to explain it to me in order to understand how they are impacted.

6. Call out mansplaining, and expect to be called out for mansplaining. Seriously, it must be fucking irritating and so demeaning.

7. Same with hepeating, acknowledge women more for any contribution no matter how small, and let any hepeaters know that they can’t get away with stealing ideas and expecting to be credited.

8. To not stand by quiet when women are forced to spend tons of energy to fight for or protect their own dignity or rights.

9. Acknowledge Male Privilege. The socialisation of ALL MEN, including myself, into vicisounsness andentitlement whether we act on it or not.

10. I will never blame a victim or stand by while it happens.

11. To actively switch all discussion about women from being victims where events “happen” to them and actively show the responsibility of the perpetrators.

10. Teach my daughter that she does not need to put up with any of the shit that goes on to demean and put her down. To recognise her worth and to recognise all of the above bullshit that goes on for what it is.

And finally… do all of the above without expecting praise or congratulations.

Shoutout to all the women who commented on the previous post to help me understand this and make this commitment… and, most importantly, to the women in my family who are so awesome, I have no words. I love you all.”

 

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