The Rocky Road to Better

There’s something to be said about the way we live our lives and the varying strategies we each employ in order to survive and thrive in our respective physical, social and spiritual ecosystems.

We could just float and let life take us where it may but that can only happen to an extent. There has to be an impetus, an exercise of will, at some point or the only way we’ll be headed is down. Personally, I want to become better… in every aspect. Not perfect, but I do want to see an incremental positive change in my behaviour and my effect on others.

But, even though I maintain a positive attitude and fig my heels in to move myself forward. I stumble, I stop, I make a ton of mistakes, I fall backward… and it’s disheartening. But now, looking back at the times that happened, I realise all the setbacks were there to make me strengthen my resolve and I possibly wouldn’t have gotten to where I am right now without the stumbles and falls. They’re a significant part of the journey.

If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t take away the rain ‘cos I know it’s made me who I am.

Faith Evans
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We Should All Take a Long, Hard Look At Ourselves – Thoughts on Liam Neeson’s Revenge Interview

So this Liam Neeson thing’s been playing on my mind. Specifically, the idea that all of us have innate biases and prejudices based on our socialisation while we were growing up. EVERYONE has these. No exceptions.

So the situation so far is that he is being vilified for his story about reacting to the rape of his friend by actively going out looking for a black “bastard” (he actually put it in quotation marks himself in the interview) to start some shit with him so that he could “kill him”.

So firstly, let’s look at the actual interview. We don’t want to unfairly judge these things by just going with what we read somewhere on the internet and on social media, right?

What he said in the interview word for word.

Now, I need to clarify something before we go on… I don’t stand for racism of any kind and I vehemently oppose anything of the sort. But I don’t think Liam Neeson here falls into that category and I’ll try and break down why.

I myself have my own prejudices, particularly against black people, because of the community I grew up in and the way I was socialised. I grew up in Apartheid South Africa and the Muslim Indian Community is very racist, even though we do have the exceptions who have strived and fought against apartheid, the bulk of the community was and continues to be racist. Black people when I was growing up and mostly today as well were either domestic workers a.k.a. “maids” who were underpaid and often mistreated or treated as second class, thieves or violent thugs out to murder you. There was the occasional black Imam or Muezzin who was meek, also underpaid and lived in modest quarters at the mosque. That’s it. There was no other category. I didn’t have black friends, there weren’t black families around which my family interacted with. Apart from real life where the above categories existed for me, the only other black people I saw were on TV, and we all know how they’re portrayed there.

So, in that context, there was this unwarranted, deep-seated “fear of the black man” instilled in me from a young age. To complicate things there was also discrimination within the Muslim community based on caste. I constantly heard about how memons (our “clan”) were the best and how the others – Khoknis, Surtees, Ali Pors, whatever else – were deficient in one way or another. This affected who you were allowed to marry, interact with, it decided why certain people behaved the way they did and justified or explained any actions they did. Fucked up to the core.

I did fight agaisnt this from a young age as well… both the caste thing as well as the inherent racism. I remember a specific incident at 10 where I stared dead-eyed at my staunch caste-believing aunt and saying “I’m gonna marry a nice black girl when I grow up.” I think I gave her high blood pressure. But even with that, I also remember walking down the street from school once, deep in thought and staring at the ground when in my peripheral vision, a black man minding his own business was walking toward me, not minding me at all, but I immediately looked up and got a shock of terror which I could not identify. I jumped. He noticed this and burst out laughing. Something which made me hate him more in my embarassment, but it’s a good example of how my entrenched socialisation regarding black people manifested.

Back to Liam Neeson, John Barnes in an interview said it better than I could, here’s the clip… it’s worth watching and he’s right.

John Barnes brilliant break down as to why everyone was too quick to judge Liam Neeson.
UPDATE (10/02/2019): Trevor Noah reflecting on Liam Neeson’s story on the Daily Show

The overall point I want to make is that we need to be aware of our own prejudices and work to fight against it. At least work at recognising and admitting it up front first. The interview with Liam Neeson up front shows how his socialisation manifested in a very traumatic and stressful incident for someone close to him… AND he hates how he reacted and feels bad about what he was thinking. We should all hope we’re at the stage of recognising our own biases. Because, if you think you don’t have prejudices and aren’t affected like this… that’s bullshit. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

To end, while we’re on the topic, I think it’s worth breaking down some terms when it comes to racism, racial prejudice and racial discrimination and how it manifests from a book I’ve read recently.

To understand racism, we need to differentiate it from racial prejudice and discrimination.

To say that you’re racially prejudiced against another person means that you prejudge him on the basis of the racial group to which he belongs.
The logic here goes as follows: “This person belongs to racial group X. People from group X have characteristic Y. Therefore, this person has characteristic Y as well.” This judgment is made before you have any empirical evidence that the person has the characteristic in question. That’s why it’s called a prejudgment, or prejudice. 


If you then act on your prejudice against the person, you’re discriminating against him. This could take the form of ignoring, excluding, avoiding, ridiculing, threatening or even committing violence against the person against whom you’re discriminating.


In these senses of the terms, a person from any racial group can be racially prejudiced and can racially discriminate against a person from any other racial group. White people can do so against black people – and vice versa.


However, racial prejudice and discrimination only become racism when one racial group has more power than another group and uses that power against its members in a systemic manner. To do that, the more powerful group incorporates their prejudices into society’s laws, institutions, policies and norms, which they can then use to discriminate against the less powerful group on a group-to-group, rather than just an individual-to-individual, level.


Thus, black people can be prejudiced and discriminate against white people – but they cannot be racist against them, because of the imbalance in power between the two groups.


For example, a black real estate agent could avoid doing business with a white person because of her race, just as a white real estate agent could do to a black person. But black people cannot create and implement policies that lead to white people being prohibited from purchasing homes in predominantly black neighborhoods, whereas white people can and have done so to black people.


Black people simply lack the power to turn their racial prejudice and discrimination into racism, which is a system of racial oppression, not a mere feeling or behavior that’s racially motivated.

White Fragility by RobinDiAngelo
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Adventures in Habit Tracking

So I’ve realised that if I wanted to make any lasting changes in my life I need to sort out all the little things that need to be done and need to be stopped on a day to day basis.

So I got this app on iOS called “Productive”, so far the results have been amazing. I’m really happy I’m getting off to a good start. I’ve got the basic habits I wanted to track… getting all my prayers done, Reading, Being Thankful, Making sure I keep in contact with family… The app makes it easy by making things time-bound, reminding you when you need it and also it feels really good to tick things off as you do them… as I said, it works.

Productive App on iOS

So how does habit tracking work? Here’s the benefits…

  1. It creates a visual cue that can remind you to act.
  2. It motivates you to see your progress. You don’t want to break your streak.
  3. Very satisfying to click that button in the moment knowing you accomplished something no matter how small.

All in all I recommend starting… I’ve already over the course of a couple of days added a few other habits to the list either daily or weekly that I need to accomplish that I otherwise would never “find time” to do. Life will continue to get better a little by little insha’Allah.

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Thoughts On Living With Two Kids

I don’t know where to begin with this.  The last 3 months have been a whirlwind with  a newborn in the house. I thought I kinda had all this baby stuff down since we already have a 1.5 year old and have been through this already.  Damn, man. I love them to bits, but I swear sometimes I want to throw ’em out of the window.

I won’t, obviously, I’m trying to express the frustration here.  Digestion and wind issues, reflux, being uncomfortable, needing to be rocked and held, waking up every hour or two, not stopping and us being perplexed as to why… It’s a trip.  One thing’s for sure, we need help. Any help.  Nothing can get done if it’s only two of us dealing with human beings who are totally dependent on us for everything.

My wife handles most of it, I help, but… damn, women are something else. Mom’s especially.  It’s only when you see it up close and personal that it hits you at how amazing and selfless they are. The lack of sleep, the feeding, all the while planning, cooking, playing, teaching.  Not to mention how much they give up of their time and their own interests to raise kids and maintain a home.  I don’t think one can ever really repay them and they deserve all of the praise and deference due to them. (Thank you Mum!)

Notwithstanding the challenges, just seeing them grow up and learn new things, being absolutely curious, not giving up, emotional upheavals because they have really big feelings they can’t explain.  It’s so great. The three month old, when he’s checking out the place and who’s in front of him always smiles, melts your heart.  It’s so amazing watching them grow from tiny little things not being able to do anything and suddenly they’re running around the house asking you to sit and read a book to them.

The little man dropping a smile.

I’m sure there’s a lot more running through my head about this that I can talk about, but I had to get these down.

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The Work/Life Balance is a False Dichotomy

Work-Life Balance
If you’re working in misery with your eye constantly on the clock and the weekend, you need to re-assess your priorities in life.

 

Work and Life are not meant to be separate. They are linked.

 

If you set work and life against each other as a never-ending battle as your life goes on, you end up with the thought that you’re either working too much and living too little or the other way round.  The term “work-life balance” itself diminishes our ability to see that work can be a very rewarding part of a person’s life and is by its nature incredibly personal.

 

Separating these two aspects of your life is impossible and as soon as you see that, you’ll be able to balance the two a little better.

 

Aim to do work you value and you love and enjoy instead of constantly trying to escape.  Find things to run toward.

Work is Life

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How To “Let Go.”

Let go

There’s only one thing people that need to let go hate to hear – “Just let it go.” As if its so freakin’ easy.  Everybody spouts these words, but nobody explains how and nobody can give you a practical answer as to “How the hell do I do that, exactly?”

“Let Go? What the Hell do you even mean?”

So I’m going to take a stab at giving you practical advice at getting this done. Well, I’ll attempt it and I would appreciate feedback if it makes sense or resonates with you.

First, let’s understand what exactly is happening.  This is a battle happening in your head. It’s not an active, physical thing where you are literally holding on to something and can easily do something like, let go.

It’s a matter of FOCUS.

When we talk about holding on to something, we mean that we are either focusing on a past event, like an argument or fight we had with someone, some traumatic event we’ve lived through or whatever.  On the other hand, we could also be holding onto the future by having some set of expectations that we want to happen before we can move on with our lives i.e. “If only I had this amount of money, this job, whatever… things would be okay and I’ll be happy.”  or it could be a worry of some event about to take place.


Note, in both of these instances you’re focusing either on the past or the future.

So, a practical step you can take is to be present and focus on the here and now. Use meditation, be mindful of your surroundings, of yourself, your current situation.  Focus on what you can do at this exact moment.  By switching your focus away from the trauma of the past or the worries of the future you will automatically let go, because right here and now there is nothing to hold on to. You are in control.

I really hope that helped 🙂

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TV Series: A Meditation on its Purpose and Yours

TV Series… man. Customised Hype. Tailored Distractions.

After spending so much time, even now, watching, watching and looking forward to the next episode of whatever. I’ve been forced to face the ever higher mountain of things I should be doing. Stories are great, but I think they should be uplifting you in some way because of the high cost of the investment, your time.  You should be learning something new, it should be inspiring you to change some behaviour which does not serve you.  It should definitely go beyond entertainment.

But, maybe that is all it is and what it is meant to be and will always be.  Distraction.  We’ve always sought out distraction because, I don’t know, life is hard and we’d rather not face it.  Other have also exploited this to their benefit.  They’ve delivered this bread and circus tailored to keep us hooked and coming back for more so that we have far less time to ponder, to reflect our own existence, to reflect our place in society, in the world… and far less time to do anything about the growing discontent as those who hoard wealth, hoard more wealth, consolidate more power and leave us to pick up scraps when we finally turn our eyes away from the TV, phone, computer we’re stuck to.

This tailored content, wrapped in the ideology of its creators and lobbyists, warps your perspective as well.  Little by little, subconsciously, making you see the world as they want you to. Adopt the perspectives and opinions of the many protagonists they parade in front of you, that you identify with.  When you finally face the world, you end up not seeing the world as it is, but as they want you to see it.

So, which TV series defines you as a person?  How much sex, violence, comedy and drama is it going to take to fill that void inside you?

More importantly, what will it take for you to finally get off your ass and make your life better?  Because make no mistake, at best… you’re stagnating unless you get your ass up and away from whatever series you’re watching.

At least take time to reflect that what I’ve written above, is it true or bullshit for you in particular?  What could you be doing? At least write it down.  Be aware, you’re either fulfilling the purpose of the creators of the show, or yours… depending on how much time you spend with it.

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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 blind spots, everybody has blind spots, 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 with some 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 marital problems, get marriage counseling. 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 that’s obvious and would help, do it without asking them. Everybody needs help.

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