My school has just had a week’s holiday (well 9 days with the two weekends), when normally we would have had three weeks.
I joke about every holiday being one week too short, no matter the length of the vacation and I stand by that, but the truth is I divide every break into 3 parts: for the first third, I sleep – all day and night if necessary, but essentially if my body tells me ‘nap,’ I head for my cosy bed and nod off happily. In the middle week or section of the holiday, I sleep and do all those jobs you put off for your leave, like having a haircut, visiting the traffic department, taking the next child to get an ID or apply for a driver’s licence or university. In the final part, I aim to do only self-indulgent fun things, like motoring in the country with The Maestro, clothes shopping, special time with my children, reading…and sleeping of course.
This mid-year break I have had to divide the time into three days for each of my holiday divisions: so, I have had 3 days for each. I’m into the final third tomorrow and still feel I need to be sleeping 24-7.
But I can just tuck into some cheese with this whine, because at least I have had a break. The teachers I really feel for are those in the public sector who are not getting a holiday at all, not to mention their students.
You see, they haven’t had a holiday since December. Do not believe officials who say that they were off during lockdown. They were not. They may not have been able to reach all their learners digitally, but they supplied them with work before and during lockdown, many hand-delivering tasks and textbooks to their children’s homes. And in many schools, they did just keep on teaching.
Teachers are going to burn out.
How are they going to reboot, and ‘sharpen their swords,’ as Stephen Covey speaks about, when they are exhausted; they need to rest. Every teacher grinds her teeth when the ignorant masses who believe that they know how to be teachers because they once went to school, say that teachers have half-day jobs and too much holiday time. (One deputy I knew once said that’s a bit like someone who drives a Mercedes thinking they have shares in Daimler-Chrysler, but we won’t go there.) Teachers don’t have half-day jobs and fyi most work through their vacations, both marking and prepping ordinarily. Generally they have worked the hours of a holiday before they get there.)
In April, educators were frantically reinventing themselves as IT gurus and restructuring their teaching programmes. State school teachers are not getting any holiday now. And they, and all independent school teachers, will be working right through to December with a couple of long weekends to break it up. We need to find ways to look after their health, both mental and physical.
In the Department of Basic Education’s commitment to completing the school year, I don’t know that they have considered the teachers (who are dying at their desks btw – just look at the country’s COVID statistics: as at 30 June 2020, 775 state schools across the nation are affected by the virus, and 1169 teachers have been infected – more than twice the number of children who have contracted the disease – 523; but in the Western Cape in the last week we have laid to rest 2 teachers, as has Gauteng; in the Eastern Cape the count is 18 – that is eighteen – who have died. And that is only 3/9 of the provinces.)
We are concerned about the frontline health workers who are at risk from this virus, and rightly so, but teachers are at risk of becoming the latest, silent group of victims. Many educators suffer from so much stress simply from being in the classroom, let alone all the other attendant pressures like socio-economic crises in their communities. How many are walking around with undiagnosed, stress-related co-morbidities like hypertension, putting them at greater risk, without them even being aware of it?
And tired teachers get sick. Our educators catch every virus around in an ordinary year, especially in winter. This year they are bone weary. With no real holiday in April, nothing in June, and no break of any significance before 15 December, the government is stretching one of its greatest human resources to breaking point.
Even in the independent school sector, where I work, where many schools have at least had a small break, we have identified this as a problem for us. I think we need to think about it more, before we either break our teachers, lose them to other professions or attend their funerals.
This is the biggest challenge facing schools in the next 6 months. How we address it will determine how we keep our teachers (alive).
My job in the next months is going to be focussed on my staff.
In our home, we have had four generations under one roof: a Baby Boomer, a Gen Xer, Generation Ys (millennials) and three Generation Zs. One reckless Gen Z kamikaze-child (who shall remain anonymous, but is my 20 year-old daughter, named Shannon who lives at…) with uncharacteristically scant concern for her immediate environment, dared to say to me tonight how ‘awful’ it must be to be a boomer nowadays because ‘you have to scroll so far down when you are looking for your birth year on electronic forms.’
Sadly, she is not wrong. And that’s not all. Last night I played one of those stupid Facebook games in which you had to put in your birth year and see what was hot on the charts back then. So, I tested the fun on my own wall by putting in my birth year (1964). But damn, it made me feel old. There were all my FB friends with their disco songs appearing on their posts. Not me…
I got The Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night – in black and white. Not even a grainy, colour album! I have never even been a Beatles fan.
It made me feel old and I guess I’ve been feeling that unconsciously for a while lately. Just this week I went down a FB wormhole about what to wear, what make up to use and what hairstyles to choose to make a woman look younger. What a waste of 30 minutes of my ever-shortening life!
But today I went off to the lovely Aruna and had my hair trimmed… actually, I asked her to lob off about 15 centimetres of fading lockdown golden locks. And I love it!
I do actually look younger, but my new coiffure hasn’t magicked away the post-lockdown belly blubber or smoothed away the mid-fifties wrinkles, more’s the pity.
Truth is, my mom passed away at 56 and I have 3 short months to reach that ceiling before I have to enter unknown territory. It’s a scary thing; hence my over-focus on age.
Growing older does have its benefits though because now that I am …. um of mature years… I have the confidence to be more myself even though I realize that I only have a few more years in the workplace before I get put out to pasture. (Mind you, if my children had it their way, they’d have taken my car away and relegated me to the cottage in the garden already). But I have reached the age that I finally like myself, warts (or should I say liver spots) and all. And actually believe I have something to offer the universe.
I wish I had had this self-belief 20 years ago, but life had kind of beaten me down into self-doubt at one stage. I used to be terrified of public speaking for example, and having all the eyes in a room on me. There have been moments when I have entered a room of my peers and heard that song from Prince of Egypt thumping in my head, ‘You’re playing with the big boys now…’ But I like to think I’ve held my own. I even once forced myself to speak at an International Conference I was invited to present at (on educational technology nogal!).
Whatever I may have done in my own life though, I have realised is the truth of that old saying, that it is your children who are your life’s work. I can certainly say that my best achievements have been my children. It is exhilarating to see how they are changing the world in their own unique fashion: in film, in commerce, in football, in art and in full-on passion.
‘Sometimes, your greatest contribution to the universe may not be something you do, but someone you raise’
So, you know the longer your Memory Lane, the richer it is with moments of growth and triumph. I may have been born in the year the Beatles sang about working your guts out and coming home to the joy of loved ones (I was born on a Saturday and ‘Saturday’s child works hard for a living,’ the old rhyme said too, so what chance did I have in life?), but the joy IS in the coming home. It’s in the laughter at the dinner table; the sparkle in his eye; the feelings of pride that bubble up in my chest so often when I watch my children (and I include my schoolchildren in this); and the knowledge that there is still some life left in this old ‘dog’ of which the Fab Four spake.
I have been thinking a great deal about my mother lately. I suppose because I shall soon bypass her in age. I hope she would have been proud of me. She’d not be impressed by my liberal use of Anglo Saxon words, of course, nor my still too-loud voice, but I like to think she’d love the way her grandchildren have turned out – not too many obvious tics on display, and young people with compassion and commitment.
I used to feel horribly jealous when I saw women with their mothers out and about and still wish I could have had that for longer with my beloved mother. I wish we could still discuss literature and howl with laughter until our stomachs ache. She had an amazing laugh which belied her serene facade. She was a gifted writer, who put my sister and me before everything else. She showed her love by feeding people and had an inner goodness that I permanently aspire to.
I could live to twice her age and never be the woman she was.
She used to joke that only the good die young. And then she did.
She did say I’d get my comeuppance one day, so no doubt she fell off her cloud laughing when Shannon commented on my age tonight, especially because I am almost hers!
But if only the good die young, I have many years left to live – long enough to watch Shannon get her just deserts when her daughter laughs at her. (I’m not vindictive or anything…) My mother may have been a member of the Silent Generation, but her legacy of fun lives on. Just much louder.
… and my new haircut makes me look younger. So this is 56th-anniversary-restoration-album time…
It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log But when I get home to you I’ll find the things that you do Will make me feel alright
You know I work all day to get you money to buy you things And it’s worth it just to hear you say you’re going to give me everything So why on earth should I moan, ’cause when I get you alone You know I feel ok
When I’m home everything seems to be right When I’m home feeling you holding me tight, tight, yeah
It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log But when I get home to you I’ll find the things that you do Will make me feel alright, oww
I have been enthralled by the series Billions over the last week or so. For those who haven’t seen it on DSTV or Showmax, it’s a series in which a ruthlessly flawed hedge fund manager is pitched against an equally determined and unrelenting US States Attorney.
Now, far be it for me as a liberal arts major to fully understand the intricacies of the stock markets and the algorithms and economic sleights of hand that go with it. But I have certainly been learning about shorting stocks and going long on information both in the public domain and info obtained via devious means.
This series though, like all shows about people in professional positions like lawyers, doctors, the press and politicians, is about people. It reveals the nuanced protagonists as both heroic and venal; yet their decisions and maneuvering are motivated by personal interest before all else.
What has struck me, with this production, is that it suggests that once you have suspended your faith and desire for honest justice, situational ethics, guilt and desire and the balancing of favours seem to operate in this society as a more powerful currency than the ‘mighty dollar.’
How true is that in the ‘real’ world, I wonder. Well, I have certainly seen what one of the Billions characters, Brian Connerty, calls ‘political fluidity’ in operation in life, sometimes in places you’d least expect it. That’s one of the reasons I like the group of schools I work in. I respect the person in charge as one of integrity. And that makes all the difference.
The characters in this series are in so many ways morally bankrupt, despite their billions. Their honour is as fake as John Malkovitch’s Russian accent. As much as everyone on the planet ultimately sees themselves as the hero in their own story, moral turpitude is all too often downplayed when people’s personal interests collide with doing the right thing.
And it’s so simple to choose expedience before integrity. Because it’s easier. How tempting it is to give a glowing reference to a person one wants to encourage to leave; how easy to overlook malfeasance in someone one feels sorry for, or bend the rules for someone you like. It’s jolly hard to be fair to everyone. I have sleepless nights sometimes trying to decide the fairest way to treat people. But, I have to live with the choices I make and face myself in the mirror.
Billions explores loyalty and betrayal and assumes everyone is guilty of something. And that is certainly true. All people are flawed in some way. The characters in the show leverage the peccadillos of the players, even those close to them, to wield power. And I guess that’s what it comes down to, far more than money: power.
I am glad I don’t live and work in that sort of wild west, but every institution has the potential to be run like that: using and trading on secrets and inside information and pitting people against each other and the worst of moral ambiguity: rationalizing it as being ‘for the best,’ the end justifying the means. It’s hard to be a straight arrow, but I think it’s important to be honest, especially to myself.
Like the traders and lawyers on Billions, the temptations remain in any institution, because when you have authority over people there is always the possibility for corruption and pursuing self-interest above what is right.
So, we must guard against it. Transparency and honesty are essential. Knowing what is right is important. A moral compass and careful adherence to the core of an organisation’s ethos keeps you on the straight and narrow. In some faith-based schools, there is a position dedicated to such oversight. In many cases it doesn’t have enough teeth, but it is one way of keeping a school on course.
A leadership team that is allowed, and in fact encouraged, to challenge the leader on matters of moral direction is also important. Good advisors are invaluable. I am lucky. I have such a team.
And I’ll keep rooting for those with a conscience, even on television shows, if I can find them.
Besides, no one can actually spend billions and there is no price on peace of mind.
“Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, and treating people with respect.”
Aristotle believed that there are seven causes for the changes in human behaviour.
COVID-19 has certainly been a major disrupter. I saw a TED Talk once about how to form positive habits in just 30 days. So, I thought, ‘Ok I shall make some positive changes while we’re incarcerated at home.’ Some have been good changes; others… through no fault of mine, I declare… not so much.
This is what has changed since lockdown for me:
1. I’m writing
On the plus side, I am writing again every day, which is for me like going to gym…without the gym. I feel rejuvenated afterwards, and it’s fun.
I have ring-fenced me-time slightly better, although I can see this resolution slipping since the return to school process has started. I have enjoyed getting more sleep than usual and hope that I can try to limit the number of nights I burn the midnight oil.
Traffic is better -I am hoping that more companies have realized that they can in fact trust their administrators to work from home. Please. I’d like to be able to sail through as we are able to do now – gives me an extra 15 minutes sleep every morning.
Unfortunately, I have given up reading books temporarily. Well of course that’s because the library is closed and I just cannot do online books. Not with our wifi. Just when you get to the end of a page or an exciting part of the narrative, damned if it freezes and then when it finally reloads it’s back at the point you were when you picked it up. And it’s hard to get quality books for free on the internet, and I just can’t get myself to spend money on a book which I am only going to read once. I’m tightfisted like that. Having said that, If I can solve my data issues, this could be a revolutionary change in my life.
5. My car is dirty
This is a sad story. Car washes are not yet open so picture my excitement when the oil change light came on. ‘Oh good,’ I thought, ’I can get my car cleaned at last.’ Not so lucky: the service centre was operating on skeleton staff and so no non-essential stuff (like car valeting apparently) was happening.
I got even though. Unintentionally I swear…
After dropping off my car and having to rope in my husband to transport me further, I received a call informing me I’d been in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 (Fortunately all is now well with said-person, so I can tell this story). As a good citizen, I now needed to inform the garage that there was a chance that I had contracted the virus and that I’d send in my husband to collect my car later. Well they weren’t having any of that – they delivered the car, hooted and left the keys on the roof… It was a little disconcerting I must say, although I can totally understand their temerity to come anywhere near me, but it did make me think I should buy a bell while I was out having a COVID test so I could yell ‘unclean’ as I walked. Of course, I didn’t need to …I was driving for one, and secondly my car was also still ‘unclean.’
Not even all this rain has sorted it out.
I guess I could wash the car myself; but, well…perish the thought.
Spending so much time at home has made me realise how inhospitably cold it is in our house, so I have allowed the heaters to go on. We’re spending a fortune on electricity, but it is so cosy – at least we shall be warm and poor.
7. Grocery Shopping
… because we are going to be poor. Has anyone else found they are spending so much more on food? My grocery bill has skyrocketed with all of us at home constantly. I used to be able to buy clothes every month. No more. I’m barely breaking even. Now it’s biscuits and chocolate and other exotic snacks I don’t usually buy, along with fancy juices and lots of everything in case we need to hunker down again… And that darling little suit I nipped into Zara to purchase just before lockdown, is never going to fit me now!
Education will never be the same again. There will be a clear BC (before Corona) and AV (After Vaccine) in the timelines of every organization. At this stage, at my school, we are adjusting to a hybrid form of teaching and learning with some learners and others logging onto our livestreams from home. With no gatherings in the immediate future, events like valedictory and matric dances present real challenges, which we shall have to meet with some creativity. The coronavirus has single celled dragged us into the 21st century technology-wise and that’s a good thing, but I am sad to see us reverting to industrial-age rows in an effort to social-distance and losing the collaborate hubs we were using. We have to be creative about that too going forward.
I just hope that all the positive changes that have taken place in our society, like appreciating medical staff more than celebrities, lower data costs, families revelling in their home activities and banks being kinder on debt repayments, will remain, but I fear that once things return to some semblance of normalcy I fear that selfishness and sloth will return… just as the urge to exercise has diminished now that it is no longer forbidden fruit to jog.
I’ll leave you to decide which of the above changes fall under each of Aristotle’s headings. But, no matter the cause behind the positive changes at least, it is definitely time to turn some into excellence:
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.”
I get very little sleep at night more is the pity. And yet when I am done with my work, I just can’t seem to simply climb into bed and pass out.
I mean, I can, but I don’t.
I’m wondering whether any other night owls are the same. I don’t have a problem falling sleep so I am not an insomniac. I just have me-time FOMO. I know I should be grabbing what precious hours are left before dawn to take a trip to visit Morpheus, but I delay that wonderful surrendering of self to the oblivion of sleep, like a child refusing to nap.
And what do I do? I scroll aimlessly through my social media. It’s not exactly a meaningful activity, I know. Before the world was turned on its head and libraries shut (gasp!) I would read at least one chapter of my current book, fighting the natural desire to nod off, just so I could grab some pleasure in the long-dead day. So, I dawdle and do thinks like paint my nails or go down some Facebook wormhole that I have no interest in at all.
And I think that’s the problem: I feel so deprived of leisure time that I punish myself still further and get even less sleep. I can just hear my mother scolding me about ‘cutting off my nose to spite my own face.’
And the worst is that I grow more agitated the later (or earlier) it becomes, knowing that I am missing out on sleep. I can’t win. And it’s a foolish pastime because… well time passes as I delay the gratification of sleep in order to feel that the day wasn’t all about work.
I am not afraid of sleeping. I love sleep. I simply want to have some time to feel I did something for me before I go to sleep.
Another article refers my weird behaviour as ‘bedtime procrastination.’ And draws connections to poor self-control (nonsense I say as I pop some more choccies in my mouth.) and one’s circadian rhythms. https://www.popsci.com/why-you-stay-up-too-late/
So, turns out I’m not that special – loads of others also suffer from this silliness (in fact I’m a bit troubled to realize that all these articles mention ‘sleep disorders’ in the same breath, so perhaps it’s time I sorted my $$#% out. My competitive nature cannot bear to be ‘disordered.’) The good thing about living in the Western Cape during stormy winter nights is that after a while you have to snuggle down…and I have the Maestro there too… so I never stay up all night.
But turns out I’m in good company:
‘I tend to stay up late, not because I’m partying but because it’s the only time of the day when I’m alone and don’t have to be performing.’
The Dalai Lama was once asked if he could reduce the essence of all that is common to major religions into one word, and legend has him saying that that word is ‘compassion.’
This has stayed with me for a long time and underpinned what I find so powerful in my own faith. It’s something others have shown to me and which, as I grow older and hopefully a bit wiser, I am growing to see as singularly important in my dealings with others.
It requires a gentleness and empathy and a slowness of pace, a giving of your time to someone else’s world. And compassion defined as ‘feeling with’ another, an entering into someone else’s suffering.
Here are some things I have learned about compassion:
1. Compassion upholds the dignity of another
If you treat people with mercy and gentleness, you have recognized the humanity in each. It gives life to the Hindu greeting of ‘Namaste,’ (The sacred in me recognizes the sacred in you.) It’s saying, ‘I see you’ when an individual may be feeling invisible.
2. Suffering can increase your compassion
The more hurt, grief, betrayal, penury and bullying you endure, the greater the potential for deepening your own compassion.
After my mother died I became intensely aware of how desperate people can feel when they lose someone they love and I became much better at helping my students and their parents (and indeed my own friends) through their times of grief.
When my first marriage broke up, I became more understanding of the aching paralysis experienced when one stands bereft of the love of your life and its meaning, not to mention the poverty that often accompanies betrayal and abandonment.
I’ve survived toxic work environments and determined never to pit employees against each other and always to remember that staff members are human beings, not numbers to discard on a whim. I have seen both in various settings.
Recognizing the humanity in other people actually allows you to forgive your enemies because when you imagine them as suffering fellow travelers in life, it’s easier to let go of hurt.
3. You need to have an imagination
The Age of Corona has heightened the need for both empathy and compassion for people we’ve never met. I must care about people I don’t know. I must imagine what situation that person in the shop is going home to and be moved to wear my mask properly, stay on my own jolly decal on the floor and sanitize, not to mention refrain from going out when I’m sick. (Of course understanding how others may feel can lead to unnecessary guilt in an empathetic person. The other day, I had a tickle in my nose from my allergies, not the virus, in the queue at Woolworths, and had an urgent need to sneeze, but for the first time in 55 years, I swallowed the sneeze in terror that I would be thrown out of the store or lynched by fellow shoppers.) But I digress…
There is a huge need for the gentleness of compassion in this time when people are struggling with anxiety and when many are staring financial ruin in the face. It’s tempting to respond to outbursts from other people with our own annoyance in equal measure, but trying to recognize that they are just projecting their own fears onto you, helps you keep your temper and soak up their rage.
4. Compassion isn’t a feeling, it is a conscious decision.
Compassion is love in action. Therefore, it can be learned. It’s no good knowing something or feeling sorry for someone. Compassion requires the devotee to reach out to someone to help. Don’t feel bad that someone has been retrenched; buy them groceries.
5. COMPASSION DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN necessarily FIX things.
This may seem to gainsay the previous point, but sometimes you can’t fix someone else’s problem; sometimes things are beyond fixing. But the compassionate person is the one who sits and passes the tissues as the sufferer cries her way through her grief or becomes the kitchen help when there is a death in the family and just makes the tea for all the visitors. If I think of the people who heard me vent over the years about things they had not control over, who heard me say the same angry words over and over until I had expunged the ache, I am so grateful to have been blessed to have such friends.
It may be that you have to be a firm presence and not help even when you could, in order to empower someone needing to grow. Again compassion doesn’t prevent you doing this gently. One of my teachers who had the greatest impact on me when my parents divorced and I was acting out (Mrs Paveley at Springfield Convent Junior School back in 1976) held me to account for my cheeky behaviour, but understood and acknowledged (if a little gruffly, as was her way) that I was hurting. That’s all it took. I would have walked through fire for her afterwards and I cleaned up my act very quickly. And I never forgot.
6. Some people in business think compassion is a weakness
This annoys me no end. Just as hardened business consultants will pooh pooh qualities like good communication as ‘soft skills,’ they will also see a focus on people, as distracting when it comes to making ‘those tough decisions for the good of the business.’ And that’s rubbish.
It takes great emotional strength to put your own feelings aside and cross a psychological ravine to connect with another human being.
A compassionate person might need to make decisions which affect people negatively, but they can either find people-friendly solutions or manage the situation in such a way that the person involved maintains his dignity. Richard Branson says ‘Look after your staff and they will look after your customers.
In the end compassion makes us better humans:
“There is a nobility in compassion, a beauty in empathy, a grace in forgiveness.”
Since I’ve already written reflections around the birth of each of my sons, I should reference the girls’ births, lest I be accused of favouritism, or horror of horrors, gender prejudice.
The story of Caitlin’s imminent arrival does involve prejudice against women though, but it’s also a story of triumph over that, in one of life’s delightful ironies.
It was Christmas 1993. We had been transferred to Johannesburg “for one year, I promise” (We were there for seven.) and I had just been offered an English teaching post at a private boys’ school, in what would become Gauteng in a few months with the dawn of New South African Republic.
My sister arrived to spend Christmas with us and while we were sunning ourselves on Christmas Eve, the phone rang. (Remember when phones used to ring somewhere in the distance and you had to go inside to answer them?!) I came out stunned. I was pregnant. Not part of the immediate plans, but a blessing nonetheless.
After the celebrations and announcements were over, I realized the tricky situation I was in. I was due to start at the college in the January, with a matric class, and the baby was due in August – mid-prelims. With some trepidation, I called the head of the school to inform him, and stupidly admitted I wouldn’t blame him if he fired me. He promptly did. Of course, he couched it in terms which probably sounded kind to him: ‘We…eell, we would prefer then that yah didn’t start at all,’ he said in his lilting Irish voice. And that was that. There was no contract to dispute. The legal advice given to me was that I’d opened the door by saying I wouldn’t blame him. So, I was out.
This was a time in education when schools were not only racially segregated, but women also had an unequal deal as employees. When I started teaching I earned R900. My male counterparts with the same qualifications and experience were gifted R1 100 per month. I lost my permanent post in a state school when I got married and no longer qualified for a housing subsidy. And here I was being screwed over by an independent school too.
At the time, I shrugged my shoulders, sold my little blue Suzuki Jeep (Okay I cried about that) and realized that I didn’t want to be a part of a system raising boys to think like that anyway and a few months later found the perfect post at Holy Family College in Parktown, an institution which housed the best head I ever worked under, Alastair Smurthwaite, who later promoted me to my first HOD position. He was a person of compassion and believed in giving his leadership team the room to grow.
I am a firm believer that when we don’t get what we want out of life, we often find our hideen, deepest desire. This is a lesson that I have learned over and over in my life.
HFC was a significant place of learning for me. I had a fabulous subterranean classroom, which must have been part of the old convent building. It was massive and airy and even though it was situated beneath the front stairs, it had a lot of light that came in from windows at the top which looked onto a carpark and enabled us to listen unseen to all the parents gossiping outside. It had huge hooks that we made up ghost stories about, and I rummaged around in unused rooms of the rambling building, braving the odd lurking aged nun, and discovered an old carpet and footstools which we put cushions on and used as a comfy corner for reading setworks and chatting.
The school was also a place where I was witness to great suffering among young people who travelled for miles on public transport, some being victims of unspeakable violence.
I will never forget a young man named Nokwanto whose growth was stunted because of his kidney disease, that forced him to undergo two transplants. His body rejected the second transplant; yet with every day that drew him closer to death, he lived life with a joi de vivre that would shame the most truculent adolescent. My last image of him before I left the school eventually was of him standing arms akimbo, laughing delightedly as soft snow fell on one of those rare Johannesburg days when the sleet is in fact snow.
Then there was the young woman who was gang-raped on her way home because she ‘had airs and graces because she attended a fancy school,’ who gave up her plans to become a lawyer and chose social work instead. And the tall, thin, tortured Nkululeko who postured aggressively in class and drew tormenting demons in his diary, and who slipped one of the most beautiful thank you notes I have ever received under my office door, in which he reflected that I had loved him just as he was. The social worker at the school voiced prophetic words when I left: “This is the letter which will bring you back to teaching.’ And years later when I did return to the classroom, I remembered. I still wonder what became of him.
The school was a fascinating combination of new and old, and the energy of the young people was contagious. The staff was largely female; strong women who were clearly leaders, at least one of whom went on to become a principal in her own right. The Science teacher, a heavy smoker and nearing retirement, was the first female engineer to graduate from Wits University, so there was no shortage of great female role models.
It was a place of healing for me when I lost my mother, and I am still in touch with a student who was delighted to hear that Caitlin was born on her birthday. Caitlin herself has grown up to be a woman of deep compassion and generosity of spirit, and is embarking on her career as a chartered accountant. She rescued me from becoming mired in a school whose male leadership would have crushed me, and enabled me to find one where I was liberated. It is fitting that the child who was born during my time there is forging ahead in what is still a rather male-dominated field, despite have been seen as an inconvenience by a school when she was still in the womb.
Thank you, Caitlin for being God’s instrument in leading me to profound happiness and setting me on my own path towards leadership.
7 things to know about surviving hurt and trying to forgive.
I have faced my share of betrayal and spite, and sadly I have realized over the years that it seems to be a part of the human condition, this coming to terms with the damage others inflict in our lives.
I once asked for a formula to follow to try to forgive someone who had hurt me badly, and not even priests could give me a how-to guide. I think it is a path we often travel alone, but one can produce a joy more profound than the hurt.
These are the 7 things I have done and what I have learnt about surviving hurt and about forgiveness.
1. I kept an angry book
When I first realized I would need to raise five little tykes on my own with little or no consistent financial assistance, I was filled with soul-penetrating hurt and an impotent rage, that I thought would overwhelm me.
So, I wrote it all down. I filled a cheap little brown exercise book with my profound personal hurt and the rejection which threatened to destroy my fragile sense of self. And I scribbled vile words in several languages in an attempt to purge the acid that burned inside me.
Late at night I vented into that book every impassioned thing I wanted to say and needed to say, yet was unable to because I was unable to address them in person, in the knowledge that even if I could have reached his voice, I could not reach his spirit.
One day, I came to the end of the notebook. And I realized I didn’t need to buy another. I was done. The poison was out.
And then I found love
I put the book aside and some years later when I was packing to move into a new house with The Maestro, I threw it away.
2. Everyone is the hero in her own story
This is especially true of people who inflict pain on others. Some years ago I worked with a colleague who made my life so unbearable, I was forced to leave. I was filled with the penetrating pain at being falsely accused, as well as anger and anxiety at the loss of my livelihood, and concern for my children who were innocent victims yet again.
It was at this time, that I tried in vain to google ‘forgiveness for dummies’ because I knew that the hurt would crush me and demolish my serenity if I didn’t.
Then I realised something: she actually thought she was right. In her mind, she was the avenging angel, and I was a cruel woman who had to be vanquished.
In my newfound empathy for my tormentor, and her cabal, I was able to understand her a little, and in the end, I felt sorry for her. Because she was simply wrong.
‘Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.‘
3. Forgiveness is not about the abuser
Letting go of anger, no matter how righteous the rage may be, is a healing process and brings true serenity. When you are angry with someone, that person neither knows nor cares how you feel. So, your feelings are an invisible toxin that kills only you.
Physical action helps to externalize the ache. That’s why often jogging or cycling till your drop helps some people. I am not that crazy. However, I did find that walking alongside the sea gave me a sense of perspective on my life, measured against the ebb and flow of the eternal tide.
4. It’s much more difficult to forgive someone when the abuse is ongoing
If you are able to walk away from a situation or draw a line under toxic relationships, it is much easier to let go of the emotional damage they cause, but when you face the same day-in-and-day-out bullying or verbal abuse or permanent penury that often accompanies great betrayal, it is not so simple.
There is recourse in the law for some things naturally, but I found that the legal route is almost as brutal as the original crime, and I had to look inside of myself to find solutions for the problems. Being honest with myself about how and why I felt unhinged by my emotions allowed me to park the anger temporarily so that it has eventually become a side-blur as I journey through life.
5. Time heals
It is true that time takes some of the sting out the raw pain you endure when first you are wounded. And I have found that suffering has made me more compassionate towards others. You just have to wait it out.
6. ‘The truth will out’
As Shakespeare tells us in The Merchant of Venice (and many other of his plays), ‘the truth will out.’ And it really does in the end. It is good to be vindicated, but the waiting to be ‘exalted above [your] foes’ as the psalmist promises, can be long and requires patience.
Far be it for me to suggest we should wish for such vengeful deliverance, but it is human nature to hope for it when we have been wronged. I have found though that the truth has a wily way of popping up to haunt those who abuse it.
7. The greatest ‘revenge’ is to be happy and successful
Laugh long and often. Life is absurd, but there is much joy and friendship to be found, even in your darkest hours. You can experience profound joy in the midst of your suffering.
This is how I have found my peace.
‘Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.’
President Cyril Ramaphosa was criticized by a caller on a talk-radio show this week, as ‘being weak’ for apologising for mistakes made in the process of addressing our country’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
I completely disagree. I think it is a sign of strength that a person can apologise (and a rarity from a politician). I think it shows an acknowledgement and empathy for other people ‘s feelings and opinions if you can say you are sorry to someone who has been hurt by your words or actions. And in a leader, that kind of humility is important.
I have a saying with my staff that‘sometimes only grovel will do.’
Because we mess up – like all people – and much time is saved when the offended party is given that recognition of their hurt or inconvenience.
Here are some tips about apologizing (with a disclaimer that I don’t always get these right either):
1. Believe you have offended. Apologise even if the mistake or slight was unintended.
There is nothing worse than being gaslighted by the very person who has caused you hurt, or upset you. To have one’s offended feelings then denied, adds insult to injury. The first rule of conflict management is to believe what the other person is saying. It is not for you to judge whether a person is over-reacting either.
2. Relationships matter more than your ego or being right.
A servant leader knows the simple truth that ‘it’s not about me.’ Expressing remorse shows your partner or client that the relationship you have with them is more important than your ego or being right.
‘When you’ve done something wrong, admit it. No one in history has choked to death from swallowing her pride.’
3. Mean it. Only two year olds are ‘sorry, not sorry.’
We all remember being made to ‘say sorry to your sister!’ and hearing that muttering ‘Sorreeeee!’ which was a clear sign that you were not! We’re grown-ups now though and admitting regret should be sincere and humble.
Recently after a spat between two of my my offspring, that had become particularly personal, had been calmed down, I asked each to say something nice about the other. My daughter told her brother he had nice eyes. His retort: ‘I like your glasses.’
Clearly ‘Not sorry.’
4. Don’t ruin the apology with a ‘but.’
Likewise, saying ‘but’ after an apology is just another version of saying ‘sorry, not sorry.’ See point 2 above.
5. Apologies do not absolve you of responsibility/blame/legal ramifications
Even when a criminal apologises to his victims in court, he is not excused his sentence because he is remorseful. There is still a consequence that he must accept. The same is true when we screw up. We still need to fix what we broke.
In South Africa, not enough people apologised for Apartheid, despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s noble aims, let alone spent their old age making amends, (or licence plates in prison).
Of course, sometimes you can land up in court for apologising because you may have admitted legal liability, but I really hate it when companies or politicians use all of those euphemisms like ‘it was a regrettable incident (that 100 of their employees died down the mine that they did not ensure was safe, or contracted cancer following their factory’s effluent poisoning the drinking water’ …
Avoiding acceptance of responsibility is cowardly. If you stuffed up, admit it! That’s the honourable thing to do, however unfortunately, honour, like cigarettes during lockdown, is hard to come by when a company is facing financial losses through litigation. Sometimes they apologise but add those little disclaimers such as ‘while the company regrets…. this in no way is an acceptance of liability…’
Large underwear is needed: confess (It’s good for the soul – trust me I’m Catholic so I know), apologise and face the music.
6. Don’t wait
Express remorse immediately when you discover you printed someone ‘s name incorrectly on the awards ceremony programme, or before someone sees the scratch on their car, or when there has been a delay in response time to an issue. Make contact even before the injured party becomes aware of the situation, if possible. That shows you’re sincere and not hiding it. It also tends to take the sting out of the error or insult and can calm down a furious client and gain their respect for being someone who owns her mistakes.
‘When you realise you’ve made a mistake, make amends immediately. It’s easier to eat crow when it’s still warm.’
7. There is always something to be sorry about in a conflict situation
Even if the angry customer in front of you is dead wrong. There is always something to apologise for such as a miscommunication that has led to the misunderstanding. If you take ownership of even a part of the complaint, the complainant may be slightly mollified at least.
Always acknowledge their feelings as valid.
8. Apologies heal relationships and build trust
Humans are weird about ‘losing face’ and being the first to apologise. In fact, to me, that is the moral high ground and shows a stronger person, confident in herself because true strength requires humility. How many of us know families who no longer speak because siblings or children or parents refuse to be the first person to ‘give in’ as apologising is considered a surrender.
In the end, we all want to feel validated. Likewise, if someone apologises to you, apologise back for your part, enabling both parties to heal and feel forgiven.
9. Take the long view
Be prepared to lose the battle in order to win the war. If your goal is to win over a group of people to co-operate with you, it can be of strategic importance to suck it up and apologise unreservedly in the small things so that they will believe you and respect you in the long term.
10. Apologies take courage
It is not always easy to apologise because it often involves facing the wrath of the offended party, and that is another reason why I say that it is strong leaders who are able to do this. An apology makes one vulnerable in the relationship (or so many think) and so they avoid doing so which is sad because the courage to own up to being flawed is both liberating and empowering.
‘The first to apologise is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.’
11. Don’t respond to anger or annoyance in another with reeling out a list of their own similar crimes
While it may be true that you may have experienced similar treatment at the plaintiff’s hands, now is not the time to say, ‘well you always/never do that either’
(btw ‘always’ and ‘never’ should never feature in arguments.)
‘I am so sorry! I know how annoying this is when it happens to me,’ is a far more conciliatory response and won’t escalate the conflict.
12. Don’t expect forgiveness
Don’t apologise because you want to be forgiven. Apologise because you want to heal the relationship.
13. Apologise to children.
That is how you teach them to be sorry too.
14. Sorry means I won’t do it again
My mother always told me that ‘Sorry means you won’t do it again,’ and while this assumes a path to perfection that is not always possible for horribly flawed humans, it should cause us to pause and determine a way to at the very least try to avoid the behaviour, or in business (and at home) build structures and procedures to prevent a recurrence of the error. Otherwise, you run the risk of being (or being seen to be) once again ‘sorry, not sorry.’
15. Make amends
As much as it is a powerful means of spiritually cleansing oneself, priests who prescribe prayerful penance sometimes let we sinners off the hook a bit. Saying a few ‘’our Fathers’ will not build the bridge again with one’s husband and is not as effective as going home from Confession and baking a cake for your beloved or washing his car. Showing and not just telling is a powerful way to prove repentance, and it takes more effort.
Chocolate and flowers help too:
16. A good leader apologises for the team without shifting the blame to the individual who may have caused the fault.
Not only will this gain you the thanks of your team for having their backs, it is important to remember that as a leader you may not be responsible for the mess, but you are always accountable for it.
17. Apologising is empowering
When you realise that in fact you lose nothing by apologising, there is profound sense of peace and inner strength, which leads to greater resilience.
“Apologies aren’t meant to change the past, they are meant to change the future.”
Remote Learning during Lockdown is the pits – but that’s okay if they’re Learning Pits.
I thought I’d take pity on all those parents resorting to TikTok and YouTube to post parodies of their children working at home and who rant about reaching for the Valium to get through the school day with their own beloved offspring who have turned into spawn of the Remote Learning Apocalypse. So I am letting you in on a teaching secret: the Learning Pit. Understanding this simple model may assist you and your child with school tasks at home and let you in on (some) of the magic educators learn when they study pedagogy.
It is a feature of 21st century learning and teaching that students are required to grapple with the unknown; face the fear of ignorance and learn to overcome.
The Learning Pit is an immensely empowering concept.
And it applies not only to a concept at school, but to all problems needing solving, so it is a guided way to coping with the problems of life (like avoiding opening the wine before lunch while your child is working on parts of speech.)
Now more than ever, during Lockdown, when children are learning remotely, this is a way to focus your youngsters and assist them to be self-sufficient. Besides reading, teaching a child strategies to learn is one of the most effective ways to equip a developing mind for a lifetime of successful learning.
Nottingham’s model suggests that real learning what we call ‘deep learning’ only happens when something new is learned and that can be a scary experience (almost as scary for parents who are facing similar pits during their ‘homeschooling experiments’ during COVID-19 lockdown at the moment.)
The concept is simple: if a youngster encounters a new section of work (the learning pit) and he ‘gets it’ easily, he can leap across the chasm like an avatar with that faux loping stride leaping across gorges (unrealistically) in Fortnite and can hurry on to his next challenge. He hasn’t learned anything new yet though. FYI Bright leaners do this often through school and often battle later on because they haven’t learnt HOW to navigate learning challenges so it’s important to stimulate them all the time (extend them until they face something hard) to ensure they learn the skills. All too often I have seen rosy-cheeked Dux scholars in prep school turn into average achievers later on in high school because they never learned about the struggle that is the learning pit. But they make great collaborators and cheerleaders in peer teaching -see ‘Collaborate’ below – if they understand both the work and the process.
So how does it work?
I love this child’s depiction of the pit:
When our intrepid warriors arrive at a pit that looks too dangerous and fear and confusion sets in, it’s game-on. I urge teachers to encourage our learners to leap into that pit with both feet, as soon as they recognize that they don’t understand something, we want them to feel a sense of adventure and excitement, as if they are going on a quest. A key factor in 21st century education is also the demystifying of the learning process so we point out each phase of the learning pit a child is in so they can chart their progress.
‘Having a go’
This diagram above illustrates the dangers at the bottom of the pit and challenges to be overcome like on an epic journey. (like those moments when your drooping Petal whines ‘I can’t! I don’t know what to do? And you’re thinking the same only with a few Anglo-Saxon words in between). But they are encouraged to jump on in and ‘have a go’ like the valiant gladiators of old.
A Leap of Faith
Tell them: The work may be tricky but the first important question to ask yourself is: ‘How can I do this’ – that is almost the key to crossing the bottom of the monster-filled abyss. I remember a scene in The Last Crusade, Indiana Jones (oh so young Harrison Ford) takes a leap of faith into the unknown and finds that there was a way across the impassible ravine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-JIfjNnnMA
That first step shows the way, but the adventurer still has to climb up and out of the learning pit.
Notice that nothing new has yet been learned, but the student has already started to climb out of the pit, because attitude to learning is so important. This is why we believe in making learning fun. If a child is playing, he doesn’t realize that he’s already crossed the chasm and is climbing.
Try something else
As with all climbs, things can be quite steep and so a good pupil should know that there can be different ways of solving things: ‘What else can I try?’
Recent problem-solving by clothing manufacturers who were forced to shut their doors overnight and stop trading due to the lockdown, have re-designed and developed their sports masks into fashionable and effective alternatives for the COVID-exerciser. Instead of focusing on products they can’t sell they have focused their marketing and sales on these much-needed current products, and become essential services in the process. This kind of creative thinking is what keeps businesses afloat when times change, so when your child is struggling with a Mathematics problem, don’t show him the way you were taught – if you can even remember(!) and not at first anyway. Encourage him to try different ways because this is part of developing creativity, which stand him in good stead when his career faces a challenge.
A child must own the problem; WANT to solve it and struggle with it a bit. We all know what happened to Kodak, The Concorde, Blockbuster Video Stores and Blackberry. They would not/could not innovate. There is nothing wrong with using the fruit and veges to work out answers to basic arithmetic. Make problems relevant to real life so they have a connection. So if all you do is guide them to see a link to their own experience, you will have helped them focus on alternative ways of looking at things. Just don’t do it for them. (Walk away and mix teh margaritas for later.)
Innovation is a vital skill to learn and it’s the first step of that upward climb to problem solving so give your child lots spare paper or let her open lots of word docs and keep trying different things.
Trying can be exhausting though and is not necessarily immediately rewarding. Learning warriors need courage and resilience and what we callgrit to believe that they can. (like that little train we all remember from our youthful storybooks: ‘I think I can…’) There is a dawning hope, with each small success. Encourage her to push herself just a little bit harder, for just a little bit longer. Athletes understand this about training – the brain must also be trained to think. And sweat is involved.
Again I plead with parents not to give in and tell your child the answer. We see too many high school students these days whose parents have given them everything on a plate and they have never learnt the simple truth that success does not come without hours of (their own) hard work. They throw their hands up in despair, blame the teacher, the school, the government and everyone else because they simply don’t know how to keep at something. Things like re-writes, editing, touch ups, second drafts, conceptualization, planning are all part of keeping at it; they need to keep slogging away, and not accepting pedestrian prose or mediocrity. Cheer them on when they do.
10 000 hours at a task brings you professionalism in something. Sadly, too few students these days know how to keep at something for that long. It’s not their fault. Everything in their world is ‘insta’ – the ‘gram, their cappuccino, the news, and take-aways to their doors; binging on series has prevented us from yearning and imagining, and even gaming teaches devotees to use the cheats. Without sounding as old as my own children say I am, have to confess that I worry that we are growing a nation of quitters and lazy thinkers who want instant answers. There are loads of fun ways teachers encourage children to stick at something: competitions, promised rewards, clues and even a simple thing like timing them gives them an end in sight to strive for, so draw your child into the game of learning and keep them on track. (It will work for yourself too, especially if your choice of the fruit of the vine is the prize). Let them play music if that is their poison. (Earphones are a wonderful invention and protect us from said noise pollution).
Having said that, it is possible that you are experiencing a more genteel time at home with your family, (if you’re not exhausted from multi-tasking – running your home and empire AND Junior’s Work programme) and that can allow learners a chance to explore tangential interests and it’s consequently a great opportunity for them to go slightly off track and discover things they are really interested in. We all know this is when the real learning happens, so allow them a little intellectual bundu bashing. (They may develop an app in that time that will make them famous and you rich – more wine!)
Collaboration is one of the fundamentals of 21st century education and even during lockdown it can be achieved via Teams and WhatsApp calls. Our offspring are connected. They know how to crowd-source ideas. One of mine decided today a name change was in order for her next birthday so she threw a few ideas at her friends and bingo she had her new name. (and it wasn’t B-I-N-G-O … now there’s a blast-from-the-past kiddies tune!) So they know how to connect. It’s our job as educators and parents to guide them into using these skills to co-operate on learning tasks the same way they collaborate in their social lives. ‘Phone a friend’ is a good catch phrase to have in your classroom or on the fridge – and it’s not just a phone call – this applies to all those lifelines : teacher, google, friend, parent, asking for clues. Re-watch ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ and draw up your own set of lifelines to point them at when they get to this stage. ‘Read a book, search for other resources, make an appointment for a one-on-one with your teacher on Teams, You Tube videos’ – all of these are important. YouTube may well replace tecahers one day – you can learn anything on there. My eldest son watched something on ‘how to escape from a hijacking’ and it worked two weeks later when someone started shooting at a traffic light. You can learn a lot from the Tube, not least of which is how to research.)
By this time of the day, you may have your wine in hand and all you will have to do is wave your glass at the fridge to point out the ‘Phone a friend’ options.
I have always believed that a ‘lazy’ teacher is an effective educator if he is steering his students into self-discoveries and can be a profound influence on his charges. (I use the word ‘lazy’ hesitantly and for effect because I mean it in the sense that he doesn’t spoonfeed his pupils with dished up answers on the set platter of pretty notes and worksheets. In fact much time and forethought goes into planning a lesson that requires the children to do – to struggle, engage, chew on the pencil (not the stylus please though), scratch heads, stare into the vistas of space, doodle, cross out and keep trying. That is facilitating discovery. That is teaching).
Collaboration through peer-learning is important to facillitate – it empowers both teacher and learner and encourages empathy and altruism, qualities that are in rather short supply. Suggest siblings help each other, while you finish your own work (or wine).
You have almost summited the mountain if you reach the point that a child is thinking ‘I am getting there.’ This is that heady moment when a learner picks up the pace, and feels the adrenalin of final summitting the Everest of his subject. This is self-belief and is so vital for self-esteem. This is where the teacher/parent is the cheerleader, the folks back home waving the flag of support. So, don’t rob them of this high by giving them the answer because next time they will expect you to do it again. This is when you tell them they are fabulous and you knew they could do it; when you paste their artwork on the fridge/wall outside to motivate passers-by like my neighbor did with her daughter.
Give them that buzz of accomplishment and let them own the ‘Eureka moment.’ Because next time they will jump into the pit more eagerly because they know they can do it and they will need you less and less and eventually, if you are very lucky, and lockdown ends, they’ll leave home, buy you a wine farm and support you in your old age… because you taught them to solve problems on their own. School is a place and time to prepare you for life and let’s face it life is hard!
You will have taught them to think.
And you gave them an even greater gift: confidence to do it all again.
So that is the secret from the oracle today:
When it all gets too much for you, tell them to go and jump into the pit…. and resist the urge to bury them in there. If you’ve done your job right, they’ll find a way to dig themselves out anyway!