About two months ago my little boy who started school in January this year looked at the wall clock in his room with a serious look on his face. He frowned a little bit. And for a second I thought my little boy is about to tell time for the very first time in his life. It’s a wall clock decorated with the animated characters Woody and Buzz from one of his favourite movies, Toy Story. As I continued dressing him without wanting to give away that I’m rooting for him to give this thing a try, he opened his mouth, carefully mouthing the first word, and it took him a while before any sound came out. “We come to play” he said.
I looked at the wall clock, right next to Woody and Buzz were the words “We came to play”. It didn’t matter that he got the tense of the middle word wrong, I was ecstatic. I wanted to shout, to scream: “My boy can read!” It didn’t matter that he’s still got no concept of time, that will come later, to me, by reading those few words he was confirming that he is getting ready to join that privileged class of people on our continent and indeed the world who can read.
I have recently been involved in social media discussions with a few friends who are consumers of the written word. I have learnt that some of South Africa’s best authors struggle to sell their books. Whatever the reason for that, I’m really concerned that our low literacy levels have indeed translated into an artificially reduced love for books. More worrying for me though is that even amongst the classes of people who are literate, our love for books, especially books by black South African authors is really low.
In my mind, our love for books should be unmatched. Yes we cannot all love books but the majority of us should. The way I see it, a people with our history should not have an option of not loving the written word. I’m almost tempted to say our love for books should be mandatory, not an optional hobby. We owe it to ourselves to discover that which we were denied for decades, or even centuries.
I have to admit, my own love for reading was purely coincidental. I grew up in a large family and unlike other people who love literature I was not born into a world rich in books. I struggle to this day to recall what Cinderella and other children’s classics are all about. I didn’t have access to those. Any of the classics that I read were books that an older cousin had for his English Literature classes. Danny the Champion of The World, The Big Friendly Giant and Oliver Twist come to mind.
But the first assault on my literary senses came in the form of a Tsonga language book, Xisomisana. I read that book at about age eleven, and even though it was a book prescribed for a class 4 or 5 years ahead of me, I learnt that a book can move you from this world we inhabit into a totally new world where you are at the mercy of the author. I was quite a sensitive child and I remember crying copious amounts of tears at Xisomisana’s fate, an orphaned girl who had so much trouble in her life because she seemed to have no one in the world.
By the time I went to boarding school to start my high school and coming into contact with a library for the first time I knew that this world, this physical world wasn’t our only option. There existed a world which could be accessed through reading books. I plunged myself into series’ like the Hardy Boys and read them sequentially that I felt that I knew their world, a world so far away from mine. By my middle year in high school I had discovered James Hardly Chase and Sidney Sheldon. Material I would not recommend for an impressionable fourteen-year-old mind but books nonetheless.
Imagine my joy when I learnt of the trials and tribulations of Mariam Makeba, Don Mattera and other South African artists at the hands of the apartheid government, their years in exile, forced removals and all that was going on then. I learnt of culturally iconic places like Sophiatown throw books. I learnt of Nelson Mandela and his speech in the dock through banned books. I escaped my depression, which hadn’t been diagnosed at the time, through burying myself in a good paperback.
I remember the sadness which would come over me on school holidays at the realisation that I was running out of paperbacks faster than I was running out of holiday time. I had no qualms about being labelled a ‘bookworm’ at some stage in high school. Books that I could lay my hands on were my life.
I regret that I had no adult to guide me towards reading material that could develop me as I grew up because young and impressionable as I was, I realise now that with more guidance I could have discovered more authors who could talk to my age at the different points in my life. I could maybe have developed a more positive approach to poetry and other disciplines.
Of paramount importance though is that books gave me the idea that world is so much more than our physical surroundings. That’s why I find it so difficult to understand that there are people who can read, and should read but don’t.
I honestly believe that the saddest thing that can happen to any individual is to be denied the opportunity to learn how to read. If there was a magic wand that I could use to transform the world I’m afraid I would use it to make everyone literate. Imagine me being asked that not so bright question that is asked of most beauty pageants winners (they still do don’t they): “What are you going to do to change the world during your reign?”, “TEACH THE WHOLE WORLD TO READ!!” would be my answer all the time. That’s why that education activist, the teenager Malaala Yousufzai is my hero. she discovered at a very tender age that books can save the world.
I have at various points in my life gone through dry patches of depression when it has become so difficult to do anything. The first sign that things were improving has always been the return of my need to read. To get buried into a good paperback and forget the world.
I hope I’ll have the presence of mind to feed my kids’ minds the right books at various points in their development and that they will develop a very healthy love for reading. I beamed with pride recently when my boy brought home a little certificate that he has completed 50 kiddies books for his age group, the little certificate states, “Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader”. I can’t argue with that.
I think my obsession with the written word might be clouding my judgement when it comes to a lot of what I observe about our society, mostly African society. Recently there was a discovery of an 18th century Shipwreck off the coast of Cape Town that was confirmed as a slave carrier from Mozambique headed towards Portugal, filled with hundreds of Africans destined for a life of slavery in Portugal.
The media commentary that I heard or read on the discovery labelled it as “fascinating, intriguing, a breakthrough”. None of those voices were African. They were voices of an observer of Africa. It pained me that none of our people have put themselves in a position to cry out and shout “That’s not fascinating, it’s a painful monument to the lives of all those Africans who were shipped off as slaves to continents where to this they are still fighting for full citizenship”.
I cannot see a people who have a deep love for reading letting that happen to their memory. It has been my untested observation that all the indigenous peoples of the world whose cultural heritages are disappearing have been deprived of books.
I digress. The point I’m making here is if enough of us had an appetite for books this discovery would be another chapter in those books, books that we would write with respect about our own past. Our love for books should not be optional. Our history, our continent and our future demands that we develop an insatiable appetite for books.
My daughter stood on my tummy the other day as I lay on my back and lovingly asked me : “Daddy, can I jump up and down?” Oooouuch, who could say no to her angelic little face. “Yes, but just once” I said as I tightened the few remaining muscles in my abdomen. She jumped up and landed back gently and was quite delighted. “Daddy, your tummy is soft like a jumping castle”, she said adorably with her characteristic lisp. That’s love alright but did she have to use that metaphor? Jumping Castle? Really? The D-word started flashing in my mind. Yes you guessed right, diet. Political correctness demand that I call it a weight-loss programme. Stuff PC, I’ll call it a diet.
The women in your family have probably at some stage in their lives embarked on a diet. And men. Mostly on Mondays. It’s not me, it’s scientific research that says most people choose to embark on new diets on Mondays. And most have quit by Tuesday evening. Now I see why Monday is not people’s favourite day of the week. No one looks forward to starving, oops, dieting.
Society being as patriarchal as it is, a man declaring “I’m going on a diet” gets one of those frowns that accompany men who admire David Beckham’s grooming as opposed to his soccer skills. So I’ll be damned if I’m going to declare that my daughter’s likening my tummy to a jumping castle made me want to “go on a diet”. But I do go on diets, periodically. Nothing radical. I just ditch the sugar and its relatives and eat the way human beings are meant to eat. But then again, what is that way?
My most favourite living scientist, Professor Tim Noakes goes into a quite a bit of scientific detail in his book, Challenging Beliefs, about how and what our ancestors hunted down and ate. They obviously hunted down protein, so we must have strayed from their healthy meat(protein-based) diet to today’s carbohydrate-laden diet.
But then again man stopped being a hunter and became more of a gatherer at some point and relied more on agriculture(greens) for survival than on meat. Was this a good move or not? My kids, and most other kids I know would vote against the fundamental values of the Agricultural revolution, purely based on the way vegetables taste. I love kids so I agree with them. I too hate cauliflower. I maintain flowers belong in vases on Mother’s Day and those rare occasions when you can’t afford diamonds for your loved one, not on my plate.
Anyways, being the closet tree-hugger that I am I have a strong natural aversion to ingesting a pill or medication that is supposed to make me lose weight. It’s a science thing I guess, the simple understanding that nothing man-made can “melt away” human fat in a living body, never. Granted, one can mess around with appetite or metabolism but anything beyond that is a bunch of hot air.
Read this quote I came across recently on the often-misunderstood cellulite.
“Amazing how magic creams keep getting sold to help the world get rid of cellulite.Fact is, there is no real difference between cellulite fat, and regular fat. All of the cellulite sponges and creams designed to “dissolve” cellulite and other gimmicky devices are all ripping you off. Unfortunately, cellulite is actually caused by muscular atrophy, a condition that occurs when the layer of muscle becomes weak and undefined, and separates from the skin, making the unattractive fatty deposits visible. So the first thing you need to know is that cellulite treatment has nothing to do with your skin and everything to do with the muscles underneath the skin. And remember, cellulite removal has NOTHING to do with weight loss. Even the skinniest of girls can suffer from cellulite.
The good news is that there is a way to reverse muscular atrophy, and banish annoying cellulite forever. And no matter how much you weigh or how old you are, you can do this naturally without popping pills or using phony lotions. Exercise…”
So you are probably wondering right,if he claims to know so much about human physiology and weight-loss how come he looks BMI-challenged, with a jumping castle for a tummy?
Because, my friend, our relationship with food is not governed by our brains but by our emotions. Basic biology, sympathetic nervous system vs central nervous system. Everything you’ve read until this point comes from my brain(central nervous system) but what I eat, how often I eat and my addictions to ‘nice’ foods are governed by the not-so-logical sympathetic nervous system. I have not mastered the mind over matter technique as yet, mental illnesses do not help either, hence my little problem with accumulating body fat where others can notice it, like my tummy area.
Whilst willpower can help you whittle away the unwanted extras, anybody who’s ever gone on a diet will tell you it takes more than an iron will to keep those pounds from returning. It’s that old adage: reaching the summit is rarely a problem, it’s staying on top that’s the issue. So instead of focussing so much of our energy on losing weight and eating right we should zone in on “feeling right”, reaching our perfect emotional and mental state. More balance than perfection really.
We all know it somehow, it’s been encoded into our genes: When I feel good I eat well, I don’t binge on food, alcohol and other nerve-calming things. But upset your internal balance and you will pay through your waistline. That’s why people say “I tend to eat a lot when I’m moody”.
So, on this, my tenth day on the protein-rich diet based on Professor Tim Noakes scientific based conclusions, as I look forward to more steak-filled days ahead, my mind wonders to why I could not keep the weight off the last time I tried this diet.
I whittled away the fat like a living, walking fat-burner. The amount of clothes I gained back was really amazing. The running made it even easier to shed the kilos. But like all good things, it all came to an end. Sadly, the process seemed to reverse itself. And the fat cells seemed to come back more aggressively this time around, hence my jumping-castle experience with my daughter.
But even as I started the search for a solution, I knew deep down that the fatty deposits on various sections of my body were a result of an imbalance in my emotional make-up than how and what I ate. Yes the sugar made me a bit BMI-challenged, but I know deep down that to return to healthy eating ways I need to get my chemical mental balance right.
I could go all organic and eat cauliflower and a lot of greens or even start organic farming. But I’m not easily taken in by “new things”. See, my grandmother farmed organically long before it became a fad. She had to grow food for us to eat so we could live. Simple as that. Not much of a choice. See, it’s a bit like people who eat mopani worms or locusts/grasshoppers as a delicacy at some fancy do, I pity them. For long periods those were a major source of my protein growing up. I will not willingly ingest them now so I can feel adventurous. I had far too many of those adventures in my youth. Ditto organic farming.
Not that I have anything against healthy organically-grown food(or even organics bought from Woolworths), no, I’m just ok with them. Ok.
So if I could offer you advice on not developing a jumping castle tummy, it would be simple: 1. Get your mental health right(emotions etc) 2. Feel good about yourself 3. Eat lots of proteins, and some vegetables and 4. Some exercise won’t hurt.
Thank me later, oh you want thank me now, you’re welcome!
Angelina Jolie. Just the mention of that name is probably enough to turn off those that are totally anti-Hollywood. I hope if you are one of those people you’ll bear with me long enough to find out why this past week, she turned from just another Hollywood star to an activist, a leader( for me at least.)
You may have read in the news that she went for a cancer screening test and on discovering that she had an 87% chance of getting breast cancer, she decided to have a double mastectomy. Both breasts removed. Not only that, she chose to let the whole world know about it. This is what I found absolutely amazing. You see, so many of us fight battles with unmentionable enemies day in and day out. Some of us win those battles, needless to say, some lose. But we’ve been socialized to think that our private battles are just that, private. That it’s not only a sign of weakness to publicize your private battles but its also a shameless plea for pity. And we know that self pity is considered a strong sign of weakness.
Back to Mrs Pitt, Angelina Jolie, I can tell you now that there are thousands of women who were wallowing in the self-pity that comes with having your breasts removed. Not out of choice but because they were faced with death. These women have now found out that even the most privileged in our society have issues over which they have no power. Those women, at least some of them, will now go to bed knowing that they are not alone. Bravery in battle isn’t just dependant on how skilled you are at fighting, but also on knowing that there are other soldiers around you who know and understand your battle. Not because they’ve read about it, but because they are going through it in exactly the same way that you are.
We are often told that the best kind of leadership there is is by example. Leadership by example in our world is sorely lacking. More often than not, political figures are in the news because they’ve failed this simple adage, leading by example. Sounds easy enough, Tokyo Sexwale nearly pulled it off when he spent the night in a shack in Diepsloot, sadly, we’ve haven’t heard anything emanating from that stunt. I say stunt because it was planned, like a stunt in the movies. See, leading by example cannot be planned, it must come naturally. Angelina Jolie could never have planned to have an 87% chance of getting cancer, so it was such a bold move on her part to decide to fight her personal battle in public, and in the process, inspire so many women. And Men. She is leading by example.
So many men are fighting private battles against prostate cancer, AIDS and other incurable diseases. I cannot imagine the loneliness of such a battle in a world such as ours where being a man means suffering in silence. Admitting to an incurable disease is considered a sign of weakness. Embarrassing even. Hence the unnecessary stigma that’s still killing so many people in our country. We could have so many Angelina Jolie’s in our midst if only we understood what drove Mrs Pitt to share her private battle with the world. Leading by example.
Ive made a pact with myself. Because of her selfless act that has inspired so many people around the world, I will move heaven and earth to watch her next movie. Not because she needs my money, but as a way of saying thanking you for her leadership. No longer will I consider her an anomaly for adopting so many children, I will always consider her a hero, a leader above many. She’s such an inspiration.
“Genuine friends are rare treasures. However, the Lord created us for meaningful relationships; it’s difficult to flourish if we live in isolation. By design, we are made to share life with others, as well as to give and receive love”.
Sounds like one of those cheesy Hallmark cards doesn’t it? The kind that you find on those cards that make you wonder: “who buys these?”. Well, I’m glad to tell you it isn’t one of those. The above passage comes from a devotional by Dr Charles Stanley, Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Atlanta. He’s in his eighties now so even if you don’t really like his sermons, believe them because he has lived them.
He goes on to say: “Surface friendships don’t satisfy this need. But unfortunately, many people never experience anything deeper. This is why so many individuals are lonely–even if they’re always surrounded by others.”
We live in a world that values the fleeting friendship, where I can “friend” you just as easily as I can “unfriend” you. A concept I have found so difficult to come to terms with. I spent many years avoiding social media like Facebook because I felt they encourage those kind of relationships, the fleeting kind. Unfortunately we are surrounded by technological gadgets that improve are lives in so many ways but can also lead to a deep and devastating anti-social kind of life that hampers our development and restricts the joy that we are meant to derive from our walk here on earth.
“Self-sufficiency is prized in the world, but it isn’t God’s design for His children”, that man, Dr Stanley again. Let me take you on a bit of a personal journey. Until recently, up until a year and a half ago, I consciously and unconsciously withdrew myself from all forms of friendships. Just to give you a clue, through my walk in life I have not kept in touch with any of the people I met through my school years, primary school, high school and even university. I can hear those of you that know me saying hold on a minute here, we know you have friends, where do they come from? I’ll come back to that a little later. Here’s my point, I have interacted with a lot of amazing people in my life. Men and women who, when I look back, would have contributed richly to my journey in life. But I have managed to work them all out of my life. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s doable. In medical circles it’s called social withdrawal. When I first read that term I had pictures of someone refusing to attend a “social function”, like a school reunion or something. But having lived it I know it goes deeper than that.
Without realizing it you “avoid” people you know in situations where you shouldn’t. Where people club together because they know each other, you unconsciously choose to associate with “new” people. The associations you form with the new people are not deep, they are fleeting, and you form more of these kinds of friendships as you go along, and by the end of your high school or varsity you realize that you have no compelling reason to get in touch with any of those people, because no lasting bonds were formed. You move into a work situation and form new “friendships”. Again, you form fleeting ones. You hang out together having fun activities but that’s just it. You know when the going gets tough, there’s no one amongst those “friends” you can call on. But life goes on and you appear to be having a normal life. You think to yourself, I’m a self-sufficient man, why do I really need all these people for?
It then extends to family to. You have family around you, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, the lot. But you don’t really have intimate relationships with any of them. You keep a world of your own, one which allows you to make up your own rules, you take offense without letting it show, you keep grudges without appearing bitter. Soon you are convinced there’s a conspiracy against you(by people you love), and before you know it, you conclude everyone has it in for you. Family and all. In my case I was convinced my dad had it in for me. Why? I don’t know. Your boss too, or even your partner. So inside, you keep wishing you could “escape it all”. Either get a job so far away from everyone or live so far away from “them” all. All this whilst appearing to interact normally with each one of them. I didn’t succeed in getting the job in Durban or Cape Town, I came pretty close. But I succeeded in keeping everyone at more than an arm’s length.
Life being life doesn’t really give you the the chance to be successful at being self-sufficient. It throws you the curve balls that it throws at everybody. Only, you don’t have the luxury of turning to genuine friends for help and comfort. You cannot turn to family because you think they don’t understand you or your world. So you feel so alone in the world, yet you are surrounded by people. Lonely, but not alone. And you hit a brick wall. What you decide to do is anyone’s guess.
So, back to why I’m taking you down this depressing road. I’m living with clinical depression. I’ve lived with it all my life without knowing it. Last year, it was finally diagnosed and I’m on treatment for it. It hasn’t cost me only in terms of friendships but a whole lot more, a rich and fulfilling life. The reason I’m telling you this is because I feel if I had known about it much earlier in my life I could have had it treated earlier. So, I have this insatiable need to tell others about it. Like a life mission. To let others know that it’s not normal to think life is a solo venture. You need friends in your life, genuine friends. (So, as I blog, I will keep coming back to the theme of clinical depression because it’s one very close to my heart).
So in the past year and a half I have consciously started cultivating genuine friendships in addition to the e few people whom I could not get rid of during the dark years. Genuine friends who don’t care that I shut them out, lied to them and misled them. I don’t have to mention them, they know themselves and for them I’m eternally grateful.Thank you. I now consciously interact with people, befriend people and am slowly going back where I can, reconnecting with those that once played a meaningful role in my life but had become casualties of my condition.
Dr Charles Stanley asks the question: “Do you have someone with whom to share your joys and sadnesses, strengths and weaknesses, fears and pain? Thankfully, Jesus is the best friend we can have. But He also desires that we have close relationships with others. What can you do today to build this type of friendship?”
My question to you is a bit extreme and this is deliberate. People don’t readily agree that something like this could happen to them but if you read this far you might as well answer the question: If life was to throw you a curveball today, and it hit you so bad that you thought life was not worth living, do you have a person that you know you can call, and they would not judge you, or ridicule you or call you faithless? If you don’t, start working on it today, life is a team sport.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” There are times when I think Nelson Mandela had me in mind when he uttered those words. No, it’s not because I think he knows me personally, I wish he did, it’s because like most people alive in the world today, it has always been a struggle for me to accept that I matter, that my contribution matters, that my opinions matter. As Nelson Mandela turns 95 today, I’ve taken some time to reflect on this particular quote which I first came across fifteen years ago on a laboratory desk of a colleague.
The United Nations has seen fit to declare the icon’s birthday an International Mandela day, and we are urged to contribute a minimum of 67 minutes to making a difference in someone else’s life. I’m ashamed to say when this initiative started a number of years ago, I was one of those people who asked the question, so you give 67 minutes of your time and then what? My world was only in black and white then. Either you did something that made a permanent difference in someone else’s life or you did nothing. My logic was, you make soup for a couple of people less fortunate than yourself on Nelson Mandela day and who makes them the soup the following day when you’ve gone back to your more fortunate life. It never occurred to me then that someone else could choose to make a lasting difference on that day. I looked at how inadequate my contribution would be, forgetting the light that’s been placed inside of me, that on this day I can choose to reach into that power that’s beyond measure inside of me.
The year has 365 days, and on any given day someone somewhere in the world wakes up asking themselves the question: where will my next meal come from today? By choosing to offer a meal to someone less fortunate than yourself today, you’ve answered that question for that person and perhaps given them hope that someone else will provide for them on the other 364 days of the year. In other words, you’ve given more than a meal, you’ve given them hope. You’ve let that special light that’s on the inside of you shine, and as you did that, you gave another person reason to let their own light shine.
Nelson Mandela represents so many different things to different people. So many times in his life he could have chosen to let fear hold him back, he could have chosen to play small and not let his light shine on the world. But he chose to liberate himself from that fear and as a result liberate the rest of us from our own fears. It’s in our small little actions, done when nobody is looking that we can change the course of an entire life. I know of people who have chosen to give blood today, something they’ve never done before. That’s the sort of power that Nelson Mandela refers to in the opening quote , that we are powerful beyond measure.
No one understands the power that lies within each one of us better than Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot on the left side of her forehead by the Taliban in October 2012(for daring to advocate for education for all girls). Without getting into the politics of it all, if such a little girl can stand on a platform as huge as the United Nations and tell the world that she is not afraid of the guns that shot her, that all she wants are educational opportunities to be afforded to every little girl in the world, no matter where they are because she has come to learn that the pen is mightier, that when you have to use violence to promote or protect your way of thinking then you are the coward, then you and I can do much better. See a transcript of her speech on this link: https://secure.aworldatschool.org/page/content/the-text-of-malala-yousafzais-speech-at-the-united-nations/
In the speech, she has acknowledged Nelson Mandela and Gandhi amongst others as leaders who have left her a legacy of compassion and nonviolence. More than anything though, Malala has learned that own fears stand in the way of allowing her to shine and thus liberating others. She has said she wants the same educational opportunities she’s now receiving in the UK to be afforded to the sons and daughters of the people who shot her.
My greatest wish is that one of those children, the ones whose fathers are carrying out these atrocities will hear of Malala’s courage and then know that they too are as powerful as she is and take a decision to live in the belief that they are powerful enough to change the world, one person at a time.
You and I may not have the platform of the United Nations like Malala, but we have an opportunity starting this Nelson Mandela Day to touch a life less fortunate than ours and perhaps inspire hope and allow that person to tap into their own power.
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Last week, in an exchange with a newly met friend on Facebook, I let slip that I had not explored writing before because of a small little voice in my head that always asked me: “Who do you think will read your stuff?”. It got me every time. This little voice always waited for me to have a new and exciting idea before it reared its ugly head. Like the one time I wanted to take up running a couple of years ago, it simply asked me if I knew anybody in my family who ran. I was stumped. Got me again. I could never win against this ugly little voice. I know what you are thinking, why didn’t you just ignore it, I ignore mine all the time. Or as some people would say, I don’t have strange voices in my head telling me what to do or what not to do. You do, but you may be part of the blessed section of the population that has a positive little voice, one that tells you nothing is impossible, that you are always in charge and you are the captain of your own fate.
Let me start with a disclaimer before going any further, I am not a psychologist or trained as such. What I’m going to share here is based on my own life experiences, what scientists would refer to as anecdotal evidence. The reason I want to share this is because over the past year or so I have come to learn that the little voice I referred to above may actually be so much a part of you that you cannot overcome it without either the help of others or without accepting its presence.
We all know that as children the adults around us put a lot of things in our heads. Things that should have been preparing us for successful adulthood. Some adults are just plain mean or bitter and put things in those innocent little heads that should be punishable by a jail sentence. Some adults just don’t know any better. So they poison the little minds along with their little spirits. Unfortunately, in some cases, our emotional make-up is such that we internalize the negative to such an extent that the little voice in your head only makes sense when it’s talking negative.Also, in certain cases, such as mine, the little voice is able to take a negative comment or experience and magnifies it such that it overshadows everything else. This little voice can grow so big it can form a couple of other little voices like itself. A committee if you like (Martha Beck’s invention not mine). Before you know it you cannot do anything new without consulting it even though you know the answer will be negative. And it grows more powerful still, it reinforces every answer it gives you with evidence. Real-life evidence. So you want to take up running, it says. Remember you were always last in your school runs? The humiliation you felt inside, the laughing classmates, really? Do you want to go through that again? Nine times out of ten you’ll back down. Or at least I did.
That little voice can actually be the most cruel voice you know. It’s one thing to be dissuaded from doing something new by evidence from your past but it’s quite another for that little voice to agree with all the negative people you’ve ever met. Those mean relatives who told you it’s ok that you can’t do something because you are not the same as everybody, the teacher who asked you why you think you could ever be a pilot, that boss who asked why you are interested in career planning, do you want my job one day? The little voice that says each one of those people were right, I mean look at you, you can never do anything right. That’s just plain cruel.
Perhaps the cruelest thing it can say to you is every success you have achieved could be achieved by just about anyone, so yes, forget it, you’re not special. You got an A+ in that test, it was a fluke. You’re in the top ten of your class at school, wait till your final exams they’ll sort you out! Oh you passed, with a distinction? Varsity will show you. And sure enough in your first term of varsity you fail that crucial test, disaster! That little voice was right after all. What was I thinking? What made me think that I could defy ‘my’ little voice, it’s been right all along.
I read or heard somewhere that ‘my’ little voice is referred to as my “generalized other” in psychology, an audience that you have that you are always aiming to please, or failing to please. The thing is, this generalized other is part of you, part of your make-up as a person and until you learn to answer back when it talks you are in for a very sad ride this side of heaven.
I’m learning to deal with my little committee of voices one day at a time. One warm day in January last year I laced up my three-year old running shoes, which still looked new because they’d been underused. My little voice said are you really going to do this? I said yes but only in the evening when nobody’s watching. I ran and after about 500metres I stopped, my chest was burning, those five or six strangers that I ran past were looking or watching I thought, I continued walking and started running again after a short rest. More burning in the chest. The little voice said I told you so, I deliberately ignored it and continued. That evening I did about five kilometers. The following day every muscle that could hurt in my body did hurt and the little committee of voices seemed to be celebrating in my head.I ignored them and followed that run with another run two days later. I subscribed to a running magazine and started referring to myself as a runner, at least in my head.I bought Tim Noakes’ Lore of running. My little voice was cowed, for probably the first time in my life I could send it running for cover. Three months later I did my first 10k race and I haven’t looked back.
The trick that I’ve discovered is I need to actively talk back to it. To do that I need to to be aware of it. This little voice is so crafty it can talk to you in whispers, especially if it thinks it’s found its own little corner in your being. So I’m finding I have to consciously work at replacing it. Yes, it’s possible. Otherwise I would not be telling you about the eight half marathons and a full marathon that I’ve completed since talking back to that cruel little voice in January 2012. And when it said my first 10k race was a fluke, I was driven to do more, to run further. Instead of wanting to go back to my childhood and confronting all those adults and my former bosses, I get back at them by talking back to this little voice. I enjoy taunting it, ok maybe that’s a little bit more information that you need right there but yes it’s possible to overcome it. I’m still a work in progress. There are still numerous little members of that committee of voices that I need to confront.
Like the ones that keep telling me that celebrating my birthday is perhaps just a little too inwardly focused. Those little voices made it impossible to enjoy simple things like birthday gifts or even compliments. If like me, you feel every compliment you receive is undeserved, and people are being insincere when they compliment you then perhaps it’s time you started talking back to your own little voice. Tell it, like I do, that you are special because God says you are.
It’s a journey that I’ve started and know I must see to the end. I have no idea what the end looks like but I know the only voice in my head will be that of God telling me I did well in replacing that committee of voices with his. I end this with a Facebook status update that I made earlier this month. This status update represented me silencing yet another member of that little committee of voices , the one that kept me from writing, the one that asked me: “who do you think will read your stuff?”: Thank you so much for reading this far, you just helped me put that little devil to flight!
That Facebook status update:
I got back on the road last week after a long break from running. Damn, I missed the feeling. Yesterday, I started thinking about why I run in the first place. When I run, I get to know that I am more than the world has led me to believe. More than anybody can declare me to be. See, there’s a person that God intended for each one of us to be. A person not afraid of anything or anyone, rather, one looking to live life, and live it “more abundantly”. After six or seven kilometers on a good run, that person comes out and takes over my being. He’s free from fear, he dares the distance to come at him and he knows he can be anything he wants or desires to be. At that time, I know that God lives and I’m praising him through my running. The run, in essence, becomes an exercise in praise. For me, every run still represents a triumph over everything and everyone who ever thought I cannot achieve more than they set out for me. The most amazing thing is that in conquering ever-increasing distance I become bolder, with my body and intellect knowing that I can run further. Whilst the mind knows there is a limit to how much more I can cover in terms of distance, my being, that’s the inner me, the real me enters a realm where anything becomes possible. That is the realm of possibility not based on what anyone else thinks or wishes, rather based on what I’ve achieved in a field I never even thought possible. From zero to 42,2km in fourteen months. My Redeemer lives.
(Phew! I can write, and a few kind people read my stuff. What more do you have to say for yourself? Never mind this, it’s just me talking back to that little voice)