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Posts Tagged ‘Zimbabwe

The defining moment is how we react, not the tragedy

I heard these key words a moment ago on a program about Poland on BBC Radio 4.

The words are true.  We know it.  We are just not well practiced in dealing with tragedy.

  • It feels sick to rehearse dealing with tragedy.  It follows that we are not ready when we are called to be.
  • When we cope well, we suffer ‘cognitive dissonance’.  If we aren’t falling apart, then surely events are not so bad after all?
  • Alternatively, if we cope well, maybe that means we don’t understand.  Maybe we simply insensitive.

Tragedy messes with our heads because we don’t know how to behave or how to tell our story.

The world doesn’t respond to blackmail

But sulking is a poor story too.   It’s silly because the world doesn’t care.  And it doesn’t respond to blackmail.  The world doesn’t care if we don’t like it.

It’s also self-destructive. We give away initiative to events.

Let me try explaining again.

From loser to hero

Sometimes a tragic story, or potentially tragic story, can be turned into a hero’s story.

A journalist on BBC4 this morning got back from Norway by getting a ride on a container boat and then a train.  Another took a taxi.  Angela Merkle flew back to Portugal.  The Noregian Prime Minister was last seen using his iPad sitting calmly in an American airport.   Our story is “what we did when . . .”

People who are enjoying the quiet of English birds singing in the early spring, feel apologetic.  I know I shouldn’t be enjoying this but . . .  They are feeling guilty because their story defines the cancellation of all flights as an advantage.

We hate it just as much when we miss events.   When the great volcano erupted, I was, well, I wasn’t doing anything sufficiently important to be interrupted.  I wasn’t important enough to be inconvenienced or be involved.   Oh, we don’t like that at all.

We cannot have a hero’s story without a push-off event.  We need a conflict or obstacle to have story and our reaction to the event is the story that we choose.  And we hate it when life doesn’t give us push-off events.  Do you get our screwy psychology?

What do we do our lives are turned upside down?

Let’s play this along a bit more.  In the early hours of flights being cancelled, we heard clips of people at airports who were disappointed.

I am sure their heads were reeling.  Could they make alternative arrangements?  They would have been blaming themselves for not travelling a day earlier.  They would be hastily making other arrangements (including getting home again) and calculating the costs.  They would be annoyed with their insurers who are very likely trying to get out of paying up.

There is a real story in their confusion, their choices and their actions.

Hassles show we are alive

Sadly, we heard them being angry.  With whom exactly?  They talked and spoke as if someone had done something to them.  One man even cursed the Icelanders?  Huh?  Badly expressed irony?  Professor Brian Cox mildly explained that we need volcanoes. If there were no volcanoes, the planet would be dead and so would we.

OK, volcanos are “natural”.  They clearly aren’t people.

But airlines are people.  Traffic controllers are people.  Aeronautical engineers are people.  That we travel by air is a people-thing. It isn’t natural.

We got into our situation by being human. By doing people things. It is part of being alive in 2010.  Should we refuse to travel by air?  Should we refuse to take part in life?

Of course not.

We don’t measure up when .  .  .

But shit happens.  How we cope with shit is the story.  We don’t measure up when

  • We refuse to acknowledge the shit.  It happens. Call shit, shit.
  • We refuse to learn.
  • We refuse to work with others.
  • We have no interest in what is happening to anyone else.
  • We don’t help anyone else.

We don’t measure up when we refuse to respond to life.

That doesn’t mean the story will be the one we prefer

Yup. We might not be able to change a particular story into a hero’s story because no one wins.

To change my metaphor, sometimes life is like a game of rugby when someone breaks his neck.  We don’t carry on playing.  We might play again tomorrow, but not today.

If the game is so rough that the chance of someone breaking their neck becomes to high, we stop playing.  We switch to another sport.

The story of life is not always gratifying.  Sometimes we even wonder why we bother.

What do we do when there are no heroes because we are all losers?

We aren’t always heroes because sometimes no one wins.  There are only losers.

The only story is damage control, be calm, work with others.  That is the only story.

It’s when we still try to be a hero that we lose.   Sometimes we have to accept that life is out of our control.

No one promised  . . .

No one promised we would be in control.  No one promised that we would be heroes.

We were only promised a chance to be alive on a planet with angry volcanoes, people jostling for advantage, hare-brained human ideas like air travel. I like hearing the birds and walking in the fields but I wouldn’t have any of that if the volcanoes died, no one made enough money to ship food across the world, and there weren’t daft engineers making metal birds to fly through the sky.

No one promised that I would always have it good. No one promised that I would always come out ‘looking good’.  No one promised I would always feel good about my efforts and reactions.

There is only an open invitation to take part

There is only an open invitation to take part every day in whatever part of the world that I find myself.

An open invitation to take part. That’s all.

I don’t have to feel gratified.  But I can be grateful.

Where is the end of the tunnel?

At odd times in our lives, someone wise captures our dilemma in a single sentence.  I hope he won’t mind, but almost a decade ago in Zimbabwe, at a time when other people were saying, “It is darkest before the dawn”, the UN Representative said to me, “You feel right now that you are in dark tunnel and you cannot see the light at the end.  But you will see it eventually.”

I think many people in western countries feel this way.  Yet they won’t vocalize their thoughts.  I think keeping nervous thoughts looked away is a mistake.  Our stress levels and we come no closer to a solution.

Getting our thoughts in order

Speaking up, though, often feels negative.  Worse, in competitive masculine societies, which  describes most English-speaking societies, when you describe what is not working for you, you look like a loser.  And losers definitely come last.  People don’t want to hang out with you in case losing rubs off.

Psychologically, though, it is important to express your fears.  If we don’t, they will build up until they govern our lives.  Then we start to make very unwise decisions.  We will find yourself bandying together with people whose only goal is to complain.  Losing does become a way of life.

When we express our fears, we also have an opportunity to list what goes well.  Our objective is not to ignore what goes badly  It is to take stock of what tools we have in our tool kit so we get some leverage on the problem.

My bad day

Let me give you an example. Yesterday, I got pins and needles working at my desk.  To get some circulation going, I went downstairs.   Despite moving very carefully, I put my numb foot down carelessly, fortunately on the last stair, and twisted it badly.  I put out my other arm spontaneously to steady myself and resprained an already sprained-shoulder.  The combined pain made my head spin.  I thought I might faint.

Effectively, my day was finished. I got back to my desk and with visions of a black-and-blue ankle, looked up how to treat a sprain: RICE.  Rest, ice, compression, elevation.  And do it straight away.

Fortunately I had a pack of frozen peas in the freezer.   My day then became a day of trying to keep ice on my foot (I never did figure out how to combine ice, pressure and height), canceling appointments, and trying to work on my lap.

To make matters worse, my project for the day was design.  If there was ever a task that I find fiddly and annoying, its graphics.  It beats tax returns and hoovering by a long margin.  There, even writing that makes me feel better.

I persevered, despite my aches and pains, until close to midnight with triumph, I produced something that was not disgusting but that needs redoing because the proportions are long.

See how long this story of woe is?  I really ended my Wednesday feeling life was dull and unpleasant.  I made myself exercise while I ran a clean up on my computer.  Then at midnight, I made myself fill out a gratitude diary.  What was good to say? Yup, I had stopped my ankle swelling. It ached and it was slightly swollen but it was not a black-and-blue mess.  I had made progress on a task I find very hard.  I had stopped at home and had salads for lunch and supper.

I surprised myself reevaluating my relatively ’empty’ day as better than I thought. But I resisted calling it positive.  That is the point, isn’t it?  I resisted noticing the positive because I was so shocked by the negative.  Sometimes we want to sulk.

Learning from countries in trouble

Getting a grip, I used some magic Anti-Flamme, available only in New Zealand, on both my ankle and shoulder, curled up in a ball which I hoped would tax neither foot nor shoulder.  Then I put on BBC World Service to listen to The Last Resort, a novel about happenings in my birth country, and surprisingly good, though close to the bone.

The author of The Last Resort, is taking the view that it is darkest before the dawn, and for once, a book about Africa is not whincingly sanctimonious.

Listening to the lives of people who are in a very dark place but who go on anyway, reaching out, and trying to be decent in ways they understand,  we should know that sometimes we will not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  But we are still better calling out to others who are there with us, and taking an inventory of what we have for our emotional and physical sustenance.  We don’t know there is a way out.  But if we worry about that instead of coping with the present, we will not get out.  Our salvation is what is around us.

As for Westerners who are burying their fears.  Don’t.  I know a fair bit about national economics.  I make it my business to follow the pundits.  We are up shit-creek.  No doubt about it.  But we also have

  • The buffer of a lot of fat
  • Deep confidence
  • High aspirations

The nuclear deal crafted by Obama is important.  We are working together to make the world safer.  Scientists are making fundamental discoveries almost daily.  We have a new generation coming through.   The internet works so well that it is unremarkable now to interact with people world wide on a daily basis.

In our unspoken discomfort with a financial crisis of our own making, we fall into three traps

  • We leave our own heads in a mess
  • We “diss” the people who are taking the brunt of the crisis – the unemployed, the poor and the dispossessed
  • We miss the opportunities we should be working on

How to survive the dark tunnel of the financial crisis

If you are surrounded by people talking nonsense about darkness and tunnels, then I say accept the reality.  We are in a dark place and we cannot see the end.

And keep a daily gratitude diary to keep your emotional state in balance with reality, to honor who and what bring value to your life, and to remind yourself of what does work.

I can walk on my foot today.  Blast, though, another day of graphics.

Galba Bright

Many of you will remember Galba Bright. The British Sierra Leonian migrant to Jamaica who built a successful emotional intelligence website in less than a year.  He died very suddenly and many of us miss him.

Shortly before he died, Galba set me a challenging questions. Do “in tune” people reflect?

When Galba died, I had two unfinished posts on my computer.  They’ve stayed here for quite a while and a Twitter poll urged me to publish them in tribute to a man who many of us found inspiring.

This is the draft that I find the more inspiring.

Walking with Elephants

zimbabwe_hwange_national_park-compressed.jpg

Galba Bright of TuneUpYourEQ asked me to expand my comment that people who are tuned into the world don’t reflect much.  I thought this picture of Paul Van R bicycling in Zimbabwe illustrates the point I wanted to make.

Of course, we laugh at first.  Then we may wonder whether Paul was being slightly reckless.  We question his good sense and  wonder if he knows what he is doing.

If he does know what he is doing, if he understands elephants, if he knows when they are likely to walk on the road, if he knows how they will react when they see him, then he is not necessarily reckless at all.

Moreover, if he meets an elephant and the meeting is cordial, if the the elephant was allowed to be an elephant and do elephantly things in an elephantly way, then that evening Paul is likely to relax with some fond and pleasant memories.

Of course, if he doesn’t know much about elephants and he reacts to any elephants he meets in a ways that elephants don’t much like, he might spend the evening in a whole different form of reflection.

We could flesh out this question quite a lot more.  I thought it would be fun though to think about elephants.

I think my point is that when we are “in tune” with the world, we don’t reflect very much. We are connected. We are in touch.  We are enjoying the world and ‘dancing’ with its rhythms.

When we are not “in tune” with the world, then it is time to reflect. Then it is time to focus on where we are in touch, where we feel vital and alive, and what to follow and do more of.

And as most days are not blissful rides through Africa on a hot, sultry day, some time spent each evening in reflection and when we awake in the morning, helps keep us in touch with what keeps us in touch.  Some reflection calms down our fretful helter-skelter rush into stressful activity that is poor replacement for what we love.

We miss you, Galba.

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Is Web2.0 healthy?

The critics say not.  They are so wrong but in one aspect they are right.

In the past, when we dithered, we doodled or watched TV.  Now we can express our dithering in a blog.  I am doing that now!

All around me I have seen signs today of people dithering

Let’s take the US blogosphere for a moment.

“Let me be clear,” as politicians are wont to say these days.  I am not American. But I an infinitely curious about Obama.  I watch politics and economics generally and I have a Google Alert for “Obama”.  Every day I read anything and everything that is written about Obama!  I have an ongoing and thorough sample.  This is what I “hear” from America.

America is in a panic

And they are projecting their panic onto Obama.  “Obama is dithering,” people cry.   Uh-uh.  Obama is going like a train.  But the bloggers are dithering. Oh, the bloggers are dithering.

Let me explain how I read dithering in the average blog post

Tendentious

  • Almost every blog post that I read about Obama ~ for him or against him ~ is tendentious.  It is clear that the author has a position that goes something like this.  I am uncomfortable about the world and I am uncomfortable in this world.  And then they follow that view by a ragbag of ragbag of stuff that Obama did.  It’s a jumble of unrelated stuff that reflects what the blogger is feeling.  I include the Huff Post in this sweeping generalization.

Circular

  • The weirdest part about this stream of muddle coming out of the bloggersphere in the US is that bloggers think that something might change when they write what they write.  Such narcissism!  Their superficial logic goes like this.  “Obama is wrong.  I say so.  Obama will now do what I say is right.”  Will he?  Do the bloggers really believe they have that power to blackmail change by voicing their ill temper?  Or is their logic even more weird?  “Obama will not change and so I can carry on being uncomfortable and whinge and whine until eternity?”  Become a “whinging pom”?  Well why not?  Maybe that is the destiny of fading empires.

Irascible

  • I think that the blog posts are a from of dithering.  They are a form of dithering as people decide what action to take.  I lived in Zimbabwe most of my life and I used to say there that when you start complaining about Mugabe it is time to get a life.  I use complaining about Heads of State as my rule of thumb that someone is losing the plot!  The complainer doesn’t even know the man (or woman).  They have no influence.  Their narrative is, and can only be, displacement activity.  It is a expression of bad temper, no more or less.

Scared witless by our own decision

  • But not all displacement activity is bad.  It is good when we recognize dithering as a signal that we are building up to take a decisive step in our own lives.  We have made the decision already.  That decision is made.  But we haven’t taken the first step.  The first step scares us silly.  So we rant, rave and complain about others!

What is the decision that has scared us so?

  • I think a certain amount of dithering is helpful.  It helps us muster the energy and commitment for the journey.  It helps us say goodbye to what must be left behind.  It helps us tidy away what we want to find on our return, much as we tidy an apartment before we leave on holiday. The big question though is what is the decision we have made.

What is going on behind the appearance of sulking?

Writing this, I realize that I should read American blogs with these questions in mind:

  • What decision(s) have been made that American bloggers are winding up to put into practice?
  • What decisions are they delaying (possibly unwisely)?
  • How does their procrastination affect me (and to be frank advantage me?)
  • When I act, how will my actions affect them? (They are far away and I am not very important so not very much ~ but the question should be on the general list of questions.)
  • When I comment on their blogs (if they let me ~ many are blocked off), what could I say that is useful to their story?

What decisions have been made in the US by the ordinary blogger?

Many seem to be trying out a policy of sulking?  But maybe there is something more interesting going on underneath?

Dithering

So yes, I am dithering. I am writing about American bloggers dithering to avoid doing some tasks of my own.   Have I managed to move from futurology to presentology?  Have I managed to bring myself to a state of action?

  • I think so.  Americans (as a rough group) are in the stage of bargaining.    In the 5 stage process of grief, they may slip through a period of depression when they realize that they have to start living again.  Then hopefully they fall in love again with life as it is.  We are close to the end.  For people interested in these processes ~ people have take a year since Lehman’s collapsed to get to this point and America had an election in the middle.  That might have slowed down the process of adjustment.
  • In the meantime, I can try to understand the decision that American bloggers have made but have not yet enacted.  What is scaring them silly?  When I understand that, I will find their blogs more enjoyable.  They will sap my energy less.  And I might make some friends along the way.

Great weekend to you!

in a blaze of glory

Image by Darwin Bell via Flickr

For the last two weekends, I ran a little poll here on your plans for beating the recession.  The full poll and results are at the end of the post.

Of the two score or so people who answered, this was the modal response.

I have only scenario planned the future INFORMALLY.  I am planning to 2010.  My business is YET to be affected by the recession.  I expect to grow 25% over a 2007 baseline.  I will find a RECESSION-BEATING strategy.

So are we confident or fool-hardy?

Let me add these three observations.

  • People who answer online polls are “geeks” or “geek-like”.  Maybe all of poll results are true.  We haven’t been badly affected and we understand what is going on sufficiently to improve our businesses.
  • A prudent economist friend of mine offers the following:  the stock market has dropped 50% since its peak of October 2007 (possibly more by today).  The average growth rate per year is 6%.  Assuming a good recovery, stock prices will recover their value in 50/6=8 years time (2016).  This simple arithmetic may be useful for people managing their portfolios or planning their retirement.  Notice that people in my survey (typically) assume 4x the average growth rate.  During coaching, some nudging towards practical plans might be necessary.
  • Before I left Zimbabwwe, and while it was already obvius that things were going wrong, my students ran a series of studies measuring and explaining “hopelessness” [not hope sadly but interesting nonetheless].  They measured “hopelessness” in various groups and NEVER EVER found clinical levels of hoplessness.

Explaining hope and resilience

Moreover, any one person’s sense of hopelessness could be explained by the level of social support they perceived from relevant others.  Here are some interesting results.

  • Wives of unemployed men looked to their churches for support.
  • Teenagers about to leave school after writing their O levels [school certificate/high school] felt more hopeful if they were supported by their families.

And feeling supported by their family was strongly linked to the number of family members having work or income

  • Working men in factories depended heavily on the social support of their supervisors. The mood of employees who were well educated and qualified was very much less affected by their managers

What did we take from these studies (and my little poll)?

  • People are naturally resilient.  They believe the best.
  • Social support is critical.

In hard times, it is very important for the management system to provide support.  This is likely to have a chain effect.  The CEO needs to show belief in his or her direct reports and they need to show belief in their direct reports.

  • Social support outside the firm is also critical and managers can help themselves by supporting external support systems.

Enourage people to remain within churches and sports clubs, help them stay in touch with their families and make it easy for them to do so.  Have we arranged for Hindu employers to have time off for Diwali?  Do we celebrate Eid?  Do we help people take time off for important events?

Collective efficacy, solidarity and business results

It is pretty likely that

  • collective efficacy (expressed belief in the importance and competence of our colleagues) and
  • solidarity (our willingness to support each other through thick-and-thin)

add a critical 5-10% onto our collective performance.

I wonder if there are any practitioners out there who are focussing on these ‘soft’ concepts and linking them to the ‘hard’ results of revenue in hard times?

Here is my original poll.  Thanks so much for contributing.  Despite my experience during other crises, I was still pleasantly surprised that we are so confident.

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What a month!

I am a psychologist with a strong background in HR consulting (the stuff you don’t see – pay, job, organizational design, etc.). I am a Zimbabwean. I was living in the Asia Pacific, and now I live in the UK. I teach in universities and have a lot to do with Gen Y. And I am seriously into social media – you know, blogs like this, Facebook, etc.

All of this came up in my blog this month. To a newbie, it must seem as if I am jumping from one topic to another.

The big event in Harare this May was waiting for the Presidential results to be announced. While Zimbabweans were waiting-and-waiting, and while the most horrible violence escalated, artists went ahead and held their annual Harare International Festival of Arts, with a catchy title, the Art of Determination. Pithy puns, in the midst of despair, and art that is timeless.

At the other extreme, quite by chance, this May I stumbled on the phrase and cartoon character, Mr Kiasu. Through Mr Kiasu, I met Singaporean social media evangelist, Daryl Tay, who alerted us to a great presentation on social media for beginners. Kiasu is also an symbol of determination – but of the dog in the manger sort – I don’t want it, but you can’t have it. A safer place to be, perhaps, than in Harare right now, but actually, less healthy psychologically than the Art of Determination.

And that is the diamond in the center of this all – that strong sense of survival and expression that underlies everything we do.

  • It is the subject matter of positive psychology.
  • It the key process we are managing in the HR office (despite the paperwork) where we have one goal – to produce a prosperous, happy firm.
  • It is the key process that social media leverages or liberates.
  • And it is why social media is a fascinating challenge for managers, marketers, HR, psychologists and anyone else who think ‘people & enterprise’.

My other posts pivoted around this theme of making positive spaces

– where we have freedom to pursue our interests & our identity

– and where giving freedom to others expands the freedom we have ourselves.

  • The pattern of an unconference and the success of Bucks08: here
  • How to understand the value of the community created by social media: here, here, and here
  • And a ‘twist in the tale’ of Clay Shirky‘s keynote address about the centrality of participation in the expectations of Gen Y and Digital Natives who come after them.

And as for diamonds

De Beers has announced that it is moving its diamond sorting house from London to Gaborone in Botswana (you saw No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, didn’t you?).

Makorokoto, Amahlope! I salute you. The significance of an industry always associated with London moving to Africa is huge indeed. We are proud!

Thanks

I have many people to thank as well for a great month.

To newcomers to my blog, Daryl Tay social media evangelist in Singapore, Jackie Cameron Gen Y coach in Scotland, Dan Thornton community marketing manager in Cambridgeshire, Paul Imre social media guru in High Wycombe, Peter Koning social media guru on Facebook: welcome and thank you for making this a productive month for me.

Scott McArthur of HR 2.0, hope we will finally meet! MediaCampLondon on July 5 is a date?

Steve Roesler, OD consultant Stateside and conservation master extraordinaire, thank you for linking to my article “Who moved my mouse?“. You sent me a lot of traffic!

And a very big thank you to Chris Hambly of Audana and the Social Media Mafia for a most productive and enjoyable meet up at Bucks08 and for all the on-line interaction afterwards.

If you are interested in modern management and haven’t checked out Steve Jurvetson’s Flicker blog, I recommend it highly. And, if you like rockets, check him out on TED too!

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Harare International Festival of ArtsDo not ask life for meaning, ask rather what meaning you give to life?

With apologies to Viktor Frankl who made the acute observation that we have to respond to the challenges that life present to us.

The Harare International Festival of Arts took place in Harare as scheduled – in spite of 165 000% inflation, in spite of delayed election results, in spite of the increasing violence.

Life informs arts.  Photographer Chris Kabwato  blogged his pictures including witty exhibitions in the Zimbabwe Art Gallery.

Who Moved My Cheese?Image via Wikipedia

I am looking for my mouse

Clay Shirky at Web2.0 Expo tells the story of a 4 year old who gets bored looking at a DVD and crawls around the back of the screen: “I am looking for my mouse”. This is the story of child brought into a technological age where we expect to participate in whatever we do. “Looking for the mouse” is the mark of a generation who expects to take initiative.

Who moved my cheese?

Just ten years’ ago, we were delighted by another story, an allegory, Who moved my cheese? This story is about a generation who does not expect to take initiative.  Indeed, it resists taking the initiative.  It wants to ‘put the clock back’.

We spend a lot of time crying, “we want the cheese to come back.”  Or, words to that effect.  We celebrate the past rather than the emerging future.

The positive message of this allegory is that once we can move beyond fear, we are free to move on, and find fresher, more interesting, more enjoyable cheese.

My advice is “follow that mouse!”

I live a double life as I have said before. In my one life, I work with Zimbabweans who are frozen in terror about the changes going on in their country. Their fears are real, and justified. So too, is their desire to go back to a time when cheese was there for the taking. Their liberation will ultimately come when they stop protesting the unfairness of it all and start to explore their future.

In my other life, I work with HR professionals who are also frozen in terror.  In the case of HR, there is a little cheese left, but not much. The world has moved on to work patterns where there are new demands and new generation who says “I am looking for the mouse”?

For Zimbabweans and HR professionals, I am looking for my mouse has a sadder meaning The mice have already detected the dwindling cheese supply and have left.

My advice is “follow that mouse”!

Can and does positive psychology help us with the tragic and terrible events in life?

Positive psychologists focus on the positive and they raise two issues in mind:

  • How much use is positive psychology when life if really dreadful?
  • And aren’t we being rather patronizing to people in the midst of tragedy and despair?

I wonder what other positive psychologists would say.

Look at tragedy & despair squarely but not necessarily in the eye

I would say that we need to look at tragedy and despair squarely but not necessarily in the eye.

Be worldly

To use the analogy of wild animals, some animals become more aggressive if we stare them in the eye, but most will attack if we lose eye contact!  Worldliness is important and we need to understand the menace that faces us.

Have compassion for yourself and your journey

But there is a season for everything, and to continue the analogy, whatever drew us to the bush in the first place, has brought us to this predicament. We need to understand our predicament, and even appreciate it, within the context of our wider lives, within the journey that brought us to this place and will take us on to other places.

Poetry in dark times

It is so much more easily said than done.

In dark times, we value our poets as much if not more than we do in bright times. They mirror what we are feeling – our despair and fear – against a backdrop of our hopes and dreams.

Poetry from Zimbabwe in the dark days after the 2008 election

This poem is from Zimbabwe which you may know is in deep peril as they wait for long delayed election results to be announced. April has been a long month of waiting for them.

The poet is Comrade Fatso, a local musician, who has his own website and blog. I don’t have his permission to use his poem here. I hope he doesn’t mind. I hope, too, you visit his blog and leave a kind word. Or go to his website and listen to his music (it is for sale!)

Street fillers

The streets are empty.

The state has retreated.

So has the opposition.

All we are left with

are their torn posters,

pasted over each other

in a confusing collage of symbols and slogans.

We also have their space-fillers.

Riot police

aimlessly

walk the streets,

batons in belts

like forgotten cellphones.

Or sometimes

unconsciously

swung in the air

like a stick-picked-up-on-a-path.

They walk the streets

like the thousands

of unemployed H-town youths.

Space-fillers.

Like the pothole-filling youths

who have taken over the suburban streets.

Stopping traffic,

asking for donations,

filling potholes.

Unhindered.


The state has gone back to the drawing board.

The opposition has stayed away from its stay-away.

Its re-count and re-plan time.

And all we have are their space-fillers.

This is the best of times and the worst of times

UPDATE:  Almost two years ago, I was close to an extraordinary story of psychology during times of extreme stress and despair.  This is what I wrote then.

The beginning . . once upon a time there was an election in a landlocked country nestled just above South Africa, to the west of Mozambique, and cuddled in the north by Zambia and by Botswana in the east.

You all know the Zimbabwe elections took place a little while ago – 24 days to be precise. I have been following them closely.

The first weekend after the poll, there was feverish excitement as votes were counted and results were announced (and signed off in triplicate) at local level, polling tent-by-polling tent.

And then silence – no official announcements. Excitement curdled to despair.  Moods yo-yo’ed as events unfolded, and as pictures of stomach-turning brutality are smuggled out of the country by brave activists.  People have become palpably depressed.

And then breaking news. . . it all changed.

Somebody blew the whistle on a container ship, the An Yue Jiang, who wanted to offload munitions for Zimbabwe at Durban, in South Africa. The dockers’ union, SATAWU, refused to offload. The Anglican church and activist lawyers sought a High Court order to prevent the weapons crossing South Africa.   A German bank joined in, hoping to seize the arms as part payment for Zimbabwe’s debts.

Before the court orders could be served, the An Yue Jiang weighed anchor and left in a hurry. The saga intensified as she reported herself to Lloyds as a casualty.  People all around the world spent the weekend trying to track the vessel and petitioned both governments. and worker unions to prevent her refueling and unloading her deadly cargo.

Heads of state and political parties have begun to offer support and the citizen action continues, determined not to allow arms of any sort reach Zimbabwe while they might be used against her own people.

Positive psychology

People are understandably upset, nervous, anxious, outraged, sickened, indignant, angry. . . negative emotion abounds. Emotion is highly contagious and I have watched myself abandon the gym, eat too much, remained glued to the internet even when little was likely to happen. I have become mildly depressed and I am well fed, I am warm and dry, I am safe. I can walk out my door into the English spring.

Action restores mood

The citizen campaign to stop the An Yue Jiang unloading her cargo is compleetely spontaneous. People find the site hosting the bulletin board and join in. When I last looked, there are more suggestions, addresses and initiatives that any one person can support.

I haven’t been able to do a formal count. I don’t know what the churn of people is. I also haven’t counted the number of active and depressed posts. There are still the angry people, but they tend to be newcomers.

Sending one email to your MP might not sound like much but this is the spirit of the age. Five minutes here and five minutes there, and it adds up. A petition to Thabo Mbeki when he arrived at the UN Security Council last Wednesday had 150 000 signatures. Opinion is turning.

More importantly the mood is turning. But emotion is contagious. Moods can turn down as well as up. I was listening to SWRadio Africa this evening. A young lady had called in to discuss her views. Amongst other matters, she discussed the perpetrators of the unspeakable brutalities in Zimbabwe. She believed that people were enticed into taking these actions for small amounts of money or food, or other promises, and they went along it because they were desperate – they had no choice.

This is the essence of positive psychology: the perception of choice.

When we feel we have no choice, we take the feeling as fact, and are unable to perceive the small alternatives that are open to us. Conversely, as we cheer up, we find choices, small as they are. And as we act, we remain cheerful, improve our objective situation, see more choices, small as they are, and act again, in a positive spiral of hope.

We move in the direction of the questions we ask

The spiral is reversed awfully quickly, as I have learned sitting safely and snugly out of harm’s way. Our discourse is important. An important principle in appreciative management, a close sibling of positive psychology, is that we move in the direction of the questions we ask. When things are very bad, it is important to ask positive questions. If we don’t, then we stare the predator in the face, and we are, as the saying goes, ‘scared witless’. And for Zimbabweans who like to ‘make a plan’, that is a magnified horror.

I think it is time to spread the viral citizen campaign to reach more people and more Zimbabweans. Let’s convert despair into hope, one click at a time. Can you help?

If you are able to help, we are open to all ideas. As I write:

  • There is an urgent need for IT help to build and sustain an offshore website on which to post petition letters and addresses.
  • There is an urgent need for people to petition governments, unions and businesses who trade with the Zimbabwean government.
  • I believe there is a move to try to provide more secure communication lines into and out of Zimbabwe.


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