Next Step

“Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it.”
– David Starr Jordan

Everyone wants a fancy car, a big house, a happy life. All around me I see young people with a certain kind of ambition, it is an ambition likened to a dream, an ambition to be at the top of the ladder. Yet, I see very few people with a driven ambition to take the next step with complete dedication, integrity and discipline, I see few who are willing to sacrifice, sometimes step down or to wait patiently on the ladder. Sometimes, there is no ladder and you have to build the ladder yourself! Some ladders have many small steps, some ladders require a giant leap through the air before you can find the safety of the next rung.

nextep

Yesterday, I used an interesting way of reflecting on this issue of ‘taking the next step’. I sat for two hours designing a logo for a company, imagining the name to be Next Step. As I scribbled I had the calmness and time to reflect on the general issue and personal application.

g_d?

drink elton trueblood

Elton Trueblood writes of drinking and drugs as substitutes for personality and meaning.

I can think of other substitutes we pursue, like: money, education, clothes, promotions, leadership, and dare I say: religion? Marx’s Opium should not just be dismissed; using his symbol as a tool to deconstruct and engage critically with the Mirror, might give the HS a chance to get in where He is normally not welcome.
….whooooo, does that make you angry or curious?

Paradoxical Christian Leadership

I was flown down to Cape Town to do two four-hour teachings to students at the African Leadership Institute for Community Transformation. I dreaded it and despised the fact that I have to go speak to strangers who consider themselves Christians, yet wanted to talk about conflict and vision buy-in. I was not excited and would not have said yes if my boss didn’t ask me to go. Nevertheless I went. Day one was good. Day two turned out to be electrifying. It was utterly unexpected.
I very seldom write religious blogs and these days I seldom do religious talks. In fact, I’m on a bit of a secular pilgrimage that employs downplay with the aim to purify and bring into focus the things from my childhood that I have lost. These are things of integrity, naivety, belief and goodness. I figured out that the only way for me to get closer to Christ, was to walk away from him. Jesus said we have to lose our life to find it, I believe the same applies to our faith. You have to lose it to get it.
The reason is simple, in that the faith we think we have is not the pure love of God, but a stained, coloured, dirty version of mixed up sentiments and dogmatic beliefs that hinder more than it helps. To say something smart, we first need to shut up. I have to daily place my beliefs and religion at His feet, acknowledging I don’t know shit. In the abandonment of knowing the answers and in the sacrifice of adherence to cheap shortcut rules (like not swearing), I find a rawness that provides enough texture for the Salt to take effect. My spiritual journey takes one step forward and two steps back. What I’m discovering is that that is appropriate, since I am supposed to go backwards and downwards; away from my cleverness and away from my ambitions.
Back to the second day in Wellington with the young Christian leaders. I tried to deconstruct the notion of leadership as influence, by opposing it to Sen’s idea of development as the freedom to choose. In that sense many ‘christian’ attempts to lead are not Christian at all, because to really love and respect someone we should assist them to make their own choices and thus develop. We should not be aiming to influence people towards buying into our vision. It is ironic that Christian ‘leaders’ get taught to lead and not to follow. There is a degree of glorious influence and leadership, but only if it is born from a following and a supporting. Jesus was so strong that he was weak. He ended up ridiculed and killed. Yet we struggle to draw such image into our definitions and praxis of leadership. I’m tempted to say screw leadership, because the word is tainted. And yes, if you are smart you would realise that my desire to say ‘fuck leadership’ is the same as my ascetic journey that denies the luxury of Christian talk. We have to walk away, in order to arrive at a radical rediscovery. Such discoveries cannot be read or learnt from others. It has to be walked.
By writing this blog on both Jesus and Leadership I undermine my own journey, I release my godly tension of insecure blindness and muteness. I engage in sweet temptation of analysis and I do this sin willingly and sober. Such is the strength of my carnal mind and wimpy ego.

In search of an unnamed life-skill

I’m writing from frustration. I’m typing on thin ice because my mind is confused by stereotypes and associations that might or might not be accurate. I will choose my words carefully and hide some info deliberately, to protect myself. The smart reader though probably already knows what I’m going to hide… these days almost anything is permissible, but not quite everything. So let me play with my words in a way that wont leave me open to attack.

I care greatly about development and social justice. I feel passionate about reducing the gap between the rich and the poor. Now, I am disgusted and uninspired by the rich daily and can write pages about the in vain nature of their vanity and the sadness of their fearful ambition. Indeed I do write about that mostly. But this post is not about the rich, nor the middle class.
I start by reflecting on things I think I learnt from my parents, and maybe from my teachers and other leaders as I grew up. I was privileged to learn these things. Still, and this is a big point, I still had to learn them. Privilege did not change me, my reaction to learning moments changed me. Many Afrikaners did not choose in the same way. So I’m lucky, but I also had to learn to use my luck. Small things like, trustworthiness. Doing what you said you will do. Doing your best and trying to improve, even the little things. Caring and caring about things that is not about me. Applying my mind to show initiative and problem solving, instead of blaming or feeling sorry for myself.

What is this life-skill called? Professionalism? Work ethic? Communication? Responsibility? Drive? Perfectionism? It’s a bit of all of these but not only one, yet I struggle. It’s a bit like I want to call it ‘pullingyourfingeroutofyourassability’. I see so many young people today that have very high ambition and even good opportunities, people who are very smart, but somehow they do not apply themselves. I wonder if it is about ‘not caring’ or ‘not making the link between small actions and the big picture’?
Every second is an opportunity to market yourself. Every second is a job interview. And if a youngster that feels life has been against him or her faces a situation whilst knowing there was a $1million reward, I know they could execute perfectly. I have seen it a thousand times. But because the reward is not an immediate pile of cash, but small incremental progressions, people do not do their best. The ladder from bottom to top is long and consists of many small steps. There is no jumping. Is there a lack of role-models? Does the individual whose first car is a Jaguar perhaps confuse the young leader? Does the past hurts and resentments somehow cause a feeling that refuse to work to the top the hard way?

I would not mind if God or the courts forcefully handed out social justice and I will continue to do my bit. But somewhere a realisation has to dawn, like the Afrikaners did not beg from but competed with the English, so today one needs to start taking one’s future in your own hands. We need instead of blaming and feeling victimised to grasp the small wins in front of us and the biggest win you can get is a chance to improve on your personality, skills and character. It’s not about degrees and diplomas… Its about those small things… can someone give you a simple task and forget about it knowing you will definitely make it happen? To be honest what I’m seeing is that there is an extreme lack of such basic skills, such reliability and pride in performance, especially if no one is around to punish or reward. Small actions write big stories, for the good or the bad.
Typically me, I cannot end by blaming the poor for making stupid decisions. We must fight for equal opportunities and fair exposure. Yet, some people will grasp their new opportunities and others wont. Stopping at a traffic light and looking at the people around me proves my point. I write out of frustration, but also out of solidarity and love, that is why I feel honestly, lovingly frustrated. I will understand accusations of being paternalistic, patronising or even narrow minded. This is just how I feel at present and I resent the lack of leadership when it comes to modelling the basics. Everyone talks a good game, but when the rubber hits the road there is an embarrassing vacuum that everyone is too shy to talk about.

Tomorrow I will be apologetic and understanding again. I know its not my place to challenge, but this one had to slip out.