For the first time I had a struggle with time zones. Returning from the States to South Africa left me with a distorted body clock. Both Lara and myself have now for a week long struggled to be awake during the day, and to sleep at night. I would lie awake with that tense feeling in my stomach which is the result from an overworked brain. Back in South Africa, in Africa, the mix of new ideas that wants to be realized, newspapers full of disturbing content of graphic intensity and an environment where both life and death makes itself much more palpable than up North, proved to be disconcerting, almost unnerving.
It is in this state that I write to you (I take time before writing another newsletter. Perhaps some of you would like my letters to be more brief, less involved, more frequent. Perhaps I would like that too. But for now I wait until I am able to put something of my heart into it. And the heart does not automate..)
Time zones.. We have flown across the Atlantic over six time zones. Then drove West in America over another three. Then flew to Hawaii over yet another three. And then the same way back. The sense of one world, one vulnerable globe becomes quite strong if you move like that.
We have seen the mid-term elections in the States bringing change of control to both houses. We have read the newspapers over there, bringing constant news of America’s involvements abroad: Iraq, Afghanistan and all the states linked to global terrorism – while keeping an eye on news from South Africa. Back here, we delved again in the familiar news sources to catch up. And typically, reading news in South Africa is to become much more aware of conditions in ALL the rest of the world. No wonder my brain is burning.
And my heart? Let it speak. I am disturbed by the sense of moral scruffiness in South Africa. We have had a bad history when it comes to any kind of morality. Perhaps that’s why strong leaders emerged to shine an exceptional moral light, with Mandela being the best known. Currently, our moral poverty leads to a new insularity by the rich, from white through to black, and a high level of criminality by the poor. This translates into corruption up to top leadership level, and numerous and often hideous incidents of crime.
And then I look further afield: looming catastrophe in the Middle East; enduring calamities in Sudan and elsewhere in Africa; upsurges in cultural intolerance in Europe along with a resurgence of traditional religiosities; the near-absence of true leadership from the world’s only superpower, creating a vacuum of direction that is being exploited by rogue elements; the rapid transformation of the world’s two most populous countries into strident consumers..
What to make of it all? There is no peace without unity. And if unity cannot be found in the outside world, at least seek it from within. So today, two things emerged for me that brings more unity to my jetlagged brain. The one is, finding a more general source of imbalance from where a lot of today’s crises can be traced to. For me, this general source is the inordinate power of commercial interests. Money dominates. Historically this is probably the long end of the backlash against the (medieval) times when the celestial values of the church dominated. But the fact is, the current domination has reached unhealthy proportions.
Some consequences: commerce (the “corporate sector”) draws the best talents and leaders the world over, and all the other areas of society suffers. South Africa’s best leaders are billionaires, doing business. And if you look at the political leadership globally, how many have the maturity, wisdom and combinations of strength and adaptability to be able to give the art of politics broad respectability? Another: we shape our cultures to serve the dominant power. Therefore we seek more and more of our happiness in buying and consuming goods, and more and more judge our self worth in terms of material wealth. Life has become more about earning than about deserving. And like the global corporate warriors, we all become little fighters for our own little pots of greed, myself included.
The second thing to bring unity to my turmoil is not about source, but about culmination. Amongst all the clutter of watching our economic fortunes go up and down, all our nervous agendas of human rights, our urgencies about a host of smaller injustices and crises, the overarching threat can easily be obscured: the flimsy biosphere that keeps us all in this life is itself being disturbed. Growing as consumers, we inadvertently consume the very basis of our abilities to be alive. Global warming is no joke. And remember: if pushed, we will soon go from the gradual into the cataclysmic. Once we have gone too far, nature takes over – fast, quick, and brutal. The snowball effect of a climate out of control can literally wipe is off this planet in just a couple of years.
Unity? There are things that are truly common to us all, very real, and very urgent. And this should bring more unity. Why does it not? Let’s say it: to be too poor, is bad. Let’s work on it. But to be too rich is equally bad. Where are the campaigns to curb wealth? I am not for an utopian equality. But neither for dysfunctional extremes. It is much more difficult to find unity when there is so much polarity.
Or.. are we losing it exactly because we’re subconsciously getting nervous about our common fate? When a ship sinks, different things can happen: you can take license to kill, or for once embrace one another.
Back in South Africa, I choose to embrace. Like Mandela, I choose to stay creative to find ways to work together. To not flee towards securities of the past, but to unearth the past to reveal fresh and broader ways of understanding. And in the face of possible calamity, not to get freaked out, but to find a truer measure of your own relativity.
I think I’m over my jetlag now. There’s work to be done. And a holiday to get through! Only when we can find sanity within ourselves, is there a basis for hope. Hope for South Africa, the world, and life after crossing too many time zones.