cause


money-in-hand

This might be a bit tricky. It cuts a little bit too close to the work bone. Let’s see if I can avoid stepping on any landmines…

As you know I lean to the left. Okay, less of a lean than a complete body-and-soul kinda jump and stance… And damn proud of it. Part of the definition of liberalism (according to the Webster dictionary) is “One who is generous”. But not everyone agrees with that. I can’t recall how many times people will tell me that conservatives give more to charity than liberals. And they love using a study by Arthur C. Brooks called Who Really Cares to prove their point. Aah… That study…

No. Arthur C. Brooks isn’t some right-wing nutcase. Yes, he has been a Republican registered voter in the past. But he has also been a Democrat registered voter in the past. And the study is actually pretty good. I can go into some detail on his use of statistics and data but that isn’t the point. But just in case…

“When it comes to giving or not giving, conservatives and liberals look a lot alike. Conservative people are a percentage point or two more likely to give money each year than liberal people, but a percentage point or so less likely to volunteer” (Brooks, A.C. Who Really Cares: America’s Charity Divide; Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, Basic Books 2006: pp. 21-22)

One slight problem with his data. He uses the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmarking Survey (SCCBS) data to back up is claims. I am skeptical of using SCCBS as the foundation of any argument, mostly because it reports that liberal families make more money than conservatives. He should have used the General Social Surveys (GSS), which are a much more representative sample of the US. The GSS also shows that conservative families make $2,500 to $5,600 a year more than liberal families. Blah, blah, blah… Lies, damn lies and statistics. But that isn’t really the point of my argument. It never is, is it?

But let’s assume that conservatives give more to charity than liberals. Let’s just go with it for a moment. And please remember I know that most people don’t fall into either bracket easily. Shades of gray more than black and white. So we are talking more about those at the extremes. Maybe. Whatever. You know what I mean – let’s just agree with the study and that people fall nicely into a pigeon hole for a minute.

Yes, conservatives give more to charity. So what? Who cares? Hum… Conservatives apparently. Seriously though. What does giving tell me? I don’t give much to charity. What does that tell you about me? Here is the difference. I have a great job that allows me to try and be part of making the world a little better. I try to work to make the world a better place. I put my life forward to try and make the world more just. Fair enough, it’s not just me but the whole bunch of great people I work with and for. But this is what I do. To work with others to make it a little better. To bring equality, liberty and freedom to all. I fight for peace. I live to love. I am because we are. I don’t pay for my conscious. I work for my conscious. I speak out and fight injustice no matter where they are. Sometimes loudly and sometimes a little bit more quietly and strategically. It would be easier for me to “just” give. I can make more money doing something else. And then I can give more money than what I can afford right now. But would that make more of a difference than me trying to fight the good fight? I work to give. I give not money. I give my life.

It reminds me of the days back in Apartheid South Africa. It was unbelievable how many people who supported Apartheid went to church on a Sunday. They pray and they worship on a Sunday and then go on exploiting on a Monday. Oh, and on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. And they do it again when they watch rugby on a Saturday. But the Sunday cleared them of all their sins. A prayer will make it all right then I guess. No matter what you do on those other days.

Giving to charity does not mean a thing. Not if you are a bigot on the days when you don’t give. You can’t give your $10 or $50 or $100 a month and think that it is okay. Or even a foundation of a million or billion dollars. It does not make you a good person just because you are giving. It does not absolve you from your duties as a human being. You can’t just carry on with what you are doing with the rest of your time. Your responsibility to your fellow Americans and the world goes beyond money. You can’t buy absolution. You can’t buy forgiveness. You can’t buy justice. You can’t buy equality. You can’t buy freedom. You can’t buy liberty. You can’t buy life. And you can’t buy love.

Do you give because you feel sorry for those poor souls who don’t have as much as you? Who aren’t as lucky? Don’t. Don’t feel sorry for them. See them as your equals. See them as the human being they are. See them as people. People who want the same things you have. Not the material things. Rather things like opportunity. Freedom. Equality. Pride. Justice. Liberty. Peace. Life. Love. They don’t want your money. They want you. They want Ubuntu. I am because we are.

Of course there is the little issue of who do you give to? It’s not really that important. I know that conservatives don’t just give to religious groups. They don’t. They give across the whole range. But make sure you are diligent in your giving. Don’t give because it is something you believe in. Give because it is something they need and want. They know better than you what they need. Give to help them be themselves. Not to be you. Give because we are.

Do you know the story of the Good Samaritan? He first went to bandage the wounds and poured on some oil and wine (Must have been pretty strong “wine”!) He loaded him up on the Biblical pick-up truck, the donkey, took him to the inn and cared for him. And then he paid the innkeeper. He took action. He didn’t throw money at the guy. He took action. He did something. He cared by first doing what was right.

But it goes further than that. There is this old saying we all know – “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life.” It is even more important when it comes to giving. If you give money you only sooth your soul for a day. If you get involved and help make this world a better place. If you fight for equality every single day. If you spread liberty each day. If you push for freedom every day. If you stand on the side of justice every minute of every day. If you spread peace where ever you go… That is how you teach to fish. That is how you sooth your soul for life. By being part of it. Not by throwing money at it.

Have you noticed that the “heroes” in the movies and books are people who do things and not just throw money at it? But you can even look at real heroes. Nelson Mandela. Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. Mother Theresa. They did things. They are known for their actions and not their money. Not their money giving. But for their soul giving. For their work and deeds. They do. It’s an action.

Giving money or giving yourself. It’s the difference between giving medicine to treat the symptom or trying to find the cure. By all means, fight the symptoms, but be like a heat-seeking, radar-driven, laser-guided missile and find that cure. Or else we will never stop giving them bitter pills to swallow. Charity is dealing with the symptom. Involvement and commitment and fighting side by side every single day is finding the cure. It’s systemic. It’s going to the heart of the problem. Not just trying to make the heart go on for a few days longer.

I see too many people trying to buy their way into the good books. Big powerful people starting big powerful charities or foundations. With money that they got how? Run that past me again? And what do you do with your time when you aren’t giving? Who suffered for you to be able to now do the right thing? From the ashes left behind flows a money trail.

It’s like telling your wife or husband or partner that you love them when it is Valentines Day. Or hugging and kissing your children when it is their birthday. Sending flowers on an anniversary. Buying presents at Christmas. Those “special” days. Giving is your special day. It shouldn’t be. Every single day should be your special day. Like loving, hugging and kissing your partner and kids every single day.

Please. I know that I might have offended some people with this. It is not meant to offend. I admire people who give so much. So much more than money. And I admire people who ensure that they gives for the right reason or reasons. I have had the pleasure to work with some of the most admired minds when it comes to giving. And they all give money and themselves for the right reason. A just cause. Doing the right thing and giving for the right reason. Now that is the way to go. It is neither liberal nor conservative. Both sides can do more. One can give more to what is truly needed in this world. And the other side can do more to what is truly needed in this world. Liberty. Freedom. Equality. Justice. Peace. Hope. Opportunity. Life. Love.

It is not about how much you give. It’s whether you give yourself. It is about what you do.

So… Who really cares? Do you? Or do you just give money?

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Note: Don’t stop giving money! Those working at charities across the world still need support. But they want your hands and soul in it as well. There are people out there doing amazing work who needs your financial help to allow them to keep on doing what they are doing. Support them. Believe in them. Hold them accountable. But most of all… Be part of them! Be the change you want to see. Don’t try and buy the change.

globehands

The UK and Europe is so far ahead of the US when it comes to Corporate Responsibility. If I only had a penny for everyone who said this. I hear this almost every single day. And not just from those in England who have a slightly superior attitude when it comes to corporate responsibility. I hear it from people here in the US just as often, if not more. The truth is that we are comparing apples and oranges. Is cricket better than baseball? Only if you are from England. Although you wouldn’t know that from recent results. And you would only like cricket more if you enjoy sitting in the sun and rain for five days and still not get a result. But I digress. They are both ball sports but they are vastly different. They might even share a common history, but that is where it stops.

In the US they believe in Corporate Citizenship and in the UK they believe in Corporate Responsibility. More or less the same, but different just the same. Corporate Citizenship is about what you do in your community. How you interact and how you support them. Corporate Responsibility is about how you run your business – it’s about operations and how you work. The impact is important to both, but in Corporate Citizenship you look at your community and their needs first and the way you work in your community might have something to do with the way you operate, but does not have to. In Corporate Citizenship you focus on your role in society through your operations and the impact you have, and then you improve on these. Through these operational changes you will have a more positive impact on society. Both benefits society, but they have slightly different points of departure.

The reason why the community focus is so central in the US is because there is less of a safety net in the US than in most of Europe. People do not expect government to solve their problems or protect them from every single little thing in life. No, people do that themselves and they tend to look after themselves and after each other. They expect to solve issues themselves. Americans like the idea of less interference by government and more control by themselves in taking responsibility of their own lives. It might have something to do with the open spaces, but Americans do not like people telling them what to do. They want to be masters of their own destiny. Less government and more power to the people.

In the UK and much of Europe there are much more of a reliance on government to interfere in daily life. People expect government to take more control of their daily lives and maintain the rules of how society engage and organize themselves. The rules of engagement. And they want government to identify the common areas of good that will help improve society. Government will tell you what is bad and help you to become better. All that is left for companies to do is ensure they do their best through operations and compliance to government regulations.

That brings me to a second point of difference – regulations and compliance. Corporate behavior is managed through regulations and compliance in the UK and Europe. Everything you do is regulated and not left to the company to try and innovate on their side. Any leadership position you develop is very quickly turned into a government requirement. (Your window of opportunity to show true leadership will stay open for a very short period in this environment). It helps that there is a strong central government in Europe. It makes it easy to push through new regulations. And it is even easier in Europe where the European Commission is hardly held responsible by ‘the people’ and have an almost free ride in bringing in new regulations. No wonder that Europe brought out regulations to define what a banana is – up to the curve needed to be defined as a banana. And I am not joking…

And it is also easy to bring in new regulations in the UK. It is a small island with a central government that runs the rule over everyone. Yes, Scotland and Wales have some autonomy, but the UK is still pretty much ruled from London. It is easy to understand the drive towards more regulations with so much power in the hands of a central government. It is in the nature of government to try and rule their own way. And each new government want to leave behind some kind of legacy. And what is easier than to bring in new regulations that can be sold as ‘for the good of everyone’.

It is different in the US. States control their own destiny much more than any regional authority in the UK. The federal government do not have the power to control everything. Even taxes are different from state to state. And some states like Massachusetts might regulate more towards the protection of people than those in say Texas, but it is up to each state to decide what is most relevant for their state. Federal government can provide guidelines and try and push through federal laws, but this is generally fought tooth and nail by states. The art of the federal government is to try and keep a balance between inching forward on the regulatory front and encouraging states to take control at a local level. But change happens at state level and not federal level.

This approach allows for companies to take more risk in trying out new practices and to develop a leadership position. They know they can bring in these practices without the danger of it being regulated to death. Yes, it is a fine balance. They still have to tell the truth in advertising and not make claims that can’t be backed, but they can be more risky in taking chances. Over in the UK it is slightly different. The aim of regulations is not to bring best practice into law, but to rather identify the lowest common denominator that could be passed as acceptable behavior by companies. I know, both have a place – best practice and lowest common denominator. In the US they lean more towards the former and in the UK more to the latter. It fits their societal and political needs.

Of course the US does have one thing that ensures that the lowest common denominator is ‘self regulated’. The I-will-sue-you culture. You make one mistake and the consumer will take you to the cleaners. Yes, it is out of control, but it creates an incentive for business to not do something that can harm the public. There are enough lawyers here to ensure that you will get sued. Businesses in the UK can hide behind compliance of law and it is much more difficult to sue someone if they haven’t broken the law instead of suing because they didn’t look after the public interest.

And some of the regulations make the way companies act very different. For instance, both the UK and US have regulations regarding how foundations are run. And these are very, very different. US corporate foundations are not allowed to do any work that can directly benefit the company. This was put in place to ensure that companies do not see this as a way to hide money, and to ensure they spend their foundation money on what is good for society as a whole. Very different in the UK. Much more freedom to be strategic in the way they spend their foundation money. They can spend the money on helping suppliers of the company and still write it off under foundation rules. The unbelievable work the Shell Foundation (UK) has done in development in poorer countries would not be allowed under US rules.

The US also likes rock stars and celebrities more than anything else. Man, their news are pathetic over here – give me the BBC please. Every second story is about some celeb and their latest escapade. And that plays out in the way company CEO’s act as well. The CEO and Chairman tend to play a major role in the public view of the company. Bill Gates is Microsoft. Howard Schultz is Starbucks. Steve Jobs is Apple. And each one have to make their mark in this world. Not because they want to, but because people expect them to do their thing from the front – lead the way in how and what they give and the way they run their company. They are the people others look up to and aspire to become. These leaders drive change across all businesses and are needed in a less regulated business environment. They are by default the people who drive real change through their own commitment to making business and society better. Thank God for them.

Less so in the UK. Companies are seen as more important that the individual. A few has made it to the front – Richard Branson as one. But they stand out because they are so different from the rest. The focus tend to be on the company and not the individual who runs it. Yes, they play a role, but the company is seen as less dependent on the CEO and/or Chairman than in the US. Another reason why the UK loves splitting this role while the US wants the same person in charge. Two big egos would be difficult to control in the US.

One area where the US is way ahead of the UK is in communicating their corporate citizenship. They tend to focus on the communications part more while the UK tend to focus more on the operational changes. Maybe it is because the UK society is more reserved than the US, but it means that Ben and Jerry’s is more respected in the US than Unilever. But in the UK it is the other way around. Of course this can be exploited and can confuse the consumer. A classic example is the current discussions in Washington about ‘green’ advertising and marketing. But the best tend to rise to the top and consumers do know to take things with a pinch of salt.

In short, the US is different because it fits in with the way their society organizes itself compared to the UK. Both approaches have real value. Both approaches will improve the world little by little. Both approaches will have failures and successes. But the one is not better than the other. Just different. Dealing with their own little peculiarities in their society and political systems. Both work. And both fails. I don’t need to remind you of the current economic failure in the US thanks to a regulate-yourself culture. But the US is not in any way behind the UK when it comes to the role of business in society. No. They are just different. A US approach won’t last a second in the UK. And the UK approach won’t survive a second in the US. The real challenge for them both is to adapt when they are outside their own borders, culture and comfort zone. For example, neither will last long in China or South Africa if they just try to continue working the way they do in their country of origin. New rules and new ways of operating is needed. They have to bring the best of their world and merge it with the societal and political expectation in these new countries. And that won’t be better either. Just better for that specific country.

Bu the discipline of business in society benefits from this dynamics – bringing different approaches to the table. And it is when these merge and mingle that we move further ahead in this world of ours. Of course there is one approach that works no matter where you are. The South African approach. But I won’t be giving away our secrets just yet. No, I am way to responsible to do something like that.

charity

You want to hug a dolphin? Or maybe plant a tree? What about buying a goat for a village in Ethiopia? Or a desk and chair for a school in Banda Aceh? No. Mm-mm, difficult one. Wait, I have just the thing for you – how about supporting the Foundation for the protection of Swedish underwear models?

And you think I am joking about that last one. It might be tongue in cheek, but this cause has over 400,000 signed up members globally. Okay, it is a Facebook cause – but one of the most supported causes. They even managed to raise some money for their nonprofit – after specifically asking for NO money. Yes, this is a nonprofit and their aim is the “promotion of international understanding”. No, I really am NOT joking.

The point I am trying to make is that we now have a cause for every taste and need. And then some. Once you find your cause – which organization within this cause do you want to support? And so on, and so on. The list just gets longer and longer.

This shouldn’t be a problem. People can now match their passions with the right organization. And there are enough charities out there to still have a slight different individual flavor that makes you so much more different from the plebs who support Oxfam (joking people…). Oh no, you support Project Africa – because it is so much more than a goal, it is a mission. A cause that goes with your evening dress and another that goes well as a car refresher hanging from the rear-view mirror.

And it makes life so much easier if you run a company. All you have to do is pick your cause and adopt the charity or nonprofit that is still available. You feel strongly about education for kids? Make your pick – we still have EduKiddiCare and KEDUCare available. (Man, how many times can someone focus on education before we run out of charities or ideas?)

But the growth in charities and causes can have a bad impact as well – apart from the bad jokes (sorry). Firstly, it waters down the important stuff and diverts attention. Instead of tackling the real big issues facing the world – Climate Change, Abuse, Poverty & Hunger, War, Disasters and Health (the Big 5 plus Climate Change) – we tackle every issue that comes to mind. Can we really justify saving the dolphin, battling bottled water, fighting immigration, protesting GM crops and anti/pro-abortion marches (the Little 5) while people are dying of hunger, disease, abuse, disasters or war? Of course all these other issues are important, but more important than people dying right now in this world we all share? I don’t know – your call.

Even more important than the long list of options and diverting attention – the diversion of funds. Two dynamics stand out. Firstly, aid only increases marginally each year – and even then it goes to certain causes that are important, but not really charity for the needy. For instance, where do you think 80% of US federal ‘aid’ go? A handful of countries that are not really on the most needy list – Israel, Pakistan and Egypt. And oh, it includes military aid… And it gets worse because the money is now spread across and even wider range of causes and organizations. Each year another nonprofits comes along that wants a piece of the pie – and reduces the share of the next one.

But the single biggest problem I have with the proliferation of charities? They divert money away from Africa and other places of need. Instead of the funding going directly to the charity in the country suffering, it goes via other charities and donor bodies first. And everyone takes their cut. The money for empowering women farmers in Zambia doesn’t go to Women for Change. Oh, they might get a small amount. But the money first goes to DFID or USAID or GTZ – or whatever government agency. And then it goes to Oxfam GB or US or Germany. And then it goes to Oxfam Southern Africa. And then it goes to Oxfam Zambia. And the leftovers go to Women for Change.

Businesses always try and streamline their value chain. We should do the same with funding. No more than 2 steps before it gets to the actual people that need it and should benefit from it. Cut out the middlemen. Hey, they make money for campaiging in any case by collecting from door to door and in the streets. It doesn’t mean the end of Oxfam or Care or Save The Children and mates. Just the beginning of the nonprofits who can really bring immediate change to the people who need it most. It will force every charity to focus on achieving real change and doing the bit they are best at. And more of the program money will go to the charities who are closest to the real issues on the ground – they are part of the people who suffer in their community. We just need to streamline the charity supply chain a bit.

Of course there is another reason for my little rant. Is it about caring about something or doing something? The caring bit is about you. But the doing bit is about those who need the help. It’s a slight but important difference. You can pick a charity or a cause the way you pick a dress or shoes – something to fit in with your needs and different tastes. But please don’t forget that this isn’t about you. It’s about those who really need you to be part of them and part of the solution. I worry that the causes are so diverse that we start forgetting who and what this is all about. It’s not a clothing outfit to fit with your personality. It’s about people. And what they need.

Mm-mm, maybe I just found the cause that fits my charity. The AA BARF charity needs your support. Really… The Angry African Beer And Rugby Fund never really got the funding or supporters it deserved in any case. And the money will go directly to the cause it supports. I promise…

I pick stoopid...

I pick stoopid...

An amazing thing happened a few days ago. On Tuesday evening. Just a regular day. My daughter’s birthday…

It started because someone was bored. Doing nothing. Hanging out at his house and bored stiff. So he decided to do what he always does when he is bored. He went surfing. The internet, dudes and dudettes.

And he Googled. He Googled “What are we doing here on earth”. Just to look for some theories. You know, to look at while he was bored. And he found my blog. Or rather, he found “What are we doing?” (I know, my regular friends over here will roll their eyes and feel sorry for the guy. Of all the places in the world… Some people just don’t have any luck or catch any breaks.) But somehow it made a connection. He found value in it. It made him rethink… I don’t know… how we are in life. You know. What are we doing?

He didn’t stop there though. He went a little step further. He created a Facebook Group – What are we doing? (Join in!)

Let’ me put it in his words:

The text below is nothing more than a simple blog post by someone I’ve never met before; I just happened to stumble across their written thoughts. It changed the way I look at life.

Forget being too cocky or cool to read it and really try to understand what the writer is talking about: Us. As living things, as human beings, as people, as a global society. I think a lot of people in this world need to slow down and understand what it really means to be alive and enjoy ourselves and each other.

Read the text. Join the group. Invite your friends. Hope that others read it and understand it as much as you have. You might be able to change someone’s perspective on life. Thank you!”

As simple as that. And something happened.

More than 2,500 members and growing.

And people putting it up on their blogs and sites. And translating it into Spanish. Sharing with others. Asking the question. Doing something.

People asking “What are we doing?” And maybe getting inspired to do something. And talking about what they are doing or what they are going to do. They talk change. They talk about being the change. Because they know it starts with each and every one of us.

A few people have asked who I am. Even saying I should get more credit. But that’s where they are getting it a bit wrong. Firstly, he gave me credit. Left a link. And gave the ultimate compliment by finding inspiration in something I wrote. It’s an honor beyond belief. But the most important part of the question is that it is not about me. Who wrote it is unimportant. Who I am is unimportant. Anyone could have written it. I just had the time. And some words. The important part is – What are you doing? Just do anything really. Okay, anything good. To make a difference. Five minutes. One smile. Anything. Really.

It’s not about me.

Most of the people who joined just see it for what it is. A blog written in frustration. Written because I just don’t get it. Don’t get why we aren’t all just trying a little bit harder. It’s our only little ball of rock and crap floating in the middle of nowhere. It’s all we have. Shouldn’t we at least give it a shot? Should we at least try to do something to leave it a bit better when we go? Leave a legacy people can look back at and smile? Something we can be proud of even if we are dead?

But there are a few people complaining that it isn’t “scientifically” correct. That I didn’t get all the “facts” right. You know – science will save us all… They complain that I said our little patch is a few billion years old instead of saying that it is 4.5 billion. I didn’t get all the facts right… Nit-picking. Playing the fiddle while Rome burns.

Okay. You are brighter than me. So what? Tell me. What are you doing? And I don’t want to hear about quantum mechanics or the general theory of relativity. (I don’t like conflict.) I don’t want to know if you are a scientist building a new kind of bomb, testing on animals or creating a super drug to heal us of hair-loss. I just want to know what are you doing as a human being to make our little patch a bit better.

I don’t care if you think the earth was build in a day or seven. Or a billion. Or that we are heading for disaster. Or that God made earth. Or Allah rules. Or no one rules but you. Or that it is in our nature to rule. The fittest will survive. Or that we shouldn’t eat meat anymore. Or that we should eat meat. Or J-Z rules. Or Paris is so yesterday. Or all the other cool things you know. (I like your t-shirt, by the way.)

But all that? Is nothing. It’s minor details. It’s noise. It’s excuses. It distractions. It’s the glasses you put on while watching life go by. It’s the fiddle you play. It’s you being Nero. It’s not doing. Anything. It’s just blah-blah.

You are smarter than me. So much more intelligent. You are cooler than me. You know it baby. I give it to you. I hope it makes you feel better. Can we agree and get a move on?

I’m just a guy. Born in South Africa. Writing on the train going into Boston. I’m the guy you walk past while you listen to your iPod. I’m the guy who serves you your dinner. I’m the girl who helps you at the bank. I’m the guy who works in your garden. I’m the girl cleaning your house. I’m the girl you work for. I’m the guy who works for you. I’m the guy who is trying to sell you a newspaper or a packet of cigarettes. I’m just a guy. No one special. Just a guy who wrote a blog. You are the cool one. You are the smart one.

Now tell me. What are you doing?

I know what Nathan did. And he was bored. And decided to go surfing. And do something.

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To Nathan: Thanks. It’s the best birthday present my daughter got on her birthday. She won’t even know it. But thanks to you she has a better shot at having a bit of a life when she grows up. Salt man. Salt.

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Okay, maybe genius is a bit of a strong statement. Overkill. But I got a bit hot under the collar when I read another bad review of his latest movie – You Don’t Mess With The Zohan. Surprise, surprise. The critics didn’t like his movie. Apparently his humor is silly and lacks class. Excuse me, it is Adam Sandler. What did you expect? Tsotsi or Juno? Get off your bloody high horse. He doesn’t make movies for you Mister Critic. Ask his audience if they like it. Isn’t that what counts? Or are you saying that all those people who go and watch his movies are as stupid as him?

Maybe he makes movies because he actually enjoys just entertaining people? And maybe people watch his movies because they just want a silly laugh as something really ridiculous? Maybe they want some downtime from $4 gas and deeper debt? Maybe working two or three jobs at a time makes them a bit tired and they just need to escape a bit? Maybe they don’t have an air conditioned office and free passes to all the movies like you? Maybe they have to do some real work to pay the rent and buy some food?

Who the hell gives you the right to say that their entertainment is somehow of less value than yours? Being in the minority does not give you some superior insight into this world of ours. The Klan is in a minority. Are you going to say that they must have something right just because not everyone isn’t running off to join them?

I am just sick and tired of these people, who can’t act or write a script or direct a movie to save their lives, who somehow end up being critics. Pompous, stuck-up, pretentious bastards. You are no better. No better than anyone who doesn’t “get” Memento. Or who doesn’t think that Clint Eastwood is a gifted director or George Clooney is God’s gift to serious acting. We don’t think they are bad. But really, with the world in darkness around us some people watch movies to get away from it all for a little bit. Maybe people don’t want to watch Monster’s Ball because they live it. And a documentary of your own life is no fun at all.

And they climb into Kung Fu Panda. Jeeze. Puh-lease. They climb into it because it is so childish. Jack Black plays the same character he always play – just in animation this time. And it is so for young kids and parents won’t find it entertaining. Excuse me! Maybe that was the target audience? Not some slob stuffing his face with free popcorn and soda and watching a movie they weren’t going to like in any case. Not even if the voice was that of Daniel Day-Lewis and the movie was directed by Robert Altman. Nothing will satisfy you bunch. Would it?

What criteria do you use? How sad the movie makes you? How “real” the movie might be even though you would never actually live that life? Little Miss Sunshine is just so “edgy”. You wouldn’t know edgy if you walked into it my friend. Momento is so “complex”. No, you have a complex.

Sorry buddy. I want to be entertained. I want to escape. I want to forget about the troubles of the world and life at work for a few minutes. I want to hear my kids laugh at silly jokes. I want to see my wife wipe away the tears of laughter. I don’t want them to go home and feel even more depressed about this world of ours. Life is real enough. More real than your pseudo life and “deep” insights. Go stuff yourself. Get a life. A real life. Not one that you can somehow “connect” to on the big screen.

You remind me of those sport writers. Oh so insightful. But they are the same guys who didn’t get picked by anyone at school during break because their sporting abilities sucked. And now they take their revenge on those who actually play the sport.

You the critic. So important. So at the edge of art. So. So.

Oh, I like some of the movies and people I mentioned. I liked Gosford Park. I like George Clooney. Okay, sometimes. Memento is one of my favourite movies. But most of the time I just want to sit back and laugh. I don’t need much of a storyline. Just a few jokes – mostly stupid jokes. Anything goes. Anything to take me away for a few minutes. Take me away from this “real” life of the critics. Who can “feel the pain” and “live the moment”. Bah! Get a life.

Is this relevant to Africa? Yep. It is. Because it is the same type of people who will tell me all about Africa. And what the people of Africa need. And how they can “help” them. And how they feel the pain of the people of Africa. And that we should all do our bit. And volunteer our time. And… And…

Damnit man. Just stop it.

Africa doesn’t need your pity. Africans don’t need you to tell them how difficult their lives are. Africa doesn’t need more good advice. We can see where that got us in the last century or so. You campaign and you speak on behalf of us at conferences and lobbying meetings because you somehow believe that you have a deep insight into our people. Like you know what we need and want. The knight in shining armour. Where’s the white horse? Or is that just a white face?

That your deep and serious answers are so much better than our little silly childish solutions. Eish! No Country For Old Men is so much better than Mr Bean. Not when the men don’t grow old in our countries to start off with. We would rather watch Mr Bean being silly and just enjoy our moment together instead of suffering with you because that is what you need to make yourself feel worthwhile.

We don’t suffer to make you feel good. We don’t die to make you feel superior. We suffer because you feel good. And we die because you feel superior.

So sorry. I’ll take Adam Sandler anytime. I know what I get. A stupid man making stupid silly jokes, but being honest about himself and who he is. Just an entertainer. As simple as that. Not a special one who will save my world. We need you to be simple. We need you to be one of us. Be Adam Sandler. Be stupid and silly. But be honest. With yourself and then with us.

Be yourself. A flawed, but funny human being just like all of us. I am not going to give you a slap on the back and tell you I am proud of you because you are so serious. Just be. And just do. Do it because you do it. As simple as that. Don’t give me nice camera angles of poverty or deep and serious scripts for advocacy. Shut up and do it. Be funny. Be true.

Hey, you never know. Spielberg might make a movie of your life some day. Just hope to God it isn’t Oliver Stone and some conspiracy movie…

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I have worked with some good souls throughout my life. All deeply caring people. Doing the right thing. Fighting poverty. Fighting diseases. Fighting injustice. Always fighting the good fight. Without guns. And I don’t judge them for what they do. They mean well. But sometimes I wonder if they do it for the right reasons.

Or rather for the right person. Are they really doing it to make the world a better place? Or are they doing it to make themselves feel better? Is this important? Does it matter? I don’t know. But it does make a difference in how you do your work. How you try to make the world better.

It matters because it will tell me who “owns” the fight. Is it us, together? Or is it you? Is it about the “me” or about the “us”? It’s a subtle difference. But it plays out differently. It can mean the difference between success or just throwing some money on the fire. I see too often that people want the personal glory. The recognition that they alone deserve the credit. Or at least a little bit more than the next person… You know, that if it wasn’t for “me”… That they own the problem and the solution. A new Foundation. A new personalized cause made to fit your persona. Or your company. Not about the partnership we need to solve the problem. Not equal partnership. But rather you telling me how you will solve the problem. How you are the saviour. The knight in shining armour. Coming to Africa to save our sorry souls.

I felt this amongst the Brits more than anywhere else. Americans do it as well, but they are more open about it. (Remember, I am making a HUGE generalization here.) But in the UK I felt it in every conversation and in every campaign. Colonialism is alive and well – you just don’t know it. Even if you don’t mean it that way. Here, let me help you out a bit. The Oxfam Make Trade Fair Campaign. The Oxfam Coffee Campaign. The Blair Commission for Africa. The Bob Geldof Live 8. The Bono G8 speech. I know that many of them don’t do it for personal glory, but rather to use their influence and status to highlight the problems. I mean really, life could be so much easier for Bono if he didn’t have to do this – and concentrate just on his music. I just use them as examples – not judgement.

But so many individuals and organisations and companies want their own piece of the pie. Their little piece they can own and get the glory and “ain’t he/she a good guy/girl” comments. Of course they need the pretty picture or trophy to go with their “emotional struggle and commitment”. And then they’ll just drag in the poor African farmer struggling/Aids sufferer/hungry kid. To be paraded. And maybe if they are lucky they will be asked to make a short speech before the big boys come up on stage to say how they have helped them and how you can help them help those who suffer. And the African melts into the background…

Oh how many times do I have to hear how far ahead the UK is when it comes to humanitarian work. And corporate responsibility. And sustainability. How much better their government is about doing their bit for the world. And the companies that care so much. And the people who give so much. The UK. Rule, Britannia!

And the BBC will go off to make a documentary of a white guy going to some village and tell a story to make you cry. And collect a few pounds. And hand out a few pennies. Or maybe some food to go with it. Highlight the good work some organization/company/government department/aid agency from your home country is doing in these poor African village. It makes you feel good. Good about yourself. Good about your countrymen. But it is a good feeling inside yourself.

But it doesn’t tell you that poverty doesn’t define who these Africans are. That being ill doesn’t make them less lively. Or less happy. Or less hopeful. Or that they have a few ideas themselves. Or that maybe they havea few solutions already thought out. Because it is the BBC. It’s not an African crew with and African investigative reporter and producer. Or even an African celeb.

But maybe it just makes you feel better. Makes you feel that you are doing something good on our little earth. That it will get you into heaven or whatever your religion calls the next “stage” – if there is a next stage. But it is still about you. The “me”. Just for different reasons.

But here is the problem. You might not even know that you look at the world in this way. But we know. We can see it in your eyes. You feel sorry for us. You want to help because you “just know the answer”. Even if you don’t believe that you do it for these reasons. Even if you don’t think you feel this way towards us. We know it when you come up with “solutions” without really engaging us. Only parading us and lying to yourself that you really are interested in working “with” us. We feel it when you come and hand us some money or medicine or food. We hear it when you talk down to us without even knowing you are doing it. We see it when we look into your eyes and into your heart. It’s there. It is there.

Here. Take my hand. Let’s walk this rocky road together. Hand in hand. Next to each other. I am no better than you. You are no better than me. Together we can do it. Make this world just a little better. But I don’t have the answer. And neither do you. Because it isn’t about me. Or you. It is about the “us”. Together.

Maybe I am wrong on this one. I wrote everything up to here on the way home on the train. It was so clear back then. But now I am home. I had time to think a little bit more. And it is all cloudy right now. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I don’t know. Is there a point to this?

In actual fact. I don’t really care why you do it. Just do it. Stop throwing stones and moaning and bitching. Stop looking for excuses. Or reasons to hate. Just do something to make the world better. Peacefully. Without the guns. And without the stones. And without the violence. I don’t care why you do it. Really I don’t. I’ll use it against you anyway.

Because it gives us an angle. An opening. We’ll “prey” on your good feelings. On your ego. On your “me”. We’ll look into your eyes and figure out why you are doing it. Or anything. What makes you tick. Your weakness. And then we will feed that weakness and make you do what we want you to do. But we will make you think it was your idea in the first place. And we will let you get the praise. And the glory. Because we don’t care. Because we know it is not about “me”.

It’s about us. And making it better. Together. Anyway possible – without strings or violence attached. As long as we do it together. Hand in hand. For others. Because we know. I am because of others. And that is really all that matters. In the end. Here. Take my hand.

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We live our lives. Get up in the morning. Brush our teeth. Shave. Have a shower. A quick breakfast. A kiss goodbye. Join the rush hours. Listen to our iPod. Do a job we hope we like. Too busy to stop and look around. No time for lunch. The client and customer can’t wait. We close the office door. Switch off the lights. And head off home. We join the rush hour for our last trip of the day. Read a book. Or the paper. Catch up on the news of the world. We give hugs and kisses when we get home. Eat our food. Bath the kids. Wash the dishes. Do our chores. Flop down in our favourite seat. Watch television. And fall asleep.

We are always so busy. Every day. Every single day. Doing what the man wants us to do. Never stopping. Never looking around. Never taking it in. Just rush in and rush out. No stop. Just go, go, go.

The weekend comes. We had plans. Taking it easy. Doing something with the kids. And the wife. Some family time. But it’s more rush, rush, rush. It’s ballet. It’s dancing. It’s shopping. It’s Gamecube. It’s cleaning the garden. It’s tidying the basement. Painting the porch. Planting some flowers. Mow the lawn. Build a swing. Do the time-sheet. Fill in taxes.

When do we stop and look around? When do we just soak it up? When do we smell the roses? When do we stop and see if we care? When do we have time for living?

Are we still who we wanted to be when we were young? Would we be proud of the person we have become? What do we see when we look at the mirror in the end of the day? Are we full of hate? Are we loving enough? What have we become? Do we like ourselves? Enough?

We all get a bit rough around the edges. A little bit scared. But are we still the same person?

Do you still believe in something?

In something good? Not the bad stuff. Don’t sweat that stuff. Do you still believe in the good stuff? That people are good? That the world is okay? That we can all enjoy each other? In friendship? Do you still believe in your word? Cross your heart and hope to die? In innocence? In just being who you are and want to be? Or have you become burdened by hate, disbelief, disappointment, lies, paranoia, war, money… Have you fallen for what the man told you? Have you given up? Given up on life? The life you knew you would have when you were little? Have you given up little by little and never realize you are giving up everything?

Or are you still fighting for that life you believed in? Know that you can have that? And make it happen for you kids? And their kids? Are you who you want them to become? Or who you tell them you are? Or who they think you are? Who they want you to be?

What do you see when you look in the mirror? Before you go to sleep? Do you like yourself and what you have become?

We make the world. We make our own world.

It reminds me of what Laura said – “I think I’m willing“…

But you know, I wish that I lived in a world where, when someone comes to ask me to help out with R10 for transport because they are stuck, I can freely give. I wish that I lived in the world where I felt safe to give lifts to hitch-hikers and people with broken down cars. Or where I can feel happy giving some change for kids taking up a collection for soccer uniforms or dance uniforms, rather than being worried that the money is going to drugs. Where I can freely give to the lady who asks me for money towards her brother’s funeral or the man who asks me for money for paraffin. Or the old lady from the rurals who comes in to town, only to find she doesn’t have enough money to buy the pre-paid electricity she needs.

I want to live in that world. And the only way I can live in it, is to try.

People are not always honest. People’s intentions aren’t always good. And sometimes giving in these sorts of circumstances just perpetuates the problem. I know this…

But I never want to accept that habitual “no”…

And I am definitely all for wisdom and all for protecting ourselves and our property. Definitely, we can’t be naive.

But you know what, I think I’m willing to lose a cell phone if it means I can spend my life speaking to people rather than brushing them off. Or to find myself played by people with long sob-stories once in a while, if it means I’m sometimes actually meeting people’s needs and making people’s lives better.

I wish there was a formula or a rule book for how to deal with these situations. But there isn’t.
And I know that I can be a bit of a sucker, and I sometimes have a problem saying no. And I know that I mustn’t give from guilt or from being manipulated.

But the great gain of treating people with dignity and giving where I can and feel is best, I think I’m willing to risk a bit, and lose a bit, for that.

Are you willing to risk a bit? To be who you want to be? And what you want the world to be? Laura is.

Look in the mirror. Tonight when you get home. At the end of the day. And ask yourself those questions. Look yourself in the eyes. Don’t blink. And see if you still believe yourself. And if you still believe in yourself.

At the end of the day. Do you like what you see? What you have done? What you have become? Be that person. Care a little. Risk a little. Love a little. Hope a little. Live a little.

Don’t let the man win. Don’t let them win.

Be.

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