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Now I know why they taught us comprehension…

One of my favourite subjects at school was English. I had a really fantastic English teacher in High School, but I must be honest I never understood why we had to learn about Shakespeare and all the stories he wrote. But when I comfort myself; I suppose it was always the moral of the stories more than anything and the moral is something that cuts across every generation.

One of the things I’m glad we were taught was comprehension. I’m sure we all remember from our English classes the comprehension exercises we often did. I recall how we would be given a short paragraph or a short essay on a particular topic. We would be asked to thoroughly read the paragraph and as my teacher would say ‘ensure you read it more than once before you are able to answer questions’. To test if you really comprehended what you read, we were given a set of questions that we were required to answer. If you consistently scored good grades on your comprehension exercises, your teacher was pleased with your comprehension skills and your overall command of the English language, as comprehension used to carry a significant weighting towards your overall English mark. If we were given a take home assessment we were often encouraged to seek other sources over and above the paragraph to assist us in answering the questions more robustly.

Comprehension simply means “The ability to understand something”.

Why I am sharing about this? It recently hit me that we were raised to believe that going to school had a one dimensional purpose (i.e. getting good grades in order to go to University and get a good job). Though that is partly true and is the common reality, but I think we don’t appreciate enough the foundation, for life, that our teachers were giving us.

I believe that we were actually being given mental tools to know how to navigate this interesting and difficult journey of life. We need to be able to comprehend situations accordingly. I say this because we are increasingly living in a period where we have allowed the media to become the predominant source by which we understand the world around us. The initial role of the media was to serve as an independent body that provided us information about what is happening around us and we would then conclude for ourselves about what is truth and what is fiction.

I spoke about the comprehension exercise earlier because I believe our teachers were in some way trying to equip us with the ability to thoroughly understand situations we face on a daily basis and not just take things at face value. They asked us questions so that from our own perspective we could engage with the information and provide our own viewpoints. They even encouraged us to seek additional sources of information so that we come to understand that there is often more than one side to every story. We were being built up so that we could concurrently be independent and collective thinkers who are able to apply the knowledge we have gathered accordingly.

My hands are chained but I wear the signet ring…

Many people across the world today enjoy the luxury of wearing signet rings as part of their jewellery items but most of us don’t know how this piece of jewellery once had a very powerful purpose in history.

Allow me to share a brief history on the signet ring as documented by The Regency Redingote blog and the History1700 website. The signet ring was widely used by Kings, rulers and religious leaders as a symbol on documents or a seal on a doorway. When someone saw the mark of the King, it proved authenticity (www.history1700s.com). This was long before the art of writing was widespread and it was still necessary to mark royal proclamations and legal documents to authenticate correspondence. Because these emblems were a symbol of the power and authority of their owner, and because they were indispensable to commerce they were most often made a ring. In this form, the owner could keep his identifying symbol safely under his control and readily available on his finger. Signet rings also became the practice to hand the signet ring down from father to son, through the generations. There were also occasions when a signet ring had to be destroyed after the death of its owner to ensure the authority it represented was terminated. Another interesting factor was that the person wearing the ring was free to wear his signet ring on any hand or finger which suited him, or on which it would fit. The only important point was that he wore it (https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com).

I started wondering what would happen if a King or a Ruler was captured or conquered by another nation and had his hands and feet chained. In that context, I presume that the signet ring was ineffective but, I stand to be corrected. It’s sad right that such an elaborate and powerful symbol could be rendered ineffective if one was chained.

When I relate this back in our own modern context I often think that one of the most crippling things that I have witnessed and have gone through myself is having a great title but no authority. The danger of having a title without authority is that it renders you ineffective. You are unable to implement new things; your creativity is stifled and you constantly live in fear of what your superior will say. Sometimes you observe your superior making grave mistakes and according to the description on paper of your title you are allowed to challenge that, but in reality, you hold no authority. I don’t ever want to be in that situation in my life and I never want anyone to experience that.

I read the following words in a book I was reading recently and these words were said by the legendary Nelson Mandela as a warning to his successor Thabo Mbeki. He said “One of the temptations of a leader who has been elected unopposed is that he may use his powerful position to settle scores with his detractors, marginalise them and in certain cases get rid of them and surround himself with yes-men and yes-women”  (Extract taken from God, Spies and Lies page 391-392). Oh, how I wish the current leaders in our democracy will hearken to the advice of this great leader.

We must be careful as leaders in every faction that we don’t raise a generation of distinguished intellectuals who will just be yes Sir and yes Ma’am followers. I love what Steve Jobs once said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” If you are in a position where you lead people, please ensure that their titles carry weight i.e. they are empowered to make decisions without fear.

An even graver mistake is when leaders give authority to foolish people but that’s a story for another day, my friend.

Cautious of my own ignorance…

I really love watching a show called “Come dine with me” which airs on the BBC lifestyle channel. I know a lot of people who like this show will probably agree and say the most fun part about the show is the comments that the sarcastic narrator Dave Lamb often makes.

In this one episode of the UK version, I couldn’t help but be annoyed by this one guy who was a bit of a slob according to me, but he kept on complaining a lot about how the other people had bad table manners and bad fine dining etiquette.

I really think his statement stuck with me because, I have had someone who commented about what I didn’t do right at the dinner table. I am sure most of us have heard people share their unasked opinions of how the fork, the knife, the glass, the spoon, the plate etc should be set in order to comply with fine dining etiquette.

And I must tell you, I have been to a lot of dinners and when the food is set before me and I am in the company of great people, I hardly remember most of these dinner table manners. I’ve asked myself why I can’t remember them, and well the answer I’ve come up with so far is that these things don’t come naturally to me because in my upbringing, I was not taught about fine dining etiquette.

I grew up like so many South Africans and many people around the world, our evening meals were had in the lounge whilst watching television. The only time we sat at a table together to enjoy a meal was when we were at a restaurant or a function. The focus was more on enjoying a good meal together and watching something we all loved. I would be lying if I said that I felt there was something missing in our dinner experience. But then again, I had never been exposed to the strict regiments of fine dining. Until I was in my late teens and entering my twenties, I got exposed to the whole concept of fine dining etiquette. There was a moment where I felt the overwhelming shame of not knowing certain things which my compatriots would indicate where table manners 101. In a few instances I was made to feel not “civilized”…but I beg to ask the question, according to whose standards?

I hear the phrase “beware of ethnocentricity” in mind. What is it? Well, when someone says you are ethnocentric they simply saying, you evaluate other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of your own culture. It started to dawn on me that we must be careful of not lording our ideas, convictions and way of being when making decisions in a culturally inclusive world.

There are many things I grew up having great convictions about and would even argue that was the only way. Until I got exposed to a different side, and I must say it’s really true when they say new information gives you a different perspective. In some decisions I have made, I have been faulty because I chose to lord only what I thought was best and didn’t engage with other convictions around me.

My enjoy life tip is this: If we are going to thrive in the global village and be exposed to different people, we should consider certain key basic principles. Firstly, we must get the facts before rushing to give an opinion about people and situations around us. Secondly, we must be open to new ideas and revelations and lastly we must make sure we hear both sides of every story before judging. These principles center on seeking additional information which can be difficult work sometimes, but the only alternative if we don’t choose to be open-minded is ignorance. We must be involved in a continuous process of caution against ignorance because if we don’t we may fall into prejudice which is judging before getting the facts.

I am trying to apply these principles in my own life so that when I write, speak and make decisions, I do so with a deeply rooted confidence.

Back to the fine dining narrative, as I have mentioned I want to be cautious of my own ignorance, can I ask the fine dining etiquette activists to please teach me? I am open to learn and understand what makes having great table manners so life changing.

Full, thin or curvy…thou art worthy…don’t you think?

My family and I were watching the crowning of Miss South Africa 2017 a few Sundays ago and I just want to extend my congratulations to Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters for taking the crown.

When we were watching the show, I nudged my sister just a little bit and said to her ‘remember my silly attempt at entering Miss South Africa?’ she was like ‘yup’ and we both just laughed. Looking at those girls on Sunday I was like ‘what the heck was I thinking!?’ Yes folks, in 2014 I sent my application for the Miss South Africa 2015 pageant and even went for a proper photo shoot. And guess what! I was called in for the casting, but I got cold feet so I didn’t go. In my mediocre analysis, I think more than anything the selection committee must have been impressed with my motivation letter. It was very powerful even if I say so myself.

After our laughs, my sister soon shed light and said ‘but you know what Bongs, you were not being silly, remember the passion, and your reasoning, think of that and I actually think you would have won if you had gone to the casting.’ I don’t know whether she was saying this because she is my sister and her confidence in me could be bias but a part of me felt that perhaps she was on to something.

My desire in entering the pageant was completely revolutionary. I remember when I shared  with my very supportive friends and my now ex-colleagues and close friends about my reasoning behind entering the pageant.

I must say, based on what I observed they were very supportive but we may never know if they laughed behind closed doors. Quite frankly, if they did laugh I wouldn’t have held it against them because reality is; girls like me don’t enter pageants of that magnitude and be considered.

So why did I send my application? Well, trust me when I say my desire was not to parade on stage as a beauty queen and be crowned the most beautiful woman in the country, but I felt that somebody needed to challenge this notion of what a “Miss South Africa” should look like. Pardon me for saying this, but for far too long we have been made to believe a perception of beauty that is one dimensional. Over the years, I have witnessed many beautiful & graceful women of South Africa, who have paraded the stages of Miss SA pageants and marvelled at their physical beauty as something out of reach for me as an ordinary average woman. Becoming Miss SA 2015 would have given me a platform to echo two key messages to people.

Firstly, If I won, it would be a message of the least likely candidate (typical girl next door) taking the throne. It would echo a message to motivate young people to believe that all things are possible and that we should never give up on our dreams despite the unfavourable circumstances. Secondly, I wanted to be a gift to my country. I believe that when we all discover our true purpose there should be no room for competition, but we will complement each other. I wanted to you use the Miss SA platform to emancipate people’s thinking and to serve as an activist for the further entrenching of Human Rights. I ponder about this and think these are the kind of things Madiba and his counter parts fought for. They wanted to see a generation of young people who will be bold to challenge the status quo and redefine perceptions around anything. In this case, I wanted to redefine beauty and what it truly means to be a South African and reawaken the “Ubuntu” and servitude spirit in all of us.

I know this is one of those topics where there will always be constant ongoing dialogue and debate, and there are many interesting sides to this debate. I’ve heard a lot of people echo that our African pageants should feature women who are curvy or fuller because that’s what an African woman looks like.

However, we must be careful how we use words in this context, as my sister always points out, ‘does it mean because I am very thin that I am not an African woman?’ I think perhaps the appropriate way to say this is that our African Pageants should be more inclusive of women who come in different shapes and sizes. When I read most of the requirements of what a Miss South Africa should be (i.e. passionate about social injustices; educated and pursing a vibrant career; great role model; great interpersonal skills; etc). I know a lot of ordinary women who fit that description, but will not qualify because of one thing, their body. I guess this is the point where the modelling industry draws the line.

Like any job, you need to have particular qualifications to occupy that position. To be a doctor you need to go to Medical school and do the necessary community service. To be a charted accountant you need your degree and to complete certain board exams and this applies to all our different industries.

What do you think? Should there be a pageant that will be inclusive of women in all sizes and shapes? Can such a pageant exist successfully? Should we be encouraging young women to be healthier or perhaps we should just leave things the way they are?

 
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