Daring, sharing, caring greatly

Last year, I read Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly.  I’d seen the Ted Talks, and her emphasis on the importance of vulnerability when it comes to innovation, along with her obvious courage, was inspiring.  She seemed kind, warm and humorous, and she was open to sharing her own learning, her struggles, and the people who had backed her in the process. She spoke of the vulnerability hangover, the fear of putting your best work out there, and the value of those who are willing to stand beside you in the arena when the rest of the world criticizes from the side lines.

True courage is about getting into the arena to try, Brene Brown argues.  It isn’t about overcoming all obstacles, and it isn’t about being all things to all people.  It is about sharing creativity, insights, or those qualities which mean the very, very most.  And sometimes, when you are covered in dust, when you can’t see your way, when the colors around you blur, and when you feel dizzy, daring greatly is that much easier when you have support.


It may be the unconditional support they offer which makes animals so valuable to people.  Animals trust us, we can care for them, and when we do, that care is often returned in abundance.

When I read Brene Brown’s work on Daring Greatly, and the importance of having somebody stand in the arena with you, it made perfect sense.  At the time, my daughter had been watching (and reading) The Hunger Games, and the scene where Katniss refuses to kill off her district partner, Peta, preferring to eat poisoned berries alongside him rather than have the games turn one against the other was truly memorable.  They survived, and Katniss was told to emphasize the loving relationship between them for all she was worth.  Nobody defies the rules of the game like that, after all.  But Katniss didn’t need to emphasize care.  The viewers had seen it played out before their eyes, and it moved them enough to see the humanity within two contestants over and above the rules of the game.


I’ve been lucky enough to have unquestioning support during some very difficult situations.  There have been times when I have done things which were unintentionally very short sighted, or, at times, completely thoughtless, but the people who stood by me and offered support have meant so much.  Knowing that somebody else cares without judgement helps a lot when you want to give up, bury your head in shame, or even when you feel bulldozed or cornered by somebody else’s opinion.  My husband has always offered the support, even when I’ve been impossible:

“Is the language in this chapter hard to understand?” I’d ask him.

“Yes, I think it might be.  I don’t really know what it means.”

And I’d be frustrated and impatient, because I didn’t want to write it again.

“Why not, Scott?  Why don’t you understand? Why can’t you just try a bit more?”

It could have gone badly.  He could have said “Because I don’t want to read anything so mindlessly academic in the first place.  I’d much rather go to sleep.  Why don’t you take it to the writing school? They know how to help?”

But he didn’t.  He said “I get frustrated too when I work hard and it still doesn’t feel right.”

And his empathy made all the difference.

Those people who are there for you when life is good, and when it is bad, the ones who stand by your side when you are in the arena, and when you have dust in your eyes, the colors blur, and you don’t really know what you are doing and where to turn, are the people who mean everything.  They are the people you can trust, and the ones who make the critics in the grandstands seem less relevant.  They are the people who keep you going, who make you willing to try, keep trying, and give the best you have.  I am grateful for the people in my life who are always there.  They mean more than I could possibly admit.

Maybe, when the critics come out and jeer at us, and we have sand in our eyes, connectedness, empathy and respect for our deeper humanity is what really matters.  And the people who give that to us are the ones who help us get through.

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A fair process?

As the Oscar Pistorius trial drags to a close, and twitter is filled with people calling out for either mercy, or a long prison sentence, I have been thinking a great deal about my own life experiences, and what this means when it comes to the law. I know very little at all about law, justice or what happened in Oscar Pistorius’ trial.

I know nothing at all except how to  watch the BBC Series Silk, where a feisty defense attorney, Martha, gets her clients a ‘not guilty’ verdict, purely by creating reasonable doubt.  Martha argues that everybody has the right to a fair trial, and this includes, in her words, a ‘horrible man’ who has a previous history of assault, and who, it seems, has gone into an 85 year old man’s flat, battered him, yawned, and left.

Silk brings up a lot of different arguments.  This burglar, Garry Rush, was set up by the police, and Martha convinces the jury of this. Did the police know he was guilty?  No, it seems not, because they removed DNA evidence from a door handle before arresting him.  If the arresting police offer had firmly believed the offense was carried out by Garry Rush, perhaps he would have left DNA evidence on the door handle, and allowed it to be tested so that his suspect could be tried and convicted.  But he didn’t.

Perhaps he didn’t want to miss the chance to remove a dangerous man off the streets.  And he would have been right.  We later learn that this man did indeed commit the crime, stealing a medal and later sending it to Martha Costello.  But if Garry Rush was not the criminal responsible for brutally beating an old man, perhaps a different but equally harmful baddie would have been left to roam the streets, attacking another old person but confident that he would not be caught.

Silk points out the grey areas of the legal system, and the right to a fair defense.  It hasn’t taught me a lot about law, as much as some of the struggles lawyers face.  What is the story which is presented in court, and what is the truth behind this?  What are the presumptions juries bring with them?  What are the subtleties within each case? And as a lawyer, do you have to do your job anyway, no matter what, so that your client has a fair trial, even if you go home and grieve about it afterwards?

The truth, it seems, is nuanced, and as viewers of a television program, we get to look into the background, into the doubts and uncertainties, and the lengths that some criminal barristers will go to to either defend or prosecute a client.  As television viewers, we know that the story sometimes unravels for us in the court room, and we learn more clearly what happened.  But sometimes, we also learn what didn’t.  That’s the benefit of television, where you get to go behind the scenes, and the truth may not come out in court, but it is revealed in our private homes, to us, privileged to see all of the different perspectives and then the end reality.

In real life, we get to know what gets told in court. We get to learn the multiple sides, and we don’t always get to know the truth of what happened.  This is particularly true when that truth exists inside the mind of a single man.  What was he thinking at the time he shot his girlfriend?  Only he knows that, and whether we agree or disagree with what he presents to the court, we will never really know more than he is willing to share.

Psychologists have had a guess at what may have happened, based on messages written during a fight.  The media have pointed out the fact that a woman expressed fear of her boyfriend, and have declared that in a world where a woman is frightened, and then shot, the court should have seen this message as a red flag.  People have asked why he did not call out for his girlfriend to ask where she was, why he shot at the intruder instead of trying to escape, and why a man who was  so determined to run as an able bodied athlete should use his disability now in order to stay out of prison?  But nobody knows what happened except for him.

This trial has brought up my own subjectivity in many ways.  The women’s movement has shared (particularly in the Guardian) that women are most often killed by their male partners.  Some have pointed out the danger of the court finding Oscar Pistorius not guilty of murder.  In a world where women are in danger, and men kill women, a not guilty verdict when it comes to murder may mean that more men are free to kill their partners, and then claim to have mistaken them for an intruder.  The fight to get domestic violence recognized as a crime and to have charges followed up has been difficult enough.  What happens if a woman is killed, even unintentionally in a fit of rage, and courts are no longer seen as a deterrent, they ask?

There are so many perspectives to take into account that it is hard to understand the impacts of any judgement on wider society.  It’s possibly harder to understand as an outsider to the criminal justice system, with no real understanding of the subtleties of law.  The only real understanding I have is the right to a fair trial.  And lately, I have been wondering how objective this will ever seem through the eyes of the public. I have been wondering this because I listen to the versions offered up by the prosecution and defense with my own story in mind.

About ten years ago, when my daughter was still very little, our home was burgled while we were out.  Very little was taken, and the greatest impact seemed to be on our cat, who started to hide behind the furniture.  I thought that the situation was over, until one morning a couple of weeks later, when I felt really tired.  I had been awake with my daughter for a great deal of the night, and fell asleep next to her.  Scott came in to say that he was going to be going to work, but perhaps Danny and I should have a sleep in.  I went back to sleep and woke up what felt like a long time later.

When I woke up, I heard somebody walking around.  First through the living room, and then in the kitchen.  I saw shadows pass under the bedroom door, and heard somebody rummaging around in the bathroom.  I was half awake, very irrational, and I certainly didn’t like the idea of somebody else in the house while my daughter was there.  Instead of waking her up, trying to leave or calling for help, I flew into a fit of rage, walked towards the bathroom without any fear of consequence, and kicked the old fashioned door open so hard that the stained glass shattered against the bathroom tiles.  I shouted (while blocking the doorway) “GET OUT!!!!”  My poor husband nearly swallowed his toothbrush. I saw him, said “Oh, it’s you.  Okay.” and went back to check on my daughter.  He hadn’t called out to let me know it was him, but then I’d been silent until throwing the door open.

This was never, ever anything I thought I would do if I encountered an intruder.  I thought I would run away, go out the back door, climb onto the roof, hide, call for help, press the alarm button, or generally do something far less mad than I did. And this experience shapes my understanding of the trial, and what I see as normal.  I didn’t shoot at anybody, and I had no urge to shoot at anybody.  But I haven’t had any urge to shoot at my partner in an argument either, and to imagine doing so feels impossible.

My experience is different to that of many other people.  Perhaps some people have had experienced with locking themselves away from a partner, and this is what they see.  Others may never understand confronting an intruder.  Some people may well understand that fear of danger may be greater within a home than outside one, and a burglar may be less frightening than a partner. All of these different aspects shape how we interpret the stories and happenings which go on in the world around us.  It is probably why a judge should interpret the evidence before her, in order to ensure as fair a trial as possible.

Do all people in South Africa have the right to a fair trial?  That’s an important question.  Equally important is the fact we do know:  a woman lost her life in the most terrible of circumstances.  And that is the true tragedy of this case.

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It’s my choice…

“My body, my choice!” said Jennifer Lawrence, speaking out against naked photos of her being leaked onto the internet.  The Guardian declared that we now live in a world where women’s voices are taken more seriously.  Let’s hope so.  They also argued that this could only happen because we have moved out of the age of the ‘purity ring’, where young girls like Vanessa Hudgens were made to apologize for having naked photos leaked.  I think we’d live in a more equal world if those photos hadn’t been passed on in some sort of frenzy, violating the woman behind them.  How she responds is quite possibly less important than what was done in the first place.

What a paradoxical world we live in, when Miley Cyrus wears little on stage, and people go into a swoon, calling on her to grow up, but naked photos leaked without permission result in a desire to have a look.  The only common factor is that both women were condemned for…well, for being women and having bodies.  Because we’re taught that we live in a rational world, where being embodied is inappropriate.  But appropriate clothing is relative. Showing ankles was once thought to be inappropriate. But women were treated unfairly even when wearing habits. Women were always supposed to be subdued beings.  Emily Post once claimed that a woman shouldn’t laugh, she should titter.  Good for Emily.  Let her titter.  I prefer to laugh.

In the past few weeks, I have been of the opinion that I seriously don’t get the mainstream media and it’s prudish yet frenzied urge to make a big noise about sexuality.  Women dancing on stage are a threat, to what, who knows, but a threat.  Women posting photos in private spaces should know better.  And women walking down the road, well we all know women should stay at home, lock the doors and remain isolated from the rest of society.  Why?  I am not quite sure.  But it wouldn’t point to a society where women are free to show power and independence.

No matter how defiant any person who has been exposed and violated may feel, the fact that she can say so doesn’t mean progress.  It simply means one woman refuses to carry the shame of somebody else’s betrayal upon her own shoulders.  Good for her.  But it doesn’t mean society has become more respectful of women or sexuality.  And telling people who have objectified her exactly what they have done does not symbolize a turning point for women.  It simply means a single actress has got the correct idea that her body is her own, as she’s always maintained.  Let’s hope more women feel less ashamed when violated.

I cannot believe, when we live in a world where there is war, trafficking, starvation, violence against children and an environmental crisis, that people can spend so much time obsessing about what women should or should not wear.  Isn’t there something better to do?  A homeless person who might like a cup of tea?  An old person who feels lonely and may like some company?  Children who could learn to read with a little more help, and therefore be able to cope better at school?  Surely this is so much more real than whether Miley’s shorts are too short, or muslim women wear a veil?  In other words, surely each woman’s clothing, whether it represents too much or too little when compared to social norms, could be her choice.  And the rest of the world could become preoccupied with something which makes people’s lives better instead of worse.

Any society preoccupied with what women wear (if anything) no matter how well intended, has lost focus on the fact that there should be a voice for every person.  Women do not need to be filled with shame over clothing, hairstyle, race or any other aspect of gender related norms.  Sure, there are norms, but dominant norms are not the only option.  And the majority of people criticized or stigmatized for doing such things as dancing, taking private photos or wearing a veil are not going against social norms in harmful ways.  They are making choices.  And if women making choices about their own bodies is the cause of such admiration, scorn, revulsion or dismay, well then I don’t think we live in a world with an increased value in women’s choices at all.  Quite the opposite actually.  A woman making choices with regards to her own life should be seen as quite normal.  And if it isn’t, there is still a long way to go when it comes to social justice.

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Agents of Change Project

Agents of Change (AoC) is a Social Sculpture process in which all people are invited to think and shape responses for the transformation of the causes of Climate Change, in view of shaping a human and ecologically sustainable future. AoC South Africa has being doing this wonderful work and invites all interested people to participate.  Thank you to Danny Attfield for making this lovely film.
AoC is a creative initiative of the Social Sculpture Research Unit, Earth Agenda and University of the Trees.

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Avatar…how do we live in the world?


Bron Taylor has a book called Avatar and Nature Spirituality, and I am looking forward to reading it.  This is partly because I was inspired by his work on The Dark Green Religion, and the chapter on surfing as a form of connectedness to earth. It is partly because it offers many different views and perspectives on a movie I have watched over and over again, and seen differently each and every time.

I watched Avatar while I was (supposed to be) working on my thesis, and the message that westerners may just have something to learn from ‘other’ people was an inspiring one. Particularly because the cultural arrogance of western colonialism had become mind-numbingly boring.  Jake Sully’s statement that the Navi would never negotiate peacefully with outsiders because those outsiders had nothing at all to offer seemed particularly relevant.  And yet, sociological argument stated that Avatar was just another movie about a ‘white’ man who saved the day.  Just like in Dances with Wolves.

It’s a perspective which has to be taken into account.  I didn’t watch Dances with Wolves.  But I did read the book, and there, John Dunbar doesn’t save anybody.  Instead, he abandons his post and becomes a deserter.  Accused of this, is afraid that his presence as a ‘white’ man will bring danger to the community he lives with.  He believes the only solution is for him to leave and go somewhere else.  He remains, but only because the old leader decides it should be so, and that the soldiers he so fears will simply see an “Indian” warrior, and his wife.

Like Jake Sully, John Dunbar saw a different world, and one he was more comfortable with.  He didn’t believe that the way he had once lived was best, and this was what I had so appreciated when I’d read the book as a teenager.  And this was what I loved about Avatar too, the learning of a different world, where a man without his machines was as lost and defenseless as a child, and very nearly did not survive his first night in the jungle.

In my interpretation of Avatar, Sully didn’t save the day, he merely knew the threat that the army of invaders could present.  He rounded up the tribes in a hope that numbers would count, but in many ways, they did not.  As I saw it, it was Eywa who sent animals to defeat the invaders.  Although Sully did speak to Eywa, asking her to access the memories of a colleague whose spirit had been taken into the tree of life, in order to see the danger presented by the invaders, he didn’t lead anybody to victory.  Without the tree of life, and her intervention, all seemed lost.

There are many different interpretations of Avatar, and I would like to read all of them.  But the part which stood out for me was the need to take a reflexive gaze to the way that we live with our world.  The Navi didn’t believe that the invaders’ knowledge was superior.  And through Jake Sully’s eyes, the audience didn’t either.  We hoped that the planned invasion of Pandora through brute force, aimed at the exploitation of resources, would not be successful.  We got to see that invasion, conquer, and the construction of the Navi as a threat, was about land theft and destruction.  And when we looked at the relationship people had with this land, we realized the cruelty which comes with displacing people from their homes.

For me, Avatar was less about the heroic abilities of Jake Sully, and more about the questions of how we live in the world (and how we’d like to live), and what we are missing out on.  Sully taught us an awareness of a sensual world, a space where the earth under his feet felt alive, birds ruled the skies, and he had to tune into the environment, the presence of animals, and a deeper sense of awareness.  We are alive in a world where, as David Abram explains in The Spell of the Sensuous, we live with multiple other beings, and other forms of intelligence.  Nature is often very much more powerful than we are.

What does it mean to kill off the world, other people, and to place life on various hierarchies?  Avatar explains that it can only lead to destruction of life, of all that is sacred.  And it asks us to pause, and to reflect on this.  Sully may have been a hero in his own imagination, but he too struggled for breath and needed oxygen to stay alive.  Although western culture has divided mind and body, and declared rationality to be superior, Sully showed us we are nothing if we cannot breathe.  He also showed us how easy it is to imagine a different world, and bring that world to life, one step at a time.

How do we live in the world?  What do the injustices we see around us actually mean, and what can we do about them?  What is truly sacred?  What do we really need?  These were the questions I asked while watching Avatar.  I look forward to reading the questions other people asked, and seeing their interpretations on a movie I found very interesting enough to watch multiple times.

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Consuming the Future

Originally posted on EcoPost:

Chantal Lyons is currently taking an MSc in Environment, Science and Society at University College London, having previously earned a degree in Politics from the University of Nottingham. She follows and writes on a variety of environmental issues, including poaching, overfishing, deforestation and climate change.

In September, Matt Ridley writing in The Times said:

‘There is almost a perfect correlation between the severity of conservation problems and poverty, because the richer people get, the less they try to live off the land and compete with nature — the less they seek bushmeat and charcoal from the forest’(1)

There are so many things wrong with this statement that it’s hard to know where to start. I’m presuming that Ridley hasn’t noticed any of the environmental crises that have reared their heads over the last century or so, including but not limited to anthropogenic climate change, overfishing, and the trade in…

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United Nations Climate Summit Opening Ceremony – A poem to my Daughter


Beautiful poem.

Originally posted on IEP JELTOK:

On 23 September 2014, I  addressed the Opening Ceremony of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit. I performed my new poem entitled “Dear Matafele Peinem” written to my daughter.

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Revolutionary Daily Thought

Originally posted on Moorbey'z Blog:

“Life is not what you alone make it. Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it.  We are all part of one another”.  Yuri kochiyama

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Re-membering the world around us

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What does it mean to re-member the world around us, the people from the past, and the children yet to be born?  I was lucky enough to attend a heritage day assembly at Rondebosch East Primary School, because the Agents of Change Project was donating a tree.  The tree, a South African olive, is symbolic of peace.  It is also a reminder of all of the life which exists around us, and the need for clean air and water, so that we can create a greater sense of social equality.

Tomorrow is heritage day in South Africa, and the children reminded us of the many voices and perspectives which shape our society.  They also reminded me of the importance of living consciously, and ensuring that their future will be one where their right to a just and sustainable world is taken into account.

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“We are better together,” when all perspectives are taken into account, and all voices are free to share, offering up possibility and new ways of viewing the world.


On Sunday, our Agents of Change group thought about public transport or walking, rather than using cars.  Many people in South Africa don’t have a choice to drive cars to get to where they are going.  This sometimes means having to walk in the rain, take transport after dark, or walk a distance of the way home.  And yet, on the Sunday night Cape Town train, we were a part of a compartment filled with vibrant people, sharing or speaking about their days.  Some were people returning from work after a long day, and some people were traveling from different countries.  One man told stories about his past, while living in Kennilworth, an promised a fellow traveler some red roses next time he saw her.

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The views from the train, when going along the coast, from Muizenberg to Simons Town, are astonishingly beautiful.  To have the choice to travel this way, to have the time to take an afternoon to look at the view, and to spend time on the beach is a privilege.  It is something not every person gets to do, or take part in.


An awareness of how we live, and are able to live in the world feels so important when it comes to heritage day.  Social justice and the life around us, both human and non-human, are deeply intertwined.  When I started to focus on environment and the natural world, some people started to question, and to ask ‘why?’ And I get that.  It’s easy to be despondent when thinking about the injustices people face, often on a continual basis.

And yet, people and environment are closely intertwined.  The First Strike Campaign explains that a person’s first act of violence is often committed against an animal.  The world of beauty, which often aims to create anxiety within women also often uses animals to test harmful products.  Developments which threaten forests and wild life often mean cruelly and forcibly removing people from their homes. Large corporations who produce GM crops also reduce opportunity for small scale organic farmers to sell produce competitively.


As a part of the natural world, people need clean water and clean air in order to live healthy lives.  In a project carried out in Cape Town on behalf of the Humane Education Trust, it was shown that children who were taught how to care for animals valued not only those animals, but their own lives more too.

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Building a more compassionate world works towards deeper value for all life, human and non-human.

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out

(Lyrics from Beautiful Day, by U2).

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