theoryofmind
My ultra-personal inner monologue

Feb
15

Last night Kay made one of those comments that I absolutely love her for. Perhaps I enjoyed the comment just because I want to hear it. But I like to believe I enjoyed it because it’s true.

On third thoughts, perhaps I enjoyed it because I want to hear it and it’s true. They’re not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Let’s despatch with all the needless etymology and discuss her statement.

She complimented me (tremendously) by saying that I put as much work – if not more – into our family as most highly successful people put into their careers. If I divert my energy and focus from my personal life to my career I would be hugely successful in whatever I chose to do.

Admittedly there is a negative view as well – not being ambitious enough – but within context she was thanking me for supporting her during an immensely difficult time at work.

Of course it boosts my ego (a lot), but that does not make the comment less truthful. It’s heart-warming that my efforts get noticed, as I do our in huge amounts of energy into our family.

She suggested that sometime in the future, as the children grow up and become more independent, I’ll be able to focus all my attention to my career.

I’m looking forward to that day with glee, but for now I have as much delight in my family’s well being.

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Feb
09

‘You have a way with words’ my wife said after defusing an extremely volatile situation with my (sometimes) thoughtless mother-in-law.

Since childhood I have been able to influence – manipulate is so unnecessarily negative – the feelings and emotions of my family. Practising on my brother, I was able to make him cry at will. I learnt very early on how to steer the thoughts as well as emotions of my parents.

Loved ones were even easier, and I used to be able to pilot a shouting match like a redneck in a swamp. It would seem that the closer the person is to me, the more I am able to sway their emotions.

With my daughters it seems to be the closet I’ll ever get to directly control someone else’s emotions.

If all of this appears flippant or callous, it is because of the reader’s own need for power. As I realised this power at an incredible age, it has always been a part of my make up but also of my reality. It is as natural for me as running: I couldn’t always do it, and I won’t always be able to, but it is still a part of what I am.

I don’t abuse it, and I never ever use it to the conscious harm of anyone. In fact quite the opposite: I go out of my way to try and improve the lives of those close to me.

This is also what prompted today’s entry: the realisation that I am extremely good at managing the relations around me and the emotions involved. I can think about my personal relations to people in strategic terms, and steer them in any long term direction I want. But I also have the empathic power to assimilate a loved one’s current state of being.

Part of the inspiration for this comes from Cory Doctorow’s concept of Whuffie. In a Bitchun society I would have been an extremely rich individual. All my success comes from helping people and improving their lives, improving their emotional states. Although I am atrocious at money – making it or managing it – I would be brilliant in an emotional rewards based society where it relies on the amount of support one provides.

Of course I sometimes regret not being a good moneymaker. If I could manage my career like I manage my life and my relationships, I am certain that I would be inordinately rich. As it stands I find myself completely euphoric in terms of my relationships.

Feb
05

The problem with online journalling is that I can’t always write down things as I think of them. Perhaps the old pen-and-paper routine with a little pocketbook has its advantages?

To be honest, though, it’s not really a problem of the medium, but rather the environment. I am connected for most of my day. In fact I’m only off-line while travelling to work and back, a measly two hours out of 24 not spent connected. At home I have two computers at my disposal, one of them my laptop (which I also have with me on the train).

In fact, I’m writing this post off-line, so I’m even maximising my off-line times!

The problem lies with my surroundings at work, for example. The open plan office – which grates my privacy loving soul – means I have very, very little time with my own thoughts at all. At home I’d much rather spend my time in the all enveloping company of my girls than capture my selfish thoughts.

Even those quiet times when one are alone tends to be taken up with regrouping and pulling together all the disparate pieces of the self.

It seems I need lead time to become myself again before I can write honestly. Ad there is so much living to do! So much to learn! So much to absorb! Even a creative soul has so much to take in, before the creative process can even start!

Let me take in some food now…

Feb
01

About ten years ago our philosophy professor prescribed his newly published book for our course on multiculturalism. The term assignment was to study it and write a critical analysis.

Instead of focussing on his theories and arguments about why multiculturalism has worked wonderfully in South Africa – this was only the middle nineties – I decided to take a different tack.

This well known South African philosopher had dedicated his book to the memory of his niece. She had been killed shortly before or during the writing of his book (if I remember correctly). In any case, the book started off with a beautifully moving inscription to this young girl whom the family obviously loved dearly. In class we were told by our professor that he was partly inspired by her and therefore dedicated this book on South Africa’s democratic success to the memory of his niece.

The main arguments put forth in the book was that multiculturalism was a roaring success, especially as witnessed in South Africa. After more than a decade my memory is a bit rusty, but what I remember from his classes as well was that South Africa is the quintessential example of how different cultures can live together harmoniously.

If this were true, why was his book on its success dedicated to his dead niece? She was murdered. Surely a book celebrating South Africa’s success should have an inscription to living people?

This post was partly inspired by an old Mail&Guardian article.

Jan
30

I hope people are not as critical of me as I am of them.

Then again, I never expect anything of anyone else that I don’t expect a hundred times more perfect from myself.

Jan
30

From Boswell’s ‘The life of Samuel Johnson’:

He [Johnson] expressed a particular enthusiasm with respect to visiting the wall of China. I [Boswell] catched it for a moment, and said I really believed I should go and see the wall of China had I not children, of whom it was my duty to take care. ‘Sir, (said he,) by doing so, you would do what would be of importance in raising your children to eminence. There would be a lustre reflected upon them from your spirit and curiosity. They would be at all times regarded as the children of a man who had gone to view the wall of China.

This very much reflects Kay and my views on children and happiness: happy, interesting parents make happy, interested children. We won’t limit ourselves or our own contentment because of our children – because of our children.

Jan
29

It’s not easy working for an ambitious American, especially when she’s older than I am and not a parent herself. She is well intentioned, but it’s still difficult to relate the priorities and difficulties of a working parent. Although she tries to understand, a natural misunderstanding exists which needs to be bridged first.

And of course she is an American, meaning the inevitable, predictable larger-than-life personality also comes into play. She knows what she wants, and she has very definite expectations.

On the other hand, our direct director (tautology?) is back after nearly a year’s maternity leave. As I have only been here for three months now, I obviously don’t know her from Adam. The first couple of days have been fine, apart from my usual slow start on relationships. However, it seems we’ll do fine and we’ve already started to build a good relationship.

It’s a vast difference from the tenured environment where I had a full time position. Currently we’re waiting with bated breath for the final negotiations on our contracts, as we’re not even sure whether it will be renewed, never mind the period. It is stressful, as one constantly has that at the back of one’s mind.

Jan
29

I have to stay disciplined an attempt daily posts on this blog. The last couple of days have been busy, and I have neglected all my blogs, at least not only this one.

On the train home, watching a video podcast of Newsnight discussing the closures of the military hospitals. The former chief of the general staff general sir Mike Jackson used a lovely phrase which I have all but forgotten: ‘…it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of man to devise a set of arrangements…’

Jan
27

As a born African – and having taught the brightest young technology minds in Africa for the last seven years, I am qualified to have an opinion on the future of Africa. At least, let me narrow it down to South Africa.

Westerners should stop measuring African success by European standards. Africa only has problems in the light of Europeans, and Africa only realised its problems after the Europeans arrived.

Before European colonisation, Africa was populated with civilisations who successfully survived for millennia. In fact, modern human life probably originated in Africa. Why suddenly the worry about what Africans do to one another? Who gives the Europeans the right to decide what is best for Africa, what moral standards they should use or how they should be governed?

It is all still part of our (European) Calvinist guilt-complexes. We colonised all these areas, then started feeling guilty, and then withdrew when it became too uncomfortable. Instead of completely ‘Europing’ the African continent, colonisation was a half hearted attempt. We withdrew too early.

Had the Europeans stayed longer, Africa might have been fully ‘westernised’ and it would have stood a chance. As it stands now Europeans were too cowardly to see it through, resulting in enough change to give Africans a taste for civilisation, but not enough change to complete the revolution from stone age to electronic age.

the best examples are South Africa, Australia and the United States. In these countries the colonialists had the longest run and could make a proper go at creating a ‘European’-like country. It is unfair to give Africa a taste of what it could be like (colonisation) and then withdrawing before the job is done properly.

Africa doesn’t need debt relief, it doesn’t need infrastructure, it doesn’t need any more Western interference. It needs to be left to its own devices and sort itself out. As soon as it is ready to play by modern rules, it can join the modern game. This is what some of the South East Asian countries decided in the middle of the previous century. Adapt or die. to reap ‘European’ benefits, you have to play by European rules.

This outpouring was inspired by a BBC blog on the World Economic Forum.

Jan
26

I found the Sadam video on YouTube today. It’s about two and a half minutes.

I have seen thousands of deaths on television. I have been on my knees – face against the wall and hands tied behind my back – with a gun at my head myself. Despite all of that, I am amazingly not desensitised.

I stopped the video before Sadam was executed.