Not all of us are the owners of vast financial fortunes. We may not consider ourselves to be wealthy. Some of us may have limited monetary resources. However, each and every person needs to protect their family members by drawing up a Legal Will. Also, more recently, a Living Will has become an essential ancillary document to be considered. It acts as a directive for our families if we should develop a long term terminal condition. A Living Will can save a great deal of emotional turmoil if we should be in a state when we are not of sound mind to make our own decisions.

Making use of Opportunities

So when I heard that a local Care Organisation was offering a presentation from an attorney who specialises in this area of advice giving, I decided it would be a good idea to go along and enhance my awareness of these two relevant documents.

Unexpected Insights

While I have drawn up a will based on the counsel of my Financial Advisor, I had not sought the advice of someone who is professionally trained in the rules and regulations around the drafting of a will, so decided to attend the meeting to enhance my knowledge on this topic.

As it happened, I learned something profound from a member of the audience, Kate Brown of Fiscal Private Client Services, who is a financial planner.  She is particularly focused on tuning into the emotional needs of her clients From Kate I gleaned a thoughtful lesson.  It is so important for professional people who are giving technical advice to be tuned in to the nuances of family relationships.

The South Africa Reality

Many senior South Africans have been called geriatric orphans.   They may have middle aged children who have traversed continents and live together with their offspring all over the world.   The apartheid era which started in this country in the later 40’s was the predominant political perspective for the next 50 years.   Many people growing up during this time were pessimistic about their future in this country.    As a consequence many senior South Africans have their grown up children living in different parts of the world.

So, our senior population may have had three or four children, but because of the prevailing political insecurity most of their offspring may have left the country.   Frequently just one of the children remains behind and this person’s job becomes caring for the ageing parents.

When paying their regular visits to their parents, these ‘overseas’ siblings may well question the ‘local’ sibling who has the caring role.   This could be in the field of finances, or health or any other meaningful supporting function played by the remaining child.

Sensitivity or Role Players

This local sibling is playing the numerous roles which, in different circumstances, may have been shared by all the family members.   The home resident, may feel exploited and becomes hyper-sensitive to any comments made by their visiting relative.    A casual suggestion can easily be misinterpreted as being a criticism of the single overworked care person.

It was in this situation that Kate, as financial planner, pointed out the role played to ease the situation.  This potentially hurtful scenario can be anticipated.  The caring professional can offer a warning to all concerned about possible comments and questions so that each player can be sensitised to the possibility that a casual, well-intentioned remark will not be unnecessarily received as a criticism.   In this case a warning offered in anticipation may be of great assistance.

Living Will

There were many questions asked about the validity of a Living Will. Each country will have its regulations regarding this document.  However, if you live in South Africa then a model document is obtainable on the internet from this site

There are five good reasons why a Living Will has become important for all senior citizens to consider in this era of advanced medical knowledge.

  1. It allows everyone to make his or her intentions known at a stage when they are still lucid. A statement as to whether or not you wish to be kept on artificial life support may well be appreciated by your family if you should in the future lose your ability to make decisions for yourself.
  2. You will save your close relations from having to debate whether or not to prolong your life artificially. This document may protect them from many emotionally straining discussions.
  3. It will ensure that excessive expenditure is avoided to extend your life if this is not your wish.
  4. You can make your own decision as to whether or not you would like your organs to be offered for saving the lives of other patients.
  5. Making a Living Will protects you from worrying about what may happen if you become unable to make decisions for yourself. This document can bring you peace of mind.

The Role of Professionals

A chat with the attendees at the end of this productive session of current advice left me feeling more confident of making plans for any potential end of life scenario I may experience.

I felt grateful to be in the company of some wise professionals who can offer guidance in a caring and non-judgemental manner.

 

Chantell Ilbury is considered to be one of Africa’s most creative strategic thinkers.    This modest and attractive young woman spoke at a meeting under the banner of the Cape Town University of the Third Age, at our local Baxter Theatre.

Scenario Planning

What a treat it was! Chantell is consulted by major companies all over the world, who seek her advice on the possible happenings in the realm of scenario planning. In this role, she makes predictions about the most significant changes that are likely to happen in the next five years in all fields of human endeavour. She is consulted by major businesses all over the world to advise them on the way forward.

Chantell shared with us some of the ‘flags’, she and her partner Clem Sunter study in their role as scenario planners. They make predictions about the most significant changes that are likely to happen in the next five years in all fields of human endeavour.

The Flags 

  1. The Religious Flag: The biggest danger to watch is Iran. If this country should follow through with any of its aggressive threats to attack Israel or the USA, then the price of oil will be heavily implicated.
  2. Trade War Flag: They need to watch what is going on between the USA and China, each of whom wishes to dominate in this arena.
  3. Environmental Flag: We are already seeing dramatic floods, heatwaves and droughts, yet the denialism of President Trump needs to be monitored. The role of young people is proving significant in this area.
  4. The Ageing Flag: This is described as a ‘clockwork’ feature – it moves steadily in one direction. The proportion of aged in the populations can be monitored and is becoming greater, and this creates a burden on the younger generations
  5. Anti-Establishment Flag: We are going through a stage of Populism, where the elite are being maligned. The role of President Trump in the USA  and Boris Johnson in Britain are taking the Western World into this somewhat regressive posture.
  6. The National Debt: Today this figure is increasing, and many of the world’s leading countries carry a foreign debt of over 60%

What about Africa

Chantell informed us of the aspirations of the African continent. I learned about the African Union Agenda for 2063, which envisions an integrated and prosperous merger of member states during the next couple of decades. This bold aspiration is planned to commence with an economic merger. It is hoped that the warring factions will be silenced and the 54 countries of Africa will have initiated a range of co-operative ventures across the board.

In fact the front page of today’s daily newspaper Cape Times carries news of the 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) which opens for a three day conference in Cape Town today.   Over 1000 delegates, global leaders in government, business and civil society, have gathered to explore the creation of inclusive sustainable growth for the countries of Africa.

Education

Chantell Ilbury, together with Clem Sunter are in the process of visualising an educational strategy for high school students. They feel that too much attention is given to learning factual material, and not enough to encourage the thinking strategies of today’s young people.

Isiah Berlin was a prominent philosopher at Oxford University when Clem studied there in the 1960s. He wrote a book which he called The Hedgehog and the Fox. This title was based on a quotation of the Greek poet Archilocus nearly 2700 years ago who realised, “The fox knows many little things, the hedgehog one big thing”. Scenario planners fall into the category of foxes. They are able to adapt their preferences according to prevailing conditions. Surely this demands a fresh educational perspective! This is what this talented duo are fostering in this rapidly changing world.

Charles Darwin spoke about the “Survival of the Fittest” This does not refer to the strongest members of society, but to those individuals who are able to adapt to changing circumstances. The species who were able to make rapid changes in a competitive environment are those who will stay ahead of the game. Our world is changing faster and faster as each year passes. I remember being fascinated by a course I studied in the 1950s about Social Change. We were told even then that technology changes faster than our ability to absorb the changes. How much more significant is that concept today. Social media influences need to be monitored by citizens with flexible minds who can adapt to the ever-evolving technological innovations.

Karl Popper divided the world’s phenomena into ‘clocks’ which could be analysed according to the parts which move and are relatively predictable, and the ‘clouds’. The latter category tends to be random events which follow no rules. Children need to understand the relative effect of both these types of events

David Hume is remembered for his 18th century postulation, “Reason is the slave of passion”. The earlier that children understand the difference between our conscious and our unconscious motivation, the better their chances of thriving in today’s world.

The partners in scenario planning have already introduced this program called “Growing Foxes” in a private school in London.  They are now negotiating for their program to be introduced into South African Schools.

It was indeed encouraging to learn about this relevant and creative approach to emphasising contemporary, relevant criteria within the field of pedagogics. It promises to assist our youngest generation to make better decisions about their own lives. In addition, they are helped to make well reasoned decisions regarding the ecological impacts of today’s lifestyle.

In Conclusion

It was most reassuring to learn these two progressive thinkers are prioritising a sustainable educational policy for today’s youth. May there be more practical and academic participants performing this crucial role of educating the youth, and advising on future scenario planning.

I had planned to concentrate on doing my weekly blog post first thing this morning. Not to become diverted by any other chores. However, it is now two hours later, and I have not yet started on my noble intention.

Some Diversions

Checking up on Croquet Result

Against my better judgement, I took a sneak preview of my inbox. No, I would not open any emails, but I would just check in case there is something personal requiring an urgent response. My goodness me – here are the results from the Croquet Tournament I participated in on Sunday morning. I must just check in here quickly.

This competition takes place over four months – one session happening on the last Sunday morning of the month from June to September. It is crucial for me to take a sneak preview of how the 16 competitors fared in the 90 matches which have been played thus far. Results have come in for the three sessions that have now taken place.

How am I doing? Unfortunately, not too well! There seems to be an error here, so just a quick email to Judy to check she has added all the results correctly! And, a double check I have not misinterpreted her score table. I had better make a print out of this complicated score sheet.  It will make it easier for me to study these multiple recorded scores.

What does Ellen Want

Then I must just find out what this woman Ellen is all about. Her name caught my attention when I snatched a quick review of incoming emails. Yes, she had sent me 3 free PDF’s – instructions about how to become a better blogger. She is now telling me that if I read them, let her know which is the most useful to me, I will then get a free consultation worth $97! I am so tempted to go and skim them. But no, I will restrain myself.

The Phone now Interrupts

Now there is a phone call. “Can I come and fill in at a bridge game this afternoon,” queries the caller. “Sorry,” I respond, “I have a commitment with my granddaughter this afternoon.” “Oh,” says my inviter, “I was just phoning anybody because someone dropped out of the bridge game this morning.”

Now I am really distressed. What does she mean by ‘anybody?’ I always thought I was ‘somebody’ and now I am being told I am ‘anybody’. Do I need to respond to this unconscious derogatory judgement from my caller?   Maybe I will let it pass.

Back to Blogging

I have been exploring the blogging scene for the past six months. No great results. Nothing too bad, either. I am trying to master Facebook in order to grow my following and have roped in my daughter’s young administrative assistant, to teach me how to integrate the Social Media into my repertoire of skills. Whew! It is quite a journey.

Facebook Challenges

How do people just pick up these skills and this knowledge?   Is it by trial and error? For me, it is far from intuitive. If truth were told, it is quite a slog. But then, this is all part of my aspirational lifestyle. I cannot preach the story about taking on new challenges if I personally shirk those opportunities. As a result of this blogging venture, I now have not only a personal Facebook page but A Mind of Grace page on Facebook, as well.  According to my teacher, I need to update these pages every day with enticing material. I need to like a whole bunch of new people. I have to respond to comments. I must comment on the blogs of other contributors. I need to update my profile. I must check up what people in my niche are doing. And, I thought this was going to be fun!

And Instagram as Well!

Now, my teacher wants me to become Instagram enabled, as well. Is it not enough that I use WhatsApp, and Facebook, and Blog? “No,” she says, “You need to use Instagram. That is where you need to be.” To use Instagram, you need to upload pictures from your cellphone. Now, that is a new activity for me. I can upload pictures from my computer, but for this social medium, I need to send them from my cellphone to the computer.

Skills New and Old

While I learned to touch-type 60 years ago, and can probably do about 40 words a minute on the keyboard, on the tiny cellphone, I can only input about 10 words a minute. This is excruciatingly painful. It is one thing to practice my croquet shots in order to improve my game, but do I now have to practice inputting data on my cellphone with my two thumbs? I suppose that is something for me to practice when I am in the bank waiting for my number to be called!

This is what Keeps me Going

Looking on the bright side, something exciting happened at 9pm last night. When checking my emails, I learned that the experimental blog I sent to Thrive Global has been accepted. So there I saw my piece on the prestigious site which is run by Adrianna Huffington.

My mamma may not be impressed, and my dadda may not be impressed, but I was pretty excited with this news. This exhilaration was because having been featured on Thrive Global I was being offered the facility to link my post on WhatsApp to my multiple contacts. Now, that was going to be fun. While it is not so great transferring data from WhatsApp to the computer, the reverse procedure was sure worthwhile. And, all I had to do was to follow the instructions sent by Thrive Global which were detailed on my screen.

Sometimes I become Over-excited!

I think I may have overdone it as the link was sent to all and sundry. Yes, the life of a blogger is not lacking in incident. The disappointment of not growing my list as fast as I would like to. The knowledge that I have so much to learn and master to be a ‘successful’ blogger. I need to create sales funnels, free offers, and lessons, and do surveys. The list does not end.

Completion

But, I have now written my morning blog! I have my first piece up on a prestigious website. So I am off to see the physiotherapist for treatment of my upper arm. This is an injury that has kept me off the tennis court for the past month. But, I will be back playing tennis soon as long as I am up-to-date with my blogging time-table!

I studied psychology in the 1950’s.  It was one of my majors for my BA degree. Today I was reminded on two discrete occasions about concepts I had studied six decades ago, which had not been part of my consciousness for many years.

Two Different Reminders

The first idea was mentioned in conversation by my croquet colleague who brought up the topic of lobotomy as a cure for depression.  Later, I received in my email an article from Big Think Edge on self-actualization.

My Gut Reaction

I was aware of my gut reaction when I became cognisant of these two diverse topics.   I remembered that lobotomy had become grossly discredited, while self-actualization evoked feelings of positivity.  I needed to follow up to verify my unconscious reaction to being reminded of these two concepts.

Lobotomy

It is for good reason that the brain operation known as lobotomy would evoke a feeling of disgust.   This intrusive brain surgery, performed under local anaesthetic, involved making two incisions into the skull, just behind the eyes, so that nerves of the frontal lobes could be severed.

The aim of this procedure was to relieve symptoms of distress displayed by mental illness.  It became thoroughly discredited only after many thousands of operations in both the UK and America during the 1940’s and the 1950’s.

How Effective was this Operation?

There was no cure in those days for people who were consigned to a mental asylum.  Once a patient entered the ward of such an institution, it became a virtual life sentence.  Following this procedure, it was found that 1/3 patients improved, 1/3 became worse, and 1/3 remained the same.   No research was ever conducted, and there was no follow up to this radical and irreversible surgical procedure.

Looking back, it is incredible that the medical profession sanctioned this irreversible operation.  The neurosurgeon would cut into a healthy brain to perform this procedure which today is considered an aberration.

What will our Grandchildren think about Today’s Medicine?

It makes one stop to ask, “I wonder if we are today performing medical procedure which may be considered horrific by our grandchildren!” Maybe we are.  It could be that chemotherapy will, in the future, be regarded as unnecessarily invasive. While this cancer treatment targets the fast growing cells of the tumour, it also destructs some healthy cells such as the hair follicles.   Maybe in 50 years’ time, this cure may be judged in the same way as we judge lobotomy today!

Self-Actualisation

How well I remember being introduced to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which culminated in the need for self-actualization.  I was excited when I first heard of this concept, and this feeling was re-evoked today.

As this diagram illustrates, it is postulated that man needs to satisfy his basic needs for food, water, and sleep at the most basic level.  When these life maintaining needs have been adequately gratified, then the next levels for safety, health and employment require sustenance. Subsequently, we have to cater to our social needs for friends and family. Having this level dealt with successfully, we proceed to achieve friendships and acquire the respect of our peer group.  Finally, we have this ultimate need for self-actualization; to achieve contentment and a feeling of fulfilment.

Latest Research on Self-Actualisation

When I received today’s email from Big Think, I was amazed to discover a report of new research performed in the past few years updating and reinforcing the merit of Maslow’s top postulated human need.

Now the psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, from Columbia University, has published a study that updates Maslow’s work.  Modern statistical methods have identified ten specific characteristics that are shared by self-actualized people.

Kaufman utilized surveys of over 500 subjects and identified ten characteristics that each make a distinct contribution towards self-actualization.  They are:

  • Continued Freshness of Appreciation
  • Acceptance
  • Authenticity
  • Equanimity
  • Purpose
  • Efficient Perception of Reality
  • Humanitarianism
  • Peak Experiences
  • Good Moral Intuition
  • Creative Spirit

What is particularly interesting about these qualities is that they tie in so well with the newest research into today’s favoured field of Humanistic Psychology.  In addition, these are the qualities cherished by those of us who practice Mindfulness! Those who search for Happiness!

In Kaufmann’s words

“A good way to start is by first identifying where you stand on those characteristics and assessing your weakest links. Capitalize on your highest characteristics but also don’t forget to intentionally be mindful about what might be blocking your self-actualization. Identify your patterns and make a concerted effort to change. ”

You can take his Test

To take the test of self-actualization yourself, go to Barry Scott Kaufman’s website.

Valuing Self-Actualisation

It is very satisfying to have the opportunity to review the manner in which the concept of self-actualization has re-emerged so many decades later.  Unlike lobotomy this concept has stood the test of time.

Enriching my Understanding

In fact, it has given me an insight into my understanding of myself.  Those of you who have been reading my blogs for the past few months may recall my ponderings regarding my competitiveness. I have often wondered why it is that at my advanced stage of life, I still need to enter competitions to demonstrate my prowess at the game of croquet.  Now I have some insight.  Of course, it is all about self-actualization!

 

The term antifragility was introduced into the English language by Nassim Taleb when writing his book of the same name which appeared in 2013.   I was somewhat chuffed to learn about this concept as it verified an observation I had made some 50 years ago.

My Observation

It was in the early days of my marriage.  Divorce was not nearly as common as it is today. Despite this fact, I did have within my social circle, sufficient acquaintances who had decided to terminate their marriage. I remember giving some thought to the fate of children whose parents divorced when they were still young.   I had noticed that the children of my friends who emerged from a family of divorce were either better adjusted psychologically than the average child, or had a greater number of psychological difficulties than the most of their peers.

An example of Antifragility

How does this relate to antifragility, you may ask?  To understand this term, we need first to understand that things such as glass objects are fragile, while articles made of steel are strong and robust.  But, what do we call something which grows in strength when offered a series of moderate setbacks?   This is what antifragility is all about.   Interestingly enough Taleb recognised this condition in the banking system when he was a successful investor and studied the ups and downs of the stock market.

Psychological and Physiological Antifragility

I am, however, more interested in how the term anti-fragility helps us to understand both psychological behaviour and the physiology of the body.  Small struggles of the mind and body tend to make us stronger.   If your muscles are not used they become weaker.  If our muscles are overused they are damaged.  But if our muscles are used a little bit more each day, or each week , they then grow stronger.  The same can be said of the immune system.  A few germs in the environment are necessary for the development of immunity.

Returning to my Early Experience

To return to my observation of many years ago, I now have an interpretation for this early hypothesis.  If the amount of stress of their parent’s divorce is handled optimally, the children can emerge with greater resilience; they become antifragile.  However, if the stress of the divorce procedure is beyond the capacity of the child to process, then that child will suffer emotional damage.

Resilience and Antifragility

Linda Graham is an American psychologist who has written a brilliant book on resilience. She describes resilience as the learned capacity to cope with adversity. Developing resilience over one’s lifespan illustrates the concept of anti-fragility. Graham in her latest weekly blog was referenced a book written by Johnathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff called the Coddling of the American Mind In this book, the authors document how child-rearing practices in America are overprotecting growing children. Parents are not allowing them to experience the challenges which have been a traditional part of growing up.

Over-protection

Today parents are so concerned about the physical safety of their children that there is a tendency to overprotect them. As a result, today children in cities have to be under parental protection 24 hours a day.  Children are no longer allowed to be on the streets without adult supervision.  Parents can be punished for allowing their children to participate in activities that the current law considers to be dangerous.  Thus a child cannot be allowed to go to the corner shop to buy a pint of milk or a loaf of bread.  The growing child does not participate in the tasks which allow them to develop their independence. Several decades ago, a child reared in the city could go to visit friends in the local neighbourhood, play in the streets, or make their way to the park without adult supervision.   Today these growth experiences are denied because of what many people perceive as over-protective regulations.

A Commencement Speech

The benefits of encouraging an antifragile lifestyle are beautifully illustrated in the words of John Roberts, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, in his commencement speech to his son’s middle school:

He said, “From time to time in the years to come:

  • I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice.
  • I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.
  • Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. ·
  • I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and the failure of others is not completely deserved either.  ·
  • I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.
  • Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

The Reader’s Contribution

Would you like to share your experience of the role of antifragility in your own life?  Let the other readers know how you have benefitted from the challenges you have overcome. How you have emerged with greater strength?

Online Learning

What is Zoom?
I had a new experience today. Sandra Mackay of the Neuroscience Academy invited her past students to a zoom meeting.
In these an online courses Sarah teaches coaches the basic neurological principles behind behaviour change. Once they have acquired this knowledge, the coaches are empowered to motivate their clients by sharing with them with the underlying psychological and neurological principles of behaviour change. You can read about the course here; http://yourbrainhealth.com.au/work-with-me/neuroscience-academy/

What is a Zoom Meeting
I am not going to presume that all my readers are familiar with what a zoom meeting is all about. Those of you who are familiar with the concept and the experience can skip the next paragraph!
A Zoom meeting https://zoom.us/ is held on the internet. The initiator invites participants to join the meeting by sending an online email link together with the date and time of the proposed gathering. If recipients wish to join the meeting, they do not need to reply, they merely note the time and date and log in at the appropriate instant. Meetings can be held with just two people, or with scores of participants.
Today’s meeting
It was 8 o’clock in the morning for me in South Africa. For Sarah in Australia, it was just getting dark. Online were two women from Belgium, which is more or less my time zone! One of the ladies from Belgium was a teacher trying to revolutionise the conservative schooling system in Brussels. When I heard what she was up again with her progressive ideas, I was able to suggest that she has a look at some of Ken Robinson’s TED talks. Here is a brilliant presentation by Ken on bringing creativity into the school curriculum. It has had over 3 million times views: https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity
Ingrid also lives in Belgium. She spoke about the work she does with Ear Acupuncture and the healing of emotional trauma. She told us how she applied needles in the ear, which enables her to help her patients reduce anger, anxiety and trauma.
Amrith from India was the next person to introduce himself when he came online during his lunch break. He had completed Sarah’s course many years ago but still remained in touch with the teacher who had enriched his practice of alternative therapy. He was impressive in describing the relief he had given to his clients who suffered from both physical and emotional challenges.
Of course, I was also given the oppertunity to share my shenanigans with the assembled participants in the Zoom Room. I recounted my experiences with facilitating Couscous Ageing for Seniors. In these 2 hour discussion groups, participants are made aware of the neurological background of the ageing process. This knowledge and understanding help them devise a methodology of maintaining cognitive reserve, physical fitness and emotional resilience in their senior years.
The Expert’s Contribution
Sarah shared with us some of her accumulated wisdom. She had been participating in an Australian TV program in which Octogenarians and Nonagenarians were being interviewed. This series aimed to glean information about successful ageing. Emerging from her experience with this group, Sarah suggested that a mind of curiosity may be the critical quality that helps those in the latter decades of their life remain involved and committed in the ever changing contemporary environment.
Striking a receptive chord.
I agreed with her hypothesis. I have always taken pride in my belief that curiosity is one of my most positive characteristics. Sarah jogged my memory when she made this comment. I recalled the era when photocopying machines first arrived. I had taken my notes to a photocopy shop to have the minutes of the school committee meeting printed for the attendees, and I wondered, “Why does the assistant not ask me what my material is all about. Is he not interested in what I am copying?” My curious mind would continue, “If I were an assistant doing his job, I would want to know what is written on the page as well as the reason the customer needing this material.”
Another early memory popped into my mind. I recalled going to reserve a long distance bus ride from Cape Town to Johannesburg. It was at the time when businesses were just starting to use computers to enhance their services. My curiosity was aroused. I wanted to view the screen. However, all I could see was the back of the monitor. I had never even had sight of a computer screen and could only imagine what the assistant was viewing. I can still sense my frustration, my curiosity was not satisfied. I could not have sight of the screen.

Where is my curiosity taking me?

Perhaps trivial examples. But I am curious, and that is why I am starting to explore the methodology of sharing my accumulated knowledge and life experiences with online learners. I am planning to complement the face to face monthly meetings I have been running for the past 12 years, with some opportunities offered by current technology in the form of online tuition and zoom meetings!

Anyone who is reading this blog and has an idea what they might like to learn within my area of expertise is welcome to place suggestions in the Comment Box. I would love to hear from you!

I have something in common with both Winston Churchill and Oliver Sacks.   Yes I know I am neither a great politician nor an esteemed neurologist known for my brilliant essays written for the lay public.   However, all three of us suffer from a condition known as prosopagnosia, or “brain blindness”.   People suffering from this diagnosis have a malfunction of the fusiform gyrus, the specialised area of the brain which determines facial recognition.   This disorder puts us at a serious disadvantage in social situations and I have often been accused of being a snob, by the person I do not recognise.   I bit more understanding would be appreciated!

My niece, living in Canada, drew my attention to a mind engaging article by Robert Sapolsky entitled “The biology of Us and Them,” which highlights a further important function of the fusiform gyrus.  Because of the role that his small area of the brain plays in facial recognition, it, in turn, plays a role in the formation of social prejudice. We feel more positive towards people who look like us, as have a natural tendency to be more favourably disposed to those who have similar behaviour patterns as ourselves, as well as those who have a comparable appearance

As Sapolsky points out in his analysis, both humans and animals favour those of our species who are most like ourselves in their physical appearance.   Despite the fact that today many of us who live in big cities live in culturally diverse environments, most people will have more friends who bear a physical likeness to themselves, than those who differ in appearance.   No doubt education and familiarity helps us to minimise these barriers of physical appearance, but the gut reaction of the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for our unconscious reactions, will demonstrate during an experiment in an MRI machine, a definite preferential reaction to photographs of similar faces to the subject and those which differ in physical qualities.   There will be an instantaneous negative reaction to a physiognomy which differs from our own.   This reaction may be adapted when the subject allows cultural influences to overcome his initial prejudice.

From this theoretical understanding of an inherent bias which we possess for a preference to people who are both physically and culturally similar to us, I am going to introduce a contemporary controversy which has elicited heated debate.   Being a secular Jew the current events of the nation of Israel are of particular interest to me.   One of the most prominent political divides in politics in that country is around the treatment of the Arab citizens within the state of Israel. Such a controversy has erupted over the past few days.

With the elections coming up in next month, Netanyahu who has been the right wing president of the state for the past 14 years is being seriously challenged by a centrist party which is forming a coalition with some of the Arab political parties.   This has resulted in the prime minister supporting his colleague who has made some statements around the danger of the Israeli Arab Parties, with which his opponent intends to form a coalition.  Netanyahu feeling insecure about his political future has pointed out the danger of having Arab political parties as members of the ruling party.

Netanyahu was responding to comments on social media by Israeli TV presenter Rotem Sela who wrote on Instagram on Saturday, “When the hell will someone in this government broadcast to the public that Israel is a country of all its citizens? And the Arabs, God have mercy, are also human beings. So are the Druze, so are homosexuals and by the way so are lesbians….and, shockingly, the left.”   Both Gal Gadot, international star of the film Wonder Woman, and the President of Israel have support Sela

Netanyahu supports his comments by quoting the contents of the new Nation-State Law which was passed in Israel a few months ago and similar sensitivities were aroused.  This controversial law states that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. This is our state, the state of the Jews. In recent years there have been some who have attempted to cast doubt on this, and so to undercut the foundations of our existence and our rights. Today we etched in the stone of law: This is our state, this is our language, this is our anthem, and this is our flag.”

An unfairly brief background excursion into the historical background may help the reader understand this gut reaction of the Prime Minister.     The Jews have a 2000 year history of being discriminated against and have suffered, and fought long and hard for the Jewish state.   A sad reflection is that there needed to be a Holocaust and the murder of 6 million Jews to give the motivation for the UN to create the conditions for the creation of this Jewish Nation State.

I think that the amygdala of Jews has become super activated because of this difficult history.  There is an unconscious reaction when a Jewish person’s insecurity is threatened.   It is all due to so many years of being a nation of outsiders.     So whilst I can agree with Galot, Siler and the President for their support of universal human rights, the rights of Arab citizens within the state of Israel, I can also understand the biological basis of the gut reaction of Israelis who feel that their culture and lifestyle is being threatened by giving political power to the Arab parties.

 

I was initiated into Mindfulness and Meditation through an academic route by undertaking a two year diploma course at our local university.   However, I have become aware of the debt that is owed to Buddhism for its unique and valuable contribution to our present understanding of the human condition, so have frequently attended meditation sessions at a local Buddhist Centre.  When I learned that this centre has a Bardo group which meets monthly, my curiosity was piqued and I had my initiation into a Death Café this afternoon.

Death and dying form an integral part of the Buddhist tradition, a subject which is openly discussed in the East, but a topic that is surrounded by taboos in the West and only vocalised under very explicit circumstances.   I have attended numerous meetings at this particular Buddhist Centre and meditate there regularly, but was feeling a little out of my comfort zone attending this gathering which was so boldly and openly being called a Death Café.   Curiosity and my need to experience novel events allowed me to overcome my trepidation.

Between death and our next rebirth the Tibetans believe we experience an intermediate gap; this gap is called the Bardo.    Whilst I do not have a belief in rebirth, I was interested to learn the Buddhist way of supporting people in the last stages of their earthly existence.   The term bardo can additionally be more loosely used for describing any space that occurs between two states.   The transition from sleep to wakefulness, or the interval between meditating and coming back to interacting with the present moment, are also considered to be states of Bardo.

A group of about fifteen people were gathered for the meeting which the facilitator opened with some guidelines for the participants. She informed us that there were other Death Cafés operating in and around Cape Town.   Each gathering followed its own procedures and there did not exist any ideal protocol or favoured procedure.   Without being prescriptive a Death Café is a space for the participants to share their ideas and emotions around their personal experiences of the death of loved ones, with participants acting as support for each other.   It is a space in which people are encouraged to talk about their own experiences, rather than to engage in deep psychological theory.   People from all religious denominations are welcome to the group which includes non-believers and sceptics, as well.  The usual rules around confidentiality were mentioned as well as the need for everyone to be given a chance to express themselves.

The rationale for people attending this Saturday afternoon meeting were many and varied, as were the ages of those present which ranged from a young woman in her 20’s, to others of middle age and a few seniors, as well.

Many of the more senior participants spoke about their difficulty in disposing of their physical possessions.   One lady spoke about how she had sold many hundreds of books, but still had many beautiful books, illustrated with beautiful Tibetan objets d’art which she never looks at, but she nonetheless could not bear to part with them.   A middle aged gentleman spoke about how his memorabilia were packed away in a large bin in his garage.   He knew he would never look at the contents but was unable to part with material of such a personal nature.   Someone else spoke about her elderly mother spending time sitting in her wheel chair in the garage.   Her redundant possessions were stored in this external area and she spent time sharing the space with her beloved possessions.

It made me wonder whether this attachment to objects was a characteristic of this particular generation.   With today’s move toward minimalism, maybe the present generation of young people will not have the same feelings about their possessions when they reached the end of their life!

I became aware of the value of placing my reminiscences into a digital format with my personal blog posts living in an electronic format which does not pollute any land space.    Whilst listening to these reports about hanging on to belongings, I felt pleased I had instructed friends and family some years ago to forgo giving me presents on the occasion of my birthday.   I had reached the stage where physical things had started to lose their importance.   I have everything I need.

Varied experiences of difficulty around the acceptance of death were articulated.   In one instance the daughter did not want to discuss the funeral arrangements with her elderly mother.  This lady had definite ideas around how this last rite should be commemorated and because of her daughter’s reluctance to speak about it she had written detailed instructions to be followed on her death.   In other instances participants mentioned the problems they had when elderly family members were not prepared to accept they were at the last stage of their life.   They refused to talk about arrangements around their death.

There were differing opinions on the terminology to use in describing the state of death.   Someone took strong exception to bereaved people talking about their next of kin as having “passed on.”   She felt the use of the direct terminology was important.   “People do not pass on,” she proclaimed, “people die.”   No euphemisms were permissible for this lady.

The constructive meeting ended with the facilitator giving us the chance to quietly attend to any strong feelings we may be experiencing and to consciously and mindfully accept their presence as an integral part of the human condition.   I may well attend a similar meeting in the future.   The discussion was valuable.

“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.” — Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Harry Leslie Smith aged 95, has just died, and this portrait of him is culled from an article by Paul Hunter written in The Star on November 28th 2018.

I have taken particular inspiration from this story, not only because I share my surname with this man, but because at the age of 80 I have been motivated by my Memoir Writing Teachers to share my story with the world.   If Harry Smith can do what he has done when he is in the 10th decade of his life, I can surely get my story out there in the 9th decade of my journey on this planet.

Smith has brought up in England in poverty and saw his sister die of tuberculosis at the age of 10 years because there was no health system to assist her.    By a stroke of luck, his parents inherited some money allowing them to move to the New World.    Harry’s father earned sufficient as a carpet maker to develop in his son, the desire to help those people not as fortunate.

On retirement, Harry Smith was motivated to write his story when his wife died of tuberculosis and his middle son of three, who was battling schizophrenia, died of lung disease.   His self-published book drew the attention of The Guardian and he was then invited to write a regular column.

Harry became an activist in his 90’s when he and his son travelled to the Mexican border to publicise the conditions of refugees trying to enter the USA.   They documented the injustice, cruelty and inhumanity experienced by the potential migrants.   He opened a Twitter account and his admirers ranged from teenagers to geriatrics.

In paying tribute to his father, John Smith describes Harry as, “My best friend, my political comrade and my mentor, who I had the great fortune to accompany on a spiritual and political odyssey that spanned the last nine years of his life.”

Harry’s mission as a survivor of The Great Depression and World War II was to ensure that his past which was ravaged by austerity, lack of health care and intemperate populism, did not once again engulf the world.   Harry feared that at this juncture in history the world was in a similar situation as when Hitler took over control of Germany.   At the age of 91, Harry Smith was invited to speak in the British Houses of Parliament where he warned of the dangers faced by the National Health system.   He received a standing ovation when he opened the eyes of the Members of Parliament to the potential of social services being eroded.

“I would like to feel, when I go, that my life meant something,” he said. “I have seen changes happening; I need to warn ordinary people of the potential significance of the erosion of traditional values.”    It is rare to find a person in his 90’s who is prepared to travel the world in order to fulfil his personal ideology.

The past six days have been spent on beautiful green lawns competing in the Western Province Croquet Association’s Annual Tournament.   In order to play in the four events for which I am eligible I put aside four days of my schedule, which were freed of any other commitments.

The trip to the venue for the competition in Somerset West takes about an hour – a little more or a little less depending on the traffic.   The unpredictability of the journey required an early rising of 6.30am with the return home in the late afternoon in time to take the dogs for a walk.   Whilst anticipating this competition, which takes place in the height of the South African summer, I was concerned about the degree of heat with which I may have to cope.    Luckily all four days were comparatively mild and my energy which was supplemented by liberal quantities of isotonic liquid held out.

What I had not anticipated was that I would enter into the quarter-finals of the Handicap Doubles Event.   My partner and I won our round robin section in the initial rounds which meant that on the fifth day we were required to play in both  the quarter-finals and the semi-finals.  As we were successful in both these matches we had to return for the sixth day to play in the finals at nine o’clock in the morning.

I am trying to work out what motivates me to take that supreme amount of effort to participate in competitive play and undergo the nervousness experienced during the game, when an 80 years old lady could well be sitting at home in front of the TV.   I may mention at this point that I do not possess a TV.   I source my daily news from a local newspaper or the internet, and my entertainment comes from online channels such as TED and YouTube.

My partner Raegan Malenga for this competition is a 32 year old refugee from the Congo who has been living in Cape Town for the past five years and works as a painter – decorating buildings from eight in the morning until six in the evening.   A series of events, the details of which I have not been able to totally unravel from this young man whose mother tongue is French, has resulted in him taking up residence in the tool shed of our local croquet club.   Living on the premises for the past six months, he has had the chance to practice his croquet regularly, whilst he has taken over some of the responsibility for maintaining the lawns as well as the club house.  He has mastered the game so well that I invited him to partner me in the recent competition.   It is a great feeling to know I assisted a young person to achieve something that is unheard of in his community of birth.   However,  that is not enough to get me up early in the morning six days in a row and negotiate the early morning traffic.

So, there must be something about the game of croquet that motivates me.   Or maybe something about my personality make up.   As it is easier for me to analyse the game of croquet, than my personal motivation, let me indulge in an exploration of the dynamics of the game of croquet.

It is a slow game, bearing some resemblance to golf as you hit the ball with a specialised instrument with the aim of moving it thought a hoop rather than dropping it into a hole.   However in golf you are not allowed to hit your partner’s ball, in croquet part of the skill is to move your partner’s ball as far away from the hoop as possible, whilst retaining your ball in a position to go through the hoop.   The decision as to whether to hit your partner’s ball away, a defensive shot; or promote your ball closer to the hoop which is constructive, is always a judgement and in integral part of the strategy of the game.   The mental agility required in making this decision is certainly part of the attraction of croquet as far as I am concerned.

One needs a fair amount of skilled physical co-ordination in order to hit the ball accurately.   This may involve a gentle hit to block the opponent’s route to the hoop, or a highly energetic movement to remove your opponent’s ball far away from the hoop.   This is where Raegan has developed over six months to be able to compete against the best players in the Western Cape.   Living at the club, he practices daily and his accuracy at hitting the opponent away, and his shots at the hope have a high percentage of success.

A fascinating aspect of croquet is the slowness of the game which allows for a partnership to share their ideas about strategy before taking each shot.   The rules of the game allow 60 seconds between shots for partners to discuss the various possibilities available to them.   So whilst verbal interactions before taking a shot are part and parcel of the game, stillness and silence are required when your opponents are playing.

Having indulged myself in an analysis of some of the highlights of croquet, I am starting to understand the rationale for my enjoyment of the game.   However my need to play competitively needs further analysis.   I believe this challenge has something to do with the neurotransmitter of dopamine, the detailed role can be understood by studying the intricacies of the physiology of the reward system.   This nuanced topic will be undertaken in a future blog post.