Life Changes Enforced by the Lockdown

It is the beginning of week four of the South African lockdown, the government’s response to the Covid-19 virus infection.

“How am I feeling?” I ask myself. And, then I respond to my own question: “If I truly consider the present moment, I am excited about the new challenges that have come my way.”

Courses run by international educators are now being offered freely online. This means I have the opportunity to pursue my interest in developing my wisdom with an electronically delivered course – something which has not been available in the past.

In addition, I have caught up with people I have not managed to fit into my regular schedule. So, my social and learning connectivity has surely been enhanced.

The Zoom Room

Everyone is talking about Zoom these days. In truth, this app has been my biggest challenge and the source of multiple experiences, both negative and positive.

New technology, new adaptations to online facilitation, and learning how to accept disappointments and failures due to my lack of experience have been a constant lately.

For the past 14 years, I have been holding monthly meetings around my dining room table where a small group of seniors gathers to investigate what I call Conscious Ageing.

With physical distancing being the new norm, those monthly meetings have been transformed into weekly meetings held in my Zoom Room. What a challenge it is to make the transfer!

Things Going Wrong

Because of my new busy schedule, brought about by our new enforced lifestyle, I have been juggling with planning multiple meetings. This has involved connecting with someone in Johannesburg, as well as holding meetings with friends from all over the world.

Since all of this involves calculating time zones and some knowledge about the app’s options, I managed to get myself totally confused. The result was sending a number of unresponsive links to one of my friends, Coral.

A Shot of Dopamine

When Coral’s husband taught me how to bring someone into my ongoing zoom meeting, I experienced the reward of a shot of dopamine surging through my system. “Just look at the top left-hand corner,” he said to me, knowing I was in my Zoom Room.

“Click on the little white spot, and you will find the dropdown menu. There is the link to your current meeting. Just cut and paste the link into an email, send that to my wife, and she will join you right away.” And within a couple of minutes, Coral and I were having our planned meeting! Voila!

Facilitating an Online Meeting

The psychologists are all telling us that we cannot multi-task. I have noticed that when an organisation runs a meeting, one person is conducting the meeting and a colleague will be dealing with the technology.

But, I am a one-woman show.

I need to facilitate the meeting whilst muting and unmuting the various contributors, letting people from the waiting room into the meeting, keeping my eye on the chat, answering my cell phone when I am getting incoming calls to help with a technology problem, and maybe allocating participants into breakout rooms.

If this does not call for multi-tasking skills, then I must have missed something!

An Important Quality

In all the sources, to which I refer for guidance into the psychology of ageing, I have never encountered anything about the ability to tolerate the state of “not knowing.”

In today’s changing world, there is a constant need to be upgrading our skills and our values. I believe that senior people who are unable to embrace technology are those who find the feeling of “not knowing” too uncomfortable.

However, we now live in a rapidly changing world. Do we know what our life will be like once this severe lockdown ends? No.

We can project and have our ideas, but there is only one thing of which we can be certain: “We will all need to adapt to a changed lifestyle with new challenges on the road back to a fully functioning economy.”

If we are to adapt to the inevitable future changing lifestyles, we will need to learn to tolerate the quality of “not knowing.”   With practice and perseverance, learning will take place, goals will be reached.

 

“Your true purpose is found at the intersection of your greatest aliveness and the world’s critical needs.”  This statement was made by Frederick Buechner to define wisdom.

My Search for Wisdom

It was some years ago that I realised I had reached the stage of my life in which I was supposed to be wise.   However, I did not feel wise, so decided to make it my business to find out what this state of being was all about, and how I could acquire it.

I have always believed that it is easier to approach such a deep question in the company of others who have a similar mind-set.

Engaging with a group about Conscious Ageing

I approached our local University of the Third Age to let them know I wished to recruit members to explore both Wisdom and Conscious Ageing.    The group has been meeting now for the past decade, and has grown to incorporate new ideas as they become part of the present zeitgeist.

Wisely and Consciously Engaging with Today’s Existential Challenges

In the third decade of the 21st century, nothing is more important than coming to terms with the problems around climate change and carbon dioxide emissions.   Inspired by the clarion calls of Greta Thurber, Extinction Rebellion and other similar movements I have been researching what the present day elders are doing about these environmental threats.

The Role of the Unconscious in Understanding Climate Change Denialism

Jeffrey Kiehl worked for 30 years studying climate change.  He noticed that when he gave public lectures, his audience would become very uncomfortable when he offered them factual information about the dangers of the changing climate. His well researched scientific evidence made his audience uncomfortable, so they tended to reject the quoted statistics and factual information.   Kiehl decided this denialism must be related to unconscious feelings.  He was so keen to understand this rejectionist attitude that he changed career to study Jung’s Theory of the Unconscious. Today he is a respected Jungian Analyst.

How does the unconscious operate?

Studying Kiehl’s ideas has offered me a new understanding of why it is so difficult for many people, business leaders and politicians particularly, to accept the scientific data.   There is a human predisposition to reject information which makes us feel uncomfortable.    No one wants to change their lifestyle.   The public are frightened by the realisation they may have to consume less in the future in order to maintain a healthy environment.

Crises offer us an Opportunity for Change.

I am reminded of learning about Crises Intervention at the Child Guidance Clinic many years ago.   A good time to create changes in the attitude of emotionally disturbed children is when they are going through a personal crises.    Maybe the crises created by the present dangers of flood, famine and fire will help us to understand we all depend on each other to maintain conditions for sustainable life on this planet.  The Buddhists told us many years ago that all mankind was inter-related.   Ubuntu in Africa is based on this mutual interdependency.

In Conclusion

The Wise Elder needs to find avenues for co-operation with the younger members of the community to make progress in finding a way to work together to halt and reverse carbon dioxide emissions.

 

 

Man’s Footprint and its consequences

Do you believe there is a connection between the appearance of the virus that causes Covid-19 and the disturbance of the natural environment?  I posed this question recently in a meeting which had been transferred to an on-line app,  because of the current lockdown. The suggestions was met with silence other than the response of one participant who said, “Grace, do you believe there is an association?”    I could determine through the sound of his voice he was totally sceptical of my perspective.

“Yes,” I responded tentatively.   And then I found myself launching into my understanding of the present predicament. “I believe that because of our destruction of forests and savannahs, wild animals are venturing into populated areas, bringing us into the orbit of viruses which cause deadly diseases.”

Habit of Consumption

My comment was met with a deathly silence.   It is now one week later and I have been listening to some enlightening presentations in a range of on-line meetings.   Consistently I am hearing about the detrimental effects of the selfish habits of consumption perpetrated by the human species.  Whilst this tendency was recorded for the first time over a century ago, consumerism has seriously escalated during the past couple of decades, accelerating the deteriorating conditions of our environment.

Early Warnings of a Pandemic

Bill Gates in his TED talk of 2014 predicted this outbreak.   He lamented the fact that so much attention and money was being put towards the deterrence of a nuclear attack, but yet little was being done about the probability of a major attack by viruses in the near future.

Now, my concerns are around how we are going to live our lives when the period of quarantine is behind us and we find ourselves having to adapt to very different circumstances.    Those who are resilient and who welcome change will cope much better with the psychological and economic challenges of the immediate future.   We need to be prepared to have our value system challenged.  It will be a decade in which a major adaption of both life style and attitude will be demanded.

We will all Need to Change our Life Style and Values

I believe that the largest adjustments will need to be undertaken by those who are financially stable at this moment in time.   For some years I have been suggesting to my family and social circle that I believe that a key disconnect in our world is the acceleration of the size of the Gini Index.   That is the statistical measure of the distribution of wealth between the rich and the poor.    The larger the index, the greater the inequality.   I believe it is a crime that the 10 richest people in the world own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50% of the world’s population.

I predict that the role of the professionals who deal with mental health problems will be very much in demand.   It is one thing to survive the present ordeal physically intact, but another to cope with the stresses of the situation and emerge without the effects of this traumatic experience embedded in our psyche.

Role of the Internet going Forward

There is no doubt that the role of the internet will be crucial in terms of future health and future business.   Being a boomer, and having learned the internet in my late 50’s, I am pleased that I did not grow up in an era that the internet formed a major part of my entertainment.

I have been using my computer for at least 6 hours a day for the past couple of weeks since I have not been allowed to leave my home except to shop, or to visit the doctor.   During that time I have not played one video game, nor have I visited my Facebook Website.   But I have discovered two outlets for my curiosity and my edification.    Chris Anderson or TED has been interviewing thought leaders on how best to navigate the present challenges of the lockdown.   And Elders for Climate Action have been running some beautiful seminars to help people to adapt to a life style which is more sustainable.

Yes, we are all going to need to adjust to a very new world.   We need to work on our resilience.   Maintain our physical health despite the confinement.   Ensure that our entertainment is directed toward finding healthy outlets rather than mindless pursuits.

Let us Hope a New and Better Era Emerges

We will come out of this with a greater understanding of the human condition.   Mankind has survived many challenges of the past.   After World War 2, new international organisations like the World Health Organisation were formed.   So, despite the hardship and the loss of life, let us be optimistic that mankind will find more sustainable ways to co-operate with each other and the planet on which we depend.

 

I had a surprise phone call this morning, Sunday, 1 December 2019. It was from Jechaim, who is the brother of my son’s wife. He lives in Amsterdam, where he is fulfilling a lifetime passion and a dream. He recently opened a Baking Lab

History of the Baking Lab

Jechiam’s grandfather was a baker in Jerusalem, and he proudly displays the key from is ancestor’s business in the entrance of the shop. While baking is in his blood, the practice of this ancient art at Linnaeusstraat 99, is very different from the manner it was performed two generations ago.

Baking Bread Today

This unusual entrepreneur is also imbued with the qualities of both an artist and a scientist. His Baking Lab explores the baking of different types of bread. What he does is to take into account modern technology and combines it with ancient wisdom?

The baking of bread is a sensory experience. It involves the tactile sensations of stirring, mixing, kneading and pouring, added to those of smell, taste and vision. Together with his staff, which includes students studying technology at the local University, he is continuously exploring new techniques to enhance their production.

Of course, Jechaim’s scientific background is also relevant to his success. He knows all about the enzymes, the temperatures and other variables which affect the quality of the crust, the texture and the look.

This contemporary baker tells us that baking bread is, “not difficult, but neither is it a piece of cake!”

But Jechaim’s phone call was not to discuss his unique business, or the reason why he keeps Wild Turkeys as pets, but to condole with me on the loss of my ex-husband.

Offering Condolences

He wanted to know how his brother-in-law was coping with becoming the new head of the family on the loss of his father. And, how the extended family was dealing with the grieving process. He then moved on to explore my relationship with my Judaism. He had heard second or third hand about my unconventional upbringing and was curious to know how I related to my heritage at this stage.

Forging my Identity

I found myself telling him about how I was brought up in denial of my own identity. Our family had come to South Africa in 1947 after the conclusion of the Second World War. My father saw this move as an opportunity to allow me to live my life without the prejudices that have been projected onto Jews through the centuries. I was sent to a church school and was enrolled as a Unitarian.

This was confusing to me, and I had little opportunity to discover the rationale. If I questioned my father about the meaning of being a Jew, I was fobbed off with the instruction that, “I do not have to worry my pretty little head,” about such things. His methodology was for my own good; he tried to reassure me. This information was not very useful in terms of helping me to form my personal identity.

Table Tennis saved the Day

It was a sheer fluke that I became friendly with some Jewish girls during my university days. I became a member of the Table Tennis team at the University of Cape Town, and there I met Debbie. Debbie planned to go on a NUSAS (National Unions of South African Students) tour. This was a six week excursion attended by 60 students from different South African Universities. In 1956, we travelled for ten days by boat on the Athlone Castle to Britain, spent four weeks in England and Europe, then returned on the Union Castle Shipping Line back to Cape Town.

Meeting my Children’s father

It was on that trip I became friendly with Marion, so when the next question from Jechiam was about the manner in which I met my ex-husband, I told him the story of a dinner party. This was given by a couple who were friends of Marion. They knew Joe, a bachelor of 32, and wanted to fix her up with him. I was also invited to this dinner where we had some overcooked Spaghetti Bolognaise – I think we arrived late!

For some reason, Joe fancied me, instead of Marion. My mother told me a couple of days later that, “A guy phoned you. He said his name was Joe Smith, but I am not sure who he is!”

So that was the beginning of a very short romance. In answering Jechiam’s further questions, I was reminded that we met in April 1959, and were married in September of the same year. No long courtships. No living together. If a girl was not married in her early 20’s, then she was on the shelf in those days.

My Road to Embracing Judaism

Joe happened to be Jewish, so I started on the road to establishing my understanding of what it meant to be a Jew. I went the academic route by taking courses in Judaica with the University of South Africa, and a course in Hebrew with the University of Cape Town.

While bringing up my children, I was in the position to play an active role in Jewish organisations which cemented my journey into my Jewish roots.

Ten years after my marriage, I was the mother of four children. Today my two girls live in Cape Town. My eldest son (Jechaim’s brother-in-law) came from Amsterdam for the funeral, and my youngest son came with his wife and daughter from London to mourn the loss of their father.

Thanks, Jechaim for allowing me to review my road back to my Jewish roots.

 

Two days ago, I witnessed the death of the man with whom I have had the longest friendship in my life! I have known this man as a husband for 32 years, and as a friend, admirer and supporter for 28 years.

Joe passed away at the age of 94, and it is a source of much pleasure to his survivors that he lived a full and motivated lifestyle until the day he died. A retired General Practitioner, Joe had followed many different dietary regimes over the years. As medical knowledge increased and new theories of nutrition became public knowledge, so his eating patterns would change.

Dietary Regimes

In the early days of our marriage some sixty years ago, it was pilchards and sardines that formed a large part of his diet. Then came the days of a low salt regime. This was followed by a period of low fats and low carbohydrates. More recently, he explored the Banting Diet, and his latest routine was starvation! The past year Joe and his wife Felicity eat but one meal a day and that repast was in the evening. For the rest of the day, only fluids passed their lips.

Working Out

Not many people manifest more discipline than Joe did in his senior years. Until a couple of days before his sudden death, he was maintaining his routine of the past 50 years with a daily two hour workout at the local gym. He was the most senior member of Virgin Active who hosted his 90th birthday at the club as a tribute and gesture of admiration for their loyal client.

I well remember when we were still married and living in Parow in the northern suburbs of Cape Town, and the first Health Gymnasium opened on the Cape Town Foreshore. It involved a 25 minute drive from our home, and Joe together, with his friend Bill used to occupy their lunch hour with a work-out at Discovery Health. This regime was maintained until a couple of days ago.

Our Changed Relationship

I was privileged to share a very special relationship with my ex-husband. While our association as a married couple was characterised by some sense of competition when it came to my endeavours, as a friend, he was my most sincere admirer. He always encouraged me in my strange and varied missions! He was often the first to comment favourably on my blog posts and was always there to guide me in my numerous challenges, whether medical or personally motivated.

Trip to Amsterdam

Earlier this month the family was privileged to accompany Joe to Amsterdam where his thirteen year old grandson celebrated his Barmitzvah. He managed the flight, the social interactions as well as the loud music of the post Barmitzvah celebrations with good humour and aplomb. His family have been left with the fond memories of revelling in the achievements of a young man. We all danced and celebrated to mark this traditional milestone. As a raconteur, Joe did his bit by delivering a magnificent toast to Noam. A flawless tribute recounted without the use of notes.

Change in Sources of Information

During the last year of his life, Joe was challenged by deteriorating eye-sight. However, he did not allow this setback to cut him off from literature or contemporary ideas. By combining the resources of podcasts as well as using audio-books from the local library, he was able to maintain contact with both the news and the literature which were two of his lifetime interest. What might have been a setback became a further point of sharing for Joe and Felicity. Listening to audio-books became a combined activity, instead of the more traditional solo action of reading a paper book.

Regular Visits to the Library

Not only did Joe enjoy keeping up to date with local news, but he loved assisting friends and family members to pursue their interests. The local library allowed him to borrow ten books at a time. He was a regular visitor to the library and loved to take out books which addressed the interests of family members. He would pass on books about cooking to his daughters, advances in the social sciences to me, tomes on mountain climbing or cycling to his son in law.

More recently, when reading books requiring some concentration beyond his capacity, those books would be given to me to read. My job was to glean the essence of what was offered, and report back to him for discussion purposes.

Reajustment

I now have to become accustomed to living my life without the loyal and dedicated support of a man who always had my best interests at heart. I am grateful to have had this wonderful relationship for such a long time and am bracing myself to become more independent as I become accustomed to his absence. He will be missed not only by me but by his many friends and close family.

 

What is Generation Theory?

American research and literature have been including references to Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and millennials for some time. Now the terms are starting to appear in the newspapers in South Africa. In the Cape Times of this morning, Wednesday 2nd October 2019, two articles suggest the public become aware of the influences underlying the habits, values and behaviours of the youngsters of today.

Mannheim’s Generation Theory regarding the influence of current events onyoung minds was brought to the consciousness of the West in the 1950’s.   He believes that significant events in the life of a young generation will be transformative as far as their values and lifestyle are concerned.

Boomer Generation

Thus the Boomer Generation, whose youth was dominated by the Second World War, has only known growing prosperity and a heightened standard of living. America witnessed tremendous economic growth in the decades following WW2. Increasing prosperity influenced the lifestyle of this generation. Children born during and shortly after WW2 were a generation who witnessed an age of growing consumption and wealth.

Millennials of Today

The present generation has been the first cohort to experience the move towards Minimalism. Vegan and vegetarian lifestyles are significant aspects of this new culture. They are eating patterns which help to preserve the resources of the earth while minimising CO2 emissions. The last couple of decades have witnessed the lowering of the standard of living from one generation to the next. This generation is the first one since WW2 in which children experience a lower standard of living than their parents.

Learning from Milennials

With this very brief introduction to Generational Theory, let us now examine “What millennials can teach us about office life!” They have shown us that you don’t need to be in the office from 9 – 5 to be effective. Workforces are becoming more versatile and flexible as technology allows one to conduct one’s business in cafes, trains and even during overseas vacations!

Many bloggers are grateful to be able to work from anywhere in the world. Travel does not challenge their regular flow of income.

Working from Home

When I hear about this concept of a continuous income, I recall reading Vance Packard many years ago. He predicted in the 1950s the introduction of Cottage Industry. Businesses being run from home, cutting out the need for travel and rental of office space. In those days, I remember thinking that sounded like a fanciful dream; however, today it is a reality.

The downside of being able to work from home wherever you may be, whatever the time, is there exists no downtime. Burnout, caused by the stress of being on call at all hours of the day, is a phenomenon of the past twenty odd years. Youngsters starting their careers are made aware of the necessity of time management. This has become an essential skill in order to include leisure and family time are not compromised and are part of the daily agenda.

The Millennials of today are aware of the dangers of being dominated by their careers and are making choices. They realise that the top salary may involve a sacrifice of their mental health and are choosing a lower salary which allows them a more flexible lifestyle

“Don’t let the old man in; Baby Boomers break the mould again.”

This is the title of the second article of this morning’s Cape Times describing changes in the business environment dictated by a generation of retiring boomers. Today retirement does not necessarily mean the end of the time when you earn some money. As Nelson Mandela said, “This is the second time I am retiring from retirement!”

Retirement Villages have become a popular way for boomers to spend their senior years. What is being advocated in this latest study is the potential for building new retirement villages. While most contemporary retirement developments have been built as sanctuaries for non-working people, changes will be needed in the next 20 years. Contemporary retirees are looking at lock-up-and-go lifestyles with facilities for maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. This will require future facilities for seniors to conduct their life with high-speed internet facilities, exercise equipment and spaces to socialise and entertain.

Further suggestions for future developers of senior lifestyle facilities are offered. It is suggested that wheelchairs and nurses be kept discreetly in the background as residents sip their chardonnay on the patio!

My personal experience

The recent severe drought we experienced in Cape Town has ensured my generation is acutely aware of the potential of further water shortages in the future. We will never squander water in the way we have in the past. The idea of witnessing a dripping tap is an anathema. No longer do we wash our dishes more than once a day. We all cut down on the use of the washing machine. We know water is a precious commodity.

Today and the Senior Lifestyle

As senior citizens, we have the chance next week to acquaint ourselves with what we can do to save our planet from environmental pollution. Dynamic young women like Greta Thurnberg, who at the moment is favoured to win the Nobel Peace Prize, have made us aware of our responsibility to educate ourselves and others regarding the use of our natural resources. We must understand the impact our daily habits have on global warming. We may not be planning to visit America by yacht, rather than by flying, but we need to be controlling our waste and learning the art and science of recycling.

Let me suggest a good place to begin. A crucial online seminar is starting this month. I suggest you go to this link and sign up. I have confidence you will learn what needs to be done to save our planet from the irreversible damages of human ignorance and mal-practices.

A serendipitous viewing of this fascinating debate between Jonathan Sachs and Jonathan Haidt led me to pursue the evolving change in communication habits which influence our contemporary value systems.  The subject addressed by the two eloquent debaters examined the The Moral Dilemmas Created by Today’s Social Media.

Electronic Media

“Electronic media has not only linked us to many more people it has divorced verbal communication from human presence,” said Rabbi Sachs.   He went on to reference the anthropological work of Bronowski who did research with the Trobriand Islanders at the beginning of the 20th century.   His observation drew attention to the profound fact that islanders’ communication was more about bonding than the exchange of information.   An acute reminder of the change of emphasis found within today’s society often billed as the Information Age.

Tablet Magazine

Soon after watching this discussion, my inbox received further information from Tablet Magazine of Haidt’s work.   When listening to his discussion with Rabbi Sachs, I had assumed he was a moral philosopher.   However, I was soon to learn that he is not only an academic Social Psychologist but is very actively promoting the introspection of changing social norms which he considers a danger to western liberal thought.

I was fascinated to learn about the work he is doing on American University Campuses.   These are the very space which should be a bastion of free speech.  However, they very often become a place where visitors who promote unwelcome ideas are not allowed to express their views.

Asteroid Club

Have you heard of an Asteroid Club? Whether it is a friend with whom you have a clash of values, a co-worker who views life from a different perspective or a friend with a dissimilar viewpoint, membership of this club will guide you on how to go about creating a safe space for a positive discussion.   Meetings under the auspices of the Asteroid Club are conducted with specific guide lines.   The aim is to enrich one’s resources and perspectives on current controversial subjects be they politics, religion or sexual orientation.

Certain guidelines have been suggested to assist the discussion when people with varying outlooks engage in dialogue.   Members are made aware of the evolutionary predisposition of humanity to form groups of like minded people.   Contributors are made aware that the aim of the discussion is not to convert others to their side, but rather to widen their knowledge of different points of view

While this social experiment would start with a core group of 8 – 10 people who represent different viewpoints, as the group develops the numbers of participants may grow.   The discussants are encouraged to provide food and drink as a lubricant for social interactions.   So if you believe that civic discourse should be more open than it is today, you can form your own Asteroids Club!

Heterodox Academy

Another practical initiative initiated by Jonathan Haidt, is his Heterodox Academy which is a collaborative of more than 2500 professors, administrators and graduate students who are committed to promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning.

It is felt that in many fields of research, important question and ideas may be overlooked because of the traditional perspective of that particular institution.   The academics who participate in the Heterodox Academy are attempting to regain the traditional open debate, which ideally should take place in any institution of higher learning.

Freedom of Expression

Many students on American university campuses complain today that they are frightened to make their voices heard, thus undermining the most essential raison d’etre of this learning establishment.   Even administrators and staff are censored regarding the views they can express.  The retention of viewpoint diversity needs to be strictly guarded at all institutions of higher learning

OpenMind

OpenMind is a psychology-based educational platform designed to depolarize campuses, companies, organizations, and communities. With this initiative, Haidt and his colleagues foster intellectual humility and mutual understanding.   At the same time, students are equipped with the essential cognitive skills to strengthen their ability to engage constructively across differences.

Concluding Thoughts

I have a strong belief that in everyday life the mutual exchange of opinions acts as an essential check on our own personal growth, ensuring we do not become entrenched in outmoded beliefs despite the changes taking place in the world around us.  We are helped to see things from the standpoint of the other, thus widening our vision.

An invitation

Do follow some of the links I have offered in this post, and let me know if you would like to be part of my forthcoming research community for Open Minded Seniors!

 

 

 

I spontaneously made a statement during our recent monthly Conscious Ageing Meeting.   This impulsive articulation of an inspirational hunch has resulted in my delving into a profound journey of research and meditation.   My suggestion.   At our next monthly meeting, we will feature the concept of Multiculturalism as a focal point for discussion.

Multiculturalism Defined

Multiculturalism can be defined as the doctrine that several different cultures (rather than one national culture) can coexist peacefully and equitably side by side in the same country

My motivation

My motivation for this topic was based on my semi-conscious feelings around the contemporary changing attitudes to the integration of different cultural and ethnic groups into mainstream society.   This hunch has verified by subsequent enquiry.    The concept seems to have become mainstream in the news of the past week.

Concerns world wide

Evidence from all over the world – be it the Americas, or Europe, or Africa or Australia; demonstrates controversy over the acculturation of immigrant groups. Should they be encouraged to foster their own unique identity, or should they be expected to integrate into the dominant culture of the country of their birth; the land of their adoption?

Israel

The first contribution to my thinking resulted from a report I received from a good friend in Israel, an experienced teacher of English as a foreign language in the south of the country.   It is in this region around the Negev Desert that the majority of Bedouin Arabs live.   I learned that during their primary and high school education, the Bedouins and Jewish populations in Israel go to schools devoted solely to their population group.   It is when they enter the stage of their tertiary education that Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs meet socially for the first time.  This new situation brings with it the challenges of adapting to people with a wide variety of social norms and cultural values.

South Africa

This knowledge led me to think about the educational system in South Africa. In the days of apartheid, there were schools for people of African Descent, of Mixed Race, and Asian parentage.   White children attended their schools devoted to their population group.   During the past 20 years, since the dismantling of the former political dispensation, schools in this country have become racially integrated.   While there have been some incidences of racism reported in schools during the transition; considering the rapidity of change, the new system is working amazingly well.

And, in my family

I am privileged to have an adopted Zulu grand-daughter who attends a multi-cultural Montessori school which enrols children from the total range of ethnic backgrounds resident in Cape Town.   This includes children of African parentage, Coloured children, Asian kids, young persons of mixed race and a sprinkling of Caucasians.   When I arrive to fetch my grand-daughter, I am greeted with the words, “Hallo Mishka’s granny.”   I find this salutation most appropriate!

Multicultural Song writer

Johnny Clegg died this week at the age of 66.   He was a great musician of Jewish descent who blended western music with that of the Zulus.   Johnny spent much of his childhood in the company of Zulu children and was enchanted by their music, dance and rhythm.

He was a dancer, anthropologist, singer, songwriter, academic, and activist.   Even these accolades fall short of describing the energetic, passionate man who had become one of South Africa’s greatest musical exports.   He acted as a cultural ambassador for South Africa by combining western and Zulu tradition in his well know band Jaluka.   Listen to his music here

End of Apartheid

The end of Apartheid in South Africa coincided with my entry into a franchise business which allowed me to engage in teaching computer skills to children.   It was a great source of satisfaction to me, and a novelty at the time, that I could market our educational opportunities to all population groups.   Some of our best customers were children who would have been prohibited from utilising our services a few years previously.

Putting it all together!

Whilst ideologically the concept of a multicultural society appeals to me, it seems that there are many problems when immigrants are allowed to maintain the customs of their motherland.  From the wearing of different apparel, the practice of different cultural norms and the adherence to different value systems; there may be many conflicts of interest.

A high-profile historian Geoffrey Blainey first achieved mainstream recognition for the anti-multiculturalist cause when he wrote that Multiculturalism threatened to transform Australia into a “cluster of tribes”.  He criticised Multiculturalism for tending to “emphasise the rights of ethnic minorities at the expense of the majority of Australians”.

Major News Story

At the present moment, we have President Trump continuously in the news regarding his policies on the Mexican border.   He has been suggesting the four Democratic women who are criticising his policies should, “Go back to your own country, and fix the crime infested places from which you came.”  This is even though three of them were born in America, and the fourth is a naturalised citizen.

These comments have led to a tremendous backlash with views on slavery, the holocaust and other historical forms of exclusion are emerging to the forefront of political discourse.

What do you think?

If you do not favour Multiculturalism, does that mean you are a racist?   It seems to me that some balance needs to be found between retaining one’s personal identity, and adopting the customs of the major cultural group in our country of residence.

Your thoughts would be welcome in the Comments section of this blog post.

 

 

My friend Geraldine recently celebrated her 83rd birthday.  I phoned to congratulate her on reaching this milestone. In the past, she has invited her friends for a morning tea to celebrate this annual event, but having recently moved to a new senior residence she has abandoned this routine. We resorted to having a chat on the phone.

Catching up

We were discussing our friendship of the past 40 odd years.  We met many years ago at an Easter camp that was run by our local hiking club.  We travelled together to the Alps on a two week hiking tour in Austria.   We reminisced about the many local trails we had hiked together.  We had spent a month in Israel, where we participated in special volunteer program.   In this program, people living in the diaspora can spend three weeks on an Israeli Army Base getting to know the country and its people.   Simultaneously they work as temporary members of the Israeli Defence Force, thus playing a small part in the country’s security.

Changing Technology

Geraldine was telling me that despite the fact that she is considered one of the most technologically sophisticated in her Residential Home she was really put out when visiting her son in America.   She does her own internet banking, and regularly uses an ATM.  However she was unable to begin to master the new systems she found in the States when she visited her son last year.  She expressed her feelings of unfairness.  She wanted to put a new app on her 5 year old ipad but was unable to download the software to her out of date device.  Her laptop of 10 years is unable to cope with the latest upgrades.  “It’s not fair,” she proclaimed, “How do they expect people like me to manage if they keep changing these things?”

Into the Future

If this is how an 83 year old is feeling in 2019, then how are people of a similar age going to feel 30 years from now?  By that time, technology will be changing even faster than today.  Each year the speed of change in the field of communications is accelerated.  I feel that people who are about to retire need to retain their capacity to keep up with the ever changing demands of technology.  Senior people need to maintain a positive attitude to learning new concepts.    The should be aware that our previous skills sets will not equip us for the future environment.

And, Another Friend

I was chatting to another friend who is a retired librarian.  She has a wide knowledge of literature and has been a leader in her local book club for many years.  When I saw Maria recently, I asked her what she was finding interesting in the contemporary world of literature.   I enquired whether she was enjoying an author whom I admire. “Oh yes,” of course,” she responded when I questioned her on the work of Yuval Noah Harari, “I have read all his books, although I did find his second one Homo Deus somewhat challenging.”  I decided to follow up with, “And, do you maybe read the blogs of Maria Popova.  She is someone whose work I respect. She has the ability to synthesise knowledge on such a wide range of contemporary psychological and philosophical issues.”   “No,” she said, somewhat condescendingly, “I do not have enough time to read blogs.”   “Oh dear,” I thought, “It is clear we have some different values regarding the source of useful information.”

The Implications

I see an interesting parallel.   Some people live in a country and never learn the primary official language of their adopted home.   Then, others have a negative attitude toward technological change.

We are not all going to be using all the opportunities presented by social media, or all the potential apps which are available for download.  However, I do consider it a disadvantage to cut oneself off from the reading of all the personal, anecdotal, and contemporary perspectives to be discovered by reading blogs.

My Potential Contribution

I am working hard to develop an online course specifically targeting people nearing their retirement.  I plan to share some of the habits I have been practising for most of my life.

Physical well-being

Not just the benefits of daily and ongoing exercise, but the necessity of developing a routine that includes both walking and more robust activities.  I believe potential retirees need to continue to learn new skills.  They should continuously set themselves everyday cognitive challenges.   They need to be in a position to take advantages of the fresh possibilities which become available.

Cognitive well-being

An awareness of the many ways to keep the mind active will become critically relevant.  Watching passive entertainment on the TV screen or playing games on the phone do not qualify.

Emotional well-being

Furthermore, I believe an ability to practice the techniques of mindfulness and meditation have become a pre-requisite for maintaining emotional equilibrium. These skills assist us in processing new experiences, objectively and healthily.   Allow us to develop our emotional resilience.

My hope

I hope you will be following me as I develop my online course and share my life experiences.   I aim to retain my curiosity as an octogenarian who remains intrigued by the up-to-the-minute opportunities which become available day by day.

 

Intelligence Squared is considered the world’s leading forum for online debate and intelligent discussion.  This medium recently staged a lively discussion around the role that Facebook plays in influencing public opinion.    Two contriubtors spoke in favour of the motion “Is Facebook Damaging Society” and two people spoke against the it.

Let’s think about this topic

How much thought have you given to the role that Facebook is playing in influencing society today?   My belief is that the results of recent elections has demonstrated the powerful role played by this social medium in influencing public opinion

Writing in July 2019 my hunch is that the election of  Donald Trump as well as the Brexit vote, both of which took place in 2016, were heavily influenced by information gleaned from Facebook accounts.    Potential swing voters were identified by an analysis of personal information accumulated by a custom built app.   The information gleaned was passed on to those with the capacity to target the relevant individuals, thus influencing their voting behaviour.

The Good and the not so Good

Having just listened to this online debate hosted by Intelligence Squared I have become even more aware of the potential of Facebook’s power for both good and evil.   How do we control this monolith so that its capacity to educate, to stimulate business growth and to connect people can be encouraged?   Whilst malevolent information gathering can be controlled.    Some measures need to be established to prevent data accumulated from Facebook profiles being used to manipulate public opinion for the nefarious ends of malign forces.

Following Trump’s Election

The enquires necessitated by the election of the Trump presidency has established the need for some serious monitoring systems to guide the use of personal data.  Some changes have already been implemented.   Many thousands of employees have been taken on by Facebook to monitor every contribution made minute by minute on its site.   Enormous teams have been assembled to peruse every new post in a multiplicity of the world’s languages.   A team of 30 000 employees are checking every fresh contribution made on the Facebook site to ensure it obeys the implementation of new rules.  Mark Zuckerberg has been receptive to the backlash of public opinion and has agreed to play a major role in monitoring all postings.

Is an Ethical Code Possible?

I am asking myself whether it is possible to determine an ethical code around monitoring the 2.2 billion users of Facebook.    How can we possibly delineate criteria for judging items of potential erosion of values, or provocative interpretations?    Is it possible to find an ethics committee to agree on the criteria for what is and what is not moral and ethical?

The power of Facebook

Have you ever ruminated on the power and responsibilities of Mark Zuckerberg?  In the entire history of mankind, has there ever been an individual as powerful as this man?    The Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Kings of Colonial Constituencies were not able to spread information, garner opinions and influence the masses of people in the powerful manner in which Facebook can manipulate its followers today.

There are more Facebook users than there are Christians living in the World.   In fact in some sectors of society the term Facebook is used as a synonym for the Internet.

A Monitoring Board has been proposed

It seems that Zuckerberg and his Facebook acolytes have been made aware that a monitoring system is essential if public faith in their product is to be maintained.     Suggestions around creating a new board of 40 members to adjudicate published information has been mooted.   This board has been likened to the Supreme Court of Justice

Whether or not this analogy is realistic is doubtful.   The Supreme Court monitors the behaviour of 364 million people living in the USA.   Facebook will have to oversee the data of 2.2 billion people living in countries all around the world.

Positive Research Potential

There is a potential for scientific progress in the understanding of human motivation offered by the rich sets of data recorded by Facebook.  The masses of personal information collected could be a force for some exciting new types of research into human behaviour.   There is a growing body of research from a wide range of different disciplines like psychology, sociology and social anthropology which are now deriving useful information from social networks.  The potential of this wide range of opportunities is yet to be evaluated, but the prospect of enriching our understanding of human behaviour is exciting.   Data is a powerful new tool for the development of specialised scientific concepts within the field of the Social Sciences.

Let us hope that the tremendous potential of modern scientific techniques can be utilised for the betterment of society, rather than the blind manipulation of Facebook users.

To listen to the debate you can go here