Some problems mankind has had to cope with since time immemorial, including famine, plague and sickness.   Yuval Harari in Homo Deus argues coherently from this premise.   However in his recent book, The Better Angels of our Nature, Steven Pinker eloquently describes the comparatively peaceful times in which we live in the 21st century.   Per capita, there are fewer threats to personal well being than have ever existed in the past.

Indeed, I have personally been influenced positively by Pinker’s arguments, and have taken much comfort from his detailed comparative analysis of the eradication of famine as well as the reduction in conflict at the present time.    Plague has been eliminated except for minor intermittent episodes.

Today’s Challenges

However, there are two existential challenges around today which need to be on the conscience of all grandparents – the problems created by plastic pollution and the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.

This morning I attended a lecture by Professor Peter Ryan who is involved with the Fitzpatrick Institue of Research at the University of Cape Town.   He offered us a vivid picture of the research that he has done whilst supervising both masters and doctoral students.

He cut an elegant figure as he took the stage for his presentation.   Whilst his feet were bare, his nicely-fitting t-shirt together with causal draw-string pants, created an apt image of minimalism for a man talking about plastic pollution!

I found his opening comments alerted my attention when he announced to the audience, “What you are about to hear may well be different to what you expected!”

Plastic Pollution

Peter shared with us the fact he had been playing with plastic for a long time.   He illustrated and endorsed this statement as he went into the history of the aggregation of plastic waste and his team’s efforts to control it.  He has been actively researching  the damage that plastic pollution has created since it’s introduction in the early 1960s

Yes, I was born into an era before plastics were developed.  We managed with paper packets in my youth.   I  recall that when plastic bags first became part of our shopping experience, we would wash them out after the first use, and reuse them multiple times.  Maybe that is something we should think about doing once again!

A time before Pollution!

I also recall the first time I ever heard the word ‘pollution.’   It must have been the late sixties when my children were in conversation with some American youngsters who had accompanied their parents on a sabbatical to this country from Philadelphia in the USA

“You know,” they said, “you should not throw things out of your car as that will cause pollution!”   At that time pollution was not part of my everyday vocabulary.  So this concept came as quite a shock to me.   Can anyone remember when we actually did throw things out of the car window when disposing of waste matter?

Plastics

Professor Ryan showed us some haunting pictures of dead sea birds photographed adjacent to a range of plastic objects.   This matter had been found in the stomachs of dead birds which had been washed ashore.  Often scores of bottle tops and assorted materials were part of the collection of man-made products retrieved from these deceased birds.

Other photos of sea creatures enmeshed in plastic string or netting forced me to contemplate the agonies experienced by sea animals due to mankind’s inability to dispose of his waste in a manner which was respectful of the natural habitat.

It would be difficult to live without plastic wrapping today.   One of its main benefits is its ability to preserve certain foods.  It is cheaper than glass to manufacture.  Without plastic, the production of fruit and vegetables would need to be increased putting further strain on the earth’s resources.

Carbon Emissions

The surprise came when after presenting such startling evidence of the damage plastic has created to our oceans and our sea animals, Professor Ryan went on to let us know that a different man-made problem was even more worrying.   He reminded the audience that we may have already passed the time of no return due to the pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.   Many authorities believe that the melting of icebergs, the consequent rising of the oceans, the floods and droughts affecting more and more parts of the world, are all the irreversible symptoms of a dire future for the inhabitants of planet earth.

Youth Activism

Greta Thurnberg at age 16 has made a name for herself internationally for castigating political leaders for neglecting to pass legislation limiting the emission of noxious gasses.   Due to her leadership, 1.66 million people in 133 countries participated in demonstrations in major cities around the world earlier this year.   Their aim was to urge the world’s leaders to take the needs of future generations into account when making political decisions.

Senior Activism

Have you thought about what you would like to do to ensure that your descendants enjoy the earth’s natural resources as much as you do?     Will your grandchildren be able to enjoy nature walks, mountain climbs and beach strolls in an unpolluted environment?

Maybe you would like to make some suggestions about practical steps which could be undertaken by senior people.     The Comment Box below is awaiting your contribution.

O800 444 426 is the number to dial.   It is the international phone number for South African residents which allows them to communicate free of charge with Apple Support on a telephonic land line

The Problem

I had landed myself in a situation in which Apple had deducted hundreds of rand per month from my credit card.   Many email complaints yielded no response.  Things were getting out of hand. I decided to confront the issue first thing in the morning; the time my energy levels are at their peak!

My Weekly Visit

It was a Tuesday, the day on which I entertain my seven-year-old granddaughter.   We share many regular activities, including baking cookies, playing snakes and ladders as well as ball and racket games, participating in creative crafting activities, going to the park and attending the local gym where Mishka loves to swim.   But on this particular afternoon, I needed a rest and was meeting some resistance when requesting a half hour to lie down and close my eyes.  I decided to throw my principles to the wind and downloaded the app Colorfy onto my iPad.  This would keep Mishka entertained for half an hour.   A little bribery sometimes needs to be resorted to in order for me to have some brief ‘time-out!’

An App with Conditions

The app offered a free seven-day trial, and monthly payments were required after the trial period.   I made an irrevocable effort to delete the app within the required time and was quite certain I fulfilled this task.    Notwithstanding the fact  I had activated the deletion process, I noted a number of emails in my inbox from Apple.  Checking on my bank statement the relevant deductions had been made.    By the time I had totally absorbed this information, I had three instalments taken off my account.  Something definitely needed to be done about this.

Whilst I had ticked the box on the email in which I was invited to complain, no response had been received from Apple.  I had tried various techniques of making contact with them over the internet, without success.   I visited the local Apple shop and was offered a phone number for free international land line calls.

The Solution

The first thing I did this morning was to spend 45 minutes in consultation with two different Apple consultants in order to sort the matter out.   Living in South Africa I am familiar with a less than perfect service when speaking on the phone at a ‘help desk’, so I was pleasantly surprised with the professionalism and friendliness of the Apple representatives.

Working with Vicki

After identifying myself, Vicki told me that we could work together on our iPads and she would send me a message so that I could grant permission for our devices to work together.   Unfortunately, I did not receive this message so we had to work out an alternative methodology.   Some further problems with passwords slowed us down but ultimately Vicki ascertained that I did not have a subscription for Colorfy recorded on my account.   So she would have to put me through to Accounts.

Working with Yuki

A further delay of five minutes and Yuki came on the line to assist me.   I was fascinated by Yuki’s accent but did not feel it was appropriate to ask her any personal questions when the purpose of my call was to request a reversal of the funds which had been taken from my account as well as a cancellation of my subscriptions.

Yuki did eventually sort out my problem.   She reassured me that not only would my account be debited but my subscription would be cancelled.   In addition, she would email me information about how to cancel subscriptions on my iPad to ensure that I would not have this problem in the future.   I was fascinated to find that Yuki is a Pilipino – hence my difficulty in understanding her accent!

And, the Conclusion

In conclusion, I have mixed feelings about Apple.   During this investigation, I determined that there was no subscription recorded, yet I had three deductions from my bank statement.  When Yuki asked me how much had been deducted from my account, she accepted my word for the amount.  It appeared to me that she did not verify the amount I quoted as she hastily announced she had made arrangements for the repayment.

My main aim had been achieved.   I was promised a repayment as well as the termination of my subscription.   It was just a pity that I needed to expend so much time and effort to achieve this solution to a situation which should not have occurred in the first place!

 

 

 

Wisdom

If you look at the Merriam-Wester dictionary, you will find the word Wisdom defined as:  “The ability to discern inner qualities and relationships.”    Somehow, I have the feeling that there is more to Wisdom than described here, so I decided to make this concept the theme for this month’s meeting on Conscious Ageing.

The six participants were offered the opportunity to discuss in pairs what they understand by the term Wisdom, to make some notes, and then bring their ideas back to the group.   And, here is some of the feedback which emerged!

As it materialised, there was a considerable amount of conformity in their findings.   Wisdom, the participants concluded was found in a fair number of personal qualities.    Such characteristics as having an open mind, being non-judgemental, having gratitude for what one has, accepting responsibility for one’s relationships, being a good listener, as well as possessing both humility and tolerance, were all part of the wisdom concept.

Participants felt that it is vital to have respect for the views of others.   This respectfulness did not necessarily require agreement but demanded an openness and a tolerance for ideas differing from their own.

Populism

The lack of tolerance for views of others has become a critical part of the current political discourse.   A semi-retired professor of Political Philosophy, Leonard Suransky, is offering our local University of the Third Age a course on the rise of Populism, a movement which is evident on both the left and on the right.  These extreme views result from feelings of insecurity and a lack of respect for the ideas of the other.

Many political analysts view Donald Trump as the arch-Populist at this time.  America is followed by many European countries for the emergence of Populist leaders, while in South Africa we have the Economic Freedom Front on the Left being led by Julius Malema and the extreme Right-wing Freedom Front Plus party at the other end of the spectrum.

Tribalism

Professor Robert Wright, who is a visiting professor of science and religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York, has teamed up with Tricycle Magazine to run an online course on Tribalism.   The concepts of Tribalism and Populism have much in common, and Wright with his interest in Psychology, Buddhism and Politics is teaching his ideas of how to neutralise present extremism with an understanding of Evolutionary Psychology, Mindfulness and Meditation.   The course has just started, and I recommend you have a look at it here:  https://learn.tricycle.org/?utm_source=trikehdr&_ga=2.140385459.1430994263.1558263600-1994547164.1558263600

My personal belief is that Wisdom has a great deal in common with both Conscious Ageing and Sageing.   Both of these world-views have been introduced into the lexicon of ideas during the past couple of decades.   An era in which there has been a growing backlash against Ageism – the view which promotes the idea that the greater your chronological age, the more dependent you become on society. Another feature of Ageism is the belief that after a specific arbitrarily defined birth date, you are not capable of learning new material.

One of my motivations for running groups on Conscious Ageing is to encourage people that you can maintain your capacity to learn new ideas and new concepts until the day you die.   To accept this outlook may well be considered part of Wisdom and encouraged me to share with the participants two new concepts I learned while surfing the internet this past weekend.

Mansplaining and Digital Dementia

Mansplaining defines the attitude of a male when he describes condescendingly to his female acquaintance, the meaning of a word, a statement or an idea.   I believe this is a  useful addition to my vocabulary and I am just waiting for an opportunity to say to a man, “You know; you are ‘mansplaining’ me, and I take offence to your attitude!”

Digital Dementia is a scary contemporary diagnosis for the situation when a child loses his capacity for emotional control, or whose cognitive abilities are prejudiced because of an overexposure to the screen or the different devices available in today’s environment.   The increase in the number of children with both behavioural problems and learning disabilities is profound. Parents need to be educated in ways in which they can limit their children’s screen time, as a deterrent to having the developing brain’s neurone development of their growing offspring’s retarded. It is essential that children have plenty of physical activity for developing neurons to be adequately stimulated.    Static time, staring at a screen should be limited, and the amount of time recommended will depend on the age and the needs of the child.

Sageing

I believe that Sageing is an integral part of both Wisdom and Conscious Ageing.   Sageing International   www.sage-ing.org   has grown from a seed planted by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in 2004.    It promotes some concrete activities around creating a vibrant and flourishing senior lifestyle; as well as training leaders to connect with others through programs such as Wisdom Circles.

Let’s hear your ideas

Anybody who has read this article, reached the end, and has interest in further pursuing the concepts of Wisdom, Sageing, or Conscious Ageing can contact me through the comment section on my website, And; I look forward to hearing from you!

 

Perusing the daily newspaper yesterday morning, I was intrigued by the background story about a 5K walk due to take place in Cape Town the following morning.  It was being held by an International Charity which counsels people with suicidal tendencies.   This annual event is part of a worldwide movement allowing people to identify with those suffering from such serve trauma that ending their life appears to them to be the only solution.

My Personal Motivation

Some personal motivations for participating in this walk, starting in the dark at 6.30 in the morning entered my mind.   In my lineage, there is a strong genetic predisposition to mood disorder.   A number of my antecedents, including my mother, decided to prematurely end their own life, a factor which was dominated my awareness when confronting my own ongoing personal challenges.

Then there was a rather strange negative reason driving me to make an effort to support this worthy cause.   I had been unfairly denied the opportunity to participate in a sporting competition over the weekend.  Some form of justification could be made in being forced to remain on the sidelines, as I now had the opportunity to support a wonderful cause which had counselled over 20 000 people with suicidal tendencies.

The starting time for this event was 30 minutes before sunrise.   The symbolism of walking from the darkness into the light caught my imagination.   This transformation was a metaphor not only for saving a life but also the positive emotional changes which happen when a potential suicide victim accepts psychological counselling and is assisted in seeing their life journey more positively.

Getting Registered for the Event

Having decided to take part in the walk, I was presented with the challenge of entering the event online.   While the newspaper article explicitly encouraged members of the public to involve themselves in this public-spirited activity, the report did not contain any information about the online registration procedure.   I phoned the newspaper which featured the article, to learn that the staff do not work on a Friday.  The write-up appeared in the Friday morning edition of a publication which does not publish on Saturday, so the team have Fridays off work!  As the walk was the following day, this presented a problem.

The young lady of Independent News recognising my earnest desire for this vital contact information offered to do some research and then to phone me back.   True to her word, she contacted me twenty minutes later with details of the website www.darknessintolight.ie   I made my donation online and was all set to go.

Getting up in the Dark

It was a strange feeling getting up at 5.30 on a Saturday morning.   Past experiences of making such an early start would have been to catch a flight or to leave before the traffic intensifies.   In this instance, it is to perform a task of compassion before the light of day emerges!

Reaching my destination, a crowd of several hundred people had already gathered in anticipation of the 5K walk.   On the dot of 6.30, the organisers offered an inspiring talk about the work of this initiative, its worldwide influence,  and the benefits of many families who had reacted positively to the psychological support they had received from psychological counselling.    The suggestion was that the first kilometre is walked in silence, allowing each participant to tune into their own feelings and their personal motivation for undertaking this exercise.   This was profoundly meaningful for me as I reviewed my relationship with my mother and had the feeling that she would be proud of me for undertaking this challenge.

Positive Interactions

The bonus of this outing was getting into a conversation with Gerette, a delightful teacher of High School English.  She introduced me to her husband, who was completing the walk in a wheelchair. This had been his means of transport since having been involved in a motorcycle accident while in high school.   Lukas, their son, had accompanied his father for the first 4 K’s of the walk, but decided to join his mother and me for the last stretch, as his father was going too fast in his wheelchair!   I chatted to Dad about his speediness after the walk, and he explained that he has less hard work to do when moving more quickly as the momentum kept him going with less manual effort.

I felt a deep sense of gratitude on the completion of this effort and wore my new bright yellow t-shirt for the rest of the day.   This allowed me further opportunity to spread the word about the significance of “From Darkness into light”

 

There was a time, not so long ago, when words like Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and ‘the spectrum’ were not part of the everyday vocabulary.    Today you hear such cynical comments as, “If you are a grandparent and have not at least one child on the Autistic Spectrum, then you do not really qualify for the job!

Similarly, concepts such as Transgender, or LGBTI were little known and certainly not spoken about when I was growing up.  So I was mildly shocked and amused last month when two of my friends, with whom I have had a relationship for 60 years, visited Cape Town from overseas. One friend travelled South from the USA, and her sister flying West from Australia.   Each of these mature ladies spoke quite openly and acceptingly, about having a grandchild who has recently come out as transgender.

Family in Transition

Consequently, it was with some degree of pleasurable anticipation that I attended a documentary film last night entitle Family in Transition.   Both the Director, Ofir Trainin, and one of the protagonists Amit Tzuk attended the Cape Town premier and interacted with the audience after the screening of this award-winning Israeli film.

The film opens with a celebratory scene at the wedding of Amit and Gilat displaying the joy and anticipation of their new marriage.  They had been friends since the age of 15, and this was the culmination of their close relationship and commitment to each other. As the story unfolds, the audience is made aware of the loving relationship between the parents and the four delightful children they have brought into the world and reared with love, devotion and positivity.   The off-spring consist of one son and three daughters all of whom are depicted as warm well-adjusted youngsters who enjoy strong family ties.

Coming Out

Some time into the presentation, the audience is made aware of Amit’s feeling of alienation in his own body and his need to transition as a woman.   With amazement, the audience learns of the tremendous degree of acceptance Amit achieves, not only from Galit but also her children who refer to her in the third person as “she” without any trace of embarrassment or unhappiness – in fact with total acceptance.   At a coming out party we also witness the acceptance of the couple’s social circle – it seems as if only the older generation struggle with the situation.

There is a delightful scene in which one of the daughters of about 12 years, lying on her bed, is introspecting about her parents’ having a disagreement.    She displays uncommon maturity when she concludes, “I don’t know why they bother to quarrel, because they always end up agreeing with each other in the end.”

Challenges of Change

We learn of the struggle Amit endures whilst having hormone treatment during the transitioning process.   Despite the frequent spells of tears, Galit is at all times caring and supportive.   About a year later it is time for the surgical transformation.   This operation requires a visit to Thailand, and we witness the anguish of the children when their parents leave to take this trip.   When they see Amit again, she will be fully transformed to her gender of choice.   The children will have two mothers.

The trauma of the operation is manifest when Amit refuses to take the medication she has been prescribed by the Doctor.   Galit remains a caring companion, frequently offering foot massages and tender words of consolation and caring.

Back Home Again

On returning to the family in Nahariya, in the North of Israel, Galit and Amit have a second wedding ceremony.   A glamorous affair where they take the role as stars of the event in identical white dresses adorned with gold embroidery.   It is a joyous and happy celebration of the new status of the devoted couple.

Beginnings of a Reorientation

When we witness Amit’s anguish over Galit’s daily walks with a lady friend, we realise there is trouble brewing.  Ultimately Galit feels she cannot maintain her place within the family – she needs to be her own person, have her own space.  After a difficult divorce Galit enters a lesbian relationship, and Amit subsequently also partners with a lady who accompanied her to South Africa for this screening.

Behind the Scenes

Ofir, who was not only the director but also the producer and cinematographer of this film,  was together with Amit after the screening and answered questions whilst filling in the missing links about this thought-provoking story and its production as a documentary film.

We were reassured that Galit and Amit had developed a healthy working relationship with each other.   The children indeed considered themselves lucky to have four mothers!

Afterword

The audience displayed their appreciation for Amit’s openness to share her story.   Whilst at times she admitted the intrusiveness of the camera was discomforting during the making of the film, she felt that the production performed a necessary function in educating the public about the profound changes which sometimes needed to be taken in order to achieve an authentic lifestyle.

Galit helps Children

Galit has now written some well-received short stories, in Hebrew, for the benefit of children.   She draws on her life experience to educate other families about the rationale for transformation, and her work assists those in the helping professions who counsel people of all ages who deal with the issues of sex change.

It was rewarding and a great privilege to have heard this intimate first-hand story about a caring couple seeking meaning in their lives.   Their bravery in discussing this personal experience is appreciated as a service to the public in making us aware of the new possibilities for contemporary alternate lifestyles.   Some lifestyles were socially denigrated in former years,  but now many previously unaccepted social unions are considered the new norm.

 

 

There is no doubt that we live in a world today, Saturday 27th April 2019 at 12h15, in which we suffer from information overload.   Whatever your perspective on an issue, there will always be multiple examples of expert evidence to confirm your beliefs.

I am not sure if it is my chronological age or the era in which I live, that has caused me to suffer, for the first time in my life, from a degree of existential angst.   A strong feeling of what can I personally do to fight the decisions of politicians who continue to feather their own nest at the expense of the future health of the planet. Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will live on an Earth where the quality of life has been compromised or even jeopardised if they do not realistically deal with the ecological threats of today

Pinker and Enlightenment Now

It was with some relief that I was internalising some of the reassurances offered by Steven Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now,” subtitled The case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.   I was starting to be persuaded in his latest book that the average person was worrying too much about the potential disasters of climate change.

He has followed up his optimistic view of the benefits of a contemporary lifestyle which he elaborated on in a heartening exposition in his previous book, “The Better Angels of our Nature.”   In this previous work, Pinker explores the everyday safety in which we live today, as opposed to in the past eras.   I was happily reassured by his rationale and the evidence he brought to the table.    Pinker persuaded me that life today is safer than it has ever been, and the percentage of the world’s population actively engaged in a war situation is proportionately lower than in any past era.

My fair in “Enlightenment Now” was shattered however then my monthly blog arrived from Jules Evans ( whose website you can find at www.philosophyforlife.org,) and his pessimistic, or potentially realistic, assessment entitled “Is Extinction Rebellion Self-Indulgent Therapy?”

David Attenborough

Evans described how shocked he was to listen this week to David Attenborough eloquently describe on the BBC, just how significant the current temperature changes have been in devastating the tranquillity of earth’s balance of nature.   The measurement of the atmosphere as 1 degree warmer, has resulted in wildfires in Australia and California, storms and floods in India, Mozambique, Mid-West USA, and Ottawa.   What Attenborough did not mention is that Cape Town, South Africa where I live, has suffered a drought the past few years which has resulted in water rationing becoming a ubiquitous feature of our everyday life.  Water restrictions for our gardens are now a permanent part of our horticultural management system, whilst the use of water in the household is strictly rationed and very expensive.   Washing dishes is a once a day operation, and daily showers are obsolete!

James Lovelock

Evans carries on to remind us what was said in 2008 by James Lovelock.   “Enjoy life whilst you can,” said Lovelock, “in 20 years global warming will hit the fan.”   Lovelock has been dispensing predictions from his one-man laboratory in an old mill in the South of England since the 1960s with consistent accuracy.    Whilst he may be a bit of a maverick, he is one of Britain’s most respected independent scientists.

Extinction Rebellion

For 10 days last week, thousands of activists unleashed strategic disorder in London to draw attention to the accelerating climate crisis. This coordinated effort was organised by Extinction Rebellion, a movement which was founded last year and is targeting the British Government to achieve net-zero greenhouse emission by the year 2030. More than 1,000 protesters submitted to arrest after barricading roads, bridges and other city landmarks.

Student Activist

The eloquent 16 year old Swedish Activist Greta Thurnberg addressed the crowds and in simple and persuasive language described what she sees as the role of her generation.   She said, “We have gathered here today because we have chosen the path we want to take.   Together we will make a difference.   The ecological crisis remains despite all the beautiful words.  The crisis has been ignored for decades.   The politicians and people of power have got away with not doing anything at all, but we will make sure they will not get away with it any longer.   Humanity now stands at a crossroads………………………”

Find out more

Steven Pinker, on the other hand, urges us, “to step back from the lurid headlines and prophecies of doom, which bring out the worst in our psychological biases.”   He believes that with the scientific knowledge at our disposal today, we will be able to control the malevolent forces of carbon dioxide which threatens to irrevocably pollute our environment.

Should you choose to read over 400 pages of Pinker’s positive rationale, together with the accompanying 75 graphs illustrating a thesis of continuous human improvements in living standards, you may be comforted by his perspective that mankind has overcome all the challenges of the past, so why should the environmental challenges of today be any different.   I would like to accept Pinker’s perspective, but am more inclined to vote with the young Swedish activist!