The Hand That Feeds Often Needs A Band Aid

People seem to have difficulty with the idea of turn-based generosity and kindness. I got to thinking about this yesterday while caught in semi-rush hour traffic and everyone was kissing the bumper of the person in front of them stubbornly, leaving drivers who were trying to turn into the lane sitting there like island castaways watching commercial planes flying overhead.

“Starting to question if I even really exist…”

“Starting to question if I even really exist…”

I dead halted and let a guy through, he courteously thanked me and took his place ahead of me. Next thing the three cars behind him decided this was their in as well and they forced their way into the lane without so much as acknowledgment or gratitude.

Hey man, the ticket said “Admin One”.

Hey man, the ticket said “Admin One”.

I raised an eyebrow and sighed. A truck driver was next in line, with a giant cargo container in tow. I started moving forward and he gave me a look like you swear I’d just walked into his house and stole his dinner off his plate. While glaring at me all spear-eyed, he carried on moving and pushed in front of me. Stuff like this really doesn’t phase me, but while sitting there I started thinking about how this is a great example of what people tend to do in life.

Let’s say I didn’t let the first guy in. I would have been just another selfish jerk who couldn’t be bothered about anyone else then, in his eyes. Had I only let him in and then shifted forward and left the rest waiting, the next guy would have thought it’s seriously unfair that the guy in front of him got a chance and he didn’t. You see it from pre-school ages, where one kid gets a bigger sweet or any form of treatment that leaves the rest feeling they aren’t being treated fairly. I’m not sure where it all arises from. Is it really so common for people to just be naturally selfish in their behaviours or is it that they have a mind-set of scarcity – some caveman-like instinct to fight for every crumb because there isn’t enough to go around?

"It's MINE!"

“It’s MINE!”

The problem with being a sincere, nice, kind, generous person is you tend to expect the rest of the world to be and feel the same. They aren’t. They don’t. That’s just life. Not everyone is a good Samaritan by nature, but at least take stock of how many times a day you’re the nice guy in a situation, the exception instead of the demanding norm.

PS: This was not a rant. I swear. No really.


7 Lessons To Manage Success And A Public Persona

I’ve always understood that people in higher places have to be more careful with what they say and do, because more people are watching and, sadly, waiting for them to take a step wrong so that they can launch an attack on them. It can be seen in the smallest, simplest arenas. Like the popular girl at school being resented by the other girls, all of them waiting to just get dirt on her to bring her down. The same thing happens with employees who would jump at the chance to find something to bring down the super performer in their department. Sad as it is, human nature has an underlying current of insecurity that fuels the need for people to pull themselves up by pulling others down. All of which is pretty much normal life that we all have to deal with, but things change as you develop beyond the levels of just being a face in the crowd.

So, here are a few things I’ve learned in the past year or so about what happens when you become more recognized (this list will probably need amendments later on):

1. You can’t be yourself in public view anymore

I had lunch with a friend a few days ago, and we got to talking about how Twitter has changed for us over the years. She’s developed a fair amount of public recognition and built herself into a successful, ambitious business woman, balancing two separate brands. The price of all of this, however, is that she’s increasingly found herself unable to really be herself online. Her Twitter ‘persona’ now bears the responsibility of being a brand representative for actual businesses, not just herself. As a result, she can’t make comments that are a bit loaded with sarcasm or poke fun at things anymore, as it will reflect badly on her brands. In any ambitious position, you become your own brand and most valuable commodity and have to constantly keep that in mind.

Two things happen when you deviate from what you’re perceived to be online:

1. You alienate your existing follower base who don’t personally know you well and followed you mostly based on what you’ve said or said you are, to date
2. You open yourself up to all kinds of attacks and trolling

I’ve always been a ‘think thrice, speak once’ type of person, but over the years I’ve become increasingly careful of what I say online. People have a habit of seeing you as one thing when they encounter you online and will continue to associate you with that. So if you say you’re an architect, you had better be tweeting, blogging and commenting mostly about architecture and keeping it all clean and professional. The fact that you might be an avid mud wrestler in your spare time had better not be mentioned, and if you have any form of bigotry ingrained in you, you’d best keep it to yourself for the sake of keeping your career alive. The problem with online and public facing personas is just that: you get to have one main image, with maybe one or two smaller aspects you can occasionally mention. People, for the most part, have multi-faceted personalities and interests. They’re not just one thing all the time, just as their moods, energy levels or food cravings vary from day to day. For the sake of not confusing the people who follow you and don’t personally know you though, you have to pick an aspect and stick with it. Come to think of it, that’s probably why fake accounts and trolls run rampant in the online space: the platform that’s meant to encourage freedom of speech and expression has become the most critical platform that pries into your every moment and can keep screen shots as evidence to back them up and bring you down.

I know my blogs and tweets are mainly based on life observations, lessons, and the occasional motivational post. From time to time I loosen the reigns just enough to make a wacky remark or two or show some part of my personal life, before I get back to my usual mode. I can’t be sure but I guess from what you see online you’d think I’m mostly a serious person who thinks too much. Okay yes, I do tend to think a lot, about a lot. Other times I have “screw it, I’m taking the day off to do something totally mindless” days. The other sides you don’t see though, is me cracking jokes and goofing off with my son and friends, spending hours refurbishing furniture or painting walls because I find it therapeutic, loving stand-up comedy after having tried my hand at it way back as a pre-teen and – now less often but still – gaming. You don’t see me saying humanity is a bunch of dumb asses who honestly can’t see basic, fundamental truth if it smacks them in the face, although I sometimes think it. You don’t see the expression on my face when I finally give in to the curiousity of why everyone’s going on about some Niki Minaj video, only to play it and within seconds go, “What the f… Who watches this?”, then wishing I could give my brain a bio-hazard worthy acid scrub afterwards. Tact is something I’ve learned from a young age, and coupled with self-restraint I’m happy I can smile at people even when they swear at me. But the reality is, if you want to excel at something, you’ll have to keep the rest of you well out of sight and only let it out around a select few people who you know and trust. I’m not saying become a robot and I’m not suggesting we should all abide by this rule – some high-level, respected professionals crack a few crude jokes online and get away with it because it’s accepted as part of their personality and they really don’t care if you don’t approve. I am saying, though, that the higher up you go, the more advisable it is to simplify your life and associations as much as possible because the risk of exploitation exponentially increases as you become more prominent.

2. What you say matters more than ever before

If you’re a regular person with a normal job, or no job even, you have very little to lose by going on an all-out, super opinionated rant. Nobody’s listening because nobody really cares anyway, right? Low paying citizens get to scream, shout and protest about how they are done wrong, how their president is an idiot and how rich people are all jerks. They can do it because, in some unspoken sense, they are entitled to do so and we all turn a blind eye. They have no immense power of influence individually, and knowing this allows them the freedom to say anything they want. If a minister, corporate CEO or prominent public figure had to suddenly go on an uncontrolled rant about something in the same spirit, they’d be ripped to shreds, years of hard work and PR obliterated in a matter of minutes.

Then there’s the other aspect to consider: misinterpretation. People generally misunderstand each other quite easily; a lot of the time when you say something you have a clear image in your mind of what you mean, but you don’t convey it in a way that’s clearly understood by someone else. Along with the power of influence you have at a higher level, comes the risk of people twisting your words, sometimes very maliciously. Basic rule of thumb? Keep it concise, clear and objective. Just like you’d spell-check your writing before hitting send, you’ll have to make sure what you say can’t be interpreted in some other way.

3. You can’t just endorse people or vouch for them as easily anymore

I find this one tricky, because I like to see the good and potential in people. Sadly, sometimes they either don’t see it in themselves or they just don’t have the discipline or ethics to see something through that you help them to attain. Your name rides on the people that you recommend or endorse, whatever happens to them directly affects how the third party perceives you. Failure on their part means that you essentially failed the sponsor or company involved as you made the recommendation. In the same light, affiliating with any association means your entire reputation rides on them and if anything goes wrong, your name goes down with theirs. Sometimes your faith in humanity and desire to help has to take a backseat to risk mitigation. Instead of directly helping the little guy, sometimes you have to go to the big guy to help the little guy indirectly.

4. It becomes an odd game of chess, coupled with trusting your gut

Calculated risk becomes a daily thing, maybe it’s also a sign of growing older but understanding what you have to lose makes you all the more cautious. You start looking before you leap, and after a while you might even have to research the whole terrain from a safe distance before coming anywhere near the cliff, let alone jumping. Life becomes more strategic as you advance, you don’t just do things because you impulsively feel like it. Now you have to take everything into consideration, being well aware that every decision is a pebble that lands in the pond of your life and career. Everything affects everything else. It might sound all too serious if you’re reading this, a bit control-freak like even. It’s not so much an obsessive, paranoid state of constantly checking everything as it is something you grow into though, until it just becomes a normal part of your life. This is where the trusting your gut part comes in. In spite of all the sum of life experience, professional conduct and calculated risk, very little of that matters at all when it comes to a strong gut feeling about something or someone. Sometimes you just get a feeling that you can trust a person, your faith in them completely shifts your doubts to the side and you choose to involve them in your life on some level. Sometimes this works out great and you find yourself earning a true lifelong partner in your business or personal life. Other times you find you were wrong, as we all are sometimes, but you pick yourself up and carry on, taking whatever lesson you gained from the experience with you, in better preparation for the next.

5. Not every opportunity offered should be an opportunity taken

You know how people say, ‘opportunity comes once in a lifetime’? We’re all taught that you don’t get a lot of chances or big breaks in life, so you had better give it your all and go for it when it comes. The funny thing is, there might well come a time when opportunity knocks so hard you sometimes wish the door was soundproof. People offer you things for various reasons and, as is typical with human nature, a lot of the time something is offered in the hopes of gaining something in return, often very selfishly so. You’ll encounter people who offer you business deals, personal opportunities, even offer to give you things for nothing (apparent) in return. This is just as true for everyday people as it is for the highly successful, although the latter obviously tend to get these offers far more often. Again, this is something that involves gut feeling as much as careful consideration – not every opportunity is a good one that will make your life better. It might even be something that sounds like a great deal to the person proposing it but to you, it’s below your level of advancement or does not line up with your overall career strategy. Also, saying yes to the first thing that comes along might well mean you’ll be forced to turn down something far better down the line.

6. A solid group of real people in your life is critically invaluable

I don’t think life was ever meant to be this balancing act of selective behaviour and awareness that you have to keep a close check on what you say and do, to the point that you can’t even be yourself. Unfortunately, everything comes at a price and in order to thrive in our society, you have to abide by certain rules in the game. All of this means you need a reality check and proper grounding more than ever. People tend to suck up to you a lot more if you have power of influence or something they want, which means you rarely get the raw truth from them in words or their behaviour towards you. Family members and a handful of friends who still see you as the person you were before all this success happened and the person you still are when the world isn’t watching, are the anchors to sanity you need to keep a level head and be truly happy. I’m not remotely well known or hugely successful, but I do know that while spending time with the pioneers in my industry makes me feel inspired and driven, nothing makes me deeply happier and more content than spending a few hours being a total kid with my son and joking about everything without need to hold back. This is something I know will never change, the value of people who you know won’t judge you or run out to bad mouth you in public at the first chance they get, is beyond explanation. This brings me to the last point…

7. Making time for loved ones vs career responsibilities becomes very hard

There used to be a time when lunch with the family and getting together with friends was something you didn’t even need to think about, it just happened based on your natural desire to spend time with them. As things progress in your career however, you find you’re often pulled in many directions by many obligations and opportunities. A very ambitious person would find it hard to turn these down – not only for personal gain but if some form of greater good is to be served, you understand the responsibility you have to use your power of influence to aid others. Somewhere along the line the lunches become less frequent, the phone calls shorter and the connection and knowledge of every small detail in your loved ones’ lives fray to a point where you sadly realize you’re not nearly as close as you used to be. You have to turn down invitations for visits becomes something’s come up again and soon you find yourself feeling pretty torn and guilty, hoping they understand that you don’t love them any less and that they are still a priority in your life, things are just a bit hectic at the moment. I’ve come to understand that it’s very hard for people in general to understand where someone else is coming from when they are not as busy in general. Few things work people up as much as having a good amount of free time on their hands and sending a text message, then sitting waiting for a reply for hours. Meanwhile the other person has been in back-to-back meetings all day and only gets a chance to reply that evening, their apology for the late reply feeling pretty hollow and guilt-ridden. I’ve adopted many things by learning from my uncle, who has always been a workaholic and became highly successful. One thing I really need to adopt as well, is his insistence on some well-needed rest time. Before he retired from this main career (he also owns several companies), he worked ten months straight with plenty of long hours and few breaks. When the end of November rolled around each year though, he’d pack his suitcases and fly down to Cape Town and for two solid months he would do nothing but spend time with family and friends and just relax. As much as advancing in your career is important, you can’t risk losing time with the people who matter, hoping one day you’ll have more free time to catch up. We tend to assume that because they’ve always been there, they always will be. Much as that might be the case, the amount of time you have left with them is sadly uncertain.

Something we all should learn in life is you will never find time to do the things you want to. That’s because time is not something you find, it’s something you deliberately set aside. You make time for things. If you wait to find time for it, you’ll never end up doing it because something will always come up, no matter how many times you try to clear your schedule.

Remember that there is a life outside of the image you’ve developed and make time to build on things and people you know you’ll have for life, even if all of this success and recognition suddenly falls away and you’re left with nothing.

The Issue Of Boundaries

You’ll always find people who are just flat out inappropriate with their timing or their approach to you. Sadly, I guess not everyone was raised to be sensitive to others’ needs and the possibility that they are encroaching or overstepping their bounds at times. Maybe they are completely unaware that they’re actually bothering you or hurting you in some way with their actions. Then again, maybe they are just self-absorbed and thinking about their own wants and needs in that moment.

My dad taught me many things when I was a kid. One of them was to always put yourself in someone else’s shoes and remember that we are all going through our own struggles. At some point in time I took it a step further, because I really wanted to understand as well as I could, what a life outside of mine could be like. I’d lie in bed whenever it was quiet and try to actively visualize the life of someone else, someone completely random that I didn’t even know or have met in person. Like an old woman in a retirement home who spent her whole life looking after others and now finds herself quite alone in her last days. Or the homeless man everyone ignores as they walk past him. I’d try to imagine what their lives could have been like, what led them to this point. Finally I started writing from their perspective, small, one-page pieces with a glimpse into the life of another person and how they thought and felt. Overall it made me a lot more aware of others’ feelings and left me convinced that none of us are entitled to judge another. Obviously that just made me a whole lot more aware and uncomfortable with people generally being so judgemental and inconsiderate of how they make others feel at times.

As much as there are many random moments and ways that people can disrespect your boundaries, it seems to be most commonly based on what you do for a living. Your choice of career somehow seems to give everyone at random a sort of free pass to bother you about it for the rest of your days, without so much as asking permission first. Ask any guy who knows a bit about IT and computers. They’re bound to be harassed by family and friends the moment something breaks or a new printer is bought. He’s just the go-to guy, whether he wants to be or not. Usually there’s a bit of bribery involved, often involving a free dinner, “…and while you’re here, won’t you take a look at my PVR? I can’t get the damn thing to record.” If you have a doctor in the family or are one yourself, you’ll know that you’re never really on holiday – especially on family holidays. Big get-togethers like Christmas or a family birthday means you’re basically going to be spending a good deal of your time giving free advice and check-ups to everyone, ranging from your aunt with her developing arthritis to your uncle’s brother in law who thinks he has a suspicious mole on his back. I’ve actually heard people say, “Oh she won’t mind, she does this every day! It’ll just take a minute.” I guess the fact that you do something every day somehow means you must want to do it even more when you clock out and finally have a chance to relax…

Cases get even more extreme as you move out of the general member of public circles and become a bit more well-known. It seems the more you move into the public eye, the less entitlement you have to basic human rights and even suggesting that you need a time out will cause an uproar of shock and even offense. As if you somehow owe your life and achievements to them and you’re throwing it in their faces by not always being on hand to sign autographs or smile for a picture. Porn stars, I’m very sure, have an issue with most fans thinking they are basically guaranteed sex with them because heck, it’s what they do for a living, on camera, so what’s the problem? Crude as it may seem, the reality is most guys would probably say they can at least cop a feel because they keep these actors in business. The less clothes were involved in getting you famous, the more people think it’s okay to get grabby. Somehow people seem to be completely blind and unaware that beyond what that person does or did, they still have unique personalities with interests and needs completely separate from what they’re known for, and that they’d like to just be treated with the same respect and decency we bestow upon other people we hardly know. More than that, we all get fed up with people wanting things from us sometimes and we should all have the right to turn off our phones and just take the day off if we need it, without having to worry about someone taking offense. Nobody ever willingly signed away their right to privacy, unless they were only in it for the fame.

It’s almost as if any sense of regard or consideration just goes straight out the window when normal people deal with ‘celebrities’ (I really don’t like that term, I’ve always thought they’re just people in more prominent public view than others). You’d swear they’re dealing with storefront mannequins at times. Just over ten years ago a friend dragged me to a nightclub and as it happened, a pretty well-known local radio and TV presenter was DJ’ing there that night. At some point in time he walked up and was standing beside me at the bar when out of the crowd a woman appeared. Pale, long mousy hair in a ponytail and thick-rimmed glasses, she seemed very out of place, compared to the makeup-drenched stiletto squad there. She walked straight up to him and asked, in a pretty thick Afrikaans accent, if he was who she thought he was. He barely said yes as she looked him up and down, then dropped this on him: “Jis. You really aren’t good looking in person. No wonder you’re on the radio.” And with that, she turned around and walked off. I think my jaw was dragging on the alcohol-stained floor in that moment, with my heart fast in tow. I couldn’t even look up to check his reaction, I was reeling with shock. He took a sip of his drink, put the glass on the bar counter and walked off into the crowd without a word. Later that night I saw him standing in a corner by himself, staring at his phone. I felt so sickened and sad. How the hell anyone could be so downright cruel and crass, I had no idea. The most disarming thing was seeing someone who usually has a mouth faster on the draw than a cowboy in a gunfight, being so very quiet. Some people would say in a sense he should have seen it coming and needs to deal with it, because this is the life he chose and how he chose to be seen. I don’t see anyone deserving that type of comment or treatment though, especially not if you weren’t personally hurt or offended by them in a bad way, and even then I’d usually keep my mouth shut. I suppose Joan Rivers must have got a lot of flak and inconsiderate comments in her lifetime too – after all, she only ever came across as crass and tactless even. Yes, you do reap what you sow. But for some, all they did was chase after something they really loved or wanted, propelled by their passion, never once wanting or thinking about receiving attention or fame as a result.

Sure, we inadvertently all end up being associated – often wrongfully or partially – by what we do or what we’re known for. We even do it to ourselves, albeit at will. If you’re a writer, down to your every last fibre, you’d proudly proclaim yourself as such. Women who can conceive of nothing better than being a mom, happily label themselves mothers above all else. The problem comes in when we get boxed and treated in a way we didn’t actually ask for. It’s not something that we can do much about, it’s just the way people think and behave. What you see is how you identify something or someone. So if an image of a person is only ever portrayed to you, over and over, in one way, it becomes hard to see or imagine them as more or anything different. Sadly, often the punishment we have to deal with for succeeding at what we strive for in life, is loss of respect and recognition for all we are, outside of the one thing people see or know you for.

It’s been said so many times that it pretty much just blows right past people’s conscious consideration these days, but you really do need to try and think beyond yourself when you deal with people. I’d challenge anyone to just take a day, or even half a day, to look at the people you come across in those hours and remember that there’s a whole lot more going on with them than just the few minutes of interaction they have with you.

The Ultimate Trickster

Our minds are tricky, sneaky and pretty freaky things. Your brain can fool you into believing so many things, perceiving and misperceiving, and even change your recollection of past events. As if all these optical illusion posts lately aren’t enough to have you questioning how you see things, there’s a lovely range of things happening to you, caused by your brain, that you’re not even aware of at all.

Your mind warps things, and I’m not just talking about forgetting details or adding them on when you try to remember events. This is especially treacherous when it comes to relationships. Someone mentioned on Twitter the other day that it’s funny how the people you at one time could not imagine possibly loving more, can one day be people you never even think about at all, and when you do you wonder what the heck you were even thinking. Initially it seems like that is pretty odd, but then I got to thinking about all the times I was convinced of something and soon thereafter looked at myself and wondered what the heck I was thinking. Several wardrobe faux pas from my teens come to mind… *cough*

Anyone who’s a bit clued up about human behaviour knows we tend to create a preconceived image in our heads of how we think things or people are. Often it’s a picture painted in the way we want it to be, and the absence of actual personal experience with that person or thing leaves a nice, big open world of possibility that it might well be true. This is how people can easily day dream about their crushes and play out imaginary scenarios in their heads about what the person would say, how they would laugh, how they would interact with them. Often – I’d even go so far as to say pretty much all the time – they have a harsh moment of disillusionment when they do actually meet the person and spend a bit of time with them. The same thing goes for dreaming about a trip overseas, a party, or anything else you haven’t yet experienced. In spite of our outward, cynical reactions to the world, our internal natures tend to be hopeful most of the time. We choose to hope and believe that what is coming, where we’re going or who we’ll meet is good and will bring positive experiences. Many times we build it up so much in our minds that reality just doesn’t live up to it. Let’s face it: even the most critically, methodically planned thing like a wedding, can still go wrong thanks to forces beyond our control. It should be accepted.

So now, there’s also the flip to this whole situation. It turns out, not only do we build up these magnificent hopes and visions of people before we really know them, we also break down our memories and skew them, after we break up with these people or have a fallout where we can’t reconcile our differences. I read an interesting article the other day, explaining how we alter our memories of a person, based on our current feelings about them. We highlight and exaggerate memories we have of people, based on how we feel about them now. So if you were once madly in love with someone and they could do nothing wrong in your eyes, but you had an ugly breakup, you’d find it hard not to suddenly think back and only remember all the things they did wrong, all the times they didn’t do or say what you wanted or hoped they would. Everything from the time they didn’t do the dishes to the way they cleared their throat all too often – things that before were happily overlooked – suddenly becomes all you can think about when you look back now. So what’s happening here? Basically your brain is adjusting your memories – putting some into focus and repressing others that don’t align with what you believe about that person today. I’m guessing this is what makes people have those kinds of arguments where they mention things from months or years ago that the other person did wrong. It’s like your mind detects that you are talking about that person’s wrongful actions and it goes and searches for more information of the same kind, to further bolster your argument and prove you are ‘right’. All of this is obviously terrible for any effort of actually getting along and making peace. Of course there’s the other side of this as well. For example, an old lady who was in a less than fulfilling marriage for years who now finds herself widowed and alone, will tend to think back with fond and happy memories of her husband. When we lose people we love and care for, we only remember the good about them, the things that make us smile.

My take on it all is this: at some point in time you obviously got along with that person or at the very least tolerated them enough to allow them and yourself the opportunity for exploration. You clicked and things took a natural course where you got to know each other better. As much as it takes only a few seconds to decide if you like someone or not, it takes a long period of time to truly get to know someone. Not even an information packed “100 things you don’t know about me” list would get you any closer to knowing if you’ll still get along with the person a year down the line. You have to take into consideration the physiological aspect before you even start delving deeper. From what I recall reading ages ago, the first six months of a relationship is pretty much fuelled by hormones and unusually high levels of mental happy juice like endorphins, serotonin and the like. Once those levels start dropping and level out again, you’re left with the ability to think a bit more objectively and see the person in a more balanced light. This is where it goes awry for many people (although admittedly sometimes it happens way before this stage), as they start thinking maybe things aren’t quite right here, start feeling disappointed in their partners in some way. This is the part where all the other factors that make a relationship work kick in to either save the day or fail miserably. Things like agreeability, trust, confidence, knowing you can rely on the person and that your long term goals are actually lining up. But that’s a whole other post altogether. Point is, next time you start cursing your ex or bad mouthing old partners, bear in mind that you are probably seeing things in a not entirely unbiased way.

Relationships is only one example of how we warp how we think and recall things. In some way or other, we are all twisting our perceptions and interpretations. It’s a hard thing to keep a handle on unless you really have developed well beyond your average human being. If you’ve ever known or seen a fanatical person, you’ll have a perfect example of this in action again. Everyone, from headstrong conservationists to religious zealots to gym freaks, are shaping their beliefs, actions and memories based on what they actively are involved in. If you so strongly want something to be true, your mind will find or invent ways to give you the justification you so badly need to carry on with your life. This is why you can give ten people the same sentence to read and they’ll each come back with their own interpretations of what it means. It’s also how people can see different images when they’re all looking at the same drawing. Again, based on what you already believe at present, and of course also in relation to your past experiences and perceptions in life. People inherently have a need for acceptance, the extreme of which is insecure people who desperately seek the approval of others because they don’t have independent confidence in themselves. I’m thinking that in that same way, if you really want to believe that aliens have infiltrated our planet and walk among us, you would go digging and searching everywhere for proof or justification of this. Your mind is basically trying to have your back, even if what you believe is utterly outrageous or unreasonable.

Our entire world is shaped by our perceptions and interpretations of what happens to us every single moment of every day. It often makes me wonder if what one person sees is at all the same as what the next sees, and at the same time I find it astonishing how nobody seems to be aware of this and stops to question if they are really right in how they are doing things or what they say about people.

The Divide of Difference

I’ve recently realized that, even though most of the people I deal with are well beyond their school years, in some ways a lot of people just never advance beyond the mindsets they had from their earliest years. I’m not saying they are immature and reckless as people. Most of them are married, have stable jobs and pay bonds and taxes like any responsible member of modern society does. This is about something that is so ingrained in how we live that hardly anyone seems to notice it.

We’re taught to see difference in things. From a young age we’re given ‘spot the difference’ illustrations to help hone our ability to seek out even the most marginal incongruity and highlight it. Not that we really need tests like these to shape our minds into being more critical of what doesn’t fit in with the rest. It starts from childhood and anyone who’s been around kids or remember their own childhood can attest to this: kids become very disgruntled when they notice one of the group has a sweet that’s bigger than theirs or if the ice cream cone they get served isn’t quite as loaded as the one that the kid before them got. There’s this sense of great injustice that goes along with it, as if you just deprived them of everything they hold dear in some evil scheme to ruin their day. You’d think that this balances out over the years as kids realize the world doesn’t revolve around who gets the biggest portion of sugary delights, but it doesn’t stop the ingrained tendency to seek out and point fingers at things that are not the same. Kids pick on the kid who’s a bit shorter or fatter than the rest. If you had to ask kids why they bully and pick on others, their response would probably be an indeliberate shrug and something along the lines of, “He’s just different than the rest of us.” Ridiculous as it seems when you look at it from this perspective, often times that’s really as far as the reasoning goes with these harmful actions. Of course, it runs far beyond the borders of the school yard. Kids are not fans of any form of difference – including favouritism, in the case of a teacher’s pet or a sibling who did better at the end of a school term. This doesn’t leave people as they grow older, a lot of the time the balanced objectivity to see situations as individual circumstances with their own unique variables, just doesn’t develop in people.

When you dig down deep, the common cause in most of these cases is jealousy…the sense that you are unfairly receiving less than someone else and that you deserve it as much or even more than they do. It’s what causes uprising and dissension in work environments, labour union representatives make their bread and butter by enforcing and managing the rights of workers to be paid fair amounts when they are angered after seeing someone else got paid so much more than they did. Co-workers turn against each other at the drop of a hat if anyone gets wind that one got a bigger bonus or an increase when the rest didn’t quite get similarly rewarded. This very issue of seeing and pointing at what isn’t the same as everything else has been at the heart of some of the biggest issues modern day man has faced and is still facing. From basic human rights laws to equal rights for homosexual partnerships, our constant hammering on how and why one group or person is not being treated the same as the other has turned tides and simultaneously caused moral and ethical storms, dividing people even further as everyone fights to better their own lives. It seems each attempt to seek equality results in even greater rifts, almost as if ten people are pulling on the same sheet for coverage but the sheet isn’t big enough and starts tearing in places, leaving newly exposed areas.

I’m curious why it is that people tend to naturally focus more on the negative, see the differences, talk more about something when it goes wrong than when it works as it should. We throw our toys when we don’t get our way, let’s face it. Most people are not exempt from this, everyone does it sometimes, or used to when they were younger. We gang up without so much as stopping to ask ourselves why we just jump in there and criticise or reject along with the rest. It takes a lot more guts to reach out to help the condemned than to disappear in the sea of conformity. Above all else, I wonder why it is that we don’t focus on all the things that we have in common, instead of what makes us different. Fundamentally we all have the same needs in life, we all respond in the same way when we are hurt or happy. If you’ve ever met someone, a complete stranger, who in passing mentions something that just so happens to be a quirk you have as well, you’ll know how powerful moments like those are. It creates a moment in time where you connect with someone who moments ago was just another face, yet now they make you feel less alone in your views on the world. It’s a moment where you feel you’ve found someone like you. Someone who gets you. And that’s one of the core needs everyone has: a feeling of belonging, being understood and accepted by others.

I’m not going all ‘hug a tree and dance in the moonlight’ here, I swear. It just makes sense that we’d all get along a whole lot better if we sought to focus on our similarities rather than our differences. It’s been said we are born without prejudice. Kids can laugh and play together, with absolutely no consideration of the other’s upbringing, social stature, intelligence or colour. They share a common bond of finding pleasure in something as simple as sticking their hands in mud and enjoying the squishy feeling between their fingers. They sit there and have this honest, unfiltered, undiluted experience of just being alive in a physical body and sharing it with someone else who is doing the same thing.

If we are born mostly blank canvases, it makes sense that we can grow in any direction over the years. This notion that you shouldn’t put ‘stupid ideals’ and ‘false hope’ into kids’ heads is disturbing because everyone’s so quick to dismiss anything outside of the narrow, pretty sad, creek that we’re expected to all fit into in this world, when there’s a whole valley of options beyond that. There’s no reason why positive reinforcement can’t be nurtured in schools and society, teaching our kids to look for what makes us all the same instead of picking on someone who doesn’t quite fit in. More than that, teaching them to ask ‘Why not?’ when someone suggests another person or group doesn’t deserve the same things as them. Teaching them to celebrate the differences in themselves and others as blueprints for unique talents that nobody else can quite master in the same way. And lastly, teaching them not to condemn or shrug off those who seek to see the good, speak about it, write about it, or live it. It’s the fear of our own potential, the ‘what if’ of imagining that we might actually be suppressing a significant, blinding radiance that scares us into denying it.

Of Gut Feelings and That Little Voice

We’ve all heard someone say ‘follow your gut’ or ‘listen to your instincts’. Another variation of that is ‘do what your heart tells you is right’, although that tends to lean more towards emotional openness than self-preservation. Gut instincts have gone from what more than likely kept our ancestors from being eaten alive several times, to now being shrugged off as nothing more than your imagination running away with you, or you telling yourself ‘I’m just being paranoid for nothing’. If things aren’t backed up by cold, hard, in-your-face facts or visual evidence that makes it near impossible to deny the reality, we tend to ignore or play down the feelings that sometimes surface, seemingly from out of nowhere. Some people are more prone to this, maybe because they want more badly to not believe what their gut is telling them. This is often the case with relationships where you get the feeling your partner isn’t being faithful, although you don’t really have any proof of it. Or when you think someone isn’t quite who they say they are but you’re not sure why you’d think that. Time and again, you find these feelings had merit to them, albeit usually much later on.

After several personal experiences, I’ve learned not to ignore that gut feeling under any circumstances. It might be what stands between you being okay or in great harm. I was always intuitive as a kid and have always been very empathetic, and while it served well for being understanding and always looking for the good in people, it also caused me to be blind to the dangers of some. Finally I turned towards a very straight-forward, at-face-level way of dealing with the world and in a sense, I based my choices on my trust in science and facts, objectivity and research. Three years ago I decided to ignore a very strong gut feeling I had the moment I met someone. I just came out of a long-term relationship and the company was welcomed, although the very moment I met this person, I got a strong feeling of panic and distrust. I chose to ignore this and told myself I was being stupid. Three months later I was sitting in a hospital casualty ward, with a broken nose, punched out teeth and a concussion that left me with memory loss and blackouts for the next few months. Which would have been conceivable if I was a cage fighter, but I was a 48kg girl who invested her time and compassion in the wrong person. Listening to my initial sense about this person would have prevented all of this from happening. You’d think that would have been the final blow to my trust in people, but a few months later my compassionate nature got me in trouble yet again, this time ultimately leaving me sitting in about 4 liters of someone else’s blood and wondering how the heck my life got to this point. Aside from a potential post-Apocalyptic world, I didn’t expect quite such a turn of events to happen. (And no, I wasn’t responsible for the bloodshed, relax.)

Yes, these are extreme examples of how things could go wrong but to counter that, by following my gut instincts and choosing some people as friends, speaking at the moment I felt was right or making a move when something just made me feel it was the right time, has brought me tremendous windfalls and personal success as well. There are many stories of how people just got a sudden strong feeling and went with it, resulting in lives being saved or events which seem unlikely, to shift into incredible outcomes. The neuroscience of it all indicates that we learn from every experience we have in life and that, while we have no inkling of just how complex our mind’s processing power is, we’re constantly calculating potential outcomes and alternatives, based on past experience as well as some deeply ingrained genetic programming that links back to our good old fight-or-flight mechanisms. Some would say it’s the grace of God, that whisper in your ear when you least expect it. Others believe it is some form of divine intervention, whatever they choose to believe in. Whatever you choose to believe, I’ve found it’s rarely, if ever wrong. Your gut instinct is strong and tends to surface suddenly and from out of nowhere. Don’t confuse it with paranoia or deep-seated fears surfacing…those tend to have some form of thought process linked to them, you tend to have some form of panicked conversation in your head, indicating you’re trying to process and reason through what’s happening. Gut instincts and feelings initially appear completely independent of your own thoughts, they’re pretty much like the tap on your shoulder you didn’t see coming. What you do with it from there on is your choice.

Why am I telling you all this? Because maybe it will make someone reading it think twice next time they get a sudden bad feeling, or listen when they get an encouraging, good feeling. This is one case where I forfeit logic and reasoning and firmly believe you should just silence your mind and listen for that voice instead. It’s there for a reason.

The Multitasking Paradox

Can I just say, straight off the bat, that this notion that all women can multitask, is just not true. I absolutely suck at it. Well, much less now than before but until my mid-twenties I could not even summon the split focus to make breakfast without burning the toast or over frying the eggs to the level of some kind of rubber-like substance. It’s something you adapt and grow into, as your lifestyle changes and things become more challenging on a daily basis. We’re all taught that multitasking ability is a good thing. If there was a personal attributes list, multitasking would get a giant green tick beside it every time. It even gets listed as specific requirement on some job placement ads. We consider it skilful and balanced to have the ability to do three things at the same time. More than that, we consider it vital.

A few years back, a professor discussed this whole obsession with doing more things at once. He said he refuses to do more than one thing at a time as it splits your total focus into fragments. He wouldn’t even drive his car with the radio on or allow his passengers to speak while he was behind the wheel. I was fascinated by this notion. Extreme as it seemed, he had a point. If you do two things at once, you’re immediately only assigning a ratio of 50% to each thing, or an imbalanced ratio like 70/30, leaving one of the two tasks seriously not being dealt with properly. Now imagine being a stay at home mom with four kids, trying to do five things at once. The end result is obviously that nothing will get done quite right. So why do we think it’s okay to live with divided attention spans and give people so much credit for doing it?

The multitasking paradox is the notion that you’ll get more things done in a day by doing more things at the same time, but the very result of that is that all things get done partially and you end up having to return to them to either redo, finish or fix what was done earlier. It’s kind of become the norm now to do several things at once. In fact, while the way we do things would have left a person from the early 20th century in a state of total distress, today the struggle is our inability to give our undivided attention to just one thing. Take the whole pulling out smartphones at dinners and get-togethers as an example. A few years ago that would have been nothing but dead rude and unacceptable. These days it’s a matter of ‘everyone knows it’s not polite but we’re all doing it, so…’

A sad side effect of this whole way of living is not so much in the fact that nothing gets done properly, it’s that we’re not really ever ‘there’ when we do things. Hours, days and weeks fly by with us just trying to keep all the balls in the air, leaving very few moments you can think back on and say you really immersed yourself in what you were doing or where you were. Whether you’re cooking or playing with the kids, if your mind is doing five other things while you throw a ball without even consciously focusing on your surroundings, you’re losing precious opportunity to experience moments that should be what make your days worth it. All those memories our parents and grandparents have of their younger years, the things they look back on and smile about when they’re sitting at retirement age with not much else to absorb their time and attention… How many memories will we be able to recall clearly when we reach that age? Will you really remember the day your first child took his first steps, or will it be fuzzy because you were on your phone checking your Facebook feed? What if, because of how we live now, with scattered focus and fixation on fleeting status updates, we end up having very little of worth to look back on? Many people in their last years of life have said you won’t be lying on your death bed, thinking about all the targets you didn’t reach at work or the salary you had back then. None of these things matter later on, yet they have become all-consuming now.

I’m not saying throw the smartphone out the window and turn to a life of manual labour and living off the land. Maybe just try to give your undivided attention to moments in your day or week, and clear your mind from worrying about projects, bills and deadlines. The most precious thing in this world that you can offer someone at this point in time, is your complete and undivided attention.

And don’t be so hard on yourself if you can’t manage to deal with doing five things at once – none of history’s greatest breakthroughs happened in a moment of multitasking. In fact, the greatest light bulb moments pioneering engineers and inventors had throughout history, happened when they took a break from their labs and did something relaxing. Newton was lying under a tree when the apple fell. Archimedes was sitting in a bath tub when things suddenly clicked into place. Sometimes the very best thing you can do to solve a problem or get clarity, is to do as little as possible.

The Curse of The Brain Dead, Miserable Employee Life

It’s funny to watch 5PM creeping up and seeing everyone’s attention span waning (or should I say, sky diving like an anvil without a parachute) after 3PM, their eyes undeniably more fixated on the clock as the last minutes of the work day tick by. And then, as if someone yelled “Bomb!” they all grab their bags and run like hell to get out of there the very moment the clock strikes 5, leaving a manager walking in or looking up from their desk with an expression of slight befuddlement and saying something along the lines of “Wow, can really tell they’re dedicated to their jobs…this place cleared out in five seconds flat”. That is, of course, unless the manager mumbled some excuse about an unexpected meeting before packing up their bags and laptop and slipping out the car park before anyone notices an hour before everyone else does.

The funny thing is, changing the rules and giving leeway doesn’t actually help improve worker dedication. The only exception is if someone comes from an 8-5 job and now finds themselves employed by a new company that allows them to clock out at 4PM every day. This is pretty much the holy grail of employment perks, aside from having a free canteen with five daily menu items available. Talk to anyone who works at one of these companies though, and you’ll still see the exact same behaviour as the usual 8-5er club. Instead of being on the edge of their seats at 4:58PM, they’re sitting in the exact same position, just as eagerly waiting to get the hell out of there, only it’s at 3:58PM. If you think free lunch will keep them hooked, sadly, you’re also wrong. You’ll find long-time employees staring at the menu board, shoulders slouched in unenthused disappointment, moaning about it being burger or pizza day again…while the newbies dash up to the counter with a sparkle in their eyes and an almost irrepressible smile of excitement on their faces as they pick out their choice of lunch. The long-time employees will scoff at the sight of them and say something like, “Just wait until they get used to the menu.”, before waddling off to go get KFC instead or, if it’s later in the month, give in to whatever seems least excruciating because they’re running a bit low on cash and have to take what they can get.

Here’s the thing with people – and I’m only generalising because we all fall into this trap most of the time, unless we’re really disciplined about what we do, and or able to pick up on when we’re just bandwagon hopping like a normal part of the sheople society. Two things seem to happen all too easily, no matter where you are and what group of people you find yourself with in the Western World:

1. We conform.

Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But put someone into the same situation for long enough without changing very much about what happens in that environment, and they’ll end up numbing out a bit and losing their individual sharpness. That thing that makes you you, that gives you your character, your appeal, your personal strength and charisma, it dies a little bit more the longer you expose yourself to routine. And nothing is more routine than being stuck in the same building, on the same floor, the same department, the same desk, the same chair, with the same people, at the same times, every single day. I’m not blaming the company of your employees here, make no mistake. They’re being dumbed down by monotony just as much as you and as a result, they’re not exactly displaying an array of fun characteristics either. Larry from accounting isn’t making the same two-line conversation at the water dispenser whenever you see him because that’s all there is to the poor, boring SOB. He’s probably a champion cook and impressive surfer on the weekends, but you’ll never know that because he can’t exactly whip up a steak or show up in a wetsuit at work. Believe me, he’s probably just as annoyed by his monotonous jokes as you are. More than that, he’s probably so damn frustrated he’s screaming inside his own head and wondering what he’s doing with his life. And that’s just Larry. Now imagine everyone else around you at the office. Unless they are just absolute stars at what they do and they really are living their life’s dreams by being there, chances are they feel a whole lot like you. But back to the conformity thing. You’re expected to act a certain way at work and because of the monotony of it all, everyone in a working environment starts talking about similar things and feeling pretty similar about many things, even if you honestly couldn’t have given a free-willed thought about it if you were operating on your own accord. I started buying and talking about shoes after being stuck in an oestrogen-fuelled office for four months every day. Me! Shoes! (If you don’t know me very well, just picture Henry Rollins talking about the lovely shade of fuchsia he wants to incorporate into his living room curtains and scatter cushions. Same page? Okay good.)

2. We’ll never be happy for long.

No matter how nicely you treat someone, they will get used to it and demand more. Think putting an Xbox in your office and letting your employees have a frag match between hours of tedious coding will boost morale? Okay yes, yes it definitely will. And we’re talking about gaming and developers here so this is actually an unfair example. Point is, no matter how cushy someone’s job is, they are going to adapt to it and start looking for more. It’s human nature. We adapt to things, get bored, then look for new things to excite, stimulate and satisfy us. Our benchmarks go up higher – in the case of work, we want more pay for less hours AND all the benefits that top-level Fortune 500 companies dish out, even if we’re only temporary sales clerks at Larry’s DVD shop. There’s a bit of a mess up of gigantic proportions when it comes to work life these days. Thanks to the joys of the internet, we get to see how Google employees have this absolute fantasmagorium of a work life and office environment and dammit we deserve the same. It suddenly goes from a situation where we could potentially have a work life like this, depending on several variable factors like whether we as employees are educated, determined, hardworking, resourceful and committed enough, alongside working at a company that not only has the financial stability to facilitate spending a lot more money and resources on keeping employees happy and having the mindset and understanding of how important environmental factors, plenty of rest, growth and development and the like are to making and keeping happy, productive employees…no, suddenly this whole having a pod bed and a fish tank office thing becomes a basic human right. Kids walk out of high school with this expectation that they should be treated like royalty and any company should be so lucky to have them work there, instead of understanding the concept of hard work over a long period of time equalling work ethic and experience. But I’m going to stop myself right there, before I go on an aged ‘kids these days’ rant…again.

The only time people take back what they feel or say about how crap the company they work for is, is when they stand at risk of losing their positions there and have no prospect of finding another job. Or, if suddenly the perceived value of the company skyrockets and social and employment value of it increases. People are funny. We give social value to everything. Think about it. You don’t want to tell people you work at some low-end company nobody’s heard of, because it won’t raise the perception of you. But if you land a job at Google, even if you’re the newly employed janitor, you’d be very quick to mention “I work for Google”, within seconds of introducing yourself at a dinner party. Or anywhere else. Of course, I can’t help but hear some guy two feet away from hypothetical janitor guy scoffing and saying “Psh, don’t we all.” Because let’s face it, we all bow to Google in some way right now.

So then, you wonder, if making life easier for employees doesn’t do the trick, what will work? Employees are not rebelling when they become apathetic about their jobs and the company they work for. They’re not all secretly scheming to bring down the entire business because their dislike is really that deep-seated. No. They probably would prefer if the company did better and excelled, got some media attention and signed a new contract with a cool brand or company. That way they don’t have to lift a finger to get greater social reward out of working there. Now they can say, “I work for Ben’s websites.” *crickets and blank expressions in return* “Oh, and exciting developments are happening! We just partnered with Google!”. *sudden recognition and admiration* Of course, he happily and very deliberately leaves out the details that the business is merely using Google Analytics as a service feature now…

There are tons of factors that determine someone’s happiness and dedication at work. Hundreds, if not thousands of papers and articles have been written about enhancing personal dedication by ensuring employee growth, healthy and clean work environments and all the other things that I won’t repeat because it’s already been said plenty of times. My thoughts on the whole thing? It’s simple (well, sort of). Nobody wants to be bored. Nobody wants to feel taken for granted. That is as true in a personal relationship as it is in any other aspect of life, including work life. If you are a boss or manager and you’re in a struggling, boring personal relationship, then I’ve got bad news for your prospects about exciting your employees. Excitement and the prospect that something new will most likely happen today and again tomorrow, that gets people feeling less like the wheel-spinning hamsters they usually are. In the end it comes down to finding those people who just light up rooms by being there. Those elusive amazing science teachers we see in movies but never had as kids, who did awesome things and made us all want to be physicists…and then nearly burning down our parents’ houses in makeshift science experiments on the weekend. Passionate people. I said ‘finding those people’ just now, but I really meant being one of those people. This is the tricky part. Nothing makes people as excited as a passionate person who gives them renewed energy and interest in what they’re doing every day, but being that person is just a whole other ball game. It’s simple enough when you are in the right work environment with the right people, doing what you love. But doing a job because it’s a job and you have no other choice, that won’t get you very far into achieving anything great or feeling invincible and proud. Basically, the way we work and do things is screwed. That’s my professional and personal opinion. We’re expected to breed generations of people who are brilliant at their jobs and love where they work and what they do, but it’s just not happening.

That’s an article for another time though, it’s Friday and oh look, it’s around that time where everyone’s staring at the clock, waiting to go home…

I’ve Had Too Much To Think Again – Summary of A Brainstorm Hangover

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve become a bit disconnected from being so directly involved in having a social life, that I’m sitting here watching everything and thinking about all this. Maybe it’s old age. Maybe I’ve worked too many crazy hours and blew another mental fuse. (Shrugs). Whatever it is, here are some things that I think a lot of people don’t seem to think about or realize*:

(Two topics kicked off my hurricane of thoughts today…)

1. ADD/ADHD is becoming more prevalent in our society, even among adults who’ve never had this problem before. It’s not a disease so much as a resultant side effect of a lifestyle that is increasingly demanding of our attention, while bombarding us with information, options and distractions at a scale never before encountered by the human species. On an evolutionary scale, we’ve just hit an unprecedented spike in mental preoccupation, with a sharp decrease in the need for physical activity. We all live in our heads now, our lives revolve around processing and contributing what we think far more than actually, physically doing things.

2. Depression and anxiety disorder, while always having been seen as something “faulty” people have and should be ashamed of, is now more common than ever. I can’t help but think that our fixation on keeping up the pace in terms of being busy all the time and constantly having the latest technology, clothing, cars etc while trying to fit in with an ever-changing standard of what is normal or acceptable (think about how quickly the internet has created global trends and just as quickly discarded them for the next, new one) is leaving most people feeling inadequate. Add to that the reality that society is becoming less grounded in what matters on a basic human level, while desperately seeking something real (think about all these inspirational quotes being reposted all over the net, telling you what you should be, should do, should look for, assuming you can’t figure it out for yourself out of stupidity or sheer laziness to self-develop) but not truly ever finding a connection. How about the notion that we can now buy more, have more, do more, than ever before, and yet none of it is all that deeply fulfilling?

(…which then led to a few shots of this…)

I think a great deal of problems being encountered in the world is just because we’re being guided towards behaving in a way that is not congruent with our basic human natures. We’re being forced outside of our natural and health zones, forced to push harder to survive and be successful, than any of our ancestors or forefathers ever did. Sure, they had to deal with manual labour, getting up early to milk cows and plant seeds, hunt for food. But they got enough sleep. They ate pretty organically and didn’t have to worry about banting or gluten-free diets. They didn’t obsess over if they’re good enough because some form of media is making the entire village want to look a certain way or be shunned for not doing so. They followed their instincts and listened to their bodies. We’re becoming increasingly disconnected from our ingrained natural self-preservation, that voice that instinctively tells you some food doesn’t agree with you or that you need more rest today to make up for yesterday’s over activity. It’s just not accepted if someone does that. Even following your gut feeling about something is frowned upon now, often being re-classified as your imagination running away with you.

(…and then this…)

The funny thing is, I get the feeling that our advancement in science and medicine to eradicate disease and helping us stay alive longer, is probably directly and inversely proportionate to the rate at which we are harming our health and well-being in new ways through our new lifestyles. We’re fighting to keep up with stopping old and existing disorders while we actively create new, possibly bigger ones. And while we have always had decades of history to base our calculations and estimates on, the rate we are currently moving at, plus the infantile existence of the digital era, means that we honestly can’t tell at all what will happen to humans on the long term as a result of what we’re doing right now. Fifty years ago we could sort of predict what would happen within our lifetimes. We knew that you’d have to go to university to get a degree, to earn a decent income, working for the one employer you’ll have your entire working career. This would fit in fine with the partner you’d marry, kids you’d have and home cooked meals you’d eat every day. You’d pretty much live a life similar to that of your parents, except with one or two new innovations along the way to make life easier. Today, we can barely even guess what will happen to us in two years.

We are existentially living on the tip of a stray bullet, as it blasts through into completely unknown territory, not knowing where, when or what it will hit.


*Disclaimer: These are just my own thoughts, based on what I have deduced. I’m not saying I’m right, I’m just making an observation. And as always, there are always exceptions to any statement, something which I completely accept and agree with. Don’t shoot me.

A Tale Of a Beggar, a Rich Man and a Golden Cat

Years ago, when I was very young, I heard a story about a beggar and a rich man. I’ve been trying to find that story everywhere and haven’t had any luck over the years, leaving me wondering where exactly I heard it in the first place.

Few things stick with you prominently from childhood and usually it’s random and probably useless. But this story is one of the few that echoes very loudly and to this day I find it oddly interesting, with new interpretations manifesting as I grow older and understand the story differently.

So, I’ve decided to write what I remember being told back then.


A beggar, a rich man, and a golden cat:

One day a rich man was walking down a busy street, mind fixated on his own thoughts, oblivious to the world around him. A beggar was sitting on a derelict corner, completely overlooked by the hundreds of passing faces. He saw the rich man, dressed in what was clearly very expensive clothing, rushing towards him and as he approached, the beggar called to him. The rich man blew him off and began to walk past him, then dead halted when the beggar said these words: “Sir. What if I told you I have something of extreme value to offer you?”

The rich man stopped, turned around and looked the beggar up and down with a cynical expression on his face. “What could you possibly have to offer me?”, he asked. The beggar smiled. “Not everything you see is as it truly is, sir.”, he replied. The rich man frowned as the beggar continued.
“What if I told you I had a statue of a cat, beautiful and made of pure gold? Like nothing you have ever seen before.”
The rich man scoffed in disbelief, but his interest was piqued. Looking down at the beggar, he replied. “I highly doubt you possess anything like that. But if you did, I’d be interested in hearing more about this supposed golden cat.”

The beggar shrugged and said, “You look like a smart and capable man, I’m sure you understand that there is investment potential in the most unlikely places at times.” Flattered, the rich man nodded slowly. “Yes, this is true.” Something about the elusive smile on the beggar’s face made the rich man wonder if he was passing up an opportunity by walking away. “Let me buy you lunch. I want to hear more about this statue.”, he said.

They went off to a local restaurant and ordered food as the beggar continued to tell the rich man more about the golden cat. “What if I told you it was a relic from ancient Egypt, stolen from the tombs of Tut Ankh Amun shortly after its discovery? What if I told you the person who stole it was my grandfather and it’s been passed down to me?” Enthralled, the rich man leaned forward and asked the beggar to continue. The beggar carried on giving more details, painting a vivid picture as he swung his wine glass around in the midst of explaining. “What if I told you it has large sapphires for eyes and a necklace made of pure rubies and emeralds, unlike anything you’ve seen?”

The rich man’s eyes widened, his face in an expression of total captivation and fascination. “Tell me more!”, he exclaimed as he ordered more wine and food. The beggar feasted as he continued. “What if I told you it glistens with precious stones and has a large. perfectly flawless diamond hanging from the collar? Easily the size of half your palm!” By now the rich man was completely taken by the story and ready to offer the beggar a sizeable amount for the statue, knowing full well that he would get tenfold that amount upon selling it himself.

They finished their wine and food, and walked out of the restaurant. “I think I’ve heard enough.”, the rich man said. “Take me to this statue of yours. I want to see it.” The beggar paused for a second, then shook his head. “Sir, I don’t possess such a thing.”, he replied. The rich man frowned. “What do you mean? You just told me all about this statue you have. You told me all about how it looks. The diamonds! The precious stones!” His confusion quickly turned into anger. “You told me you had this statue! You lied to me?”

The beggar raised his hands in defence. “Sir, I never told you I have a golden cat. I merely said ‘What if’ I had one. You made all the assumptions yourself.” He smiled softly. “But thank you for the delicious lunch. I haven’t eaten that well in ages!” The rich man stood there, stunned, as he watched the beggar walk away and disappear into the crowd.


To this day I can’t quite decide what the lesson is in this story. Is it that greedy people are blinded by their greed? Or that you shouldn’t underestimate someone’s intelligence based on their appearance? Maybe it’s that you shouldn’t believe what people promise you, because they could just be taking you for a ride at your own expense and their pleasure. Whatever it was, this story comes to mind time and again, at random, throughout my life.

What brought it to mind this time was a statement I read that got me thinking: “Not everyone who smiles at you, is your friend.”

I guess the moral of the story, or at least one of them, is never stick your neck out too far for something you’re not sure of, and never paint images of your future based on the promises of those around you – their words may never manifest in actions and you’ll be the one struggling as a result, not them.