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You cannot always be right

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An interesting weekend . . . made interesting by the fact that I got to do a job I haven’t done in a long while, welding: the melding of metal and metal using extremely high temperatures.  One cannot afford to be careless in the selection of the gear in this one, the right helmet or brazing goggles depending on whether you are brazing or welding, for these two methods of melding pieces of metal together are different.

You need the right pair of gloves, the right shoes, the correct type of overalls that are resistant to the sparks that come with arc-welding like I was doing over the weekend, and if you can afford it, you need to wear the right inner mask at all times to save your lungs and eyes from the fumes that come from the moment one puts the rod to the two pieces of metal to be melded.

Welding is perhaps the most interesting job to me, both scary and arousing at the same time, a job that teaches one to stitch metal to metal and join that which many believe is hard to enjoin.

However, welding does come with it precautions that should be adhered to, for a single error can lead to one being fatally electrocuted, burnt beyond recognition, or maimed for life.

It is that kind of job that teaches one that they cannot afford to be overconfident for it can lead to carelessness that in turn leads to unwarranted accidents.

You cannot afford to be too sure; it may lead to your demise. Neither can you afford to be shaky when confronted with the task, for it too can lead to your being injured, and thus, you need to keep a clear mind to keep steady your hand whilst you put the rod to the metal and create magical pieces of art.

I have always looked at life as reminiscent to the tasks we put our minds, hands, and commitment to. What I do is reflected in the life that I live, and what I was doing this weekend is one task that bears a heightened sense of similarity to life itself: we are constantly trying to connect, to merge that which at first seems disconnected and cannot under normal circumstances be enjoined.

We live as different individuals (though not ‘unique’ as the modern speak seeks to claim) who seek to find some sense of commonness out of that which makes us different.

Our cultures, customs, traditions, tendencies, learnt behaviours, and differing processes of socialisation work towards determining the kind of individual characters we shall bear for the larger part of our existence in this world. We meet and interact as is the basic requirement of human living in this world, we connect for the sake of community and in all that process, there are points at which we ‘connect’, that is, find points of common interest that keep us together for long periods of life.

These connections (or ‘networks’) serve the basic purpose of ensuring that we can share all the joys and troubles, all the pleasures and the pains that come with the process of life as a united human community. The life of a welder is often a solitary affair even though it serves to increase the needed sense of security for the clients he or she comes across in their line of business.

People living in the city are of different sorts, and the most feared are the burglars who wreak havoc with their break-ins into people’s property to steal items that people have worked hard for. As a welder, one does not need to bother themselves with the reasons why burglars do what they do: all the welder does is to ensure that the burglar shall not break into the house and steal the valuable items.

In community, there are those figures whose very existence seems to be hinged on the stealing of the joy of others. Gossips, tabloids, paparazzos, rouble-rousers, and others of their ilk are the burglars that come and take away whatever little joy we have.

They therefore need for each individual to guard against them by ensuring that first, one needs not engage them upon realising that they are the type of person that is constantly in search of ways that are meant to unseat the confidence of others, that what makes others joyful is their enemy. The final bar is the re-teaching of these kinds of people in the proper way of living with others.

We can only connect through practicing those virtues that engender feelings of satisfaction in ourselves and others, for the moment we choose to practice those behaviours that hurt others, we are not only infringing on their rights but are in every essence betraying the interconnectedness of humanity as a race that has to live together to succeed.

We should be wary of the burglars that come to steal our peace, and somehow, I have found out that they do bear similarities that distinguish them from other people. Imposition is the first sign of the many qualities that define the sort of character one should be wary of in the determining of the burglar that comes in from the cold to steal those virtues we need to live by from day to day.

People that impose their will on others should be kept in check because sooner than later, their victims find themselves living their lives far from the pattern they had first set out to follow. Those who impose themselves on others end up forcing their victims to live in a manner that the imposer wants them to live, not what they want to live.

What is often described as the bully is just merely a type of imposition where the bully falsely believes that their target needs to be forced to live in the manner that the bully deems right. Why people should not have the right to control their own lives in the eyes of the imposing bully is not that hard to understand if one looks at the bully’s background.

There are often gaps of lack in terms of the inculcation of the basic principles of living together with others in the life of the bully that need to be filled with re-education of the affected individual. The bully just needs to be shown the right way of expressing their opinions without forcing others to share them with him or her.

The simple fact is that their view may not essentially be right for everyone, and so this needs to be revealed to them to ensure that they can live well with others. Narcissism plays a large role in the lives of those that hold the notion that they are the best in terms of their appearance or what they do in life.
The narcissist is always checking their image in the mirror, constantly squeezing the odd pimple because they feel it taints their ‘perfect’ face. These kinds of people seem to believe that everything should be perfect for their day to be made. Well, the reality is that some of the inconsistencies in terms of appearance actually serve a practical purpose.

A well-made door will sometimes need an ugly lock because such a lock has proven to be the most reliable on the market in terms of preventing break-ins. Obsession with perfection in terms of beauty or appearance may sometimes prove to be the undoing of that which is practical. I have come across door and gate designs that could be broken into by a four-year old burglar because their makers focused more on the beauty side than on the basic function of that which they were making.

A burglar door needs to be strong enough to stop the burglar’s forced entry; it is not a necklace or a bangle. Our character as human beings counts for far more than what our appearances present, that is, we should focus more on cultivating virtuous characters than on our colognes, designer suits and shoes.

Self-righteousness plays a large role in the lives of those that hold the belief that only their views are right. The truth is that well, your view may be right from the angle you look at that which you are judging. Giving yourself the time to see things from the perspective of those you are judging may well reveal insights that could unhook you in the daily struggles you come across.

A judgemental attitude leads to one being bogged in one spot instead of progressing, for even a simple mind in your view may well be the solution to understanding things in a simple (and cheaper) manner that could solve your business and financial challenges. I met a fellow welder over the weekend and he was at first very critical of my work. I sat him down and showed him the beauty to the madness of my method, and at the end of our conversation, he revealed that he had been spending pounds on that which cost a penny.

The basic challenge in Africa is associating experience with the length of time and concluding that those who have spent longer actually know more. The reality is that some have to gaze for a long while to understand things. Some merely have to catch a glimpse to understand what took others ages to fully comprehend.

Being right does not necessarily hinge itself on the length of time spent doing something, being right actually means understanding and getting to the desired goal on time and ensuring that it serves the intended purpose. Inconsistency leads to the proliferation of errors, that is, the more one chooses not to be regular in the doing of a certain duty they are supposed to perform, the more the likelihood of committing errors when it comes to the actual performance.

The old tried and tested way of repetition serves to a large extent in ensuring that whatever it is one is supposed to do comes out right at the end of the day. Holding the notion that one is familiar to a task leads to the obvious: actual contempt and disregard for those elements that contribute to its success.

I see metal everyday, it is familiar to me, but when it comes to the actual process of dealing with metal, I treat such a job as an individual: possessing its own qualities and challenges unique to the day and the prevailing circumstances under which it has to be dealt with.  Assuming that I will be right could easily lead to my flouting it and at the end of the day having to deal with the repercussions of a job that has flopped. The first result of such a flop-job would be that I will not get paid the agreed price.

The second is that time will be wasted on the fixes that have to be performed to ensure that it is acceptable in the least. One cannot always be right, the only way to be right is to stick to the rote, to familiarise one’s self with the reality that they will have to repeat something over and over again until they can do it right.

Always looking for the alternative does not exactly come as the right answer; it only extends the life of the error and worsens the problem. Lacking in terms of respect, the character that thinks that they are always right often ends up with more errors on their plate than they began with.  It is wise to be humble in the approach of any entity, for its unpredictability is as that of a viper that is coiled in the corner, and what is simple on sight may prove to be hard and complicated upon engagement. I have come across jobs that demanded that I take a moment of repose and retreat to some corner like a David Henry Thoreau secluding himself to his Walden.

Of this issue of acknowledging that there is a possibility for error in every task he wrote:
Begin where you are and such as you are, without aiming mainly to become of more worth, and with kindness aforethought go about doing good.
Be humble, keep good intentions, and worry not about missing the target. You will get there, for you can’t always be right every time.

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Insight

We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

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For a number of good reasons, all of us are concerned about problems that face Lesotho’s young people, particularly youth unemployment, and the increasing tendency towards anti-social behaviour among sections of Lesotho youth including their increasing admiration for criminality.

Not only do members of such groups admire criminality and actually commit crimes but they commit crimes without much care as to the harm and other costs that their actions inflict on immediate victims and on society-at-large.

Evidence of public concern about these problems includes the fact that within society individuals, groups and public and private institutions have all expressed concerns over problems facing the youth, with some of these parties making attempts to come up with ideas and measures to assist.

However, a number of problems seem to be emerging on, at least, three fronts. Firstly, a seeming lack of coordination in addressing problems that face young people. Secondly, lack of clarity on questions of whether (a) parties that seek to assist are basing their interventions on credibly identified sources of problems that face young people; and (b) whether any credible assessments are made to ensure that interventions such parties are proposing and implementing have potential to solve problems that face Lesotho’s young people.

There are many examples of what may seem to us, members of the general public, to be lack of coordination in approaches to solve problems facing young people. One such example may be sufficient. On January 8, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast a statement in which the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities announced establishment of some army facility where Basotho young people would be taught some values, including patriotism.

The very next day, on January 9, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast another statement, this time by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) authorities, announcing the LMPS’s plan to establish a police facility at which young people would be taught anti-crime and other values. In their essence, the LMPS’s plan sounded not totally dissimilar to LDF’s.
Apart from the LDF and LMPS’s plans for Lesotho’s youth, there are also public and private sector initiatives to nurture and support entrepreneurial talents of Lesotho’s youth with a view, among others, to fight youth unemployment and develop the country’s private sector.

Politicians have also been seen to sponsor football games for young people in their constituencies with a view, they say, to keep young people from crime and narcotics. These events cannot be criticised too much but given that they are one, or two-day events that take place during specific times, they look more like publicity stunts.

National sports federations are now complaining that politicians who sponsor these events put too much stress on sports as a means to fight crime. What federations want is that, if politicians want to help, they should stress the importance of sports as careers, and sponsor young people to develop their sporting talents accordingly.

Amidst expressions of concerns and various parties’ attempts to address problems facing Lesotho youth, public authorities that we have not heard from, or from who we do not hear enough, are those charged with responsibilities over precisely problems facing young people; that is, authorities at the Ministry of Youth.

Admittedly, we do not know if the initiatives of the LDF, LMPS, and others are carried out in consultation with or with the blessing of the Ministry of Youth.

The worry ought to be not only whether interventions of the LDF, LMPS, and others have the blessings of the Ministry of Youth. Instead, the worry should extend to the question of whether the Ministry has any national plan to address problems facing young people. And, if such a plan exists, we would expect that it identifies the LDF and LMPS as places where young place can be coached; and initiatives of these and other institutions would align with such a plan.

Without an identification of the army and the police as implementing agencies of the Ministry’s plan, and without the army and police’s initiatives alignment with the Ministry’s plan, at least two things are likely to result: duplication of effort — as seems to be the case with the LDF and LPMS plans; or, at worst, LDF and LMPS plans might contradict and undermine national plans entrusted to the Ministry of Youth.

In the worst case scenario that a national plan does not exist, we face the danger that anybody wishing to address problems facing Lesotho’s young people can do so, basing herself, or himself on a personal or group perception, and implementing plans and solutions based on such perception.

As in the case of too many people stirring the same cooking pot without coordination, undesirable consequences can be expected from a situation where just about anybody can apply a solution to a public problem.

As hinted above, a good national plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people would have two characteristics, at least. First, it would be based on our assertion of the kind of society we want to be; an investigation of problems that stand in the way of achieving such a society; how such problems can be overcome, say, through school curricula; and how, in general, from Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD), young people can be brought up and socialised in ways that ensure they will be useful members of a society we wish to be.

Any action that is not based on an investigation of the problems that stand in the way of achieving a society we want to be has little chances of success. Such action would be based on some understanding that the young who are anti-social, unpatriotic and criminals are naturally bad people.

It is, of course, not as simple as that. For example, one possible explanation for the absence of patriotism among young people may have something to do with socio-economic inequality in Lesotho: those who are closed out of, and excluded from, benefiting from Lesotho’s wealth and power cannot be expected to be patriots.

A second characteristic of a plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people is that, such a plan should identify and/or establish institutions designed — and with appropriate skills — to implement ideas and proposals that come out of credible investigations.

It is unclear whether the LDF and LMPS plans have resulted from something like considerations suggested above. While it is admitted that these institutions’ initiatives are limited to addressing problems of lack of patriotism and criminality among the young people, one clear problem with their plans and solutions is that, it might be the case that they are catching young people a little late, when schooling and general socialisation have already entrenched anti-social values that we see among sections of young people; namely, individualism and the inability to think of others.

In one word, these institutions catch these young people when tendencies towards criminality, anti-social behaviour, and lack of patriotism might have already hardened.
Perhaps the biggest hope we should have is that the army and the police will have full complement of resources necessary for providing full and wholesome mentoring to young people who undergo army and police mentoring.

Short of adequate resources necessary for achieving what the army and the police have in mind, we might end up with cohorts of young people with a faulty army and police culture that may come back to haunt us. Inserting a faulty army culture among a section of young people brought us bitter results in the 1970s and 1980s that should not be repeated.

To conclude, no one can argue against all of us being concerned with problems of youth unemployment; increasing tendencies of young people’s admiration of criminality and their participation in crime. And no one can argue against all of us coming up with ideas and proposals of how to address these problems.

However, our concerns and proposals ought to be based on:
a nationally-agreed assertion of society we want to be;
a credible investigation of difficulties that stand in the way of us becoming society we want to be;

and coordination of proposals and ideas aimed at becoming society we want to be.

As with other specific instances of socio-economic development in Lesotho, problems facing the country’s young people cry out for the long-neglected establishment of the National Planning Board, as prescribed in Section 105 of the Constitution of Lesotho.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Insight

Call that a muffin?

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In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) one of the characters says about the British, “We have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Between American English and British English there are many, many differences. Which is not to say that either American or British English are standardised; there are multiple varieties within each. As a south-western Brit I can find it difficult to fully understand what someone from Liverpool or Newcastle is saying.

I remember one year during the NUL’s International Theatre for Development project we had a student from the islands of Scotland. She was brilliant and hard-working and full of good ideas — if only one could understand the ideas when she introduced them. The NUL students grouped together and asked me: “Chris, can you translate what Kirsty is saying for us?” and I replied: “I’m as lost as you are.”

Between American and British English it’s not just a matter of pronunciation but also of vocabulary (I’ll be coming to muffins — see the title of this piece — in a while) and spelling.
In the biographical film Prick Up Your Ears British, dramatist Joe Orton shares a room with Ken Halliwell and they decide to write a novel together. Ken asks Joe “can you spell?” and Joe replies “yes, but not accurately.”

This is hardly a surprise, given that he’s a Brit. The American spelling system is far more regular and rational than the British. (Readers with laptops will have noticed that your spell-check gives the option of British or American spelling, but that doesn’t help you as in Lesotho the British system is used, so for the time being you’re stuck with it).

I mean, what can you say about a spelling system where “plough” rhymes with “now”, but “tough” rhymes with “stuff”– and “now” doesn’t rhyme with “low.” Yipes (as the Americans say). When I was lecturing in Lesotho and in Nigeria and marking assignments I was always very lenient over spelling, because I know what a mountain it is to climb (the latter word rhyming with “time”, of course).

Then there is the matter of vocabulary or denotation (a term I hope readers remember from a few weeks back). There are many examples of things that are denoted by different words in British and American English: lift / elevator; pavement / sidewalk; windscreen / windshield; petrol / gas; cinema / movie theater (and look at the American spelling of (Brit) “theatre”– a lot easier). And some of these reflect our different histories.

For example, there’s a vegetable, a kind of small marrow, the British call it a courgette (one of my favourite vegetables, in case any of you are planning to invite me for dinner). That’s a word that British English has borrowed directly from French — that is, a loan word (I’m not sure we plan to give it back).

The Americans on the other hand call it a zucchini, a loan word from Italian, which I guess reflects the size and influence of the Italian community in the USA. (Speaking of vegetables, I can’t give you an explanation for why the Brits call an aubergine an aubergine — another loan word from French — but the Americans call it an egg-plant).

Next week I’ll get around to muffins — a sore point — and I’ll move on to differences between English and French and between Sesotho and Setswana. Bet you can’t wait.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

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I shall round off my account of my 1995 trip to Israel by putting on my tour guide cap. Staying in Tel Aviv, most days were fully taken up by the conference, which was my reason for being there. Tel Aviv in July is scorchingly hot, so there were walks along the beach only before breakfast and after sunset. I did take a little time off to go with South African author Stephen Gray to an art gallery that had a painting he wanted to see (a portrait by Modigliani of Beatrice Hastings, whose biography Stephen was then writing).

I wasn’t especially keen on the hotel restaurant, where dinner comprised meat served by the ton (surprisingly little fish, given that we were on the coast. By contrast, I had always been surprised and happy that Maseru restaurants are so good on fish, despite the fact that Lesotho isn’t exactly maritime). But I discovered a little Russian Jewish restaurant that offered Beluga caviar at an amazingly cheap price. I suspect it had fallen off the back of a lorry, as we say in the UK — i.e. that it was contraband, acquired illegally. I just blinked innocently and enjoyed myself. I can’t think of a more delicious way of starting a meal than with caviar, freshly-made blinis and a large glass of deeply chilled Wyberowa vodka — no ice, please. (I only say all this to show you what a very cosmopolitan chap I am).

The conference ran to a packed schedule and we worked hard (no, really). Half-way through we were given a day off and taken to Jerusalem. On arrival I teamed up with an old Nigerian friend and a friend of his from Senegal and we took ourselves first to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque, which is splendid and radiant (wow, the mosaics!) Then we saw the Wailing Wall.

Then we trudged up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via marks the route along which Christ was forced to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion (dolorosa means something like “of miseries”). I had expected it to be lined with sculptures showing the Stations of the Cross (rather like the lovely ones at Fatima, near Ramabanta).

Instead it was one tourist gift shop after another. Here I came across one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in my life. Proudly displayed for sale, a wall clock with the face adorned with the image of the head of Christ, the two clock hands protruding from his nose.

At the top of the Via Dolorosa, the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in the world for Christians, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The interior is (not visibly) divided into sections, the upkeep of each of which is the responsibility of one of the major denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and so on. I had had the impression this was an arrangement worked out under the colonial regime of British Palestine, but Google tells me it dates back to the Status Quo of 1757.

My companions had done their homework and suggested we head first for the roof, which had been allocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (dare one possibly suggest a tinge of racism in this marginalisation?). There we found a cluster of monkish cells, each inhabited by an elderly Ethiopian monk, at least two of whom spoke English or French. They were delighted to see us, and utterly sweet, hospitable, and in their accounts of their pastoral work spellbinding.

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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