The emergencies that school principals wrestle with each day, demand a constant ﬂow of choices and decisions, or as one principal described it, “reactions.”
From the most mundane requests to the demands of an irate parent, the school principal must make choices each day largely around the priority of keeping everyone happy.
Dealing with the constant ‘live moment’, she develops a habit of navigating through decision-making based on emergencies. Those decisions are made on the spur of the moment, where the temptation is high to opt for shallow and short-sighted considerations. There is seldom time to reﬂect over a long-term view of the implications of decisions or careful scrutiny of the ramiﬁcations for people.
As a consequence, an abnormally high percentage of the school principal’s time is spent on making decisions as a way of stopping the bleeding, as it were. Also, this energy-zapping process leaves the principal with fewer chances to develop sound decision making processes.
Instead of consistently demonstrating a razor-sharp mind honed by a capacity to synchronize, compare, contrast and assimilate, the principal ﬁnds his mind in atrophy, blunted by trivialities and too exhausted to capably deal with the real courageous choices that she needs to make.
Tomorrow, they go through the same cycle.
How then, does one lead wisely when decision-making is so complex?
The vast amount of complexities and problems of our South African school leaders and principals are immediate and desperate.
Some of them require rather drastic interventions. It is highly likely, therefore, that leaders view their own development and growth as substantially signiﬁcant in relation to the extent to which it enables them to solve these immediate problems.
Solving problems is an indicator, as such, of the principal’s capacity to lead. Fear of being labeled a failure because of a malfunctioning school pushes most leaders to do whatever it takes to bring immediate relief.
Tomorrow, they go through the same cycle.
How then, does one lead wisely in the midst of the perils of immediacy?
Many of our reflections on the life of Nelson Mandela are deep insights into the obvious, often described in sentimental terms. But few understand, not only the ideas, but the origin and vibrant processes that shaped the ideas of Nelson Mandela. Few of us fully comprehend the secrets to how trials and struggles shaped and sharpened those ideas and even fewer grasp the difference that it is suppose to make, or supposed to have made in all of us in South Africa and in this world.
Admittedly, the goodness, the kindness and reconciliatory spirit of Nelson Mandela are the reasons why we admire him. It is sad, however, that not more of us understand the mental, academic and intellectual strain it took to arrive at such a disposition. We hardly reflect seriously over Nelson Mandela’s disciplined mental spadework, during the times where and when no one was around and how those “habits of the heart and mind” formed the pillars of his brilliance and impact.
We love the story of a forgiving Nelson Mandela, but know very little about the logic behind that forgiveness. We are blind, thinking that forgiveness is illogical. Maybe, at some level it is, and I suppose we mean that it is incredible, surprising and unexpected, especially given the fact that revenge was an expected reply in 1994.
But I am beginning to see that the incredible, surprising and unexpected response of Nelson Mandela was not a blind sweeping of transgressions underneath a mat. While he is not the first in history to do so, it is wise to acknowledge that his capacity to forgive was a deliberate intention to not hold the past atrocities against the perpetrators. Such a thoughtful, deliberate, calculated and volitional response reflect his wisdom and soundness of mind.
Our country, our world needs leaders characterized by this kind of acumen.
The complexity within this conclusion is that, firstly, it blurs an important acknowledgement that the past it refers to, is not a common global past. Pockets of excellence in different parts of the world approached education as MORE THAN just the acquisition of knowledge while others reveled in rote learning and somewhere else, proponents probably opted for an approach in between. Secondly, simply ‘imparting knowledge’ was and is a fragmented approach to education. Recent positive examples like Finland is a throwback to models of learning, that date back to some 5000 years BC when connecting knowing with doing was obvious.
The brokeness, instability and volatility in Education are therefore not only as a result of a current fragmented approach to learning, but also a consequence of an already fragmented approach to learning.
The crafty art of complaining and disputing comes naturally to all of us. None of us ever attended a School for the Art of Complaining. Yet, we are cum laude graduates with griping as a major.
These last few days, central and parts of northern Europe have been lashed with torrential rain that resulted in the deaths of at least 9 people. Earlier in the week, the French Open organisers had to cancel an entire day of tennis because of the rain. Many tennis players, especially the ones who lost, complained of the risks to their ankles and careers having been ‘forced’ to play in a drizzle. Meanwhile, nine families will have a great deal more than sprained ankles and dented careers to contend with once the rain subsides and by reports, it won’t be soon.
Sometimes, in the heat of a moment, rationality recedes, perspective perishes and a moment to show commitment to meaning and purpose is lost. Tennis event organizers have great skills, but they cannot make rain. They may exploit the circumstances and stoop to the level of your own moral deficiencies, but they cannot stop the rain. If you cannot understand that, you’ve succumbed to irrationality. The same rain that spoiled your game, devastated a home. If you cannot see that, you’ve lost perspective. Tennis stars always have a chance to let the world know that true champions value life over careers. If you cannot embrace that, then you’ve missed a chance to inspire a commitment to meaning and purpose.
Next time you’re in the heat of the moment, sing in the rain, don’t sob. Inspire us, don’t whine.
Born in Cape Town and rather fortunate to have lived and worked in Grettstadt, Stockholm, Washington DC, Rome and Beijing over the last 20-odd years, I have often been asked about the place of my birth. Immediately after offering the corresponding reply, questions about culture, politics, race, Mandela and cuisine follow in rapid succession.
Since eating runs deep in my family, I often start with the culinary.
One question is repeated by everyone with rather bemusing German, Swedish, American, Italian and Chinese consensus:
So what is the favourite South African dish?
“It depends”, I’d inform, “on exactly who you are talking to.”
“Well, do you mean blacks, whites, coloureds, Indians?”
Well, which one are you?
“I am spectacularly described as coloured.”
So what do coloureds eat?
“It depends”, I’d add, “on whether you mean coloureds from the rest of South Africa or the Western Cape.”
Well, where are you from?
“I’m from the Western Cape.”
Oh…ok (American English for, ‘This is weird’) So, what is the favourite dish of coloureds living in the Western Cape?
“It depends”, I’d explain, “on whether you mean poor, middle class or whether you are talking about the lot from the platteland (rural).”
“Ma dai” (Italian for, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’), so which are you?
“Well, I’m from the platteland.”
Ok, so what do Western Capian (actual words used) coloureds from the platteland eat as a favourite dish?
“It depends”, I’d expand, “on whether that plattelander recently moved to the city or whether she was born in the city to parents from the platteland.”
“Aiyo”, which is rough Chinese for ‘Oh my!’? So, were you born in the city, or…?
“I was born in the city, yes, to parents of whom 50% came from the platteland.”
“Ok, so what is the favourite dish of Western Capian city-dwelling coloureds who were born from platteland parents … uhm…50% of platteland parents?”
“It depends”, I’d argue, “on where exactly in the city they live. Some live in the heart of the city and others in the suburbs. Before you ask, I am from the suburbs.”
“Ok, so what’s the favourite all-time cuisine of Western Capian city-dwelling suburban coloureds who were born from platteland parents … uhm…50%?”
“It depends”, I’d warn, “on whether you mean those living on the east- or whether you mean those living on the west side of the railway line. East-side coloureds are your professional types.”
“Men, kom igen!” (Swedish for ‘oh, come on!’) On which side of the line did you live?
I’m not from the east-side of the railway line.
“Ok, so what’s the favourite all-time cuisine of Western Capian city-dwelling suburban coloureds who were born from a 50% platteland parent-combo and resides on the west-side of the railway line?”
“It depends”, I’d console, “on the day of the week.”
“Unglaublich!”, which is German for ‘unbelievable’.
Right now in South Africa, for the cost of a return flight for 1 person between DC and Johannesburg, I could install a rather stable broadband service in 3 schools for 1 year. Reform-minded and innovative men and women in the so-called global north could build meaningful collaboratives with adults and young people in South Africa, for example, at a nano-fraction of a fraction of what philanthropists spend, without inflicting the harm, so poignantly delineated in this insightful article.
One of the things that I would change, if I had to do it all over again, would be to insist that, instead of traveling to beloved South Africa, my well-intentioned colleagues from Europe, Asia and the US stay at home and maximize the possibilities of innovative communications technology for REAL impact.