Successful Failure

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First of all, let me say this: Failure is never a beautiful experience. Especially when it’s still fresh and you can literally taste it in your mouth. It is a horribly bitter pill to swallow (I hate pills).. Anywho, this post is not about pills, but about failure. having dealt with failure before, you’d figure this time it would be better. But failure is like death, the more you experience, the less you get used to it. More so because every fresh experience is never exactly like the last.

So, this year was supposed to be my graduation year. I looked forward to that wonderful celebration ceremony in December.. But the thing is, the way my degree is setup, it takes just that one random course for your one major to mess up your whole degree. Just one! And it did. Just like a major loss, the experience of failure follows the same logic of certain steps in the grief period. The first being Denial. When I got my June results, in my heart I expected at least a pass of 50 across the board for my psychology courses. However, in my heart of hearts I was afraid I would fail all three and consequently get excluded (That did not happen, thank God!). Someone might say, well surely you’ve failed before, what makes this experience different or unique? Well, for starters, those failures I experienced in the past could be fixed within the same year and did not threaten my whole degree and my ability and hopes to graduate in record time. Secondly, the greatest insult is knowing that you were 2% away from a pass! Knowing that only 2% stood before you and being capped by Max Price (Or Graca Machel if you’re lucky) in December and thereby declared a UCT graduate. That is what made this experience unique and therefore much devastating. Therefore, when I got the results, and realised I had passed all my courses except one, I thought “surely this can be fixed, with enough luck and a little dose of grace, hopefully before I have to tell my family the devastating news.” (Negotiation stage). Well, it turns out I was wrong, at that point in time, it was already too late to fix anything. Then I became depressed about it, like seriously depressed, especially when I finally realised that actually, this is happening. My degree is being extended and I have to graduate in June next year. Notice that I did not go through the stages in a linear or successive manner, but I assure you, I went through all, if not most of them.

I finally realised that I had to accept the situation as it is. I had to own up to the fact that I contributed to my own failure. Sure, I mean I had gone through a hard time during first semester, gone through the most emotionally trying time of my life. But in the midst of all that, I also contributed by not handing in my tutorial submissions on time, if at all at times. However, playing the blame game either with myself or the circumstances I went through simply wasn’t gonna cut it. I had to recognise what had happened, accept it and plot a way forward. That’s exactly what I did. Now came the time to tell my mother, who by that time had already been planning a trip to Cape Town for my graduation. It wasn’t easy. I wasn’t prepared to hear the disappointment in her voice, so I sent her an sms. She took over two weeks to reply… I could sense that, not only was this a sense of loss for me, but also for her as well since she had been making all of these plans, but eventually when she called, she sounded fine. That was good enough for me.

The point of this blog however, is to encourage anyone who is going through any form of failure, even if it’s not academic. The point is to basically show that it happens to the best of us. I come from a background where almost everyone thinks I’m invincible, especially when it comes to academics, however, the fact is University and school are two different environments. That’s the first point I want to make. And secondly, EVERYONE fails at some point in their life. It’s a normal part of life. It’s a normal occurrence. But because we live in a society that is obsessed with perfection, excellence (not that there’s anything wrong with excellence) it becomes a tragedy to fail. Some have taken much more drastic steps and actually ended their lives. And I honestly understood how they felt at that moment it hit me. I really understood what would drive someone to actually end their life, because what goes through their mind is that, they have disappointed their family, their community, sponsors, and the list goes on and on. At that moment the person is not thinking, “My life is more valuable than this, I am bigger than this” and all those positive affirmations. What is going your mind when you fail is that “I am a failure, a disappointment and therefore maybe it would be better for everyone if I wasn’t here. I actually considered suicide, for like 5minutes, then I thought better of it. I decided I am not gonna go out like this. I am not gonna be a statistic. I am not going to form part of “Another UCT Student takes own life” headline on the side of the road on Main road on the Cape Argus or Cape Times mini billboards. I just want to take time to demystify this whole notion of “mature Christians don’t have problems because they are so cool, calm and collected”. That’s a total myth, if not a lie straight from the mouth of the father of lies himself, the devil. There’s also a myth that has trapped most Christians that promotes the idea of not discussing your problems in public. Well, how do we then hope to help others if we don’t have problems? If we don’t have challenges, how do we then hope to help those who have challenges? If we don’t fail, those who fail ultimately become hopeless and cannot relate with us because we are so perfect and without blemish, therefore they feel the constant need to come up to our standard. Christ is the standard, and no one else!! If we are not real humans with real problems, then we become abstract ideas that only a few can dream of attaining. But if we are real humans, with real problems, then we become approachable and therefore useful in people’s lives.

Lastly, I want to stress this: Failure is painful, it is real and it is depressing. However, it is not the end! It is not the final determinant of your life. It is just a minor setback, but not a hindrance to God’s plan for your life. You may not reach your goal in the set amount of time that you want to, but it doesn’t mean you will not get there. Therefore, above all, just remember one thing: Jeremiah 29:11 God says “For I know the plans I have for you….” Those plans don’t change just because you’ve failed one course or two. or even three. You may even face exclusion or become excluded from university even… But that will not prevent God’s plan for your life. I have couple of friends who can testify to that effect. Sometimes when we even pray fervently to God, sometimes He does not give us the answer we expect or what we want, but He definitely gives us what we NEED! Therefore, don’t allow failure (in any area of your life) to hinder your vision of the ultimate goal you and God agreed upon. Most importantly, failure does not hinder God’s plan for your life.

Shalom!

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The Age of technology and the constant need for approval from others..

Facebook!, Instagram, twitter, snapchat, and the list goes on… These are all platforms where gender, religious, social and economic identities are performed or played out. As one of my friends put the other day, as uttered by one of her friends “You know what they say, if it’s not on Instagram, then it never happened”. It seems nowadays, the main drive behind people posting pictures, statuses and videos online is the need for approval from others in order to confirm to themselves that they are still alive and therefore, still relevant.

These are all splayed out on social media to be consumed, approved affirmed by the spectators… or rather, our “friends”. This then traps us in this vicious prison of perpetual dependence on likes and opinions on how beautiful/handsome we are, how adventurous and outgoing we are, while in fact we are slipping further away from humanity or what it truly means to be human as we know it. A lot has been said about the detrimental effects of social media in our ability to relate at a human level. However, we have not done enough to rectify this destructive and harmful behaviour. Nowadays you find people who are interesting and fun to chat to on social media or platforms, however upon face to face contact with the person, you find that it is very awkward to even have a conversation that lasts 5minutes with them. We have become comfortable hiding behind our screens and witty texts that we have forgotten (if we have ever learned at all in this technological age) how to be human. We have lost the ability to interact with one another and relate at a human level.

As an effort to find worth and value, we then look to social media for approval and affirmation of our humanity. You find young people posting pictures on FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc. in search of a certain amount of likes to affirm their value and humanity. Should a certain number not be reached within an expected time period, then they are taken down to post much more “interesting” ones. Should this plan fail, then more drastic steps are taken, then the next phase is implemented: Pose either half naked or just totally naked in order to attract more likes and comments about how beautiful or handsome you are. This phenomenon traps more girls/women than it does because we have constructed a society that has taught boys and men that a woman is only valuable and interesting if she can show her loyalty or interest in you if she is willing to offer her body as a “living sacrifice” at your feet. This does not help things as it perpetuates the ongoing onslaught on women that we are trying so hard to curb. I will be very quick to add that we as men are not doing nearly enough to correct and condemn this kind of behaviour in our brothers, instead we focus our attention on telling women how to dress or to dress modestly while we do nothing to educate our fellow men on self-control and treating women with respect and honour that they deserve. We have adopted this false mentality that the man is the head and therefore he is superior to a woman. I’m very sure that that is not at all what the Bible means and meant by you being a head.

What we see playing out on social media is a result or the fruit of a sick society that we have constructed and is now haunting us. Many speak out against it of course, however the manner in which it is done is troubling as well. You find comments such as “attention seeking”, “slut”, “no self respect”, if it is a man, then the following comments are likely to follow “faggot” “vain” “Narcissistic”, etc. However, no one ever stops to relate with these individuals on a human and engage them from an approach that seeks to make them feel genuinely loved in the process of being corrected. Instead what these comments do is to perpetuate this kind of objectification, and dehumanisation of an already troubled individual.

What’s the solution then? Well, I will not claim to have all the answers or to be an expert on anything that has to do with anything. However, I do believe that as soon as we start deconstructing and questioning how we have constructed what it means to be human in this day and age, the better it will be for our generation. As soon as we start interacting with one another in physical spaces instead of having a thousand friends on FB of which you have only met 5-10 physically. We need to move out of the virtual world into the actual world. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having many people on Facebook, but there’s everything wrong with thinking that because you have a thousand friends on Facebook or 800 followers on Instagram then you have a social life. I would caution against even calling that a life at all. The truth is, our phone screens and laptop screens take us away from friends and family and we have accepted as a normal part of life. Yet, we get surprised when there’s a spike in the number of suicides, a spike in the diagnosis of depression and other kinds of emotional and mental illnesses that many at times result from this disconnect from human interaction.

Lastly, speaking as man to other men. My plea is this: let us treat every woman as we would our own mothers and sister, aunts, cousins and every woman in our lives that we care about. I recently came across a picture on Facebook that read “”I have a boyfriend” is the easiest way to get man to leave you alone. Because he respects another man more than you” Now this really struck me and convicted me, immediately I was tempted to switch to a mode that we ever so constantly criricise white people for: that “But I’m not like that” rhetoric. I realised that it is not about being ‘not like that” but about ensuring that you own the actions of the group you belong to and making sure that you reach as many members of your group and ensuring that you advocate for reform in the actions that are considered normal standard practice but are oppressive to another group. Many at times as men we struggle to see what the problem is when women raise issues that are clearly wrong, but because we are so blinded by our own privilege we quickly dismiss them as just an irrational act “typical women” right? No, it’s not right. If it is not acceptable when done to your mother, sister and even daughter, then it is not acceptable to any woman! Full stop. Just as we constantly advocate for transformation in racial relations between white and black people, let us also, as black men STOP doing things that are a violation of women’s rights on a daily basis. It is easier for a woman to submit to man who treats her as an equal than one who is constantly flaunting it in her face that he “is the head”. Therefore, my fellow brothers, let us strive to be better men. We cannot just continue in blind ignorance in the name of “boys will be boys” that’s the kind of immaturity that perpetuates patriarchy and objectification of women and ultimately spikes up rape statistics in this country, because men fail to own up to our flaws as group. If you cannot hold your brother accountable for stupid and violent behaviour towards women, then you are just as guilty, even if you ‘not like that”

As I said, these problems and deviant behaviour that we see playing out in social media is a result of an underlying social ill that if not addressed sooner rather than later, will still imprison the next generation and unfortunately it deteriorates day by day as we let it continue without rectifying it.

A Conundrum of Sorts – Language and Identity.

Identity! My good old friend that helps me position myself in this complex society… The question is, is language tied to identity? If so, then who am I then?, because I seem to be more fluent in English than in the language of my culture or origin if you like. This is a conundrum of sorts indeed.

This then presents a dilemma in my definition of who and what I perceive myself to be. Well, a simple answer would be, language doesn’t have to be tied to identity. Any language therefore can be used as a resource or commodity with which one navigates and negotiates their way in this current society. This would be in line with the arguments of the proponents of social construcivism. These of course would argue that identity is not fixed, but dynamic and constantly changing depending on context, Era and social setting. However, there is another argument. And that is the fundamentalist/essentialist argument that presupposes that identity is fixed and is rooted in the language of your birth. This then views the dominance, or rather, the change in the dominant language as a fundamental change and a betrayal of the language of your birth. Therefore, the proponents of this view regard identity as an either or phenomenon, not a flexible concept that can be relevant in any given social and structural setting. My struggle then with these two competing ideologies is that, my preoccupation with identity and language, particularly my own identity and dominant language means that I have to subscribe to either of the two at least at some point. As I always say to me friends “pick a struggle and stick to it”. Therefore I gotta pick a struggle and stick to it, so to say. Therefore, the struggle I pick is one of subscribing to the notion of social construction of identity and flexibility of identity and language. As I said in the beginning, I am more fluent in English than I am in the language of my birth, or culture. The reason for that is, the environment I’m constantly in is one of extreme diversity and I am constantly forced to speak English because of certain language barriers with the other person I’m engaging with. But also because, even growing up, my thoughts have always somehow been in English (don’t ask me how that’s even possible. I also don’t know), but my communication in either Sesotho or IsiZulu.

Therefore, as a conclusion, I personally don’t think language dictates my identity. I believe I am fully African or black. I am fully aware of my roots, traditions and customs. I am also aware of the social order and what it takes to navigate and negotiate your way in order to manipulate and work your way around certain structures to attain what you need to climb up the social ladder. That unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on how you look at it) requires the use of the English language. This does not remove my initial conundrum of course, but at the very least, it alleviates and makes it a bit better… for now. Till I get older and wiser..