Thoughts on any day are powerful tools – do right, do no harm.

Freedom of speech

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The South African government, dominated by the ANC, is pushing through a draconian piece of legislation – the Freedom of Information bill.

The irony here is that this is the same legislation the Apartheid government used to suppress the media – to stop them reporting on the discriminatory practices of the unjust regime. The ANC is endorsing what the Apartheid government did. Add to this the disregard for those who died for this fundamental freedom – the freedom of expression. People like Steve Biko and Chris Hani – died for what – the same corruption, the same standards, the same suppression. It is a disgrace and as members of parliament, they ought to be ashamed.

So as South Africans we stand at new precipice – a government wrapped in greed, aiming to nationalise everything they can see, protect the corrupt, suppress one of the key instruments that every democracy relies on – the free press – and marches to the drum of the new colonisers – the Chinese.

What is inexplicable to me is how those in power fail to see why South Africa is slipping down the list of investment destinations, rising in the index of corrupt counteries and experiencing massive service deliery protests.

Hey Mr Zuma – would you put your money in a country where you cannot be sure that if it is stolen you would be able to track it and maybe get it back? Hey Mr Zuma, how about this, stand-up for freedom and then see if everyone wants to give you a Visa (like the Dalai Lama) – oh wait, that can be deemed a national interest secret so who would know? Hey Mr Zuma, give all your money away and go and live in a shack and then see what it means to have no water, no services, but watch your elected officials spend millions on hotels – oh wait that will also be a national secret. Hey Mr Zuma, when the opposition stands up and tells the world that your government has spent the tax payers money on their houses you can just make it a national secret and throw them in jail – hey? Hey Mr Zuma- knock knock – yes it is me, the one who told you about the fracking in the karoo – oh a national secret – lock them up – who cares about the land, the farmer and the worker when we can put some cash in the hands of our relatives – jobs for comrades?

What is it Mr Zuma – truth, freedom, VIVA! Fight the good fight or be remember as the black Vervwoed – which one are you Mr Zuma?

Maybe, just maybe, the government should change and if they don’t, then change the government … hhhhmmmm is there a new spring coming, an African spring?


Written by M Backeberg

December 6, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Support democracy!

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The Southern Sudanese have a chance to express their own voice. The question remains if the North will recognise the outcome or will the country sink into a war.

Democracy is a rare event on the African continent – even in counteries which are theoretically democratic (like South Africa) – in reality, deep rooted tribalism underlies most African democracies and democratic processes, but when there can only ever be 1 winner – it is not really democracy is it?

So, on this rare occasion, will one form of true democracy flourish for a brief moment or will the quagmire of kleptocracy, suppression of media freedom and nepotism once more overwhelm the one freedom that some people have.

Written by M Backeberg

January 9, 2011 at 11:02 am

Is it acceptable to lie?

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One of my favourite questions at dinner parties (at the moment) is this: is it ever acceptable to lie?

What tends to happen is that the conversation starts out with most people (all except 1 so far) adopting a stance that they are adamant that lying is never acceptable. One of the interesting phenomena here is that people tend to support each other in this belief. If one person comes out strongly, the other people in the group will support them and it becomes a bit of a yes man session – one of those where everyone says yes and no one disagrees. Almost all believe that lying should never happen and is wrong – full stop. Give it a couple of minutes and only listen.

Now change the direction slightly:
The situation (and this is a factual event) is this: during WW2, Dutch fishermen hide Jews on their boats while fishing in the English Channel. They would provide safe passage for these people to England. They would regularly be stopped by German patrol boats and the typical challenge to the fisherman was something along the lines of what were they doing and did they have anyone or anything else on their boats? They lied, to protect their passengers and themselves.

The dinner topic now changes, with the most common response being – well that is obvious, lying in those circumstances is right. My next question is this then: if it is right in this circumstance, then lying is not an absolute, so maybe lying is not wrong.

The non-lying brigade, launch into an explanation that usually goes something like this: this is an unusual situation and is not the normal course of life and is not the same as an everyday lie, which is what they are referring to obviously! I should see this and the distinction is important.


How about this then.

Albert Carr wrote an article a few decades ago and in this article he argues that doing business is similar to a game of poker. In poker, the players are playing under rules where the players are expected to bluff – to either create an illusion of strength or weakness in the game; this would then allow their opponents to make a mistake. A similar situation, he argued, exists in business. People tout all the time, inflating their ability or capability to do something to win a contract. Is this not lying?

There are many negotiation courses that business managers attend – these courses regularly explain a strategy of presenting a price which is higher than the expected price. The contract is a negotiation and settling on the price you can do the work at or for, requires both parties to be in a position which they can agree on. If you are in a negotiation and present a price for a product or service and in your presentation you justify your price as either the best quality or best product, to justifying the higher price (than say a competitor) and you subsequently settle on a lower price, would this not be a lie? Either the initial product lacks the required quality to support the price or the initial price is not what it was made out to be or the product is in fact no better than the competitor. All are not in fact true from the get go then, otherwise you should not change your price or misrepresent the quality of the product.

Now the conversation turns a different course and becomes more of a debate. The conversation usually ends with me saying something like this: “Okay, so sometimes it is okay to lie, sometimes we lie intentionally and sometimes you are not even aware you are lying. So the question is still – is it ever acceptable to lie?”

An awkward silence follows and the topic changes.

Some variations which are interesting:
One person said to me flat out, lying is normal so it is acceptable. It just happens and is what it is. Everyone does it and those that don’t lack any understanding of social dynamics. Just accept it. An interesting view point, which maybe needs more thought.

The second variation which has come out is this, we tell white lies all the time, as an example, your friend gets a new haircut, they feel good about themselves; the haircut is terrible – you have a choice, you can lie and say what a nice haircut it is and protect their feelings (is that not what friends do?) or you can be honest and turn a good day into a bad day for them – be honest (is this not what friends do?). Hhhhmmm – a different conversation for a different time.

The third variation is this, “I never lie” – I will rather say nothing and just leave it. Sounds like a cop out – if you never lie, then you should be honest otherwise you are not really truthful all the time, only some of the time and rest of the time you are effectively performing a different kind of lie with silence. The silence leads to an indirect answer, so just not saying it is surely the same as just saying it – you cannot absolve yourself.

My thoughts are this – it is an interesting question and surprising how many people think they never lie. When a few possible situations are pointed out (and there are many more) they tend to recognize that they maybe do lie and feel awkward. Time to change the conversation – the objective here is not to breakdown friends, but rather just to see what people perceive to be truthful.

Try it; you may see something new in your friends. One point, I don’t try to win an argument here and I never express my own opinion – this is after all just a different topic of conversation I use with colleagues, family and friends. All people I value in a different way – so causing conflict is not my objective. It beats the weather, your job or how about the team [fill in the name of the team of the moment] as a topic of conversation.

Written by M Backeberg

December 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Honesty, Truth

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What is greatness?

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I am not sure what greatness is? If Mandela and Ghandi had a gun fight – who would win? This is an easy question to answer – Mandela for sure. Ghandi was a pacifist who fought for rights and was against violence to achieve this. Mandela was not.

Would you then say Mandela was not a great as Ghandi – Mandela freed 40 million and Ghandi freed 400 million – but do the numbers count?

If violence allows one to achieve greatness and numbers don’t count, then how do you measure greatness?

If numbers are not relative in determining greatness, then why is that some rulers can oppress a few and we all stand-by – is it because they are not great?

What happens in a world where we recognise greatness because people fight for a just cause, but where a small oppressed group cannot rise up and fight, this is just hunky. Small groups have no power – yet we pat them on the back and tell them we will support them with a mouth full of gums (we left our teeth in the glass of water next to the bed) and allow soldiers to rape, or despots to hide behind diplomacy or sovereignty.

If we recognise a gunslinger as a great man and we recognise violence as a sign of achieving greatness – well then we just allow violence. Full stop. If we allow violence, then the despotic ruler has justification to use violence – could they not argue they are pursuing greatness and the world is wrong, history will prove them right? The world does not know what they know and violence is necessary – they could argue.

What if greatness only comes from the mind and the power of an intellect to lead? I am saying – no violence allowed; in reality until everyone lives a peaceful life we have to fight – we have no choice – despots hide in shadows and operate in a dark and dangerous world. Despots have no intellectual room to conceive that if they were truly right and truly great, millions would follow.

The gunslinger could leave the six shooter at home.

Written by M Backeberg

November 30, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Posted in Leadership

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