Tuesday 28 August 2012

A coach's perspective on advising the national spirit

When I began teaching in schools, my actual mission - although I wasn't capable of verbalising it to myself at the time - was to build spirit. Having grown up in a conservative Chrisitan home, and being exposed daily to exhortations to follow a spiritual imperative, I had the unusual advantage of being sensitive to spiritual movement and meaning before I learned to spell my name. It was entirely baffling, of course, since mixed messages abounded, and trying to find an exact fit between language and spiritual awareness is an extremely ambitious quest. Yet I strongly felt that within myself there was and still is a clear call, and answering that call is what my life is about.

I can't spell out that call in definite words because even the most abstruse, comprehensive and profound concepts available have not sufficed, and time is running out, and in any case, concepts aren't the bottom line, although the philosophers wouldn't agree. I have learned to agree with myself, and that's good enough for a very argumentative person.

I was taught about the call as an imperative that required truthfulness, faithfulness, obedience, and unfortuantely, tribalism. The worth of the first three are unquestionable, and the fourth, which is a crude way of describing the end dynamics of a fruitless church, is reasonably accurate. Important symbols, valuable rituals, profound naratives and group awareness should lead to discernible growth, which wasn't the case in my own experience.

It's wrong to judge Christianity on the basis of what happens in a local church, yet if there's a cover-up that goes a long, long way back, accountability also goes a long, long way back. And the long, long way back might refer not only to historical figures but also to current leadership figures. The spirit of any group is the signature of what the group means to itself and beyond itself, and narratives are the key to elucidating the signature. When the National Party was in power, the actual narrative was well hidden, though the signature was obvious enough. Now that the ANC is in power, the same dissonance is evident: the official narrative is that the country is improving, yet the signature declares the eaxct opposite.  Infrastructure, health, education, justice and social fibre are close to collapse, and the economy is used and abused by people who have contributed nothing to it.

I'm not a political commentator. My purpose here is to address the spirit of the nation, not the state of the nation. Patient as metaphor for nation: the patient is extremely ill, not yet at the point of death, and may possibly rally, but the possibility is remote. While there's life, there's hope, you say. Yes, but if you refuse to take your medicine, you're giving away, rather than giving up hope.

Here's a daring one, but I think it works: the worst of the Nats honestly believed that they were following God's will. The ANC doesn't care about God's will. Whether God is a supreme being or your ancestors is not the point: it's about being sensitive, respectful and co-operative with spiritual context, which has direct influence on whether you are sensitive, respectful and co-operative within human context. Coaching involves discerning the processes by which meaning and satsfaction are achieved. Perhaps it would be a good idea for a political incumbent (I hesitate to use the word "leader" as "political leader" is for the most part a contradiction in terms ) to be surrounded by a group of coaches rather than advisors, as truthfulness may have a better chance of being achieved.

It's a pity to watch a desert with oases turn into pure desert. Beautiful landscape doesn't ease the agony of dying of thirst.

I remember the day when Van Zyl Slabbert announced his departure from politics. He no longer wished to engage. F.C.H.Rumboll's advice to his students was "Rise above your problems". South Africa's problem is not one of lack of concern, it's about the vehicle of concern. A devious (read one minister one agenda) cabinet led by an unfazed president (another agenda) who all have their work cut out to win friends and influence people in the ANC, and nowhere else, are prisoners of and in the party vehicle. Jockeying to be drivers, navigators, engineers, they should realize that the tyres have been stolen. They fear no other vehicle because they assume that they're the only car on the road. I am of the opinion that this vehicle is breaking down. It has to break down, anyway, no empire has ever persisted forever, and the ANC hasn't the strength of solidarity.

Leadership coaching (this is really what we're talking about) shows that blaming is a fruitless exercise. You actually can't blame a party for being voted in. The triad of weird and evil sisters is population, party and party-leaders. If we refrain from political analysis and attempt a systemic analysis involving especially emotional patterns of proximity and distance between these three strands, we might sort out the difference between the lord of the flies, queen of the bees and the bugs of paradise.

Who are you going to blame for oppression in South Africa from the fifties to the eighties? The prime ministers, generals, apartheid, Afrikaners or whites? Pick on something or someone for the Holocaust: Hitler, Germany, Nazism, Germans, the generals. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, and the whole is closer to the spirit of the nation than any of the parts. If you break the parts right down to rock-face, they're you and me, and what we're going to do or not do in the next hour. All of these minutiae add up to the signature of the whole.

I aimed for the whole in those early classrooms, with the pupils' carefulness in language, meaning in lterature, growth in character. I continued with the same kind of mission at university, wanting to move beyond the motivation of merely attaining a degree to providing students with a vision of how they could contribute to a world by helping to create it.

The ANC is simply not the whole of the spirit of the nation, although its leaders would like it to be. There are other vehicles of transport, not necessarily clothed in the colours of politics. Wherever there's growth of awareness, there's the possibility of fruitful change. I don't think of God as an anthropomorphic supreme being: I would prefer not to use words, but to recognize a singularly riveting signature that stirs me as vividly as it alerts me. I would prefer God to issue forth a name rather than be given one. The national spirit cannot be claimed: it comprises, intransitively, spontaeously, limitlessly. I am reminded of something my Irish friend taught me, when I was about four or five years old:

He drew a circle that shut me out.
I was a heretic rebel, a thing of flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
we made a circle that drew him in.

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