What To Do, What Not To Do?

A rather engaging TIME magazine feature of September 2015 asked the following probing question;

Should companies monitor their employees’ social media accounts?

The story proceeded to quote CareerBuilder (in 2015), estimating that 52% of companies were checking job applicants’ social media profiles. What do you know? The world continues to change in ways some of us (senior citizens!) could never have imagined. Not even in my worst nightmare.

On sharing this story with my children, I discovered that I was not introducing anything new. Apparently, some schools in Harare are already steps ahead – they keep a tab on the social media profiles of both potential and enrolled students. How far should it go? Should it be done at all?

I think the subject is one that could best be described as vexatious. In trying to give the word its full weight, the Merriam-Webster dictionary says it refers to something that is “intended to harass.” It provides the example of “those vexatious phone calls from telemarketers during dinner.”

I view the question of monitoring social media accounts and profiles in much the same light. Necessary. (I would add very necessary). Yet tricky. Who does it? How so? How often?

I must admit that my motivation derives more of its convictions from my role as a parent. The TIME magazine article made the interesting argument that “social media promotes and encourages creativity, and by extension, a company could reap more by way of productivity.” The report reminded readers of the word etiquette.” It argued that any self-respecting company has enforceable rules which ensure that its employees do not bring shame and dishonor to its name by dabbling in inappropriate content.

However, the inflexible parent in me disagrees. In fact, I gave up on the so-called controls years ago. A DSTV technician took me “into his confidence” and left me “armed” with a mechanism that gave me unchallenged powers over the kind of viewing that took place in my house. At my first attempt to deploy the weapon, I discovered that it had been over-riden. Whilst I know the culprits, I have not stopped looking for the technician!

Having been brought up in a strict household where the black and white television set was switched off at 8:15 pm, I have struggled with the vexatious issue of the parent’s role vis-à-vis the ubiquitous social media platforms.

In my early years of high school, we were introduced to the first American soap operas which included Dallas, Falcon Crest and Dynasty. I could have easily survived without them. My only handicap was that they soon became the conversation starters in my class on the morning after. Jeanne Elium captures my troubled state of mind when she says “the conflict between the need to belong to a group and the need to be seen as unique and individual is the dominant struggle of adolescence.”

As I have indicated, television viewing came to an end after the main news bulletin of the day which used to air at 7:45 pm then. The soap operas generally fell into the after-news slots. Try as I would, I failed to outfox my parents and I was thus reduced to a perpetual listener when the latest developments on the soap operas began the day. Today, I have to struggle with television (who remembers the hallowed days of real family viewing?) in addition to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WhatsApp and the old SMS. 

I cannot stretch myself far enough to Snapchat, Instagram (where I have but a humble presence), Shazam and the host of other platforms that I have simply decided to ignore. By the way, there is also the issue of profiles where my children, their friends – and I admit, even some of my connections – have more names than I knew they possess.

Should employers monitor their employees’ social media accounts? Schools and their students? Our children’s social media accounts?

I have to rest my case – I find the question vexatious. In the extreme!

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When Memories Come In Like A Flood

On Saturday, February 4, 2017, my two boys and I decided to have a boys outing at one of the popular shopping malls. One of life’s abiding truths is that window-shopping never goes out of fashion. I could easily add that the statement assumes greater relevance in these days of amazing, unbelievable and simply mind-blowing inventions which are rolled out onto the market almost daily. I am most impressed by the creativity and sheer workmanship of those who work in technological and electrical shops, who receive the new stock at regular intervals and have to quickly convert their respective shops into “winning posts” or else they go unnoticed by today’s discerning buyer. The subject of toys with my boys naturally means the window shopping will also include discussions on cars. But, here, I need to emphasise that this is where we truly limit ourselves to just a “feast for the eyes.” Often, the vehicles we discuss and thoroughly admire cannot make it onto our wish list!

After looking through a few windows, we got into one of the clothing shops. My older boy needed some T-shirts while the younger one wanted to invest in basketball shorts. As we made our way into the shop, I was struck by its sophisticated make-up and interior decor. We first passed by the fragrances section, a beautifully-scented place where one is transported onto a different realm of sweetness. After the fragrances, I quickly noticed that two colours, black and red, overrode all the displays. After noting the colours, it was time to look at the products on display.

Slowly but surely, the set-up began to make sense. In ten days, the world and “all lovers(?)” will commemorate the centuries-old tradition of Valentine’s Day. It is interesting to note that this is one of those days which never fails to cross borders or straddle territories in its messaging. Goods on display show humanity’s unity in sharing the message of love, from the inane cards, the living or artificial flowers, and finally an array of carefully selected clothing items. If I may digress, it is, however, sad, that Valentine Day’s gifts do not always necessarily translate into the sincere love which the Day is supposed to celebrate. Instead, the changing and high-value nature of proposed Valentine’s Day gifts which are displayed seems to feed into the spirit of needless competition that is slowly de-humanizing us. We seem to have morphed into that “profit-first-love-maybe” world that is driven by the competition spawned by the expensive gifts on offer.

I recently decided to widen my search for friends. I found myself subscribing to an online dating service which promised “just online friends.” Of course, the service also caters for those who may be in search of love, either in the form of short or long-term relationships. I am a little disturbed by the suggestion of “short-term” relationship. I believe that relationships  necessarily involve an element of emotional investment and I am thus scared by the hint that it is possible for people to enter into short-term relationships. What for? What kind of world are we encouraging? Finally, although I said I joined the dating service for friendships, I have glanced at some of the qualities that apparently can build a successful relationship. Curiosity is a difficult thing to suffocate. I am a bit disappointed to find that at the top of so-called “turn-ons” is wealth (also called power). Further, the wealth must be flaunted for the world to see. I guess I will always be a traditionalist and opt instead for “turn-ons” which build character.

I believe relationships fail today because of the undue emphasis that is being placed on material things. For traditionalists like myself, we miss old-time songs like “Like To Get To Know You Well” by Howard Jones. The amazing song features some of the following lyrics;

Together we can cast away the fear / Together we can wipe away the tear / Together we can strip down the barriers / And be one

People want to talk about the future / Don’t want to linger on the past / Just want to reach to the real you inside / Forget cold glances and rejections / Leave the things that separate / Build on a trust that we can stand on

Finding all are insecure / Opening the same door / Leaving out a stubborn pride / Seeing from another side.


Missed or Mixed Messages – Way Out?

In December 2000, I was part of the crowd that gathered at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) for the launch of activities marking that year’s World AIDS Day. The HICC has hosted a number of notable international meetings. These include the 1986 Non-Aligned Movement Summit; the 1991 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and the 1996 World Solar Commission Process Summit (I often wonder loudly where this most useful intervention in energy matters ended up at). Other imposing and similarly internationally-recognized meetings, conferences and workshops have been convened at the same place. For the so-called incurable music lovers, the HICC holds memories of some unforgettable musical concerts ever staged in Zimbabwe.

The year 2000 World AIDS Day commemorations were due for launch by the country’s First Lady. She was introduced by the Minister of Health and Child Welfare, who opened his remarks by telling the gathering that “I am here to tell you that I am HIV-negative. However, that is not because I am clever, or always made the correct choices. Rather, I wish to thank God for saving me.”

The Minister did not go far. The next occurrence was surreal (yes, in the way the word is described as the Oxford Dictionaries 2016 word of the year). Hundreds of men in the main auditorium and on the balconies spontaneously stood up. They clapped long and hard. As one took a panoramic view of the men, one thing was certain; they had appropriated the Minister’s remarks unto themselves. One could see vicarious agreement with the Minister. In those brief words and a “confession,” he had touched many hearts. Although he proceeded with the rest of his remarks, that moment of spontaneity and vulnerability hit a high note that is not easy to forget. It also underlined the fears that AIDS inflicted on society, especially, at a time when the basket of life-saving drugs was still unknown in some parts of the world.

I had my first challenge with the pandemic as a journalist in 1991. While reporting from one of Zimbabwe’s premier tourist destinations, Kariba, I was approached by a young man who said he knew of an elderly man who had developed full-blown AIDS. From what was known, he did not have long to live. Thus, he had decided to share his story with the rest of the country. I was unsure about how to respond. For a short while, I even called on my muses to give me the appropriate questions to raise. If this interview took place, it would be the first time that a person living with AIDS was interviewed by any of the country’s media. My undeniable advantage was that because this would be a television interview, we would be accessing material that was still lacking in the AIDS awareness programmes.

Well, I must use surreal again! It is the only word which best describes the moments that followed confirmation that the patient was, indeed, willing to speak on camera. Accompanied by the young man who first made contact with me, we found our way to Kariba Heights and finally to the patient’s residence. My crew and I were greeted by a forlorn and gloomy atmosphere. Most household items had been sold to raise money for the expensive medication which a few people could access. Cameraman Johnnie  Savanhu and my driver Regis Matope helped each other to set up for the interview. Meantime, I was introduced to the patient and I shook his hand. 

I did not think about this. Further, I would still be correct if I said that I did not even notice the gesture. “Trouble” came when the interview was done. He extended his hand to both Johnnie and Regis to thank the crew for visiting and talking to him. As soon as we got in the car, Regis said “we touched his hand!” 

While that left us with many questions, it took our appreciation of HIV / AIDS many steps forward. For example, in July 1992, we were back in Kariba to cover a project cleverly called “KARIBA POP MUSIC.” This was an intervention by the University of Zimbabwe’s Lake Kariba Research Station to support and generate greater community-based AIDS awareness programmes. The campaign focused on the many drinking places and fishing camps in the resort. As it grew, KARIBA POP MUSIC held up to fifteen meetings every month with its target groups, spreading the dual message of “abstinence or be safe.”

The programme was sponsored by AIDS Tech Family Health International. Its major hope was to discourage prostitution and offer other income-generating schemes like poultry, embroidery (a good choice given the tourists who are always in the town) and a printing club. To further underline the seriousness of the project, it was placed under the management of the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Psychology.

It is almost thirty years since World AIDS Day was first marked in 1988. Without doubt, stigma and discrimination remain active challenges in the fight against the pandemic. It is quite important to note that the Day reminds Governments  and the public that “AIDS has not gone away and there is need for increased awareness.”

A recent online news report carried the story of a former footballer in South Africa who has decided to tell the country and the world that his retirement in 2013 was because he had tested HIV-positive. Speaking to youngsters at one of his public meetings, he recalls “seeing the youngsters drawing their chairs away from him.” However, his  bigger “handicap” is that he did not play for one of the bigger clubs in the country. A quick read through the comments section shows many respondents asking “who is this guy, no news here,”  while another sarcastic retort is that “maybe he played for Banyana Banyana (South African women football squad).”

Thankfully, one commentator correctly  calibrates the  argument. After praising the former player for his courage, he argues that “testing should be mandatory for all men. Because men generally are cowardly when it comes to HIV testing. Women will go for testing with any slight illness. Besides that, in pregnancy, they undergo mandatory testing. It’s people like you (those who poke fun at the former footballer) who refuse to get tested and infect our school girls by promising them money.”

*** It is necessary to note that this is a fringe news site. However, I still think it is worthwhile to sample its views. This is particularly so when I look at some of the comments made in the UNAIDS 2016 Report entitled GET ON THE FAST-TRACK : THE LIFE-CYCLE TO HIV.

While most of the Report makes encouraging reading, it is noteworthy to keep in mind the UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibe’s observations:

While making progress against the epidemic, we are not seeing progress everywhere. The number of new HIV infections is not declining among adults, with young women particularly at risk of becoming infected with HIV. We know that for girls in sub-Saharan Africa, the transition to adulthood is a particularly dangerous time. Young women face a triple threat: a high risk of HIV infection, low rates of HIV testing and poor adherence to HIV treatment. Co-infections of people living with HIV …..are at risk of putting the 2020 target of fewer than 500000 AIDS-related deaths out of reach.

I will draw this to a close with remarks attributed to Ban Ki-moon, the former United Nations Secretary-General, who said;

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted with a promise to leave no one behind.  Nowhere is this more important than in tackling AIDS. Supporting young vulnerable and marginalized people will change the course of the epidemic.

We have come a long way in the fight against AIDS. The world has celebrated a number of positive outcomes in the campaign. There is need to ensure a strong, consistent and adaptable message remains ready for deployment into those areas which still present setbacks in an otherwise praiseworthy effort.

The Big, Bending and Unending River of Thoughts

On my fortieth birthday, I had a mini crisis at home. However, I do not think it ranked on the scale of a mid-life crisis. 

It was a problem that could have been easily resolved. In fact, it had better chances of resolution than arguing over. My late wife had made a careful list of the people I worked closely with. It did not exceed fifteen. She also suggested adding the few family friends we had. It was her wish to have me celebrate the big 40 in an intimate setting, with people who were close to us. Nothing wildly fancy, she assured me.

I was not comfortable with the idea. I did not know how speaking about attaining that “magical” age would make me feel. Oddly, though, I knew the people who would get the most credit for that “milestone” achievement! My wife and children. Yes, the workmates she had identified also deserved mention because they were people who gave me a wholly challenging and satisfying experience of team work. But I am not and have never been one for “parties.” 

When we got married in 1994, my wife took my “handicap” into account and suggested that we hold a garden wedding in place of a loud and flashy ceremony. Again, the operative words were “intimate and close.” My best friend and work colleague, Ray Kandawasvika and my young brothers (including my adopted young brother, Darlington), joined my wife’s three young sisters and one of my young sisters, to form the bridal chain. Ray was my best man, the trusted keeper of the rings on that 18th day of December 1994.

But for my fortieth birthday, I was resolved that it should be a strictly family affair. My wife reluctantly agreed. It was years later that I would sadly learn that the idea of a party was no longer restricted to the confines of my home alone. Apparently my wife had primed my colleagues’ wives and the family friends to prepare for a surprise party. But it was designed to be a surprise in the most friendly of ways. Nothing like being blind-folded, led into a room, and then shaken by shouts of “Surprise! Surprise!” A workmate’s wife was one of the lead organizers of the proposed shindig. He only revealed this to me years after my wife’s death, in the process, having me question that assertion that “time heals wounds.” It does not!

One witty observer has said the only thing that time does is to weaken the intensity of the pain by having us respond to it differently with the passage of time. Never to heal the wounds. I went to bed quite early last night. I normally try and force myself to sleep between the hours of 9:30 pm and 5:30 am, to get the medically-recommended eight hours of sleep. Regrettably, this remains a largely unattainable dream. I was up by 12:44 am this morning. And the thoughts began assailing me. It is a sad day for my family because we remember the loss of our dear father in February 2006. It is such remembrances that quickly set in motion a whole train of unstoppable thoughts.

As I recalled my wife’s plans for my fortieth birthday, I remembered that as I drove my children to school on the morning of the big day, we were involved in what I can only call an odd and chilling accident. Realizing that we were running late, I looked for the earliest and safest opportunity to make up for lost time in the early morning traffic. On a relatively straight stretch of the road, I saw a chance to overtake two cars. I cleanly overtook the first one and as I indicated my intentions to the driver of the second car, he suddenly turned right. My attempts at preventing a collision failed dismally. However both cars suffered containable damage. More importantly, the passengers in both cars were unharmed. Certainly dazed, but they were okay. Incidentally, the car that we collided also had two young children on their way to school. Their driver seemed rather young for the school-run. It was, indeed, instructive that after the accident, as I called the police, he was frantically trying to reach his father. He asked to use my phone.

I decided against taking my children to school after that. Having returned them home, I passed through their school to notify the authorities and proceeded to my work place afterwards. It was one of those unpleasant occasions where one finds the superior already in the office. I apologized for my late arrival and recounted the freaky accident.

Two weeks later, as I began the day’s programme, my superior suddenly stopped me in my tracks. It was almost like he sought to confirm that the accident was not a ruse to cover up for my late arrival in the office. “Some time ago, you reported that you were involved in a road traffic accident. Where exactly did it happen by the way and how are the children doing?”

Admittedly, the mind does run too fast at times. My boss may have meant well. On my part, I was still trying to distill issues, namely the fortieth birthday party which I turned down and the accident on my birthday. I  was still trying to ascertain whether they was a message I should take note of, or, were these things that were just meant to be? 

In 1999, while on a business trip to Shanghai, a colleague cryptically asked why he had not “heard” about me involved in an accident.  Was he such a bad driver?  Was I that good? I think we agreed that we could not honestly answer the question. I believe I once caught a line in a TV series or movie that says simply “accidents happen, and that’s why they are called that!” Well, two days after we returned to Harare,  I was “finally” involved in an accident. A haulage truck simply sat on the left front side of my small car. And then he phoned to assure me that his question had not in any way sought to wish me bad luck. I believed him.

But I do remain with lots of other incidents and occurrences where I still find it challenging to know what to believe and inversely what to ascribe to the arcane world.

 

Save The Book

image.jpegI have been pacing up and down my modest library. It is an activity which approaches near-ritual status. My collection draws largely from two sources. I follow what others in my circle are reading. I also study various book reviews to keep a tab on latest reading trends.

As I enjoy this solitary dance, I am reminded of an essay by Oliver Teale, author of The Secret Library: A Book Lover’s Journey through Curiosities of History and Lecturer in English. It is always amazing to see what a few hours of dedicated reading can yield. My late beloved father used to summarize it thus: “reading maketh a man!”

I am content with calling myself a logophile, which translates to one who loves words. However, Teale’s blog, entitled “10 Words Every Book Lover Should Know” leaves me convinced that I desperately need additional books for my collection. I have never quite decided whether to call myself a voracious or reckless reader. This small conflict arises from my desire to spread my reading across as many fields of knowledge as I can muster. It is, therefore, not surprising to find me trying to plough through three or four books at a time. Teale’s post leaves me with the amplified question of how to derive the most from my reading. Oh, and I certainly recommend the post for those scholars who, like me, believe that there is no end to learning.

In the blog, which appeared in HUFFPOST on July 9 2014, Teale transports me  from a mere word-lover to a book-lover. And so from logophile, I learn that the book-lover is called a ‘bibliophile.’ That is understood. It is not too much of a shock and I am still standing!

After that he posts a few more of his favorite words, including, EPEOLATRY (yes, spelt in capital letters!) Teale says this refers to the ‘worship of words.’ I keep assuring myself that this cannot be idolatry. Or, could it be? He is just beginning by the way. “LITERARIAN,” which describes one who considers himself or herself as ‘an educated or lettered person’ follows.

I have often argued that a message stands better chances of achieving its aims if delivered in simple language. I guess this is a part of me that remains from my early jobs. I worked first as a radio and television reporter. The biggest lesson I left with was KISS – “keep it short and simple.” Years down the line, I found myself immersed in writing speeches to be delivered by politicians to rural audiences. One of the mysteries I carry up  to this day is the refusal by all those I drafted speeches for, to have the drafts in local languages. It, therefore, became necessary to ensure that speeches were in the kind of easy-to-grasp language which could be easily translated in situations where English simply could not work.

After the lettered or educated person, Teale presents a completely new word for me: ULTRACREPIDARIAN! From his research, this is a reference to one who pretends to be lettered or educated but the truth is that the person gives opinions on things s/he does not know anything about. The word was apparently recorded in 1819, in a letter written by the “influential critic” (not surprising), William Hazlitt, when he applied the word ultracrepidarian to a critic. I encourage readers to follow up on Teale’s explanation of the origins of the word. I found it thoroughly engaging.

Another interesting word thrown by Teale at book-lovers is MOROSOPH. As I read this one, I am tempted to say it reminds me so much of moron. Perhaps, I am not that misdirected after all because the word refers to “one who is overheard mouthing about books, films, politics, or indeed anything, at the next table in the pub or coffee house. A morosoph is a would-be philosopher; a fool who thinks he is cleverer than s/he is.” I must say that I found the genesis of the word truly informative. In brief, “it borrows from the French writer, Rabelais, where the moro is from the Greek meaning dull or stupid and the sophistication from the Greek for wise. Morosophs are foolish for thinking themselves wise.”

I will not reproduce Teale‘s blog. Readers will find it under the title which I have already indicated. I will, however, throw in BIBLIOBIBULI. This is a word attributed to the American humorist, H.L. Mencken, who used it for people who read too much. Not surprisingly, Teale asks the valid question: “is there such a thing as reading too much?” He leaves the last word for Mencken who argued that “I know some who are constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whiskey or religion.”  It is a rather difficult one to call, especially when I try to pronounce the Mencken’s term.

My last borrowings from Teale are BIBLIOPHAGIST (to describe a devourer of books). I am unsure as to how this book-lover would relate to the BIBLIOBIBULI. I would love to hear what your thoughts are. The last word, which I must say inspired the title of this piece, is BIBLIOSMIA. This refers to “the act of smelling books, especially as a way of getting a ‘fix’ from the aroma of old tomes.”

I am reminded of some of the huge volumes we studied as part of our Literature in English course. I still vividly remember the false promises we made with my classmates that we would try and “spot” which pages were unavoidable and neglect those we believed could never form part of an examination. It did not take long for us to realize that we were treading on dangerous ground.

But, why “save the book?” In true, old-school fashion, I am worried that our children are missing out on the joys and benefits of reading, flipping through pages, making notes on the margins and underlining some grammatical constructions that just left you in awe. The power of words, the beauty of books. I am certainly not the only one who fears what may happen to the book. I was laughing at cartoon representations of how technology is affecting our lives.

In one illustration, a father lovingly asks his son about his day at school. The son’s answer is an almost mechanical and impersonal “you can read all about it on my blog, Dad!”  Yet another classic from “digital synopsis.com,” is the answer given by  a child when asked for his or her permanent address. This is given as http://www.facebook.com/username

New Language Lessons

I once bought a book entitled “Twitterature.” I believe the purchase fulfilled two needs, namely, my curiosity into whether the book was, indeed, about Twitter. Secondly,  I wished to find out whether Twitter has grown that much to have its body of language. I generally set aside at least two hours a day (🤔🤔🤔) – yes, just about that, to enjoy the barbs that fly between Twitter users most of the time. But some of the tweets are vintage humour. These keep me so rapt and attentive to Twitter and what I call the “New Language Lessons.”

UnFollowing Friends, Revised Thoughts and Searching Again!

I fall quite easily for the new offerings availed by social networking sites. Without fail, I go through a very familiar routine now: answer friendship requests, access invitations relayed via LinkedIn and spend all my free time, trying to record the number of friends I have across the social media networks. Then the questions begin!

Why do I need all the friends? What things are common to us all? Can I honestly carry out intelligible conversations with all my friends? What if I revisited my friendship profiles and try to prune them? How much would I stand to lose?

And, as always happens, I am up early in the morning hours, studying the “connections” I have. In the quiet morning air, I ask which ones I really would like to keep. Let us agree every friendship has a strength and the power to enrich one’s life. I value each and every one of them for the different personality traits they possess. I benefit immensely from the varied fields they are qualified in. Yet, somebody has harshly observed that “some friends bring smiles by coming, others by leaving!”

Well, not much to do there. I have picked myself up many times over when in a response to a connection I am trying to make, I get the curt and haunting “I do not know this person.” I am not sure “I would like to get to know you well would help.” Accordingly, I recently decided to try a different place of meeting new friends. A dating site. Well, the site promised that it provides vast opportunities for “online friends.” And I believed it because it is continental, thus making the chances of ever meeting the friends quite remote. I, however, still have a problem.

I use a pseudonym. However, my picture and biographical information are “legit!” So too are the specifications I make of the friends I am looking for. I am looking at just “online friends.” Converse with them, ask about their days and weeks, and  wish them well in their future endeavours. If appropriate candidates had been found, some  it would have been most entertaining to share New Year’s resolutions. I know the dating site does provide room for people to explore short- or long-term relationships. Should things go well, that difficult word, marriage or lifetime commitment is also mentioned.

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Life recited, experiences remembered, thoughts tell tales, word play, recreational writing, give feelings an thoughts an outlet, attempts at editing and proof reading. It's a WORKSHOP!

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