Joy-junkies and adventures of the soul

Hatchling Turtle HorizonBy Dianne Bayley
I know in my soul that written in the heart of every human being are the words, “Come Home”. How we choose to get to that Home will determine the extent of adventure we live.

While many think hatchling turtles head towards the ocean, their ancient programming – their instinct – actually tells them to head towards the brightest horizon. The moon shining on the ocean makes the sea their brightest point, the starting place from where they become what turtles are.

We’d do well to learn from these newborns . . . to choose the brightest horizon on our paths back Home. For some, physical adventure drenched in adrenalin is the brightest point. They throw themselves towards it, moth to flame, and strike a mix of fear and awe in onlookers – those of us programmed for different adventures.

Some pathways Home are highlighted; filmed and lauded, praised and applauded. Testing bodies against the height of mountains or the rolling ferocity of waves; pitting the human spirit against ice or snow or tumbling rocks. Then there’s the path that great movies will never be made of . . . the kind of adventure lived deep inside a willing, learning heart; where the risks are not of broken limbs, but shattered dreams and recovery and starting over, a hatchling seeking that brightest point again and again.

There is something spectacular about the path that leads you to many places, across continents and oceans, to meet one person who says or does one thing that will stay with you forever: The man in KwaZulu-Natal who points to the old red and white lighthouse and tells you the beam must flash to prevent migrating birds from becoming fixated on the light and smashing their bodies against the structure; reminding you that each of us has our lighthouse and must find what it is and alter our course . . .

The child in Paris who speaks no English but conveys her delight, in stick drawings, that you come from a different part of the world and are so old because she is just six and one day she will travel . . .

The Greek who believes she may have been Frida Khalo and introduces you to the Gotan Project and tries to teach you the tango in a small hotel in Napflio; tossing her long, dark hair back with laughter at your stilted moves and encouraging you to feel the music in your heart or you will never let the tango move you as it should . . .

The short Italian waiter who used to be a sailor and knows your country by its ports; who won’t seat you in his restaurant because he thinks you’re waiting for a husband and children and why, anyway, would anyone want to eat alone in a restaurant . . .

The beautiful Canadian who will freefall from airplanes but not into love because she’s the opposite of you and physical adventure is far less scary than allowing anyone to touch her heart . . .

The glorious woman in La Sainte-Chapelle wearing leather pants and loving her violin into praising Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D on a freezing, stained-glass night in December as you turn 50 and know that if you are allowed to have just one memory in your head as you leave this life for Home, you want it to sound like this . . .

The tiny man in Dublin, a Leprechaun perhaps, who tells you that his eighty years of life is due to the joys on an Irish whiskey on a daily basis, then looks at you with sparkling blue eyes and says, “May your walk of life in the New Year be your best walk yet” . . .

The friend travelling Asia whose heart broke for a small rat captured by a shopkeeper selling handbags when the little animal began to clean himself – probably in resignation of his fate – and so she bought him, along with her handbags, and set him free.

These are not the adventures of the adrenaline-seeker. They are the adventures of those on the long, long journey of overcoming the fear of loving and leaving and putting enough courage together to love again, even if leaving may be the result one more time. They are the adventures of the emotional-risk-taking joy-junkie; the one who knows that standing at Love Lock Bridge on the Seine and seeing how many people still believe that love is as important as being the first to traverse an uncharted desert or sail a storm-battered sea.

These adventures . . . they will not happen while you are seated in one safe place, riveted to your computer and your mortgage and your office and your dreams of retirement. They don’t happen when you place obstacles in the path between you and the brightest point on the horizon. They never occur while your heart is filled with the fear of breaking, and you choose the safety of the travel channel on TV over shaking the hand of a street person in California or listening to a taxi driver in Mexico tell you how he adores his wife and children.

They happen when you muster every bit of courage it takes to break through that shell and fix your eyes on the brightest point on the horizon . . . and then follow it, with all that you have and all that you are, to become all that you were meant to be . . . on your way Home.

My Mother’s Hands . . .

Mom and DonovanBy Dianne Bayley

It appears to be my earliest childhood memory. I don’t recall the bus ride to see Santa Claus at Stuttafords, or the doll I wanted from Lilliputs – those are little family legends that have only become real in my mind because they were spoken about so often through the years.

My first real memory – my very own memory – is of sitting on my bed and watching my Mother’s hands working a small white sock onto a chubby foot. The vision is so clear I can almost feel her touch and hear the voice that was talking me through her actions.

Her fingers were long and slender and tipped with the most beautiful nails; hard, well shaped nails, always perfectly red and perfectly polished. We discovered early, she and I, that running those nails across my back gently would calm me to the point of sleep. That never changed, and even as an adult I would visit her and say, “Tickle my back, Mom.” And I’d be transported back to when my Mother’s hands could soften the world.

They worked, those hands, from when she was 17; and I was always in awe of how quickly her fingers could rush across a typewriter – and later a keyboard – and never have to go back to correct anything. Just as she always managed to find the right words to comfort a crying child, the right letters flew from beneath those red nails and formed sentences that paid for school uniforms and places to live.

I loved it when she came to our school to collect us. She was a mother to be proud of, so beautiful and young. I’d reach up and take one of those hands, with the beautiful red nails, and hope everyone could tell that she was my Mom. She raised three of us who felt that way. When the youngest of us was called too soon, I witnessed my Mother’s hand touch the Holy Water on the shiny coffin and make the sign of the Cross for her boy. Her nails, perfectly painted, shook visibly as she bade her son farewell with the saddest touch a Mother would ever have to make . . .

Years later, a stroke took the use of her right hand for a while and – as if in defiance of the handicap – she often forgot it was there. She wrote me a letter later that year, using her left hand. I have yet to read a more beautiful note. If I was offered a signed letter from Nelson Mandela or even the Dead Sea Scrolls for the few short words my Mother’s left hand crafted on that card, I wouldn’t trade. It must have taken hours for her to write . . . that she was proud of me.

She never gave up, my Mom. She worked until that right hand was hers again and she could paint her nails once more. She was worn, but never beaten.

It has been some time since she left. I like to think that my brother was there, to take one of those beautiful hands in his own and lead her to a world without pain. In the joy of being together again, he probably didn’t notice that hand he held was blue, covered in bruises from too long a stay in a hospital bed and a heart that was forced to finally give up.

As I watched in such fear and sadness the life that had given me mine slip slowly from her, I looked at those hands. The many years of folding them in prayer for her own parents, her siblings, her children and others was etched on the outside of them now, in frail blue skin. I took her hand in mine, the softness of it so sweet against my palm, and tried to ignore the tubes and needles that defaced the beauty. I kissed her forehead and said goodbye, knowing that I couldn’t watch her leaving anymore. I held her hand one last time, then slowly walked away.

This morning, I watched my own hands tying my shoelace. Mine are not elegant, nor do I have the beautiful polished nails she had. I have few of the keyboard skills she had, and I will never change a child’s world by taking her hand in the schoolyard. But folded in my heart, in prayer and in praise, my Mother’s hands – always so quick to comfort and uplift – will live forever.

Oscar, Africa, social media and schadenfreude

The tragic Oscar Pistorius issue aside, I’m tired of the inference that the “wealthy” in South Africa are all hiding behind walls, when the truth is, we are ALL hiding behind walls. The more we earn, the higher the walls. I have been robbed several times – twice in my “wealthy, gated community” in one of Johannesburg’s northern suburbs (it’s an apartment block with walls, like many, many others in South Africa) . Once by Annanias Mathe, then the most wanted criminal in South Africa, a murderer and rapist. Once, years before, I fired a shot (yes, from a gun I owned back then when women were being hijacked and take to places where they were gang raped etc) at two men who had robbed my house and were coming out of my house and towards me as I arrived home. My OWN home. Where I should be entitled to feel safe. Fortunately for me, I didn’t kill anyone. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t raped or murdered either.

To understand how each and every one of us is living “inside”, we have to understand that the “fight or flight” response (already fixed when people still refer to us a “foetuses”) is tested every minute of every day in South Africa. Stop at a light and you don’t know if the person who appears at your car window has an avocado pear for sale or an AK47. Our society, as a whole, is NOT normal. You discover this when you go to civilised places like Toronto and walk the dog at 11pm without getting murdered.

Whether I think Oscar is guilty or not, it would benefit all of us to look at how WE are . . . how quickly someone is an “asshole” on the road; how much sheer hatred (with little action taken) is generated by our opinions on the Middle East or the horse meat issue or any number of other things we hear and see on Facebook and in other “news”. Where does that anger/hatred go, once generated?

The Oscar tragedy has brought out some interesting and disturbing reactions – blood baying, disregarding his right to a fair trial before finding him guilty, massive jealousy about wealthy young people . . . and yet I haven’t seen as much outrage about the crowds around the taxi driver being dragged to his death. HIS death, yes – but the people standing around CHEERING the police on?? THAT is what our nation has become . . . But we’ll find something to blame that heinous, cheering behaviour on – laws, history, poverty etc etc – when what should really terrify us is our collective propensity toward violent and vicious thoughts ourselves.

Rant almost over – here is one of the best pieces I have read on the Oscar killing, by the reasonable and thoughtful Justice Malala  – note this piece:

“The truth, however, is that South Africa is a country of violence. We have often been labelled the “crime capital of the world”, and many like Pistorius own firearms, supposedly to protect themselves from burglars and robbers. Last week, the country was in mourning after a 17-year-old girl died after being gang-raped. It is who we are. Perhaps that is why we struggled to accept that “one of us” might have pulled the trigger – with tragic consequences.”

It’s time each of us turns our energy towards looking at ourselves, rather than at others every time a heinous crime is committed in South Africa. In fact, it’s time we all stop and look at how quickly we “take sides” before knowing all the facts; how we continually pass on “the bad news” in social media; how few times a day any of us reads any good news at all (or makes a decision based all three sides of a story), let alone passes it on.

Schadenfreude – pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others – creates sick societies. And “slacktivism” – the idea that you may do some good from behind your keyboard by “making people aware” on social media rather than actually taking some action – is schadenfreude’s first cousin.

Social media: The window to the soul

By Dianne Bayley

Any business using social media that would post pictures of its bank statements, transcripts of in-house dramas and videos of HR firing people would be nuts, right? Right. But individuals do the equivalent all the time. Take, for example, the run up to yesterday’s US election . . .

I lived in the USA for a few years and have had ties with many of its people for the last 15 years or more. I always loved the way I was welcomed wherever I went; how “innocent” many Americans appeared compared to those of us who have grown up in Johannesburg, where you learn to watch your own back in shop windows as you pass by. I loved how honest and kind Americans were, in all the 13 states I was lucky enough to visit. Then . . . Social Media + Election came along and, to be honest, has shattered my illusions . . . Continue reading

The yin-yang of social media

By Dianne Bayley, Writer & Social Media Manager

According to Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin-yang (literally meaning “shadow and light”) is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world.

It is suggested that we all have a “light” and a “dark” side – the latter being the part none of us likes to look at or acknowledge. Social media is proving to have both too – and none of us wants to delve too deeply into that, either.

I am all for the incredible freedom of speech social media affords us and love its ability to get news across the oceans in mere seconds. I am also delighted that nothing can ever really be a secret anymore, no matter how hard governments, organisations and even individuals try to keep the lid on things . . . there will forevermore be a “someone” who wants to “break the news”, and word will get out efficiently.

So, here’s my beef: Being a social media manager means I spend a lot of time online and monitor a variety of trending topics. I watch to see who posts what, and how it’s received by people – then re-posted or discussed. It requires an open mind and a lot of “restraint of tongue and pen”, especially because I am as opinionated as anyone else who loves social media.

When ‘opinion’ becomes ‘fact’

August brought some whoppers on social media; items that were picked up from online news sites and tweeted, posted and shared until “opinion” became “fact”. And therein lies my problem. Twitter’s 140 character limit doesn’t give anyone the option of saying “Beware, this is an opinion. I LOVE it, but it is just an opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a knot and don’t take it as gospel, because it’s not FACT, and therefore not journalism”.

Let’s go back to when “journalists” were not writers or Tweeters or Facebookers; to the days we see in movies, when a journo would BE at the actual scene of the story and rush over to find a telephone booth, from where he (it was usually a he back then) would call into his newspaper’s offices and report the news as he had SEEN it; written it in his notebook (which was considered a legally credible source as long as another journalist could read the notes); and both the journo and his editor would stand by the story, at the risk of getting fired if the reporting was inaccurate.

Let’s go back to when a newspaper published some news and by the next day it wasn’t “news” anymore. Then the journalist had to follow up new angles and events. Now, a “citizen journalist” – or even a real one – can “re-tweet” something that was published in an online version of a newspaper, and it appears in the Twitter “tickertape” to have “just happened”. This is what has become known as “churnalism”. Sadly, because there’s no warning label, many, many people see the headline and re-tweet or post it to Facebook – and the whole bent, buckled and spindled story starts again.

In the past few weeks we’ve seen the Lonmin/Marikana tragedy unfold and be told – and not always by people who were there and often quoting “an eye witness”. We’ve seen the Woolworths issue hashed and rehashed until Facebook comments had to be locked out by what I consider a competent social media team. We’ve also seen Morgan Freeman die. Again and again and again, on Facebook. Apparently, he’s died several times a year for about four years.

Social media has given rise to “Opinionistas”, and there are millions of us. Unfortunately, the people reading what we’re writing are not always clear that this is my personal opinion, as of now. As a responsible writer who doesn’t care to merely fan the flames, I believe it’s my responsibility to tell them that. It is also important that I know what I can and can’t be sued for online – which, as far as my understanding goes – is the same as what I can and can’t be sued for saying in print or broadcast platforms, in most cases. Except for this one: In December 2011, a judge nailed a blogger with a $2.5-million fine for, essentially, not being a journalist and damaging a company’s reputation. Here it is in brief:

“The Obsidian Finance Group sued Cox in January for $10 million for writing several blog posts critical of the company and its co-founder, Kevin Padrick. Obsidian argued that the writing was defamatory. Cox represented herself in court.

“The judge threw out all but one of the blog posts cited, focusing on just one, which was more factual in tone than the rest of her writing. Cox said that was because she was being fed information from an inside source, whom she refused to name.

“Without the source, she couldn’t prove the information in the post was true – and thus, according to the judge, she didn’t qualify for Oregon’s media shield law since she wasn’t employed by a media establishment. In the court’s eyes, she was a blogger, not a journalist. The penalty: $2.5 million.” ~ From Mashable, full story here

From where I sit, I’m watching the power of social media being used for positive change as well as for slagging off people, places and organisations. It’s clear that too few people who read blogs and posts ever visit sites like Snopes.com before passing on bad news, in particular; and care little for the damage that can be done to organisations through “hearsay”. We may not like the organisations we discuss online, but do we have the right to “suggest” foul play when we’re not sure of it – and possibly destroy the jobs of people who work for those organisations?

The last thing social media needs is regulation. I think there are too many control freaks regulating the world anyway. What we do need, though, is for honest bloggers, journos, writers and citizen journalists to think before they write – and for those reading the things they write to be aware that, unless they can verify the FACTS, it is all opinion. Which, as we know, is like a bottom. Everyone has one, and nobody wants yours.

• This blog is the OPINION of guest blogger Dianne Bayley, and may not necessarily reflect the opinion(s) of Letsema Communications, where it was first published.

Damages: When social media managers lose it . . .

Somebody recently mentioned that “Mercury is in retrograde”. I had no idea what they meant, but I’m beginning to suspect that it’s a Latin term for “social media managers in South Africa have lost the plot”.

Over the past week or so, several incidents confirm that there are still too many companies that believe social media to be something less than brand and reputation management and the most incredible way to engage clients on a one-to-one basis.

The first occurred with a site I imagined to be a tourism site (of sorts), given its name. The (I can only imagine young) men who run the Facebook page posted a picture of a woman almost wearing underwear, though I’m not sure what it had to do with events in Cape Town at all. A couple of people found it offensive and one said so. The party started round about there . . . The “social media manager” told her to unlike his page; she suggested that wasn’t really the way to deal with issues on social media; the young SMM called in the troops . . . and the woman was slagged off, mocked, degraded and lambasted – on Facebook and Twitter – for hours.

I tried to reason with the young SMM, suggesting that whether one found the pictures (yes, there are more of them; some entirely inappropriate for a site that doesn’t warn parents not to let their youngsters go there) offensive or not, it doesn’t make sense marketing-wise to treat people badly online. My comments went unnoticed and the attack continued. I had no idea South Africans could be that vicious. Don’t these blokes have a mountain they could climb to get rid of that kind of pent up anger??

The second incident was the now-famous SANRAL comment to someone who complained to the organisation on Twitter. The SMM found it necessary in that case to immediately attack the man’s looks. Not nice, not clever and not a secret anymore that SANRAL’s social media accounts may just be managed by someone with little online experience and even less people skills. SANRAL deleted the comment a short while later but – too late . . . screenshots of the exchange were all over Facebook, out of the SMM’s control. Silly, silly thing to do.

The sad part about all this is that so many companies know they should have a social media presence, but fear negative publicity. Issues like those mentioned here just confirm their fears, when the real problem is who they hand their brands over to: I’ve heard many a decision maker suggest “Jason in IT – he’ll handle it AND he’s got LOTS of Facebook friends”; or “Meredith can do it in her spare time”; or even better, “Let’s hire a college student – they’re cheap”.

If you’re about to hire any of the above, ask yourself this: “Am I willing to put my brand’s (and my own) reputation in the hands of Jason, Meredith or Cheap? What does my brand’s value mean to us as a company, and to current and potential clients?”

Social media is not about how many Facebook friends someone has, or even the number of “likes” a page gets. It is an opportunity to keep your brand top-of-mind and to be proactive when someone has had a bad or a good experience with it. Would you employ a call centre manager who slammed the phone down on people or told them their complaint wasn’t valid because their hair looks shoddy? I imagine you wouldn’t. So, here’s what a good social media manager looks like:

  • Even tempered and able to detach personally from criticism
  • Good people skills and the ability to make people feel as though they have been heard
  • Genuinely has your brand and your customers at heart
  • Marketing skills – they beat technical skills hands down in this arena . . . you’re building brand loyalty, not websites
  • Good writing skills, thus avoiding having to use Grade 5 text-speak on Twitter and posts of naked women on Facebook on slow news days
  • A good knowledge of your products and/or core focus, as well as your image . . . and a dedication to protect that at all costs – even when there’s this, like, RAD pic of a chick in a bikini just waiting to be posted, Dude . . .

Incidents like these two (and there were others, but you get the general idea) serve only to damage the social media arena and the reputation of both brands and people. Especially the SMM people who don’t have the social skills required to deal with the opportunity to address customer’s concerns in a positive and pleasant manner – which is exactly what CAN be done on social media, with millions of people watching.

Choose your staff with care – and remind them that slander and defamation are offences for which they (and you) may be sued, online as quickly as off. (And, in case anyone was wondering, this was not written with the “social media managers should be under 25” article in mind – but the “managers” in this case probably are.)

Dianne Bayley is a freelance writer, former editor of Marketingweb and the founder of infORM Reputation Management, a company that specialises in setting up and monitoring your social media initiatives. This blog was originally published on Letsema Communications’ publicrelationspnderings blog.