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Birth right

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I was watching Private Sessions on The History Channel featuring Seal. During the interview, Seal was asked about whether he was surprised by the success of his first album. He, very modestly and without any arrogance, responded that he wasn’t. He proceeded to explain that he had long visualised that moment from the time he decided he was going to be a musician. At age 11, his teacher had asked him to sing a Johhny Nash classic, I Can See Clearly, at a school assembly. He says he sang with eyes closed, trembling inside but in the end there was applause. From that day on, he began to visualise himself as a successful musician. Not visualising it in the sense of forcing it to happen as some books seem to suggest, but simply believing that he could be it and visualising it as if it already was. He used the word ‘birth right’ several times to describe why he should be successful.

The next day, I watched the very opposite mindset in The Firing Line, a documentary on freelance news cameramen who risk their lives bringing us stories that often make a difference by alerting us to atrocities taking place the world over. Firstly, of course, one celebrates the courage of these men and women who follow the same strong dream that Seal describes in getting the story. Juxtaposed with this, however, are the stark stories they expose from the bombing of a UN school in Gaza, the conflict in the DRC, Orphans in Burma, conflict in South Ossetia to children branded as witches in Nigeria. The documentary features cameramen such as Rory Peck Award winners Kazbek Basayev, and Joost Van der Valk. There is a common thread of despair in the subjects being filmed that remind one of Maupassant’s characters. There is a woeful hopelessness in the documentaries. In one of the inserts, we witness an Afghan father selling off his son to a wealthy woman to save his other children from starvation. It is the second son he is selling. In Van Der Valk’s insert, it is the harrowing story of children branded as witches in the Niger Delta. Though the filming of these scenes raises public awareness, which leads to action being taken as a result of public pressure, one cannot help but wonder how many more societies are locked in the vicious cycle of conflict, poverty and ignorance far from the intervening eyes of determined cameramen. At a personal level, how many individuals are trapped in personal circumstances they would rather not be in? What is their birth right?

What is your birth right? Have you sat down and decided what you rightly deserve from life or are you, at best, a victim of circumstance? I was a guest speaker on Thursday last week at the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) national leadership training workshop in Johannesburg. I spoke to about 200 students from South African universities and their faculty advisors and told them about people like William Kamkwamba, who at 14 years old defied his dire circumstances to determine his destiny by building a windmill at his parents’ home in his village in Malawi. He simply acted upon his sense of choice and changed his life completely. Google him! Is everyone destined for greatness? Not in the materialistic sense of the word, I think not. However, I am of the belief that everyone can act upon their circumstances and move, even if it is for an inch, to step away from hopelessness. That one step, invariably leads to another which may or may not end up in success. Greatness is not in the outcome though. Rather, it is in the ability to and the act of making that effort to step out of the shadows. When you do that, you will find you are ‘lighting a candle, instead of cursing the darkness.’ It is all in the mind. It always has.

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