Monday, July 19, 2010

The meaning of work

My flatmate and I were discussing some work this afternoon, and how we find it almost impossible to motivate ourselves when we're not interested in something. Our initial hypothesis was that we are spoilt brats, torch-bearers of the Entitled Generation. But then, we are also very good at convincing ourselves we don’t have any flaws, and so we came to a second hypothesis: that girls (and, for the purposes of this theory, gay guys) are wired differently to men.

Men can emotionally disengage from whatever they are doing. If they are good at it, that is enough for them. They can sit in front of a spreadsheet all day or crunch numbers and watch stock markets. Skills and intelligence in exchange for money. A rational, simple transaction. We, on the other hand, need to see the bigger picture, know what the work is going to be used for. And, most importantly, we need to believe in what we are doing. It needs to make a positive difference to the world and mean something. Work is an emotional investment

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why men earn so much more than women. We have got to the bottom of it. It’s not prejudice. It’s not a secret community or a global old boy’s club. It’s the fact that meaning is a lot more difficult to find than projects or tasks that need to be done.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

This time for Africa

So there is a lot of buzz about the World Cup fanning the flames of xenophobia. The City of Cape Town is apparently making preparations to protect immigrants and minorities in the townships once it's over. I really, really hope I'm not missing something - but this all seems to be journalists feeling uncomfortable with constant good news and feeling like they need to bring up something scary in order to sound intelligent. 

Nationalism is a pretty scary thing. Aside from religion, it has probably killed more people than any other ideology. But it is a bittersweet pill, because nationalism also helps to build great things. It unites people in a common dream which, I think, is necessary to form a peaceful and functioning society. The trick is to balance the heart-lifting feeling of "us" without creating an exclusionary "them". And the only way to do that is to ensure the sense of nationality comes from living in a place, not from genetics or bloodlines. It needs to be an "opt-in" nationalism; whereby if you live in South Africa, believe in South Africa and want to help build it, you're a South African.  And I think that is the kind of nation we are trying to build.

And as for our African brethren, the World Cup has done a lot to foster a feeling of continental community. It has always been the African World Cup. Shakira has us all singing "this time for Africa" at the top of our lungs in the streets. And never have I felt such a strong sense of unity as on Tuesday night, when everyone in Cape Town was bedecked in orange to rally behind Netherlands for the simple reason that their opponents (Uruguay) had been the team to kick "our" Ghanaian team out of the World Cup. The world cup has fostered pride in where we come from without making us exclusionary at all. In fact, we have been delighting the world with our genuine interest in other cultures and other stories.

It may have been luck that we never played against another African country, but we didn't. Instead, the World Cup helped us to rally behind our neighbours and take pride in ourselves; a serendipitous leap towards the right kind of national community, and away from the horrors of the 2009 xenophobic attacks. I really hope we keep it up