Thursday, August 12, 2010

Can we keep the flag flying?

My flag blew off my car last week. My sister's flew off her car this week. Whether they blew away or were taken down, those symbols of patriotism that adorned thousands of vehicles and hundreds of buildings are mostly gone. So is the enthusiasm and goodwill that they brought with them.

Euphoric South Africa seems to be reverting quickly to cynical SA. The calls to "keep flying the flag" and to "lead SA" battle to be heard over the country's top-cop's corruption conviction and violent crime that is back on our streets. It is no surprise that many of us have started muttering things like, "Where are all those cops we saw during the World Cup?" and "We should've known they couldn't keep it up".

Now the finger-pointing starts. We bemoan the "useless" government that impressed the world short-term, but can't protect or service its citizens long-term.

We have just started the month of Elul, when we start gearing up for Rosh Hashanah. Elul is a time for honest self-assessment, a stock-taking for the soul. Unless you assess yourself truthfully, you can't realistically plan for a better next year.

In a perfect world, our country's government would "do Elul" and become introspective for the next thirty days. But, before we criticise, let's actually do some soul-searching and see if we could stand up to the scrutiny that we put our leaders through.

Over the Elul/Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur period, we will do our best to be model citizens. We will spend extra time at Shul, treat people better than usual and resolve to do things differently in the coming year. Hopefully, we will get caught up in the inspiration and spirit of the holiday season.

But, once it's all over, can we maintain the inspiration? Can we feel the tingle we get at Kol Nidrei on a regular Monday?

It would be unrealistic to imagine that any of us can carry the high spirits of Yom Tov for an extended period. We accept our own limitations, yet we condemn them in others.

If you want Yom Tov to be meaningful, then prepare to feel inspired and prepare to make realistic changes in the long-run. Be honest. Accept that euphoria must expire and that success is a series of small, consistent improvements. That's true for ourselves and it's true for the country we live in. Small, consistent improvements- we can all make them.

Friday, August 06, 2010

It's how you look at it

Have you ever wished you had a little more room at home? Maybe all you want is some extra storage space so you can put away those miscellaneous items that tend to pile up. Or perhaps you would like a breakfast nook, study or guest bedroom. You dream and ponder, but ultimately concede that you just don't have the space- or the budget- to expand your home.

Now imagine living in Hong Kong, one of the world's most densely populated cities, and trying to find additional living space. If you think your home isn't large enough, you may sober up when you hear that the average apartment size in that city is 56 square metres. Hong Kongers could fit their homes into some Sandton dining rooms!

Enter designer Gary Chang. Chang has lived his whole life in a 32 square metre apartment. Like many of us, he also dreamed of putting in a guest bedroom, state-of-the-art kitchen and more storage space. Buying a larger apartment was prohibitively expensive and he couldn't imagine splitting his existing home into more rooms.

So, he decided to turn the concept of living on its head. Instead of adding more rooms, he designed a brilliant series of movable panels and pull-out furniture to turn his single room into a twenty-room apartment. Slide the TV out the way and you'll find the kitchen. Pull down the back of the sofa to set up a double bed. In a flash he can transform his office table into a dining room and, when you pull back his CD rack, you find the bath.

Chang appreciated that he couldn't expand the space that he had, so he chose to see the space differently and use it accordingly. The result: A spectacular prototype for multi-functional space that will soon become available to Hong Kong's residents.

Tomorrow's Torah portion begins with G-d saying: "See, I have placed before you a blessing and a curse". Besides the obvious message, that our choices determine what happens in our lives, Hashem also offers us a great tip on how to approach life. "See". The way you perceive your circumstances will decide whether your life is a blessing or, G-d forbid, the opposite.

Hashem advises us to look for the positive in everything. He assures us that what we look for in life will determine what we find. Look for the good in a situation, and you will find opportunity. Look for the good in another person, and you will discover their goodness.