Potent Love

I was watching the Lost and Found musical-drama series with my daughter today and the words “potent love” from a song the young musicians on the show were practicing caught my attention. I had to google the lyrics of the song later but that’s besides the point. According to the dictionary, potent means something or someone with great power, authority or effect on another. It is about wielding force, authority, or influence, none of which denotes an active, positive experience for the recipient. That’s very different from my understanding of what love is. Potent Love? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Then President John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania died. Okay, he died yesterday or even before that according to some sources, but his death was breaking news today. A lot has been said about him. How he started off as the kind of leader Africa needed. For a region bedeviled with major corruption scandals, we applauded his no-nonsense stance on corruption. We cheered when he ordered civil servants to earn their keep. We whispered “bless you” when he cancelled extravagant public spending. We ululated when he told off foreign investors who wanted to have the upper hand in Tanzania’s development agenda. For the better part of his first term, it appeared the light had shone brighter on our neighbors with President Magufuli carrying high the beacon of hope.

Lord Acton once wrote: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.” By the end of his first term, there was noise from our neighbors of crackdown on dissenting voices and curtailed media freedom. And who can forget his stance on not allowing teenage mothers back into mainstream education? His re-election in 2020 amid claims of fraud and intimidation had us shaking our heads as the all-too-familiar narrative was retold.

But his poor handling of the Corona virus pandemic will unfortunately, be what the late president will be most remembered for. The world may never know the actual Covid-19 statistics in Tanzania; as Magufuli made sure the country remained an outlier, having declared it Covid-19 free way back in June 2020. He called Corona virus a devil (which I agree it is), but to say it cannot survive in the body of Christ; that it would burn instantly, was idiosyncratic.

Or was it potent love? Love that turned a blind eye to what was best for his countrymen. Love that could not accept anyone else’s opinion. Love that had to have its way. Love that killed. Love that is the opposite of the best definition of love there is:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

May President John Pombe Joseph Magufuli R.I.P. My Tanzanian brothers and sisters, we join you in mourning a great son of Africa.

There’s something eerie about these lyrics…

I like who I like
No matter what you say
I say be real or die
You’re nothin’ if you’re fake

I don’t sugar-coat it
They love me or they hate me
Yeah well, my folks
They done tried
But they can’t even save me

They say the ground’s waiting for me
But I got a good heart, they don’t know me
I get away with too much
Running out of my luck
But I’m just living off of no fear, no hate

Potent love (pour it, pour it up)
Potent love (pour it, pour it up)
Potent love (pour it, pour it up)
Potent love (pour it, pour it up).

The Conspiring Universe

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one. When you want something; all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I used this quote in a recent Toastmasters speech but I might not have grasped it’s full meaning until after the speech. To be clear, the conspiring universe to me is God himself who is working all for good…for my own good. I have written here before how COVID-19 provided me an opportunity to revive this blog when the lockdown meant working from home, thus saving me 2 – 3 hours of commute time. I’ll someday also write about my past failed attempts to learn a certain musical instrument, but how this has become possible during this period.

I am aware of how fortunate and blessed I am since many people have had their lives turned upside down by COVID-19. I therefore do not take this opportunities for granted.

Back to the conspiring universe. I revived the blog and was raring to go. But as any writer, amateur or not, will tell, getting relevant content is hard work. True, I write on average 3,000 words a day – it helps that my day job involves a lot of report writing – but most of them will never show up here. They are scattered in many places, some of which I pray no one ever finds. I have however, found my muse in Toastmasters. As I carry out research for my Pathways projects, I find myself with content relevant for this blog. Talk of killing two birds with a single stone!

One other thing – I was elected President of the Interesting Toastmasters club for the year 2020/2021. I am President-elect until 1st July but hey, I’ll ignore the omission should you refer to me as Madam President in the comments section. Toastmasters is truly where leaders are made!

Here below is the longer version of the afore-mentioned speech.

Dear Jane…

Have you heard of Toastmasters International (TI)? Well, I hadn’t until November 2018 when the club was introduced at my place of work. Corporate TI clubs provide an in-house opportunity for employees to develop their leadership and communication skills. By sponsoring a club, companies benefit from better leaders, more effective managers, closer-knit teams and higher productivity.

I knew immediately it was something that would interest me. Over and above the stated benefits, I was aware of the need to be more open and share my life lessons, albeit to a small audience. What better way than to do this within a controlled environment where you can share stories with no-one judging you?

Our club was officially launched in February 2019 by none other than Rozy Rana, Chair of the East Africa Toastmasters Territorial Council. Ms Rana has been a Toastmaster since April 2005. She was the first Toastmaster in East Africa to be recognized as a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM), the highest recognition awarded by Toastmasters to any member globally. Her enthusiasm and mastery of the English language convinced me that it was a worthwhile venture and I quickly signed up, being the first person to give a prepared speech at our club.

It’s been an interesting journey since. But this post is not about TI, rather about a speech I gave today that I thought to share with you, my dear readers. TI uses a Pathways learning experience, an online curriculum that provide users with flexibility. Members can choose from eleven paths that teach more than 300 unique competencies. I am currently on the Visionary Communication path for which this speech was delivered. Read on…

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Dear Jane…begun the two-page letter from my 15-year old daughter that I found neatly placed under my pillow one evening in July last year. It was in the middle of a school term and the letter was a culmination of a tumultuous two-month’ period in my journey parenting this Gen Z teenager. After paying school fees and getting her ready for the new school term, my daughter had dropped a bombshell – she was not going back to school! She dramatically proceeded to lock herself up in the bedroom and no amount of cajoling, threats or even a visit to a psychologist’s office could change her mind. At my wits’ end, I resulted to the Silent treatment. Without any electronic gadget, I was sure that boredom would wear her down and she would come begging to go back to school!

How wrong I was! The letter came two weeks into the silent treatment therapy and rather than beg to be taken back to school, it detailed various reasons why she couldn’t go back. She further listed four schools she preferred, giving the pros and cons, complete with the fee structures for each! The young lady had clearly done her homework. As I read it, I marveled that she had so much to say yet every time I had tried to talk to her in the past, I had gotten only tears streaming down her face just one sentence into the conversation.

After getting over the initial shock of my own daughter addressing me by my first name (I am an African mother, after all!), I saw myself in her. You see, I communicate better in writing than in conversation, a trait apparently shared by many introverts. While words effortlessly pour out onto a page or computer screen; in conversation, it often feels like there’s a traffic jam in the pathway between my mind and my mouth!

Written versus Oral – that was my understanding of communication styles as I embarked on my Toastmasters Level 2 project that focuses on recognizing your preferred communication style and understanding how that style impacts interactions with others.

Toastmasters defines four Communication styles; DIRECT, INITIATING, SUPPORTIVE and ANALYTICAL. I completed the questionnaire provided and was not surprised that I scored highest on the Analytical style – I love working with numbers. What surprised me though, was the wide margin by which the other styles trailed behind that they may as well be non-existent. In fact, I scored nada, in the Initiating style!

To be sure that the tool used had credibility, I ticked off many of the phrases used to describe the Analytical style: cautious, precise, curious, disciplined, logical, structured, perfectionist, private, etc.  Yes, we are also the type that tend to be overly skeptical, requiring to see promises in writing!

And to be doubly sure, I checked the descriptors of the Initiating style – you don’t score a zero and not confirm where you went wrong, eh? These were sociable, enthusiastic, spontaneous, fun-loving, impulsive, gregarious…need I continue? They were all things I am not. Well, most of time!

Analytical communicators are one of the introverted personality types. Not particularly suited for dealing with others and would much rather work alone, dwelling on their thoughts undisturbed. But life specializes in throwing curveballs, which we must adapt to if we are to survive. Looking back at the example with my daughter, I realised I could have done better to prevent the loss of a whole school term and loads of heartache. By failing to build flexibility around my preferred analytical communication style, I failed to hear the important things she was communicating.

According to Mark Murphy, founder of www.LeadershipIQ.com, a major philosophical difference that separates the four communication styles is the extent to which one communicates with emotions or with data. Analytical communicators stress on the data. In my case, I focused on the money and time wasted, completely missing the Emoticon bus. I only caught on when she communicated to me rationally and logically. Talk of the child teaching the parent!

I will conclude by saying that my biggest takeaway from this project has been the need to learn to be a chameleon – whether its data or emotions, I must learn what appeals to others and what doesn’t – to help me effectively communicate. At the home front, I am making deliberate efforts to create a fun, lively atmosphere with new and diverse elements suited for my three Gen Zeders.

By the way, the young lady turns sixteen tomorrow. We finally found a school that piqued her interest, and where she is thriving. Of course she had to promise certain things – in writing! I have also kept the “Dear Jane” letter – it shall be revisited one day!

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In this COVID-19 pandemic era, TI has provided me an invaluable distressing chaneel as I get to hop from one online club meeting to another across the globe! Members have embraced the new normal and there is no shortage of humor and deep conversations as the world finds different ways to respond to the pandemic.

Find a TI club near you and thank me later.