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I Think Therefore I Fail

Stuart White

Last year I delivered a presentation at a conference which felt like a disaster.  Even before I finished I knew I was getting it all wrong and at the end I ran away. Literally.  I couldn’t even bring myself to stay for the tea break because I was so busy criticising and judging myself. ‘You should have done this’, ‘you should have said that’, ‘why didn’t you do that or the other’, creating anguish and despair because I didn’t live up to my expectations and I couldn’t go back and do it all over.

This brutal self-lacerating despair lasted for a good few hours and I made a mental note to myself never to speak in public again. I was guilty of entertaining one of the most common thinking errors, that of catastrophising – when a person focuses unhealthily on a mistake to such an extent that a relatively small error begins to feel like a major disaster. 

In such cases people tend to move quickly to worst scenario. It’s an irrational thought process a lot of us go through in believing that something is far worse than it actually is, blowing something up out of all proportion

But you know the saying ‘never say never’ so there I was again last week, same conference and determined to redeem myself.  With rational analysis I realised that last year I had made the mistake of taking a relatively difficult concept and trying to get it over in a 20 minute speech. It was all wrong from the get-go. This year I decided to turn my failure on its head by examining how I was far from alone and how the biggest battle that we do on a daily basis is often all in our minds.

Tim Gallwey was a tennis coach who became interested in the relationship between what happened in the mind of the player and what happened physically on the court, Gallwey proposed that in every match there was an inner game and outer game. The inner games take place within the mind of the player against the obstacles of lapse in concentration, nervousness and self-condemnation.

In short it is played to overcome all habits of the mind which inhibit excellence in performance. In a concept that quickly outgrew the tennis context Gallwey argued that in order for people to maximise their potential they must win both the inner game and the outer game and in that sequence.

We all experience this regularly when we engage in self-doubt, often when we are taking on a new challenge. Let’s take an interview as an example…this may include such thought as ‘I am not good at interviews’, ‘I haven’t enough experience compared to the other candidates’, ‘Why did I even think I could get this job?’ In this case performance at the interview is the outer game and there is another game going on which is the one inside your head, one which started much earlier.

We all have that critical inner voice which is a well-integrated pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others.

The nagging “voices,” or thoughts, that make up this internalized dialogue are at the root of much of our self-destructive and maladaptive behaviour. Despite the recent surge of interest and research into Neuroscience, we are still at the early stages of understanding what happens within the human mind and yet it is a syndrome which has been noted since ancient times.

In the first century AD the Greek Philosopher Epictetus is reported by one of his disciples to have said “Men are disturbed, not only by things that happen, but by their opinion of the things that happen.” This suggests two different factors: things that happen (the outer game) and a person’s opinion of those things ‘inner game’.

Shakespeare said ‘nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so’. Philosopher Immanuel Kant hypothesised that we can understand the relationship between thoughts behaviour by the following statements. “I see a tiger, I think I am in danger, I feel afraid, I run away”  

‘I see a tiger’ could be termed the activating event – this is something we see or hear. It triggers a thought ‘I am in danger’ which leads to a feeling, in this case fear and the feeling causes us to behave in a certain way, in this instance to run away. This is important because if we want to change behaviour the answer lies in changing and challenging how we think about things.

Years ago we believed that the world was flat until Pythagoras proved otherwise. Then we believed that the earth was the unmoving centre of the universe. Aristotle eloquently argued how the Earth must be stationary and thus the centre of the universe because you could not feel the Earth move, there was no wind due to a moving Earth, hence it must be stationary and that the birds and the clouds would be left behind if the Earth were moving.  

Now we know different because man’s knowledge of physical laws has expanded.  We know the earth is round – men have viewed it from space.  We know the earth rotates and we understand what governs night and day and winter and summer.  And we know that our earth is just a miniscule part of one galaxy which in turn is a miniscule part of the entire universe.   And as it with physical facts, so it can be with the false concepts in our minds.  We can win the inner game.

I am not a useless speaker, I am not a failure, I am not a fraud…. the voices of course tried to tell me otherwise but I realise that it was only a problem when I listened to them. So I spoke, the audience listened and, I believe, understood and I made it through the tea interval. I redeemed myself, I think (there is that Doubting Thomas voice again!)  Be gone! I redeemed myself, I know!
STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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