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Happy Deathday

Stuart White

I have been consumed with the concept of happiness my whole life – defining it, attaining it, experiencing it and retaining it. Perhaps this stems from my Protestant upbringing which caused me to view happiness as a reward exclusively for being rich and famous while for lesser mortals like myself, it felt unobtainable or an indulgence, like a deadly sin.  For the poor and unknown, work was supposed to be its own reward and the only church-approved happiness was a state of grace achieved through honest toil.  Unsurprisingly then, it has often felt out of reach.   And yet, rebelliously, sinfully, all I have ever wanted was happiness. There are a lot of wishing wells in Scotland which might be a clue to the Scottish psyche and I have come across quite a few. When people would throw money down asking for good fortune or just the good fortune of having their wife fall in…whichever of the two…from a very young boy I always simply wished for happiness. To this day whether it’s throwing a penny in a fountain or a coin down a well, my wish is the same.

When I was young I didn’t feel happy most of the time but in my mind I felt I should. Now that I am older however I understand the fleeting nature of happiness. It’s not a state that we can be in constantly. Most cultures have found that such things as mediation, yoga or any practice concerned with the deliberate use of attention can transform their perception of the world and will use it to attain happiness but this is often followed by the realisation that happiness is elusive.  Perhaps that realisation should bring a happiness of sorts in itself, or at least a contentment?  Not so for me – I kept on searching.

As humans, we associate happiness with pleasure and the avoidance of pain. So we seek nice things to look at, pleasant sounds, tastes, moods and sensations. We surround ourselves with loved ones and friends and fellowship. We achieve things, chase success and this is followed by a high that feels intoxicating and then it subsides after just a few hours or a day and then the search continues. It’s a cycle sliding up and down the happiness scale.  Pleasures are fleeting and by their very nature start to subside the minute they arise and then to be replaced by fresh desires or feelings of discomfort.

The search for finding happiness in this life starts from the minute we are born and a baby illustrates this clearly as it moves from sorrow to joy in minutes as soon as happiness is removed.  It is either gurgling, screaming or sleeping and has the luxury of never having to hide its emotions.  As we get older we control these urges but we still have a pattern of seeking, finding, maintaining happiness as best we can.

I read an interesting analogy of this from the book ‘Waking Up’ by Sam Harris. “You can’t get enough of your favourite meal until, in the next moment, you find you are so stuffed as to nearly require the attention of a surgeon – and yet, by some quirk of physics, you still have room for dessert. The pleasure of dessert lasts a few seconds, and then the lingering taste in your mouth must be banished by a drink of water.” There are countless examples of this lurching between wanting and then not wanting.” The warmth of the sun feels wonderful on your skin, but soon it becomes too much of a good thing. A move to the shade brings immediate relief, but after a minute or two, the breeze is just a little too cold. Do you have a sweater nearby?” And so it goes.

And the question one has to ask is; “Is that it?” Do we constantly have to be changing in an endless hierarchy of needs to find pockets of happiness that are as good as gone shortly after they have arrived? I guess this is what yogis and spiritual and religious practitioners have been searching for, an answer to as long as time itself.  Is life really about repeating ones pleasures, aiming for success and avoiding one’s pains moment after moment? Is there a source of happiness that is not dependent on gratifying one’s desires? Is it possible to have a happiness that doesn’t depend upon having one’s favorite foods available or friends and loved ones within arm’s reach or good books to read or a party to go to? Is it possible to be happy before one’s desires are gratified in spite of the difficulties we face in life, like hardship, illness, physical pain, old age etc?  Is acceptance the same as happiness?  Or just being grateful for one’s lot in life?  And does fame and fortune bring happiness, as we all believed it would in our youth?

If you are like me you probably suspect there must be a state of latent happiness, if only we could just pin it down. And whether the answer lies with the Buddha or Jesus or some other notable figure or deciding to spend years in a cave or monastery, I guess it is a worthy search.

In ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl, he says “Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it”.

So if Frankl is correct, happiness will happen – perhaps it already has but I just haven’t recognised it yet?  Or just maybe, the moment we sit back and say “That’s it.  I’ve finally found happiness”, we must instantly lose it because we are destined to keep on keeping on?  And you know how some people say “If I died now, I’d die a happy man (or woman)”?  Well, that at least would be a happy ending.

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC

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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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