Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Running Towards (by Brian Levings)

Guest Post: Brian Levings

I go way back with the Levings (and Moll) family. Far enough back to have embarrassing photos. Ruth and I were in the same class for several years until the boys and girls were cruelly separated as is South African custom. Good for the boys since Ruth used to destroy us in the classroom. Brian was with my brother and I got to know him well too. I caught up recently with both of them, after several years, at a braai for a mutual friend visiting the UK. Brian and Ruth are both teachers and relocated their family a few years back. Dan Gilbert, author of the wonderful book 'Stumbling on Happiness', talks about how we used to live where we were born, do what our parents did, and marry someone from the neighbourhood. These are key factors in happiness and present really difficult choices with expanding options. As Megan discussed - the curse of choice. One of the challenges to tough choices is being second guessed. Brian sat down and responded to a challenge from the braai friend (who happens to be our mutual mentor, Richard Erasmus) to talk about some of the things that are tough to be honest about. His outpouring is raw.

Brian is the one in the short shorts on the left... less a couple of decades.

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Running Towards
by Brian Levings

"Someone got stabbed... killed... did you say murdered!? Ha ha, and you moved half way across the world!" On so many levels, this kind of comment must be what I as a white South African male (I guess ex if you look at my passport) who uprooted my family find the hardest to take, the hardest to keep quiet about - it's been years and is a real personal struggle for me.

A while ago, our very reverend Richard Erasmus asked people on Facebook what they find most difficult to be honest about - for me, this is it - you know what, I left it all behind, I dragged my wife away from her loving and incredibly close family, we said goodbye to a church and friends that have shaped our lives, I gave up an incredible job with my kids schooling mapped out at independent schools until they were 18, a house I could only dream of and I emigrated - AND I'm happy I did. There you go, I said it. I made the right choice and I'm glad I did it. I don't want to step on anyone's toes but you see, I have to walk on eggshells around those people who are just too blinkered to realise that not all of us ridicule the country of our birth, not all of us moved away because we couldn't handle the heat - I've read so many of the 'we're really not interested in you bashing our lovely country, just enjoy your life in the miserable cold damp of the UK' articles because... how dare I have made the right choice. How dare I be happy and feel safe with my loved ones. How dare I feel comfortable for my wife to be out alone late at night. How dare I rate children's current education as one that is strong and rigorous - I'm meant to be miserable under the grey gloom of the English climate but I am not. As much as I love South Africa and  speak well and fondly of her, no matter how much I sometimes yearn for the relaxed and friendly nature that is a South African, for the knock on the door which says, I'm here and no, I didn't put it in the diary 3 months ago, but I'm coming in, I am happy. My wife is happy. My children are happy.


I'm not an idiot. I knew there was crime here. I knew that people died here, horrible deaths too. I knew that it rained here, a lot. I knew that I'd be tearing my wife from her family and friends. Something leaving the country does very quickly is show you your true friends. I think those who have done so know exactly what I mean. But what I didn't know was how my breath would be taken away when I walked to the edge of the cliffs of Malta, what it felt like to be surrounded by Mediterranean culture eating and singing on the cobbled streets of an historic castle in Spain. I didn't know what it was like to take the Northern line for 3 stops, jump on to the Circle line for another 3 and whatever you do, don't stand on the left side of the escalator. I didn't know what it was like to drive on the right side of the road, or how difficult it is to get a car into an Italian roundabout, the chaotic nature of des Champs-Élysées traffic or what it was like to fall off one of those stupid snow chairs half way up to the blue route - never managed a black! The warmth of the Irish culture, the blue eyed ladies (sorry love), the palm trees swaying on a sandy Caribbean beach while sipping on a brandy and coke in a jacuzzi draped with sheeting and all the frills was all a world I did not know. Or what it was like to smell the disgusting gasses of walking into a volcano of the St Lucian islands; I had no idea.

I do now and I'm better for it. I make no excuse for enjoying it. I make no apology - as much as you may love South Africa, please know this: I didn't run away from, I ran toward something else - I never wanted to offend you, I never wanted to be seen as your hostile now that I've left. I just want to be seen as someone who left a country they love and have awesome memories of, but also, a person who wants to experience more of life, more of the world, more of other cultures and I'm tired of being labelled 'one of those people'.

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In writing a blog about several topics in which I admit to being a complete beginner, I am going to have to rely heavily on the people I am writing for who cumulatively know most of what I am likely to learn already. I would love it if some of you found the time to write a guest post on the subject of happiness or learning. The framework I use for thinking about these things is what I call the '5 + 2 points' which includes proper (1) exercise, (2) breathing, (3) diet, (4) relaxation, (5) positive thinking & meditation, (+1) relationships, (+2) flow. Naturally if you would like to write about something that you think I have missed, I would love to include that too. If you are up to doing something more practical, it would be awesome if you did a 100 hour project and I am happy to do the writing based on our chats if that is how you roll. Email me at trevorjohnblack@gmail.com 
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