Chicken Little & the Big Oaks

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What if the sky isn’t falling, as Chicken Little feared? What if it’s actually raining acorns? A new take on a familiar old fable, for our changing times and worldBy Gus Silber

Chicken Little went for a walk one bright and sunny day, and you know what happened next. The heavens darkened, the silver lining unpeeled from the clouds, and the sky came crashing down on his head.

He ran around in a clucking panic, rushing to tell everyone he knew the calamitous news. “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

Soon, it was a trending topic, and he had gathered a delegation of fellow fowls – Turkey Lurkey, Henny Penny, and Ducky Lucky – to present a petition to the king, whose name was Foxy Loxy, and who, after diligently applying his mind to the matter, proceeded to gobble them all up.

Happily, we live in a democracy locracy, so there is little chance of this ever happening over here. But that is not the moral of the story.

The moral is that Chicken Little got it wrong. It wasn’t the sky that fell on his head. It was an acorn.

An easy mistake to make, and one that reminds me, as I recount this fable, that you get two types of people in South Africa. I will call them the sky-fallers, and the acorn-planters.

The sky-fallers hold the view, reinforced by an email from an expat or a post on Facebook to which they appended the scream-face emoji, that all hope is lost, and that the best we can do is cover our heads and find a good tunnel in which to weather the storm.

The acorn-planters, on the other hand, gaze quizzically up at the sky, look down to see the acorn, plant it in a freshly-tilled furrow, and nurture it slowly to bloom. These are the good oaks.

I am not talking here about those who see the glass as half-full, since in South Africa, as someone told me around a braai the other day, while the optimist and the pessimist are engaged in their little philosophical debate, someone else will sneak in under the table and run away with their beer.

I am talking about – well, let me not mention names, since this isn’t a roll-call or an awards ceremony, it’s merely a proposition. So I will just present you with a couple of cases in point.

I know a guy, a Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar, who left a very high-paying job on Wall Street to come back home and start a company that finds, trains, and funds young entrepreneurs. In his office in Johannesburg, side by side, there are giant posters of two Steves: Jobs and Biko, his heroes and role-models.

In a small village in Mpumalanga, there is a guy who, as a schoolboy, put on his mother’s wedding veil and Mexican sombrero and learned the art and science of apiculture.

Now he runs a network of hives that make honey and money for novice beekeepers in one of the most poverty-stricken parts of the country.

In the Free State, there is a lady who was thwarted in her ambition to become a nurse, and who went on to start a care home and school for orphaned and vulnerable children.

In the Eastern Cape, there is a company director who left the boardroom to start a project that recycles rubbish and turns gang-ridden wastelands into bright and breezy play-parks.

In Joburg there is a young business-owner, an architect by degree, who sells gardens-in-a-box, strips of paper embedded with seeds, that you plant in shallow soil to grow your own vegetables.

When I meet people like this – and doctors who work gruelling shifts in rural hospitals, and unemployed youngsters who start libraries in their communities, and dancers who use dance to teach mathematics to kids – I wonder to myself, why aren’t they sitting at their computers, tapping away on their smartphones, waging hashtag battles against strangers on social media?

Can they not see, do they not know, that the sky is falling all around them? But they are too busy planting acorns.

It is not that they are not troubled by the state of things, or worn-out and frazzled and on edge; it is precisely because they are that they do what they do.

They are not do-gooders. They are good doers, and the difference is in the difference they make, quietly, restlessly, inside and around and beyond the tumult of everyday life.

I suppose you could call them social entrepreneurs, or community workers, or activists of inspiration, but I prefer to think of them, simply, as South Africans.

Once I interviewed the founder and CEO of a multinational business, in his multi-storey offices in Sandton, and at the end I asked him, why do you stay here? What keeps you in this place?

And he laughed and said, at the end of every day here, you take a deep breath and you say to yourself, phew, I made it. I got through another day. And you know what? There’s another day tomorrow.

So the difference lies in what you do with your day, and when you look at it that way, it’s not that difficult a choice to make. After all, why be a Little Chicken, when you can be a big oak.

* The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.

This article first appeared in The Comet, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.

Donald Trump & the Tree People

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Polynesian islanders believe the world can be divided into two types of people. Tree people, who like sitting in the shade and watching the world go by, and Canoe people, who prefer getting into their canoes and seeing what lies beyond the horizon. Which are you, and how do Brexit and Trump fit into the picture?

By Alec Hogg

Funny how one thing develops into the next. A few weeks ago, a friend recommended a movie called What The Bleep Do We Know. It was an introduction to a line of inquiry long overdue for someone who has enjoyed tangible benefits from New Age concepts like mediation.

That movie re-introduced me to the remarkable Joe Dispenza, a chiropractor who was triggered by a personal experience to apply his mind to overcome the physical. The more I read of his work, the deeper the research that followed.

Among Dr Joe’s contributions is how learning new things creates new paths in the infinite potential that is our brains also reaffirming how much there is still for to discover. The more we learn, the more we realise how little we actually know.

Ours is a complex world which we share with billions of other beings, all with the same plumbing and brain capacity as we possess. That’s massive untapped potential. If the reaction of others baffles us, we should first try to hear what they are telling us, rather than reject their opinions as foolish.

The reminder came home with some force through the decision of the British public’s vote to leave the European Union, and for many, the equally surprising election of US President Donald Trump.

With hindsight, though, it’s all pretty logical.

The best explanation I have been exposed to refers to a story told in a book by French author Jean-Claude Guillebaud in which he draws on the distinctions Polynesians draw between mankind’s sedentary and adventurers.

They believe that each of us falls can be categorised as either a “Tree” or “Canoe” person.

The first group are content to remain where they were born and have no interest in knowing whether the grass is greener on another island.  They happily live out their lives in the shade of the island’s trees.

Canoe people, on the other hand, are driven by a need to explore. For them, the best use of a tree is to turn it into a boat to transport them to distant places. There they can learn fresh ideas which can be brought back to enhance their own community.

Polynesians respect both streams of humanity. They say a society which only has Tree People would see no fresh influences. With Canoe People only, there would be no more trees and the island become deserted.

For the past few decades, the world has witnessed the ascendancy of Canoe People, the champions of inter-connected societies where globalisation expands wealth and liberalisation of societies breeds greater tolerance for others.

I was intrigued to separately hear Canoe People described as “Davos Man” – the mythical creature personified by those who attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of that name.

As a veteran of the event, my experience of Davos is that it is the ultimate banquet of brain food. More than half a dozen simultaneous channels give participants access to the world’s brightest thinkers, most forward looking innovators and leaders of its progressive corporations.

The credo of the World Economic Forum is to make the world a better place. But critics see the annual meeting as a Canoe People jamboree where the global elite share and reinforce their ideas and beliefs in an Alpine echo-chamber.

January will be my 14th participation in the annual event, so I’ve seen enough of “Davos Man” to venture an assessment. And it’s clear that despite some valiant attempts to make the event more inclusive, Davos does remain the preserve of the fortunate.

While this highly educated group of global citizens thrives on trying to understand complexities of this speeded up world, recent events suggest they have also made a terrible error.

In his haste to evolve, Davos Man has forgotten to share. Both financially and in terms of knowledge.

It is in Davos that the latest research of inequality is publicised in the forlorn hope that the rich and powerful attendees will do something to address it. Davos is also the place where politicians are exposed to the reality of the rapidly changing world. I have seen quite a few return home with a very different mindset.

But it is one thing to swap ideas on complex issues in a sealed off Swiss Alpine resort. Another thing entirely to engage at a level where it is required.

Not enough effort has been made to engage left-behind “Tree People”. The inevitable has happened. They are tired of having their trees turned into canoes. And are reclaiming their islands.

In the Brexit Referendum, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove tailored their message for Britain’s “Tree People” – evoking emotion around the cost of European bureaucracy, the perceived loss of UK sovereignty and the influx of immigrants.

Against that, the intellectual arguments on the wealth creation of free trade fell flat, so their opponents led by former Prime Minister David Cameron resorted to a self-destructive “Project Fear”.

US President Donald Trump followed an identical line, promising to be the representative of the forgotten masses who believe globalisation has gone too far, immigration is too free and the elite have subverted “We The (Tree) People”.

His opponent’s arrogance in branding Trump and his supporters as intellectual morons backfired spectacularly.

South Africa is witnessing a similar battle between the two branches of society. The challenge for “Canoe People” is to communicate clearly and swallow a dollop of humility. Failure to do so will condemn the country to repeat the mistakes of some continental neighbours. Not least Zimbabwe.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. But for the Canoe People of South Africa, the first step is to appreciate that one should never under-estimate the intelligence of the common folk, and know that provided they are well-informed, they will always do the right thing.

* Alec Hogg is the founder and editor of

This article first appeared in The Comet, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.

Happy Holidays, & a Bright 2017!

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Well, phew. There goes 2016. As years go, few among us are likely to be sorry to see this one going, going, gone.

Let’s not even mention exits, elections, and the every-which-way-but-our-way bounce of the ball against Italy and Wales.

Let’s rather focus our energies on the one unchanging truth about the state of the world we live in: It changes. Not by itself, of course, which is the big challenge and opportunity presented by the new year that lies waiting in the wings.

In the meantime, it’s time to take breather with this issue of The Comet, bringing you news, views, and insights from the the world of BrightRock and beyond.

We bring you a fresh take on current affairs with Alec Hogg’s eye-opening look at just why the world changed so much in 2016; we put a new spin that old fable about the little chicken who thought the sky was falling; and we tell you what you need to know about planning the holiday of a lifetime.

Speaking of which, here’s wishing you a wonderful one, whether you’re staying at home or heading for faraway shores. Safe travels, a healthy and happy festive season, and see you again in 2017!

This article first appeared in The Comet, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.

First Braai with Father-in-Law? No sweat!

When there’s no wind or rain and playing conditions are perfect, to braai, or not to braai is not a question. It’s a must.

And when it comes to braaing with the in-laws, playing the host is inevitable and very stressful. Especially if you’re dealing with a Braai Master like many a seasoned father-in-law. Fire or charcoal? Firelighters or a little bit of grass, kindling and a match? And what should you do to gain and keep possession of the tongs?

Watch this clip produced by comedian Stuart Taylor to learn more about some of the dos and don’ts, and visit our YouTube Channel for more tips to Play the Bounce in life’s Big Change Moments.

Falling Into the Sky

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Life is a quest for a state of grace, a chance to find meaning in the chaos, and to learn to love the change that changes us. By Gus Silber

When I was small, one of my favourite things was to sit on a swing, push the earth away with my feet, and propel myself higher and higher, until the pendulum reached its peak.

At that point, I would lie back with my legs stretched out and my fists clenched around the chains, and I would loll my head to look at the sky.

I would imagine myself drifting, floating like a balloon, falling deeper and deeper into the blue. I was an astronaut, and the heavens were my home.

I remember learning, in Geography, I think, that the earth is in perpetual motion, and that it spins around the sun at approximately 100,000 kilometres an hour. My head spun when I heard this, and I thought to myself, how do we keep from flying away? Then I realised the gravity of the situation.

We are rooted to this place, and even when we are standing still, we are moving: shifting, growing, evolving, changing. When we are babies, the mewling infants of Shakespeare’s Seven Ages, we are the centre of the universe, and everything and everyone revolves around our needs.

Then we turn into teenagers, and we revolt against the universe, and it spins in the opposite direction, away from us. And then, one day, like falling into the sky, we fall in love, and our own selves disappear and meld into the selves of others.

Someone else becomes the centre of our universe, and our hearts beat together at 100,000 kilometres an hour. That feeling, dizzying and liberating, almost scary in its ability to command our senses and take our breath away, becomes the point of purpose for life itself.

We are forever seeking a return to that state of grace, that moment of apogee, and often it finds us when we aren’t even looking. In the chorus of a song, a line from a poem, a scene from a movie.

In the smack of leather on willow, the whoosh of a ball into the back of a net, the wash of a wave over our feet. We find it in work, in the quiet glow of a job well done, in a thing crafted and created, in small conversations and chance encounters. We find it in moments of epiphany that jolt us into steering a new course.


Our task, our opportunity, is not to tame the chaos, but to rearrange it into meaning, even if the meaning changes with each new dawn. That is what it means to be alive.

To be open to surprise and revelation. To push the swing higher and higher, to fall into the sky, and to land with both feet on the earth. To move and shift and evolve and grow, to change. And to
learn to love it, because that, for every moment that changes us and every moment we change, is why we are here.

* Gus Silber is a journalist, author, scriptwriter, speechwriter, tweetwriter, journalism & social media trainer.

** This article first appeared in The Comet, an online newsletter by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.