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6 May 2011

The Koh Panyee Football Club

This is the true story of a football team that lived on a little island in the south of Thailand called "Koh Panyee". Koh Panyee is a floating village in the middle of the sea that does not have an inch of soil. The kids that lived there loved to watch football on TV, and really wanted to play for themselves. Watch this short film on how they used innovative thinking, hard work, and determination to make their dream come true.



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It’s the only thing I know
Added: Tuesday, 22 December 2009

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I don’t know how it pans out exactly, but sometime during the first 6 or so years of our life a lot happens that forms our character and what I’d like to call our mental “filing system”. You can also call it paradigm or world-view. Everything that happens, everything we hear or see gets filed according to the files we have created.

Say Amelia grows up in a family she feels safe in. She develops trust and is taught to believe in the nobility of the human soul. So even though she’s 25 and she’s not met the man she wants to settle down with yet, she doesn’t take her trouble with men as anything but “it hasn’t happened for me yet”. She simply feels that she hasn’t come across the kind of guy she’d like to spend the rest of her life with. When her first serious relationship doesn’t survive she views it as a great character building experience. Her guy turns out to be somewhat of a liar and she feels sorry for him. She wonders what has caused him to become so insecure and decides that he is not for her. But she’s hopeful and generally optimistic about the future.

Rita grows up in a home environment that is a little different. One of her earliest experiences involves an unfortunate incident at the ocean. She’s swept upside down in her baby floaty and it seems like an eternity before her parents are able to rescue her. Their family life is less united than Amelia’s. Her father never shows affection to her mother and mother has little self-esteem. Rita also comes from a religious background, but in her case she’s taught about original sin and that man is constantly on the verge of falling from grace. It all turns her off completely and she goes from one unhappy relationship to another. When she breaks up with a man it only confirms her belief that men are all liars, she is worthless, and that life is one torturous game of winners and losers.

In both examples the ladies categorize a similar event according to their own paradigm. Amelia believes that people are essentially good. She interprets her boyfriend’s shortcomings as a weakness he has not yet championed, but she doesn’t want to be the one to help him grow up so she decides to break it off. The incident, while it sucks, doesn’t affect her deepest convictions about the essential goodness of people. Rita has the same experience with her boyfriend, but she files that experience into the “people are essentially sinners” category. That’s just how her cabinet has developed.

Most of us categorize our experience in similar ways. All the media we consume, the news, the music videos, our daily experiences with customer care or with in-laws - everything we experience is categorized according to our very own, largely sub-conscious filing system. Even our “aha” moments, when we think we’ve had an epiphany are usually still filed according to the master catalogue. We may change our mind about something, but that is usually just a little reshuffling of the paper work inside the files. The framework is still the same.

But what is the value of our “values” if they’re formed sub-consciously and passively? If we can’t step back and consciously decide what we believe, can we really call ourselves mature human beings? Should our values be something we inherit from others or a carefully considered commitment to the truth we take time to seek and find?

I think that it is essential for us to step back at some point in our lives and to consciously look back into and onto ourselves, thus becoming aware of the filing system we have created. If we become of aware of it, we can understand and accept how we’ve come to view the world as we have and we stand a chance to actually change it. And there is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong with Rita and Amelia standing back and Rita deciding that despite her experiences, there is a chance that humanity is not always predicated on selfishness? What harm is there in that? If her existing paradigm has only served to make life more miserable, how can it be bad for her to reassess her basic assumptions and beliefs?

Unfortunately we’re not encouraged to seek truth independently or to question the basic assumptions underlying our relationships and how we organize them both on a personal and on an institutional level. That’s why we wage war over our religious and political interests. That’s why we throw in the towel as soon as our girl/boyfriends or spouses seem to want something else than we do.

If, however, we were to become aware and actually own our beliefs consciously, we might end up with a brand new way of approaching things, shed some light into the dark corners of mass ignorance and create an age of true enlightenment. I say we chuck those old, rusty cabinets and spring clean our beliefs and assumptions. It might be a scary process at first, but I’m sure we’ll all be more attractive and happy for it.

Beast, man, stiletto
Added: Tuesday, 8 December 2009

watch original V-Blog in Persian

A friend of mine sent me a lovely email today with some funny images on it. They were all titled “evolution” and were variations of that famous image of the Neanderthal that evolves from his ape-like state into an upright human being. One of the pictures depicted the process through a series of footprints. First it was a beast’s footprint, then a human footprint, then a man’s shoe-print and finally, a woman’s stiletto-print. It made me smile. Of course women are not more evolved than men (though sometimes…) but the day we make a serious effort to create equality, we will know we’ve come far as a human race!

Progress is a basic human right. Progress and evolution are completely inherent to all aspects of creation. Processes in nature, the mind, the spirit, society – all these things are constantly evolving. We go from learning our first words to writing theses, books, films, and business-plans. We go from inventing the wheel to skyping on our iphones. Our capacity is massive and most of us strive to fulfill at least a portion of this capacity on a personal level. And we can see and track our progress. I need only read some of my earlier blogs to do that.

But if evolution is such an inherent part of our experience then why do we selectively chose to ignore it? Why, for example, are so many people afraid of anything that is new and different to what they know? Why must different be bad? Why do we close our ears to other people’s beliefs? Why do we close our hearts to other people’s concerns and views? And most of all: Why do we limit our vision of what’s possible and say “that’s just the way it is”…What a naïve stance to take. We can’t do things the way we’ve always done them and expect different results. In order to move forward, we’re going to have to let go of some of our baggage and tradition and embrace what will benefit the human family.

So why not just try STILETTO heels and see where they take us?!

Peeling back the sticker
Added: Monday, 16 November 2009

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Last night I was graciously invited to join a friend of mine who had won a dinner for herself and 9 of her friends at a new restaurant in town. The whole thing had been organized by one of the leading local women’s magazines and it was great fun. One of the promotional gags they had come up with was a 20-minute talk by an image consultant.

Okay, so it wasn’t the best decision to make us listen to a presentation before appetizers, but I don’t think that was the real reason it didn’t quite click for us. I don’t know if she’d had a bad day, if she was not inspired by the crowd or if it was a combination of the two, but her delivery of the material was just not up to scratch. It felt like she was literally rattling off clichéd insights about how to dress and make a first impression. She mentioned the importance of choosing three messages that one wants to convey. An example: professionalism, reliability and ambition. But somehow she wasn’t connecting to the truth of what she had, perhaps, once genuinely felt. She tried to encourage us to look at ourselves as a brand that has only seconds to make an important first impression. We couldn’t help but doubt our own first impression of her.

But ironically, our second impression of her - now that was something else completely! Because when her presentation was done, she mentioned she had to run off to her 14 month old, who was waiting at home. Perhaps the reason she had not been present at her own presentation? We exchanged a few oohs and aahs and she explained that, though she was over 40, she had just found the man of her dreams and had a child with him. Our interest was sparked and she began telling us of her life and how she had attracted the same kinds of men forever, focusing always on what she didn’t want in life. (I don’t want a man who cheats, drinks and is lazy). This had led to her going from one unhappy, cheating, drinking lazy man to the next. Until one day she sat down and wrote a letter to God, asking him for all the things she was looking for in a man. That shift in thinking from negative to positive, she felt, had attracted a man who was not only all the things she was looking for, but – MORE.

It was funny how the three words that suddenly popped in my mind were: honesty, vulnerability and authenticity – virtues that were far more appealing and attractive than any she had set out to achieve and that came out only upon further investigation of her character. As she left, all the single ladies at the table began scribbling notes on their serviettes and I knew that what the image consultant had set out to do was, perhaps, not done - but instead she achieved far MORE.

What you do for your body, do for your soul
Added: Monday, 9 November 2009

watch original V-Blog in Persian

Whether you’re religious or absolutely not, you most definitely “believe”. Beliefs are what shape our realities. If we believe we are worthy and noble, we live a different life than if we believe we’re unworthy and low. And our thoughts have a huge impact on our beliefs, because whatever we perpetuate we internalize and after a while we eventually believe. That is why it is very important that we focus on positive things all the time – and look for the good in people, even if it means we have to do some diggin’!

But there are times in our lives where “faith” or “belief” in “goodness” or “Godness” (you pick what works best for you) becomes extremely difficult. When we are pushed to the limits of our mental and spiritual capacity we find it difficult to “believe”. A mother whose child is taken from her and perhaps tortured before her or kidnapped never to come back again may not immediately regain the kind of faith she had while she was sitting over a turkey at Christmas last year. Of course there are those whose faith is fuelled by hardship and who embrace the extreme situations of life with open arms according to the motto “with fire we test the gold”.

But for those of us who find it more difficult to respond with such excitement in times of hardship, there is one little thought I’ve found helpful when there seems to be nothing around me but darkness. That thought is the inspiration I get from the physical world. When our bodies - our physical lives - are acutely endangered there comes a surge of extreme power, when we find it in us to hold on, with the last of our energy, to the straw, to the branch, to the rock, to the shred of wood that may keep us alive. And I believe that when our faith is acutely endangered we need to do the same – we need to hold onto whatever piece of hope we can find to keep us going until help comes and we can begin to recover. It reminds me of when we first switch off the light and the darkness that envelopes us seems so absolute. But with time, our eyes can discern some nuances of light. With time, things become a little better.

You strike a rock
Added: Friday, 21 August 2009

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The phrase "You strike a woman you strike a rock", has come to represent the strength of women in South Africa. On August 9th in 1956, when the apartheid regime legislated that all persons of African descent must carry special passes around with them, women petitioned against this law by marching to the union buildings in the country's capital, Pretoria. They stood outside the buildings in silence, many of them carrying their own children or those of the white family's they worked for. They then began singing Wathint'Abafazi Wathint'imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.)

There is something graceful and noble about the pictures one sees of the time. Although it was a march or a protest, it was done with the dignity and poise that we mostly see from women. When women protest, they don't hurl rocks and they don't burn icons. They demand your respect by giving you respect. This is a quality that our society does not nurture. We live in a world that is constantly nurturing and feeding our lower or baser nature. We may learn the theory of virtues and principles, but in our societal realities, we are constantly encouraged to bend our principles and beliefs in order to achieve goals. You need only watch an episode of RUNNING IN HEELS to witness a typical professional environment that is outwardly female, but loaded with the same "male" outlook which believes that in order to excel, you have to make others look bad, stab them in the back and hold them back from progressing.

The idea of protest is in itself problematic. It's a feature of our current order and a "necessary evil", as long as our societal paradigm is based on fundamental disunity. Its aim is to make a statement, raise awareness and create leverage against those who abuse power. But the problem starts with our understanding of power. We think of it in terms of control; the control of resources. And therefore we think of (and manifest) power as potentially abusive. So by default we need to leverage that power through counter-power and that's how we get social protest or opposition. But really protest buys into the same black and white notion of right and wrong, winners and losers as it claims to defy and it limits the diverse and complex nature of reality. It also means that those with the most sticks and stones will have their way. After all a simple strike can become a threatening situation. Your are essentially threatening and pressuring a person/party into a specific action. How is this really different from the nature of the oppression you're trying to undo?

I believe that if there were more of a female voice in the way the world works, we would see a transformation in the entire paradigm that our world operates on. Women have a much more inclusive view of things. They naturally see themselves and the world as an organic entity. Women are the heart of any family, village and society.

Our role far exceeds that of marching and protesting (even if it is peacefully). We have the ability to nurture other ways of transforming society. If we raise and foster families and societies that put justice, unity and cooperation in the forefront of their agenda, we won't find ourselves in a situation where ruthless oppression – the likes of which we see in many nations right now - must be confronted with another, perhaps socially more acceptable form of oppression.

*

Women's day is a day to celebrate and explore the true and unique potential of women around the world. We have come a long way. Let's not be satisfied and let's keep walking. I know that the idiom of the woman as a rock refers to our strength. We are strong and determined as a rock. Steadfast as rock. And that is beautiful and right. But let's also look at the smoothness and softness of a rock that is slapped by the waves and toned to perfection. What can that tenderness teach us (and teach MEN) about life and existence?

Added: Sunday, 9 August 2009

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August 12 marks International Youth Day and I have a great little story to inspire us. It's the story of my friend's son. My friend and her husband were called to their son's school one day. They were both a little worried and surprised. After all, their kid is the quintessence of gentle. What kind of trouble could he possibly be in? They arrived in school and the teacher began explaining what had happened in gym.

The kids were told to line up in the yard. Each was given a ball and they were then asked to run to the other side of the yard and drop their ball on the line. Ready, steady, GO! The kids began running as fast as their little feet could carry them, but this little boy was faster than the rest.

At this point in the story my friends exchanged a confused looked and wondered where the problem was? He's gifted! God bless! But the teacher continued.

Even though this little boy was faster than the rest, he would slow down, look back and deliberately delay his arrival at the line, so that he could reach it along with everyone else. He would literally sabotage his own advantage in order to make his friends not feel so bad. The teacher then took a deep breath and begged my friends to please teach their son to harness his gift and to use it to his best ability! The others were holding him back!

And now I ask you, dear readers. Which was this youth's gift? Was it his talent for running? Or did this teacher, with all his good will, miss the boy's real gift? The gift of putting others before himself?

If humanity has both the capacity for selfishness and selflessness, if we have both natures in us – which do we nurture and develop? What aspects of our character are drawn out in our current societal institutions and is it doing us any good? Is the world becoming a better place? What could it look like if we harnessed our ability to cooperate?

If Youth Day is about drawing inspiration and vision from our youth – then please, let's draw what we can from the story of this little boy (who's name will probably not remain in history) and his awesome parents, who – thank God – know to celebrate their son's gift for cooperation.

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13 June 2008

Rick & Dick Hoyt Inspire

The inspiring story of Rick & Dick Hoyt, the father and son team, who have competed in triathlons, iron man, marathons and road races for 25 years, overcoming some incredible disabilities.
Get the book about the Hoyts: It's Only a Mountain: Dick and Rick Hoyt, Men of Iron



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We are what we decide to be
Added: Saturday, 5 May 2007

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Recently I published a book. It's a compilation of letters that various prominent South Africans have written, sharing who has inspired them to be who they are today. So politicians, media people, sports people, artists, scientists and the like wrote about their role models and heroes or heroines. Although, of course, the answers were very different, there was a clear trend. I can say that in 80 percent of the cases, the first and foremost influence was the mother.

Yes, our mothers nourish us, they are our first educators, we trust them, we love them. They pass on their knowledge to us, their philosophies, their views, their beliefs and we take those on. We accept what our parents and traditions teach us, because they come with the milk that we receive as babies.

But let me ask you a question: Let's say Joe and Jim both have moms. Joe's mom tells Joe, "Joe, purple flowers are a blessing from heaven. We must fill our house with purple flowers." And let's say Jim's mom tells him, "Jim dear, purple flowers are a curse, we cannot, under any circumstance allow such deviations of nature to enter our home". Which mother is right? Is there any way in the world that they are both right and that Joe and Jim should both wholeheartedly accept what they are told?

I think not. I think as well-meaning and sincere as our parents and guardians are, there comes a time in our life where we must grow up and independently investigate truth. We must question what we have been taught for generations. We must ask ourselves whether those things we have been brought up to believe are really true? And we must do that by asking questions and searching. Seeing with our own eyes and hearing with our own ears.

Many people feel like they are betraying their traditions when they do this. I don't think it is a betrayal to think independently. I think we can love and appreciate our parents and most of all their pure intent, while openly testing the beliefs that have been passed down to us...

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