A Thought Piece on Rights

On 21 March of every year since the dawn of democracy in South Africa, the country commemorates Human Rights day. This is a holiday that has its origins in 1960 during the Sharpville massacre. This is when thousands of black people protested against pass laws at a police station. Police opened fire and scores of people died. Human rights day is thus a reminder that never again in South Africa will such an inhuman and cold blooded event occur.

Every year since then, South Africans commemorate the loss of life and celebrate the triumph of the human spirit. This right to human life and dignity is enshrined in the country’s constitution as one of the pillars of our democracy.



Every time we talk about human rights, we usually refer to the external, physical and material environment, how individuals respect each other’s rights and dignify. Rarely do we consider our rights in relationship to our internal, personal world. In this podcast I would like you to consider owning your right to your emotions/feelings. I would like you to think about the right to feel with no judgment of right or wrong, but rather using your feelings as a powerful source of information for what you will do next and how.

Most of us are socialized into categorizing feelings into those that are appropriate and socially acceptable versus those that are bad and wrong. For example it is seen as wrong for a child to feel jealous of a child who has a better toy than them. It is right to be happy for the child with a new toy (interestingly, in our adult life, the feelings towards those with more or with less possessions than ourselves is no different from in childhood. But I digress). Such a conclusive and finite approach to feelings tend to block us off from the opportunity to understand self-better and grow from that understanding. It is more useful to ask why is it that there are feelings of jealousy? Are these feelings an indication of the child feeling unworthy? Less important? Or unloved? Are the feelings pointing to thoughts of missed opportunity for new experiences with a new toy?

When we generate as many options and possibilities for reason for our feelings, we get closer to the source of those feelings. More often than not the source is a thought or a set of thoughts. These thoughts lend us in a place of concluding/ or making assumptions about the world. Those conclusions/ or assumptions either empower us or hold us back.

So the next time you become aware, particularly of strong feelings about an event, an experience, a person etc, pause and unpack the feelings a bit. The insight that comes from that unpacking will more than likely allow you to act from a position of power, rather than reacting in ways that will not be sustainable for you and for your environment. For those of you who are in formal employment, the workplace is a particularly fertile environment to have a wide range of very strong feelings. At the risk of generalizing, the positive feelings we harbor about the workplace and its people usually come from when things are generally in line with our intentions and desires (e.g. performance management). It is rare for us to engage in deep introspection when we are feeling good and we think things are going well. By contrast negative feelings usually envelope us when our expectations are not met, when we experience our psychological contract with the employer being violated. In the example of performance management, when the employer rates you lower than we rate our self, it is not the first port of call to take responsibility. But to go to a place of feeling rejected, unworthy and needing redress. Much too quickly we jump to ameliorate the feeling without sitting and listening to it message. This is not to say that we need to be passive recipients of events in our lives and not take action as and when needed. The point is rather than we should intentionally break the cycle of by-passing the reflection on feelings before we get to action stage.

But what are these emotions that we are talking about that are neither good nor bad? Generally speaking emotions are patterns of energy within us that occur in response to events in our lives and external world. Since these patterns of energy are manifested in our internal world, their outlet is our physical bodies. So unpleasant emotions are likely to have a negative impact in our bodies as pleasant ones are likely to have a healthy impact.

  1. Be aware of your emotions
  2. Delay labeling them as good or bad
  3. Use them as a tool to analyse yourself and as clues for action
  4. understand that you are responsible for them being empowering or paralyzing
  5. they have an impact on your health

Enjoy your right to feel!

Phyllis Ndlovu


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