March 22, 2020

Good Monday morning, South Africa

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Monday

A good Monday morning to you, South Africa.

At least for now the world as we’ve known it has shifted. For you and for me.

Nonetheless, I am who I am. You are who you are. Wherever we are, we have responsibilities, callings, commitments.

I believe we can get through this and come out better people for it.

This is an opportunity to grow in integrity, kindness, and in generosity.

We can each be a form of anti-virus.

I believe each of us can play our unique role in becoming part of the solution and resist amplifying the problem.

I believe we can halt perpetuating the prevalent anxiety as we learn to “hold onto” ourselves.

This will be easier if we:

Decide on how we will behave before we have to. This takes concerted effort to plan, as much as possible, how we will respond to all that comes our way.

Set limits, boundaries, decide on levels of investment in all matters before we enter into important conversations or contracts, no matter how formal or informal.

Decide who we are and what we will do and won’t do before someone or some circumstance does. Steer your own boat. This is NOT selfish. Selfishness is trying to steer someone else’s boat.

Offer others the benefit of the doubt unless repeated experience suggests doubts were legitimate despite having appropriately voiced your concerns.

March 19, 2020

Try it, you’ll see…..

by Rod Smith

I know some things about you.


You are a member of the human family.

You may hide these qualities or life itself may have attempted to beat them out of you, but, these qualities are within you. I know it.

I do not care who you are or what bad or unseemly things you may have done.

You are designed to serve others and are happiest when you do. Try it.

You are creative, funny, and you are able to spread joy.

If you spend a little time everyday singing, yes singing, you will release something powerful within you. This is true even if you think of yourself as a terrible singer and have to do it in absolute privacy. Try it. Begin with a favorite hymn you learned in church or a song you remember from childhood. Belt it out.

You are capable of listening to others with no strings attached. You are gifted in this regard. Try it.

You are designed to be wisely generous with time and resources as limited as both may be. Try it and you will unlock something beautiful within you and you and others will be transformed.

In these troubled times you are a walking talking fountain of kindness, goodness, and generosity.

It is in troubled times when you will be at your very best.

Don’t believe me?

Try it. You’ll see.

You are as beautiful and powerful as any human who has ever lived.

Oh, the things I’d tell this boy if I’d had the opportunity……..!

March 16, 2020

Step up or step down?

by Rod Smith

In challenging times are you a step-up or a step-down transformer?*

Step-down transformer: 

You listen, digest, then respond. If reporting is necessary you do so honestly and without adding drama. You are as objective as possible. You try to downplay details you are unsure of or that you know will spike unnecessary anxiety. You are skilled at calming yourself and anxious people. You know anxiety is contagious so you’re careful not to be a carrier. You know caring and worrying are not the same thing. 

You are able to turn some mountains into molehills.   

Step-up transformer: 

You find it difficult to listen because you only hear what you want to hear or what fits with your already anxious state. You amplify anxiety. You pad details to make things seem worse than they are. You add drama. When upset, unsettled and you think others should be as well. People who are non-anxious under trying circumstances annoy you. You’ve  confused caring with worrying and see no difference or separation between the two. 

You turn molehills into mountains.

Relax, if you can. If you’ve identified that you’re an amplifier of anxiety you’re not stuck in this mode. 

Movement and growth is possible. 

Be aware if you’re overly proud of your non-anxiety. It may well be denial! 

Enjoy yourself – we are all works in progress. 

Besides, joy is an effective antidote for anxiety. 

*Credit to Rabbi Ed Friedman for the initial metaphor. 

March 7, 2020


by Rod Smith

It’s an epic journey getting to Durban – twenty-plus  air hours, three international airports, substandard aircraft meals – but, touch the ground on these gorgeous shores, feel the warmth, and I’m home. 

Yes. It’s arduous travel, hard on the body, but relief comes on touchdown. In conversations. Refreshing accents. Desire to please; serve. Interest in my origins from the welcoming team. Everyone I meet, bar none, appears enlisted in an army of  hospitality, each apparently sworn to welcome me and all visitors. 

Then, one more.

Waiting for the Mango flight from Cape Town to Durban, a young man, about my younger son’s age, sits next to me. 

We chat. I ask about his schooling. 

“I’m from LIV Village. Have you heard of it?”

I grab my phone and swipe for a photograph of my son wearing his LIV bracelet. 

We talk more. I can barely hold back my tears while he humbly reports his successes at sport, in the sciences. He  expresses a hope to attend university in Cape Town. 

Zipho tells me, as we board, there’s no required time or age to leave LIV. 

“We leave when we are ready.”

Thanks, Zipho, in our shared 45 minutes you made my day and I encountered first-hand the powerful love you found at LIV.

February 18, 2020

The 3 Ds

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Wednesday

The three Ds

Distance, darkness, disease (feeling unwell) – these three henchmen working together are bad news.

Some years ago the boys and I were in Hawaii when I began to experience dreadful, very sharp stomach pains. Hawaii really is quite heavenly but if you are not feeling well even Hawaii can feel like the other place.

Distance plus disease does that. Distance from home amplifies the disease and the belief you have one.

During daylight the pain – sharp as it was – seemed to come and go and things felt somewhat tolerable.

At night, and when in the dark, the pain would hit and my mind would run marathons and before long I’d be convinced I was dying. I repeatedly told myself I should never have adopted the boys, very bad idea, only to die on them while they are sleeping in paradise. I visualized my body-bag being loaded into the hold of the plane, my sons peering at it through the United economy window, orphaned boys returning from paradise as confused unaccompanied minors. I could see, right there in the darkened room, tearful and fretting flight attendants fussing over them, plying the boys with ice cream to distract from seeing dad rough-handled onto the conveyor belt below like overweight luggage.

Darkness, disease, distance – were doing their work.

When you are far from home and not feeling well and it is night – things always seem worse.

When we arrived home I told my doctor I was dying.

“It’s not that easy,” he replied.

The next day I passed a kidney stone.

February 15, 2020

There are things worse for children than divorce

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Monday

There are things worse for children than divorce….

• Being caught in the crossfire between warring parents.

• Switching armies, territories, uniforms, depending on who you’re with.

• Being super-over-protected when the hyper-vigilance is really geared to suggest the other parent is negligent by comparison.

• Hearing constant threats about court and custody and money.

• Not knowing what you can talk about depending on where you are and who you are with.

• Having loyalties tested because your significant adults regard your willingness to be with them as a signal of their success.

• Having to face weird punishments if you leak information you didn’t know was secret.

• Having to learn by observation about passive/aggressive behaviors but being punished if you actually use any such behaviors yourself.

• Hearing both parents say they never speak badly about the other parent but you know the truth.

• Loving one parent’s new man or woman but feeling like a betrayer because of the love you feel.

Imperfect Antidote: Do everything possible to be honest with your children and to be respectful and cooperative with your ex. It’s a process. It’s a journey. There is hope.

Last call for a handful of seats: Women’s Breakfast on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 (9 to 10:30am) at the Butcher Boys Restaurant, Hillcrest. Book at R120, continental breakfast.

February 13, 2020

Will you be my Valentine?

by Rod Smith

Cut and paste for your Valentine card or romantic conversation. Please tweak to make it more romantic. 

Ten ways to love you. I will:

  • Not cut you off from your family or friends.
  • Take care of myself so I am in good shape to love both of us. 
  • Do nothing that can be considered controlling because I know love and control cannot coexist within the same relationship.
  • Seek acts of intimacy that we both desire and enjoy. 
  • Encourage you to pursue your interests, hobbies, and passions. 
  • Do all I can to listen and hear you and I know the difference between the two. 
  • Fight off any twinges of jealousy I may feel and I will not blame you for any of my feelings – they are mine. I own them.  
  • Support you to get further education.
  • Not allow forgiven material to resurface between us. 
  • Regularly, for extended periods, several hours at a time, turn off my phone so we can really be together.

I shall be speaking at a Breakfast for Women, 9 am to 10:30 am, on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 at the Butcher Boys Restaurant, Hillcrest. Book now at R120, continental breakfast. The venue changed in order to increase capacity. I am humbled that the extra space is selling fast.  


February 9, 2020

Who holds the key to change in a family?

by Rod Smith

Differentiation of Self is central to my approach to therapy. This is a term coined by the reputed founder of the Science of Family Therapy, Dr. Murray Bowen. In short, Bowen, a psychiatrist, tired of treating individuals for what was, to Bowen, clearly a family or a group issue.

Controversially, Bowen would hospitalize an entire family because one member displayed mental issues.

Dr. Bowen believed that emotional, mental health, and family problems were not “inside” the thinking or lack of functioning in the symptom bearer – the person who was said to be ill – but rather the “problem” resided within the relationships of the family or group.

Differentiation of Self is the capacity to:

  • Remain and individual while also being an integral part of a larger group.
    Be responsible for one’s own life and choices.
  • Stay committed to important relationships in the face of disagreement and conflict.
  • Express thoughts, feelings, preferences, agreements and disagreements, despite natural group or family pressures to conform.
  • Remain on track and committed to goals while respecting maintaining relationships with important others who would rather you were less ambitious.

Murray Bowen observed that the key to a family’s health was the person (or persons) who were working on their levels of differentiation.

February 1, 2020

Effective Leadership

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Monday

Effective leadership, like surfing, is an art.

While no surfer, I have known and observed many and have often concluded that surfing too, is an art.

While there are techniques, skills, things wise and unwise in both, both are sophisticated art forms.

My observation may be laughable given your proximity to the ocean and I’d be happy to hear if I am wrong.

I do know surfers “read” the weather, the water, and the resultant cumulative conditions. I know surfers “read” each other and obey an intricate set of unspoken mutual expectations and are particularly aware when a novice paddles by.

And, they love it all!

The artful leader is the same.

The artful leader loves leadership concepts and learning about leadership, loves people and empowering others.

He or she loves the process of leading and is acutely aware of the “weather” and the “water” of the organization and the experience or lack of it of those whom they lead.

The artful leader is primarily committed to self-leadership knowing that without such awareness he or she is – excuse the cheap continuation of the comparison – sunk.

[I will be in KZN and available from March 7 to March 12, 2020 to speak at your school, church, fundraiser, or event – please email me if you are interested.]

January 31, 2020

For your convenience

by Rod Smith

A Week of Mercury columns

All 5 / Healthy Habits for a Fabulous Week – longer than usual but ready for anyone interested to print or share…..

Just for Today

These are inner-conditions and can be exercised without announcing the decision.

#1 Plan your emotional boardroom.

Make an executive decision and about how you are going to be for the day (not the week, or month or forever. It’s just for the day. Or for the morning if you have to break up the day into parts. Making the decision is crucial. It’s a beginning. You may or may not be successful but you ensure failure if you refuse to plan.

Three things I will do today:

• Speak well of myself and others.

• Advocate for myself and others by speaking up when necessary.

• Affirm, thank others, and be highly cooperative as far as possible.

Three things I will not do today:

• Be a victim to anyone no matter who they are or what position they hold.

• Victimize anyone at all – not in subtle or gross, covert or overt ways.

• Say yes when I mean no or no when I mean yes.

#2 Get rid of inner-clutter.

Rid your inner-work space of unwanted books, chapters, and unfinished essays with their faded, ripped pages and thumbed edges. It’s useless clutter – all of it.

That story, told and retold to anyone who will listen and told even if no one is listening – rip it out. Dispose of it. Not only is it boring to hear, it’s doing no one any good. Especially you. The let-down story, the lost-job story, the overlooked-for-promotion story, your list of slights, these are the unfinished chapters.

Toss them. Never tell them again. They darken your gaze, lower your sights, and take their toll by eroding your sense of worth.

Just for today.

They are the bad poetry of your life. Rip them out. Burn them. Just for today.

You’ll know you have finally cleared your inner-desk when these old stories cease to be your default talking points and when you realize you have so much that is new and positive to share.

But, be kind. Be kind to yourself. Such ripping and ridding cannot usually be done in one foul swoop. We have carried these things around with us for years. We have played host. They have served a purpose and will return like belligerent carpet stains.

The things we remember, the stories we tell about ourselves, not only become rehearsed shtick, but become stepping stones that shape our futures.

Write a new script – just for today.

You may even get a few new and eager let’s listeners

#3 Know, then state what you want.

Clarify what you want. Using as few words as possible write it down. Post it in gold capitals on your inner-bulletin. Don’t write what you want for your children, your spouse, or your aging parents. That kind of answer to “what do you want” is a copout. Think hard. Make notes. Develop a statement of what you want for you. This is neither selfish nor indulgent. It’s necessary for the continued journey toward self-awareness. It is a lack of self awareness that usually results in selfishness. Besides, how will ever know if you have what you want and are doing what you want if you don’t know what it is?

Just for today:

Know what you want.

Steer your life towards what you want in ever-increasing measures.

Try to refuse the things that will shift your direction away from what you want.

Be careful. I am not suggesting you do not meet your already-established commitments or that you don’t participate in the common pool of human tasks required of us all.

Here’s mine – for today.

I want to communicate by all possible means that people can live healthy, powerful, effective lives as both individuals and in communities. I want to be a strong an effective parent, a generous brother, a good friend, and a positively contributing member of a local community.

#4 Arrange your starting blocks.

Decide how you will behave ahead of time and before you have to. I literally try to “breathe in” default conditions, modes of operation, ways of being – just for today, for this morning, this moment, whatever period of time I think I can handle.

Starting blocks:

• Offer forgiveness. It will be absolute, even if undeserved and for all.

• Offer generosity. I will give, be open, and make room for ideas and for others.

• Be responsive. I will look ahead, initiate, and imagine helpful, creative possibilities.

• Offer hospitality. I’ll be open to friends and strangers, short and long-term.

I know from many years of trying that it is difficult we have to start somewhere or pick up where we left off.

Like all good starting blocks they stimulate the possibility of success, and success will breed more success. While we are not divine, these starting blocks certainly are. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling really good about the world and everything in it when you try to live this way, no matter how tough and challenging it may be.

#5 Be committed to listening and learning.

There is something to learn and hear from every encounter and within every environment if you have the heart, mind, and ears for it.

Try it. Just for today. Try it, even if it is only for the next hour.

To begin to learn and to hear you (we, always we) will require a determined effort to slow down and embrace the following attitudes.

I acknowledge:

• I have more to learn than I have to teach, no matter what the topic, circumstance, and no matter how learned, qualified, or skilled I may already be.

• I can learn something from anyone no matter how unskilled or unlearned they may be or I may perceive them to be.

• Some things I think to be true are not; some things I think are untrue are true and there is quite a lot “in the middle” of most extremes.

• I am open to new insights, new ways of seeing the world, and new ways of thinking. I will be aware of other possibilities, not only those that support my already established thoughts, feelings, theologies, and philosophies.