living a life of excellence

Last week my department at work took us on a two-day sleepover team building to the Vaal. We stayed at The Riviera on the Vaal which is not a hotel that I would recommend for an overnight stay but rather for lunch and a ride on their boat.

Anyways we usually have a motivational speaker that is invited to share their pearls of wisdom with us and this year they invited Debora Patta. Now you can imagine the reaction from a few of us within the department, Debora Patta has a reputation for being controversial, very direct and sometimes even rude, we could not understand why anything Debora had to say could possibly motivate us. Boy were we wrong.

She arrived wearing a purple shift dress coupled with purple stiletto’s, her face was caked with make up and she quickly explained that it was because she had just come from set where she had been shooting one of her TV shows. Her speech was about living a life of excellence and she shared the following points that would assist in doing this:

  1. Learn to be wrong – it’s ok to admit that you’re wrong, it’s ok to admit that you don’t know because then you will never stop learning
  2. Have courage – she relayed the story here of a girl who was gang-raped and was brave enough to testify against the rapists and have them locked up for life. The rapists then sent a second group of men to gang-rape her again for revenge and she again testified against the second group of rapists and had them locked up for life. The second gang-raping left her disabled and yet she still found the courage to stand up to them.
  3. Learn to say “NO” – Debora spent a lot of time with Nelson Mandela when he came out of prison as a young journalist who profiled him and she observed that he only said “no” when it was really necessary. Once he was being interviewed and he had just come back from travelling in Canada and one of the journalists asked him whether he had loved/enjoyed the view of the mountains there and he replied “I didn’t hate them”. Nelson Mandela never wasted a “no”, he only used it when it was really necessary.
  4. Persevere, don’t give up – Debora shared a story of a baby named Michaela who was stolen literally hours after being born from a hospital and the police could not start looking for her immediately because back then the rules were that they had to wait 24 hours before they could initiate the search. Unfortunately for the distraught parents, the best evidence is found in the first 24 hours and most babies that go missing are hardly ever found but they would not give up even when everybody else did. Luckily for them baby Michaela was found I think three years later and they had a happy ending.
  5. Have compassion – A few years ago there was a couple that had three children which they abused, molested and were basically treated like animals. This family lived in isolation, no one knew about these kids because they were never registered and didn’t have birth certificates, they didn’t go to school and the youngest stayed in a kennel/cage with the dog. The kids could not talk basic English, they went for days without food and were extremely uncivilised. The couple was later arrested for a number of crimes that you can imagine based on the above story and these kids were now left with no parents and there were thousands of people who were willing to adopt these kids but they didn’t understand the amount of patience that one would require to help these kids become a part of Society.  Eventually they were given to an old couple who amongst all the issues they faced with these kids, showed them love and this is essentially what helped these kids start adapting to being civilised.
  6. Be Creative – be careful of emotional vampires
  7. You can learn from children – One of Debora’s daughters was telling her about one of the school kids in her class and when her daughter described this child, she said its the boy who wears a red jersey and carries a backpack. This left her a bit confused because all the kids in her school wore red jerseys and carried backpacks so she asked her to show this kid to her the next time she was picking her up from school. When her daughter did show her this kid, she saw the darkest, literally navy child she had ever seen and yet her daughter did not see that and she realised that her kids did not see race. Debora has two daughters, one is half Zulu and the other is half Jewish and she loves her rainbow family.
  8. Be a Hero – she spoke about Nkosi Johnson to support this point, how he as a little boy made AIDS so real for so many people who had been living in denial and he died a hero.

Deborah’s speech was very touching as she has been exposed to so many people and their stories in her time as an investigative journalist. There are so many other stories that she shared with us that really stay with you long after her speech, she also spent a lot of time with Nelson Mandela and shared a few stories about him too that were very intimate as we got great insight from more than what we have seen and heard of him.

One of my colleagues asked her if she was afraid for her life based on some of the people she has exposed in her investigations as well as the death threats she has received. She replied that she was not afraid because if someone wanted to kill her they wouldn’t threaten her, they would do it and she has also found that the best place to hide is under the light.