The organisational chaos in the ANC, the duplicity of its leaders, and the dishonesty and incompetence in government have all lately been getting to me. Add the other woes besetting our country, our continent and our world, and I’ve been slowly but surely sinking into a pit of pessimism and despair.
Even though I know this is mainly due to over-exposure to the mass media’s ‘horror stories’, I haven’t been able to help myself. My negativity bias, that strange phenomenon which predisposes us to absorb bad news and overlook good news, has been working overtime.
But my mood of despondency is largely behind me. The change was triggered by the vibrancy of the atmosphere at the recent Subtrop conference. I saw hundreds of smiling farmers enthusiastically greeting each other with handshakes and backslaps and animated conversations about the good prices realised by avocados and macadamias.
There was talk about the excellent tree flowering and fruit set, and the good litchi crop coming on, speculation about the prospects of the rand, and much exchange of information on where to find good nursery trees and land on which to expand.
These didn’t look like people threatened by rampant crime and the loss of their farms, who lay awake at night agonising over their own and their children’s futures. These were positive, enthusiastic men and women, and while there was a sprinkling of grey hair, they were mostly young and fit.
A fresh outlook triggered by positive people and good rain
The experience triggered a complete change in my mindset. Instead of my
morbid preoccupation with what was wrong, I started looking for things that were good about South Africa: its beauty, diversity, challenges, ubuntu, opportunities, beautiful people and, of course, its wonderful farmers.
A few days later, the Lowveld, like much of the country, received excellent rain, which heightened my sense of well-being. The countryside turned emerald green overnight, and the resident red-chested cuckoo went into overdrive.
My wife, back from a few days in the Kruger National Park, had never seen so much game in such good condition. The migrant birds of the bushveld were back and the cream flowers of the acacias were breathtaking. With the Christmas season on our doorstep, my despondency has turned into a spirit of goodwill and love for South Africa.
And it has made me think again about the pernicious and destructive state of mind caused by pessimism. Pessimism kills energy and any prospect of looking ahead and building for the future. Habitual pessimists see no further than the next piece of bad news, and they seize on it with glee to justify their view of the world.
Worse, they sow despair and unhappiness all around them. If you’re suffering from a dose of pessimism, do something about it now. I was fortunate that the Subtrop event sparked my recovery; you might not be so lucky.
But one sure way of killing your pessimism would be to get onto a plane and spend a few days in Lagos, then move on to Egypt, get through the security cordons and talk to a couple of local farmers about how much security they need.
Finish off this reality check with a hop across the Mediterranean to the divided island of Cyprus, where Turks and Greeks stare daggers at each other across the border, or maybe spend a few days in one or two of the Arab states caught up in civil war.
You’ll feel much better, and be on the first plane home. Whatever you do, please emerge from this festive season in a positive frame of mind, and spread that optimism liberally around you. And may 2018 be your best farming year ever!