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Excellence at doing the wrong things



APJ Abdul Kalam, the former President of India, said “excellence is not by accident. It is a process, where an individual, organisation or nation continuously strives to better oneself”. Today I can bluntly tell you that Basotho are excellent at doing the wrong things. This past week I was skimming social media platforms and noticed that my countrymen were celebrating our poor performance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Marathoners ‘Neheng Khatala and her husband Khoarahlane Seutloali finished the marathon but they got nothing. They were not even close to getting anything. We celebrate our athletes coming on position 20 (Khatala) and 67 (Seutloali) because we have accepted mediocrity and it has become part of our culture. My brother and friend Silas Monyatsi, the filmmaker and actor, argues that we are being a bit too hard on these athletes. He says “considering the number of participants in a marathon race, getting to position 20 is a great achievement to anyone from anywhere. I am certain all who came out within that margin are being celebrated in their respective countries and there is hope that they will do better in the next race,” Monyatsi said in his Facebook post. “Also, these ones from Lesotho come from such a pathetic country that does not really care to give them the necessary support throughout the training and development stages. I know we can expand broader on mediocrity and all these other virtues, but I am begging us to be easy on these particular athletes. Let us stand with them for them to put more energy in their next race. We can now see potential there. I did not even know about them before,” he added. According to Monyatsi and those who support his argument it is enough just to finish the race. Though it’s a fact that in my lifetime we have never achieved anything significant in any sporting competition, we should be very careful not to allow our recent history in competitions to shape us into non-performers. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not see anything wrong with this current culture of celebrating mediocrity. Believe me, it is like that in all sectors of our lives. It is worse in politics where there is easy money to be made without working hard. The genesis of this problem lies in our political leadership. People get into politics to get jobs and feed their children. There is no scope for understanding what is our purpose in life, who we are and where we are supposed to go as a nation. Aristotle was right to say “excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” We might not like the results but Khatala and Seutloali’s performance is not an accident. Michael Jordan, a basketball legend, used to practice over ten hours a day even at the height of his career. He said “practising the wrong thing eight hours a day only makes a person excellent at doing the wrong thing.” In this country, we have spent years practicing the wrong things but expect the best outcomes. Imagine if we could start doing the right things in politics, sports, work, business and families. Where will we be? Sadly, we have settled for just completing our races at the Olympics. Other nations go there to win Gold medals for their countries. We pat ourselves on the back for finishing the marathon in positions 20 and 67 when other athletes compete for medals. We defend poor performance in government when other countries demand nothing less than the best from their leaders. Little wonder we are far behind our peer countries in almost everything good. We used to send experts to Botswana and Eswatini but today they are far ahead of us in terms of development. I have watched our national football team, Likuena, play since I was 10 a year old. Every time we lose a game, we scramble for excuses to explain why we lost and hope for better performance in the future. To what end? We perform poorly in all departments of our lives as Basotho. We suck and we should stop giving excuses. We always talk about the future. When is it coming? Almost by accident, we celebrate mediocrity because we don’t think that it is mediocre. Most of our locally made products, music, arts, sports, and politics are poor. The workmanship is terrible. We only consume them because we want to support local products and companies. Why is this? I don’t know. I do it all the time. But at the same time, I can’t help but conclude that this type of behaviour has subconsciously trained us to lower our standards of what we consider success or achievement. I think that has created a new culture. Generally speaking, we can say culture is the set of beliefs, ideologies, processes, and attitudes held by the people that make up a nation or society. It may arise organically on its own and it can be framed and influenced by societal practices and government policies. Culture is vital because it guides the decisions of its citizens by setting and reinforcing expectations about what is appreciated and how things should be done, providing a sense of identity to its citizens, whose behaviours constantly reinforce and reshape the culture – about who they are and what they do. But how can a culture of excellence be created? It has to start with our leaders in different industries but, most importantly, the political leadership must walk the talk. Leaders play a fundamental role in showing everyone the importance of achieving excellence. Political parties must develop leaders who practice excellence in both the party and the government. It is sad that political parties are not intentional about leadership development. We need a habit of identifying ‘high-potentials’ and focus on developing them. When leaders are busy walking the talk, the next thing to do is to create rituals where values are lived. Culture arises when a series of understood notions are validated by repetition over time and then passed on to a wider population group. We need to identify a set of values, maybe five, that describe the people we want to become. Then make sure these values are lived. President Paul Kagame introduced small rituals such as the once a week cleaning campaign. This is “Umuganda,” a community clean-up held on the last Saturday of every month. It is one reason that Rwanda is renowned in Africa for its cleanliness. This is not a volunteer ritual. Police monitor the streets and can stop Rwandans who are not participating and make them clean up on the spot. Rwandans who do not participate in the clean-up can be fined 5,000 francs, nearly M90. Basotho are not living fully actualized lives and full potential. One main cause is a lack of clear and focused intention and direction. My brother Lebeko Sello’s comment on Facebook reminded me of 1 Corinthians 9:24-25: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” He is right. Basotho need to be reminded that we compete to get the price. Mediocrity does not make a happy or successful person, and it sure does not make a strong country. Let’s strive for betterment, and reward those who make the effort to achieve greatness. We need to cultivate the culture of excellence as Basotho. Ramahooana Matlosa

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