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Local Drummer: It doesn’t matter!

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“My name is Thembe Khumalo and I am a perfectionist”.

They made me say that in front of a roomful of people once. It was one of those dodgy courses that seem designed to make you walk out feeling worse about yourself than when you came in. I really am not a perfectionist, but like many people, I sometimes obsess over things that ultimately don’t matter.

It’s a simple fact that resources are scarce in the world, and resources like time, energy and attention are often squandered on things that, when we really think about it, do not, in fact, matter very much at all. It is imperative that we learn as individuals, as families, as communities to decide swiftly what is important and what is not, and to then act accordingly.

Take our politics, for instance, and our public figures. Is it important who our political leaders date, marry, divorce or sleep with? Is it not instead more important that they carry out their mandate to serve the people through running institutions of government? Which of these issues really matter in the grand scheme of things?

I am reliably informed that Harare City Council spent money buying a number of tow-away cars (rakers) to help control the problem of delinquent drivers in the city. A perfectly acceptable use of resources you might think, but back at the ranch the council has no more than five functional ambulances to serve a city with a population of more than three million people! In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter where I park my car, how I park my car or for how long I park my car, if I can’t get an ambulance to take my neighbour to a hospital in an emergency.

Similarly in families, we can sometimes turn a side issue and put it front and centre of our agenda. The other day I was watching a programme about a bride who had not one, not two, but nine bridesmaids! Part of the wedding festivities included a boat cruise for family members followed by a braai later.

I wondered how much the entourage and festivities cost, in both time, money and stress. Had anybody thought to invest any of those resources into premarital counselling, into personal finance seminars, or into other life skills that would last a lifetime and actually equip the young couple for a happy life together? When you really think about if, cruises, cakes and bridesmaids’ dresses are of absolutely no consequence against the real life issues that young couples face.

Like a dog with a dry bone, who nibbles and worries at it all day long, ignoring his bowl of nutritious dog food in front of him, we preoccupy ourselves with matters of no consequence, investing time and energy into them.

I remember a time when, heavily pregnant, I complained to my sister that I was finding it hard to push a trolley around the supermarket. She was astounded when I explained that I couldn’t take anyone else shopping because they would just pile the groceries into the trolley in a higgledy-pidggeldy fashion. I want my trolley to be very neat and orderly, with the items sitting squared next to and on top of each other. Don’t ask me why this is important – it clearly isn’t! But it took me a long time to realise how much energy I was investing in this ridiculous habit!

At the end of the day, it comes down to prioritising — a life skill that we often ignore when we prepare ourselves to deal with the world. To assess the cost, value, urgency and impact of a decision in advance of making it is a critical skill which, if you master well, will make you a real asset to any family, community or country. Like all skills though, it gets better with practice.

Thembe Khumalo writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw.

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