Tag Archive: Vagabond


For a long time I have considered myself an introspective person, and I have attributed what wisdom I posses to this attribute. Others have noted before me that the self is the greatest opportunity to understand the social world and its behaviours for the reason that the self is always around to be observed. In fact of all people, we cannot escape only ourselves. Of course any scientific observation of an n = 1 sample group may be questioned – but we can escape this paradox if we apply experiment on what we have discovered through introspection to others in our world. Social experimentation. Interaction with people as a way to prove hypotheses of human behaviour theory.

I have been considering self-control and the role and extent of autocracy of the personal will on one’s own behaviour. As such I began looking for research material on the subject, which lead me to BF Skinner and the work I will start to summarise and perform exegesis upon below.

But first a short word on Burrhus Frederic “B. F.” Skinner:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner

B.F. Skinner – Harvard Professor of Psychology

 B.F. Skinner was an american psychologistbehaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher. He was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until his retirement in 1974. Most notably, Skinner invented “radical behaviourism” and even more interestingly the “Skinner Box” or what is more officially called the “operant conditioning chamber”:

 “The box had a lever and a food tray, and a hungry rat could get food delivered to the tray by pressing the lever. Skinner observed that when a rat was put in the box, it would wander around, sniffing and exploring, and would usually press the bar by accident, at which point a food pellet would drop into the tray. After that happened, the rate of bar pressing would increase dramatically and remain high until the rat was no longer hungry.”

Credits to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner

Now some thoughts on the book itself.

Chapter one has some interesting ideas. It begins with the question “Can science help?” and goes on to elucidate on the goods and bads of the scientific era (these past few hundred years) in which there has been an exponential increase in scientific discovery. Skinner’s position is that natural science has developed so fast as to leave the science of human nature behind – thus causing imbalance in our world.

Humanity develops its understanding of technologies which have major effect on our social world and it discovers and defines laws and relationships in the natural world by which we can predict the effects of natural processes (enabling such things as atomic bombs and aeroplanes through nuclear fusion and fluid mechanics in aeronautics) but we do not apply the same drive and energy into discovering and defining the laws and relationships in the world of human nature with which we could predict the outcomes of our scientific creations (such as Hiroshima, 9/11, etc).

Skinner goes on to argue against those who rebel against the idea that human behaviour can in fact be understood through defined laws and relationships. On a side-note, it amazes me that the world has come so far and yet our common understanding of human nature is still mostly agnostic. We all agree on principles such as gravity but we don’t all share agreement on what motivates human decisions.

Why is it that advances in the hard and pure sciences such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology are pursued so vehemently and yet the very thing that drives those motivations and the thing that will inevitably make use of them remains esoteric? Psychology, philosophy and religion have much to say on these questions, but their consideration is diminished in light of technological advancement. Perhaps science will slow down in a century or two and a renaissance like age of psychology, philosophy and religion will emanate instead. The utopian satirist author Samuel Butler plays on this idea in his novel Erewhon, where ‘the instruments and products of science were put into museums – as vestiges of a stage in the evolution of human culture which did not survive.’

The question still remains however, is human nature subject to behavioural theory and prediction? What percentage of human behaviour is a categorical response to external stimuli and what percentage is not? Experiments like Skinner’s box and Pavlov’s bell suggest some relationship. Skinner’s next chapter begins to dig into this “Science of Behaviour” as he tries to show the extent to which the study of people’s actions are subject to the same methodology as is used in the hard sciences.

I aim to determine from his theories the relationships between and key principles behind free will and self-control.

Lastly, here is a brief interview with Skinner:

* Note from the author: this note talks of topics not yet fully resolved in my own mind, and may be retracted or edited in the future, please approach it with due grace. It covers sensitive topics and I have somewhat skirted around a few areas related to my arguments. Sometimes in searching for truth one must abandon comfort and force oneself to begin to form an opinion and this is my public attempt at doing so *

I work in a field that I enjoy where I can also make a difference in other people’s lives – and I do this from the perspective of my life philosophy – which is based on the teachings of Jesus. I am no militant evangelist but a philosopher and a man in search of truth, so when I come across a person in a distressful situation – I give encouragement and advice based on the philosophy I live by – sometimes this means advising people to seek God

This is the premise from which I understand evangelism at this point in my life. Evangelism is such a dirty word these days. Understandably so. Most evangelism – or at least the type that most people (of whatever persuasion) are exposed to is a closed minded endeavour to bully or provoke a listener into abandoning all they have ever known for something alien and seemingly harsh.

When the message of Jesus comes across as unfairly harsh and closed minded I believe something has gone wrong in relating it. However – there is danger in avoiding this line of thinking too, and I come now to one of the toughest questions in christiondom today:

Can I be a christian and open minded at the same time? Does being a christian mean that I must close my mind to whatever else and become what I protest to hate: closed-minded?

What do you think? I think we tread on sensitive ground and a part of me wants not to go on exploring this question for fear of the stern words I may receive. A quote comes to mind though:

“There is nothing so self defeating as a question that has not been fully understood when it has been fully posed”: Ravi Zacharias quoting CS Lewis

What this statement gets at is that the inquiring mind must first set adequate and appropriate foundations and devices in place before attempting to answer profundities with due eloquence and sensitivity.

It is important to realise that one does not sacrifice open mindedness by holding onto certain philosophies and ideas. Every person has a perspective from whose balcony they look upon the world. Without a perspective that one firmly holds onto, one is blind. And to be blind is to be closed minded.

What I have come to believe is that though it requires a delicate application of wisdom, one can in fact be open minded and hold on to one specific and exclusive perspective or philosophy simultaneously – on one condition:

The exclusive philosophy to which one holds must allow for the free will of others and hold that each individual is only responsible ultimately for them self.

Where evangelism seems to go wrong and cause hurt is where the evangelist denies the free will of him he evangelises and wrongly assumes a greater responsibility than he is fairly due for the listener’s life and beliefs. I believe that when correctly done; it is the role of the evangelist to provide and present argument, persuasion, doctrine freely as being what he believes. He should do so with conviction and passion – for passion is stirred by true belief. But – this is where his responsibility ends. He may even pray for the patron of his conversation but he must leave it then to them to ponder and act or act not.

Within the christian worldview – what follows humane and godly evangelism is a matter between God and an individual.

Being open minded means accepting that people believe what they believe – it does not mean rejecting what you already believe or feeling under obligation to reject it. One should be ready to give a thought to someone else’s beliefs and weigh them up against their own but refusing to adopt someone else’s beliefs does not make one closed minded.

Jesus was sure and uncompromising in who he was (God incarnate) and in what he believed to be true, and he stated it in no uncertain terms – but he was open minded, listening to the arguments of others before questioning them and stating his own.

If  being a christian did in fact call me to become closed minded and bigoted it would in fact be a case of “Missionary Impossible” for me.

It is from a careful, confident and open minded approach like this that people become receptive to arguments on matters of such sensitivity and importance, approach people in any other way and you will misrepresent the gospel and our God – for our God is one of love, compassion and wisdom, as well as of justice and holiness.

I think that a life well lived is one in which someone seeks God and finds peace in a life given over to Jesus. Heed my words, I believe them to be true and critical, but take it upon yourself to bring them further or leave them here.

Dear friends and family

The past few months have been dense with learning experiences, challenges (spiritual, emotional, physical) and God. I arrived here 3.5 months ago and this fact surprises me every time I think upon it because it has felt a lot longer. I think part of the reason for this is that back at University time really flew, especially in final year as a Mechanical Engineer, the continual deadlines came at me each week and the mounting pile of work and concepts to comprehend meant that I was always on the move.

Students never stop moving. They are a passionate demographic. Whatever they are doing, they are generally doing it with everything they have. I always felt as if I needed a few more hours each day; the effect of spending a long period of time with the constant feeling that one is short of time leaves the impression that time passes by very quickly. In contrast to this, life here in the valley is still very busy, but only to a fair and manageable degree. In University I needed 28 hours per day, here I need 24 hours per day and so my life feels balanced. This is what I have been searching for and have gone in search of this year – balance.

I would describe the work that I am involved in here as two part time jobs. The first is as a Maths teacher at Kwa-Dinabakubo Secondary School and the second is as a general project team member where I assist with the weekly teaching and other projects that go on in any way that I can. Usually this includes video camera and multi-media work. We try to record each teaching and message that is given in both video and audio to put on CDs and DVDs. I also am the only one around with a car available and so another duty of mine involves taking people where they need to be for the different programs.

The school work is my main concern though, this job has become very close to my heart and is a vital part of this year of mine as I try to ascertain what to do with the years that follow this one. I am testing a hypothesis; I want to know if I can truly make a life out of teaching. I am considering acquiring a diploma in higher education and becoming a travelling teacher, spending a few years at a time (up to 10) in different countries, starting in the East (Japan, Thailand, South Korea, etc.).

So far the hypothesis is being proven true. I still thoroughly enjoy teaching and find that teaching comes naturally to me. As I step in front of a class and begin to open my mouth; it is as if a switch gets flicked and I go into ‘teaching mode’. I have learnt that I thrive in an atmosphere of organised chaos where maths lessons become more of a dialogue than a monologue by the guy in front with the chalk in his hand. I find that my training in engineering has prepared me such that I am able to answer questions even on new areas with just a few minutes of quite thought – giving me the freedom to provide a free sort of classroom environment. One in which every mind is engaged constantly.

I also know the value of discipline though, having learnt that without a certain amount of discipline one becomes shackled by one’s own languidity. I spent the first few weeks at the school walking around with a stern expression and a stiff gait, demanding respect from the kids. Thus when I arrived in my first class, the first impression was already one of someone who won’t take nonsense. This backdrop then gave me the freedom to introduce a less strict atmosphere into the class whilst retaining control. I enjoy a good joke, whether made by myself or one of the kids in the back row, and I believe this helps to build upon that relationship I hope to foster with the learners. In the end I want them to feel comfortable to come to me with maths questions, and life questions. On this front I have had some measure of success already. There have been 4 or 5 kids that have opened up to me and who I have done my best to guide in one way or another (with God’s help).

These are some of my thoughts on my mission thus far. Peace and grace to all my supporters. Thanks for the support. You are making a difference.

Jeremy (aka Jack Figure)

Have you ever watched Dead Poets Society? I watched it first as a much younger version of myself, no doubt because my sisters had rented it from the video store (yeah VHS – retro cool!). Of course I could think of cooler things to watch than what if I’m honest sounded pretty boring… I mean poets? And dead ones? Geez… boring… of course maybe if it was more like ‘The Return of the Dead Poets’ or ‘The Living Dead Poets Society’ or something it would have been more enticing to a 9-year-old, head-in-the-clouds kid like myself. I mean zombies, and poetical zombies… That’s good TV. Anyways, I digress, the movie, right:

So I begrudgingly watched the movie. The grudge slowly turned to awe though, and this may have been when I first entertained the idea of becoming a teacher like the awe-inspiring, oh captain my captain, John Keating (played by Robin Williams).

The Living Dead Poets Society

The Living Dead Poets Society

Much later on, the idea resurfaced when I realised  some time in 2010 that I was not really cut out for industry work as a Mechanical Engineer. I began to truly enjoy my studies and realised the academic life may suite me better. I had a few conversations with a few lecturers that I had at the time with whom I had been impressed. With the information gained from these conversations I began considering the lifestyle that an academic might have. I became convinced that I wanted to pursue such a lifestyle. The lifestyle sounded a lot more like freedom than any industry job I’d come across before.

I had the perfect style of erm, hair, and thinking to be that crazy and eccentric, bushy haired professor that the majority of university and college students love to hate. I could be that tweed jacket wearing, wildly intelligent (or at least appearing so to undergraduates) Prof. who finds potential in a few young minds and moulds and shapes them to become astute, shrewd and wise.

This has become a real passion of mine. Finding young minds and hearts to shape with what I have come to believe are extremely important truths. Truths not only about science or maths or English, but about the world. Philosophy. Religion. Psychology. Truth.

As time went on and the idea of vagabonding grew in substance and passion; this idea of teaching as John Keating did began to merge with the longing I had to travel and see the world, and by doing so; to widen my perspectives with which I see the world. In order to set out to share deep and wise perspectives with young minds, I would have to make sure my own perspectives were not narrow and unworthy of reproduction.

Hence the travelling, teaching, missionary-explorer-vagabond.

This goal for this year has taken shape now with its first phase beginning on the 7th of February 2012, where I will be joining CAPRO, a missionary organisation working to supplement the substandard education of grade 11 and grade 12 students in the largely rural area known as The Valley of 1000 Hills in the Kwazulu-Natal region of South Africa.

I have had many concerns since deciding to follow this path a few months ago, the smallest of which is not money. As many of my friends get jobs and begin to earn money this year as newly graduate engineers and as they begin to pay back their parents for their education, I find myself in a position such that I am completely and totally in the arms of my God who must fulfil his promise to provide for me while I do what I believe he has ‘called’ me to do.

Every now and again however, (with increasing frequency) I find myself quite excited to have jumped into what I have only spoken and postulated about before. The new environment to experience, the new challenges to figure out and battle, the lessons to learn, the young minds to shape and the spiritual strength to gain. All of these things have become of infinite importance to me, and I feel complete peace (most of the time) in giving up a corporate career and all of the security that comes with one this year, in order to chase them down.

I know this whole idea of the Inspiring Professor is very romanticised in the Dead Poets Society movie, but I don’t expect an exact replication, I just expect to make some noticeable difference in a neglected group of young and potential filled students that come out of adverse conditions and may still accomplish great things, if given the chance.

Peace.

Jack Figure (aka Jeremy)

The last thing that I mentioned was that I had completed my degree after 5 arduous and astoundingly special years at University. I was off on an adventure, with the first stop being an outreach to the LIV-village orphanage in Kwazulu Natal in South Africa where I was privileged enough to logistically head up the musical worship aspect of the outreach…

Though I have many thoughts on this time I thought it would be more poignant and critical to fulfil my promise and extrapolate on what my plans were and are now, for the next phase of my path finding journey. So have a look around for the post after or before this one where you can read the stories of LIV village and its people. Right now though:

See, about 4 months ago the very guy who now inscribes his thoughts on your internet met a girl. This guy and this girl had liked each other for a long, long time, however providence and fate conspired such that this guy and girl only got together at the end of their degrees. Two months before each setting off in prospectively opposite directions. The guy, off to who knows where and the girl off to show and produce hope, love and meaning to the downtrodden and poverty stricken of the rural Transkei, South Africa.

As vagabond doctrine condensed and took on shape and further significance in the mind of the guy; a plan, a sacrifice, a solution and an adventure began to find clarity, with a first step being in the form of a roadtrip down to said rural Transkei, South Africa.

The girl and guy therefore travelled down to the LIV village together in the landrover defender that would come to be called Livingston, named after the missionary explorer, with the intent to backpack their way down the Eastern coast of South Africa, so as to eventually reach the Hospital where the girl would work for the rest of 2012.

I (the guy) was embarking on this journey for at least 3 reasons:

1)      Support the girl in her move toward her calling among the poor and uncared for.

2)      Finally complete a goal that was set 4 years prior and take a roadtrip along the coast of South Africa

3)      Attempt to discover God’s calling on my life. Discover where He is leading me. To determine if there was an opportunity near to the girl where I could be a missionary and continue to be close to her (who he was gradually beginning to realise he couldn’t do without for very long, such were his feelings for her)

4)      Begin the process of adapting and discovering the merits and truths of this idea of living as a christ following vagabond, as a free agent of the lord, a traveller and a real seeker of truths and all that is really important in this world.

The journey began as the other LIV village volunteers left in their bus early on the 16th of December, on their way back to Pretoria and their holidays and lives back home. The girl and guy packed up the landrover and with a rumble of the engine and the clatter of camping gear in the back set off on their adventure.

The extent of the couple’s planning covered about two pages of my moleskin notebook and a hastily scrawled A4 itinerary; we were going to wing it. Not necessarily by design, but that’s how things worked out, and we felt freed by the open possibilities presented to us through minimal planning.

We travelled from backpackers to backpackers, realising that for R100 per night one could spend the night in some of the most beautiful places in South Africa. On a whim we took the 4×4 route through the mountains of the Transkei, traversing some of the most beautiful scenery and scary off-roads I’ve ever seen.

Livingston carefully carrying us for days on end across the mountains and valleys, small Xhosa huts dotting the landscape, children running alongside us and friendly villagers giving us directions whenever our GPS failed.

At one point we found ourselves at the entrance to a game reserve we never intended to reach. The friendly guards  at the entrance explained to us through broken English where we lost our way and so we turned around and began heading back, we were intrigued however by a little dirt (off)road (very off road!) leading up a little hill onto a grassy slope. So we decided to see what was at the top. Livingston carefully climbed up and then, as we edged up the hill, a sudden and unexpected view I will never forget came into view…

The coast stretched out before us, hundreds of meters below us the waves broke upon kilometres of beach, reaching out to sea again on another cliff and then retreating back inland to meet more sheer cliff face and lush forest greenery.

After many more such experiences we eventually reached Madwaleni Hospital where the girl was to work. This hospital is 60km of mostly dirt roads to the nearest little town. Rural in its deepest form.

After a night here the majority of our journey was over and we began to head back to Pretoria, via a much more direct and tarred route.

There are many more stories to tell, for now I’ll leave it here though because this post has grown quite large.

The next instalment will follow, and will be available for when you find yourself with a few minutes of free time on the webternet.

What comes next?

The next couple articles you’ll read here are:

1)      How I have officially become a full time missionary and the mission I’ll be involved in till June.

2)      How I will be travelling to the East to do more missionary work there, including my plans for taking a Muay Thai fight in Lat-Krabang, Bangkok, Thailand.

3)      The stories that unfolded out of the LIV village adventure

4)      The rest of the roadtrip story.

5)      Lots of photography.

6)      I may even upload some music I’ve been working on.

Peace.

Jack Figure (aka Jeremy)

Vagabond Doctrine?

Vagabond:

“A vagabond or “drifter” is an itinerant person. The word is derived from the Latin adjective vagabundus, “inclined to wander”, from the verb vagor, “wander”. It does not denote a member of a nomadic people, but rather an individual who follows a wandering lifestyle within a sedentary society. Such people may be called drifters, tramps, or rogues. A vagabond is characterized by almost continuous travelling, lacking a fixed home, temporary abode, or permanent residence. Vagabonds are not bums, as bums are not known for travelling, preferring to stay in one location.”

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vagabond_%28person%29, 2010-12-22)

Doctrine:

“Doctrine (Latin: doctrina) is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system.”

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrine, 2010-12-22)

 

With these very specific descriptions of the words above (thanks to my very great associate and possibly my favourite conversationalist (in that I have the best conversations with it) – Wikipedia) I hope an understanding begins to shape itself in the mind. I am by no means a guy with the correct answers such that I could preach a dogma, presenting an all-inclusive, cohesive, unchanging doctrine for anyone (including the vagabond).

This is in fact my point, I am a vagabond, and I believe we all are to some degree or another. Looked at from one perspective or another, our lives will look vagabondish. The vagabond is a wanderer and for my purposes also a wonderer. Wandering from thought to thought, experience to realisation to decision to regret, to rejoicing to memory, and then back to thought. As such, I wander from idea to idea, indeed from doctrinal idea to doctrinal idea. This blog then is no liturgy of stone tabletted wisdom, but the ramblings of a vagabond searching for some truth to get by on. I choose to call these perspective truths the doctrine of my life. The doctrine of a wanderer, of a vagabond. Vagabond Doctrine. Enjoy.

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