A Simple Way to Make People Smile

In the narrow sense, a smile is an expression you have on your face when you are happy or amused. Moreover, it's a sign of acceptance. When you make somebody smile, you know subconsciously that you have formed some sort of bond, however small it may be, with that person. Of course, I am talking about genuine smiles. There are those smiles which people force onto their faces out of politeness, just to satisfy you, or sometimes even to spite you. Those are not real smiles. True smiles are an expression of one's heart being touched by another being, a sign of inner fulfilment. This type of smile shows trust as it allows for a certain amount of vulnerability. It starts with the eyes and the lips follow.

My focus is on strangers as we are not familiar with them. The people we know intimately are usually easy to please as we already know what makes them smile or cry. The thought of somebody you love can instantly trigger a smile on your face when you see them or hear their first “hello” on the phone.The key to bringing about smiles on the faces of the people you encounter is to take an interest in them. 

Chances are that the garage attendant, cashier in the supermarket, or the lady who works at the post office is serving hundreds, and perhaps even thousands of people a day. Most people rush into the store, or go for the service they require, rush out afterwards and never think twice about the people they have just interacted with. Taking the time to sincerely ask the person serving you how their day was may just turn that day around for them and trigger a realisation that they are contributing to the world. The fact is that many of the people we tend to ignore do the most work, pay the most taxes and drive the economy, yet they are neither appreciated nor recognised by most of us.

It takes five to ten seconds to say, “hello, how are you?”; get a response and reply with: “Very well, thanks”. Usually people will be shocked that you even asked, and somewhere in their response, a heartfelt smile will appear on their faces. The after effect is another perk. Not only will you have made the other person smile, but if you happen not to be smiling at the time, you'll find yourself smiling too afterwards. The conversation may even continue, turning that old acquaintance into a new friend.

Society has taught us to judge. So we perceive the doctors, lawyers, engineers and CEOs of this world as more important than the municipal workers, waiters, shopkeepers and cleaners. Our communities are based on status, positions and titles and we do not recognise that each of us has a unique role to play in life which is neither more nor less important than anybody else's. Nevertheless, the fortunate few receive the recognition and the praise, whilst everybody else lingers backstage.

I've noticed that when you speak to members of the working classes, it's fairly easy to get them to smile, just by asking how they are doing. On the contrary, when you visit the doctor, who is highly esteemed, it's expected of you to treat him in accordance to his position. So, you'll need to take it a step further and smile first. Sometimes, sadly, people are suspicious of smiley characters, and will refuse to smile back but may be surprised by your attempt.

This is fairly easy to do. Sincerely greet and ask everybody you physically come into contact with, or speak to over the phone, how they are doing. This must be done before any service is rendered, work is done for you, or conversation begins. Honestly, not everybody will smile at you, nor smile back when you smile at them, but it's remarkable how many people do. After you've tried it for some time, you'll find that you feel happier and more secure among other people. You'll also be adding value to your contact with others.

Maja Dezulovic

What it Means to be a Vegetarian

I am a vegetarian.  Often that statement is met with confusion and disbelief.  People ask; “Do you eat fish or chicken?”  No.  If a person is a vegetarian, it means that he or she does not eat any animal flesh product.  Do vegetarians consume milk and eggs?  In most cases, yes.  There are also people who are vegans.  They do not consume any animal products or by-products including eggs, honey and dairy.

I used to feel annoyed when people kept questioning me about what it means to be a vegetarian.  Then I realized that people genuinely do not understand it.  There are people who call themselves vegans or vegetarians but still eat meat from time to time.  Onlookers are confused because just the other day they saw a person claiming to be vegetarian have a piece of steak.  These people may be working toward vegetarianism but if they still eat any form of meat, they are not true vegetarians. 

I don’t know why being a vegetarian is met with so much disapproval.  Would it be different if someone said they’re allergic to meat?  Vegetarians are made to feel like they are breaking some invisible social code.  Some people go out of their way to be disgusting.  If I have chosen not to eat meat, I’m not interested in how tasty your beef burger is.  I don’t want to see videos of blood and guts.  That may be the reason I’m vegetarian in the first place.

People become vegetarian for various reasons.  This includes religious reasons (Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists and Seventh Day Adventists) and ethical considerations such as the ill-treatment of animals.  People who accept that animals too have a right to dignity and life choose not to eat meat.  There are also sustainability and economic factors.  There is enough food on Earth to feed our entire population.  Half of our people are starving because most of the grains produced are used to feed animals and fuel the unsustainable meat industry.

Others choose to be vegetarian due to health reasons.  This is probably the most controversial reason.  People seldom argue with beliefs and it’s easy enough to say that you don’t care about the environment and treatment of animals, but meat-eaters are quick to claim that vegetarianism is unhealthy and that a vegetarian diet lacks iron and protein.  That is untrue.  I have friends who have been vegetarians all their lives.  Do they look chronically anaemic and ill?  Certainly not!   They are perfectly healthy people.  People need to do their research before they make false claims based on myths or ancient science.  Some of the longest-living and healthiest people on Earth are vegetarians.

If someone is a vegetarian, based on their reasons for the diet, it is simple to get an idea of some of their values.  It is ignorant to try and make them feel inferior because they value their health, animals, good ethics, their religion and/or the environment.  Most vegetarians won’t try to force their beliefs on you.  They will state their reasons.  If you agree with their values, you may choose to go that route yourself.  If not, respect them.  People who refuse to eat meat are not misinformed.  They have learnt new information or realised a truth which is in accordance to their principles.  That is how some vegetarians try to convert meat-eaters – by informing and creating awareness.  Most of us don’t go around with a can of red paint to throw at anyone wearing fur or people in steakhouses.  We’re simply living our lives in accordance with our values, just like everybody else.  Understanding each other is the key to getting along better.

Vegetarianism is not merely a choice of diet.  It is a lifestyle.  For meat-eaters, the transition to vegetarianism is not easy.  People insulting and mocking them doesn’t make it any simpler.  Due to social tension and a lack of will power, many people fail to stick to a vegetarian diet.  It is understandable when a person fails because of their own habits but it causes needless guilt if they feel they can no longer fit into society if they choose to stop eating meat.  I am a vegetarian.  You, the reader, may be a meat-eater.  Neither of us deserves more or less respect because of it.
Maja Dezulovic

Think About Rabbits

I woke up earlier this morning and I wasn’t sure what to write about.  People want to read about politics, tax rates, the economy, crime, celebrities and the latest fad diet.  If I add a few controversial remarks to the mix I may get thousands of comments forming the spectrum of divided public opinion.  That’s not where I am today.  We all know what’s going on and if you don’t know, a simple Google search will lead you to the information you seek.  If you want to think about something a little different then read on.

This article is about bunnies.

Yes.  I’m talking about rabbits, hares, fluffy animals with big floppy ears and bushy tails.  But bear with me for a moment.  Perhaps there is more to bunnies than you thought.  Your associations may have a lot to say.  If you think of a rabbit, is he black, white, grey or spotted?  Is he real or animated?  Is he a he or in fact a she?  What does all of that mean?  That’s the psychological part of it.  Ask a Neo-Freudian.  Or do another Google search about mental associations.

Rabbits represent various cultures and symbols.   If you’re innocent-minded enough (or under the age of six) you may think of a grey mischievous fellow who runs around chewing carrots and asking “What’s up Doc?”  Perhaps you imagine small caged animals at pet shops or their cousins with more freedom in bunny parks.  If you live in a rural community, wild hares are those scruffy things that you try not to run over whilst driving at night and if you plant crops, they help themselves by nibbling on your harvest when you’re not around.  They can be a nuisance, cute or even repulsively smelly.  If you’re the owner of a Chinese restaurant, these creatures form part of your menu.   They also represent a year in Chinese astrology.  Rabbits procreate at an incredible rate.  Hence, there’s the saying “shagging like rabbits”.  The obvious symbol for that is the Playboy Bunny.  Let’s also not forget those chronically depressed beings from the Bunny Suicides that have caused many of us to “LOL”.

My point is that one silly little symbol can hold many different connotations.  Your haasie is not the same as my unogwaja.  People’s thoughts and ideas are different.  The social and cultural circumstances we grew up in vary.  Our ideas can either come together to form something bigger out of mutual interest and understanding or we can spend the next few hours, days, years or even decades bickering about which bunny is better.  None of them is better.  You cannot compare a sex symbol to a Loony Tunes icon or a child’s fuzzy friend to those floating bits of brown meat in your soup.  Seldom do we argue about bunnies.  It seems trivial and childish.  But are we hypocrites?  Read through some of the articles and commentary online today.  Listen to people’s conversations.  The bunnies are only a part of it.  Rabbits can represent you and the way we interact with them in society may have much say about us.  Are we cruel, kind, oblivious, apathetic, aware or influenced by mass media and consumerism?

I think bunnies are important.  What do you think?

Maja Dezulovic

Life as a Freelance Writer

Many people respond with awe and amazement when I tell them that I am a writer.  People view writing as a dream job especially if you can pull off doing it from home.  Every now and then we hear about authors of best sellers hitting the big time with loads of cash from royalties.  It is assumed that we all live a lavish romantic lifestyle full of excitement and events fueling the stories we tell.  Yes, being a wordsmith can be very fulfilling but it takes a tremendous amount of work to get your name and work out there and make some money doing it.  After you’ve convinced people that your words are worth paying for and the first measly figures begin to trickle in, only then do you begin to make your small ripple in the river of media.  Here’s a peek at a day in the life of an ordinary freelance writer.

Wake up.  Write.  You realize that in your line of work quantity equals quality.  Even if you have no jobs lined up, write something and publish it somewhere for people to read.  You need as much exposure as you can get and the more you write, the better you get at it.

Search the local and online classifieds for job offers.  Send emails, your CV and samples to all the advertisers.  Some of them may reply and ask for your rate per word/page/article.  Sometimes you accept half or less of what you believe your writing is worth because, hey, at least it’s something.  Murphy’s Law dictates that the jobs you love the most will pay the least and be offered by the friendliest people who will make payments quickly.   The jobs you hate will offer the highest rates per article, you’ll have to deal with people who are hard to please and you may have to chase them for payments.  You can’t always be too picky because you need the work.

Contact local magazines and try to sell them your work and ideas.  Many of them aren’t interested.  Some of them will take a look and maybe feature your article in four months’ time.  If you’re lucky, they’ll love it and want you to submit regular features for them.  If not, you may even have to chase them to pay you for your article months after they have published it.  You wonder why some people are so difficult to deal with since content is what sells their publications.

Edit very poor grammar in writing by other people and wonder if these people ever paid any attention in school or if they are educated at all.  Read status updates on Facebook and emails people send you and decide that people are illiterate in general.  Pick up on grammar and spelling mistakes in newspapers and wonder why they are getting paid and you aren’t.  Recognise mistakes in your own writing and ask yourself if you’re any better.

Write and self-publish your first book.  You’re excited but you soon realize you won't make much money from it.  However, if it’s any good, people will rate it well, talk and blog about it.  Your second book will be better and you’ll see more success if you carry on.

Contemplate becoming a heavy smoker, alcoholic or drug addict.  That way you might beat frustration and feeling like people don’t appreciate nor understand your art.  Decide against it because it might affect your writing negatively.

Read.  Appreciate the work of others.  Keep at it because you know that we're all just people.  If they could do it then so can you.

While you’re doing research for your next job, have your laptop taken over by a crazy virus and refuse to respond to simple commands.  Recall that you didn't back up anything.  Wait for two weeks while your machine is in for repairs and experience a mini heart attack when the technician tells you that he can't back up your work.  Use a machine that's half your age in the meantime.  You can make coffee and a light meal and enjoy them slowly while waiting for it to start up.  Type ten words before you see them appear on your word processor.  Decide that it’s either you or this old HP.  Either you’re going to throw it out the window or commit suicide.  Before your decision is made, sigh with relief after the IT guy calls to inform you that he has managed to back up your files and restore your PC.  Your battered baby is coming back home and that old lady Heather Peters can go back to the retirement cupboard.

Most days are met with disappointment but you have no choice but to keep goingSome days you wake up and feel awesome because you're working on something you love. Nobody can take that passion away from you and on those odd occasions when your work is appreciated, you feel on top of the world. That is why you carry on.

Maja Dezulovic

Lack of Professionalism in Business

I’ve heard many complaints about the lack of professionalism and integrity of businesses.  It appears to be a growing plague among small companies.  More and more, people are caring less about the relationships they form with partners, employees and clients and focusing only on how much money they can bring in.  Everybody is in it for themselves.  The result is that our faith and trust in other people is diminishing.  We often think: Are they telling the truth about the product or service or do they just want my money?

Companies are quick to quote and request a payment but then fail to deliver.  You can fight them but sometimes they don’t budge and you have to accept that you’ve lost your money.  It seems like businesses are trying to grab all the clients they can without paying attention to effective management.  There is more than enough work for all of us.  It is better for them to focus on the few top clients who can be satisfied rather than prioritising them over smaller customers and misleading the latter.  I understand that people sometimes take on more than they can handle and become desperate for new business and funds but that is no excuse to lie to people and make false promises.  If companies were to establish themselves on a set of core values and stick to their principles, even if it meant saying no to some new business, at least rejected customers could move on and be served by other companies with resources better suited to their needs.

Follow ups are often tedious and frustrating.  I’ve become skeptical when I call a company and they say “we’ll call you back”.  I’m often shocked when they actually do phone back.  Queries and complaints are often left unanswered.  People later complain to their immediate circles and that company loses potential business.

The scenario isn’t much better when we look at the way companies treat each other.  In some industries, such as construction, it is crucial for companies providing different services to work together (for example: plumbers, electricians, builders, etc).  Verbal and written agreements are broken when a party does not uphold their end of the deal.  Someone does not pay or the work is not delivered as promised or both.  People leave the situation feeling unhappy and deceived, refusing to work together again.  In some cases the industry as a whole is given a bad name.

When hiring new staff, companies are often very misleading about what they have to offer.  You respond to a sales job ad only to find out at the interview that the position is commission based.  Some employers promise perks and bonuses at the beginning of employment that employees never see after years of work.  Remuneration figures are shown excluding tax deductions.  The reason for this baffles me.  People want to know what they will be taking out at the end of the month and not what they will earn for themselves and SARS.  Businesses also fail in treating their employees with respect.  Bosses use fear and negative reinforcement to encourage people to work.  Employees with no faith in their work environment search for other jobs where they might be paid more and treated better.

Everybody plays the game for themselves.  The prize is money.  Screw ethics and integrity.  People aren’t realizing that they are holding themselves back.  If a company is efficient and staff members are friendly, honest and professional clients always return.  The lack of these qualities is part of the reason why small businesses in South Africa remain small.  Owning a business is about forming good relationships with the people you deal with.  If nobody likes you, unless you have a monopoly over the industry or you’re the absolute best at what you do, people won’t want to do business with you again.

Maja Dezulovic

Before You Buy That Doggie in the Window...

Christmas is around the corner and many kids and people will be asking for a furry friend to call their own. How much is that doggie in the window? Don't be deceived by a puppy's price tag. Dogs cost a lot in money, time and effort. Most of all, they need heaps of love.
Before heading over to the pet shop, find out everything you need to know about your new pet.

A friend of mine bought a Jack Russel puppy a few weeks back. It was an impulse buy. A week later he realised he couldn't take care of her so he asked around to find out who could. After careful consideration, my family took her in.

There are many factors to consider when getting a pet. Do you have space for a dog? Do have the time to take proper care of him/her and to take them for walks? Can you afford good food and proper veterinary care? How will your family and its existing four-legged members (if any) react to the new addition?

If you are looking at a specific breed, an online search will lead you to that breed's specific needs. Dogs with long fur will need careful grooming. Some dogs need yards or to be taken for regular walks (or running marathons) and others do not. Can you handle a big dog or are you the petite to medium type?

The next question is whether or not you'd prefer a puppy. Yes, puppies are adorable but they're a lot of work. Your puppy will need to be house-trained if living indoors, taught to follow commands and disciplined. They also require lots of engagement with you and play time. Raising puppies can be very much like raising children, just ask anybody who has done it. My partner and I took turns to take our first puppy to the toilet (to the untrained eye it looks like the outside lawn) every time he'd wake up crying next to our bed in the middle of the night in mid-winter. It wasn't easy but in return our puppy was house trained at four months old in comparison to the average of eight months.

Know what you're getting your self into. If your kid wants the pet, make sure they know what it entails and realise that you'll have to fill in whenever they fail to live up to the expectations. After you've decided that you can get a pet, you can find out where.

Most pet shops and breeders are just a money business. You can walk in to a pet shop, buy a puppy of your choice for the price displayed and walk out. Buying from breeders may be a better option because you at least get to witness the condition that the animals are bred in and how they are treated. Generally people selling animals don't care or ask questions about where the animal is going. Rather than buy from them, it is advisable to adopt.

Accept that you are taking responsibility for another life. Getting a pet from people who understand this makes sure you are on common ground with people who likely have a better understanding of animals than you do. Many pets out there have been abandoned and abused. The numbers will probably grow this festive season with more families going on holiday and leaving their dogs behind to fend for themselves. The numbers of dogs needing homes is startling. Any home may have hundreds of pets up for adoption. Search online for the shelters or SPCA nearest to you and pay them a visit.

You can look around for puppies, which come and go quickly or opt for an older friend. You are advised to socialise and get to know any dog before taking it home. This way you'll get an idea of the animal's personality and habits before you make a commitment. In my experience, the pet chooses you. They'll come to you with big bright eyes which scream; "Take me home please." 

Animal shelters usually do home checks before they allow you to adopt. This ensures that your house and facilities are adequate for your new pet. They will advise you if you need to make any changes.

Adoption fees are around R600 depending on the shelter. The fee covers some of the shelter's expenses and includes all the pet's vaccinations and sterilization. If you ask me, that's a bargain. If you get the animal elsewhere, aside from the price you may pay for the dog itself, the first year's vaccinations and sterilization will cost you about R1,500 in total at private vets. If you choose not to sterilize, it will cost half of that. Animal shelters work with their own vets to make things more accessible. Moreover, the shelter will follow-up with you after the adoption to find out how the pet has settled in.

Adopting is a more affordable and ethical option. Before you buy that doggie in the window, know that your perfect friend may be in a caged shelter somewhere waiting for you to take him or her home.


Maja Dezulovic

Why We Hate Mondays

Everybody hates Mondays.

Why? What did Monday do to you?

Monday obliged you to get up this morning and get to work. Monday marked the end to a weekend full of parties, socializing, movies, relaxing in your underpants and being your own boss. Monday killed Sunday.

Monday made you remember how much you hate your job, your boss and driving in heavy traffic. Monday is that busy day in which you have to catch up on all the things you neglected to do on Friday. That client or boss who was upset about something which happened on Friday and could do nothing about it chose to harbor their frustration over the weekend, prepared and perfected their speech of complaints in their mind and is now ready to be heard and take it out on you.

Monday is the day that you can reminisce about the weekend with fellow colleagues around the water cooler or during lunch. You get to worry if your activities were more boring than everybody else's. You can up your game next weekend.

Monday is the day reality sets in and you're reminded of the bills you have to pay, the petrol price going up and the wayward politics in this country as represented on street pole headlines.

Monday can make you feel dreary.
But, hang on. Monday is your responsibility. Monday is a day you can be proud of because it allows you to pay off debt, spend recklessly on things you may not need and contribute to our country's ever-expanding economy. You should feel proud that you have something to do and somewhere to go on a Monday, otherwise you'd be just another unemployment statistic begging for aid from hard-working taxpayers like yourself.

Monday may be just another day in your existence. You're a day older and not much wiser. The years are going by and you're wondering what happened.

Monday is not to blame. Your choices are. You chose to arbitrarily hate Monday as it represents the weekly rebirth of something you hate. Monday did nothing wrong.

Monday can be beautiful. Monday can be a day of continued happiness. Monday can mean that you're not only a day older but also a day closer to fulfilling your life's purpose. Monday can be whatever you want it to be. Monday is your choice.


Maja Dezulovic