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A humdinger of a year

December 15, 2016

Those of you fortunate enough to get away over the festive season will relish the prospect of escaping the media hype over Trump, Brexit, credit ratings and mint-flavoured saliva. As the clock strikes within an hour of reciting Auld Lang Syne, some of us will reflect on 2016 with an air of sadness and sentimentality.

It seems to have been a year bidding farewell to icons that shaped a generation.  We lost, amongst others: David

Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Natalie Cole, Glenn Frey (all talented musicians and entertainers), Gene Wilder (actor), Muhammad Ali, Ronnie Corbett (British comedian and star of ‘The Two Ronnies’) and Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird).

Of course, there were other celebrity deaths, but these evoked a sense of nostalgia within me, resurrecting memories of moments and events of years gone by. It prompted me to wonder why we become sentimental.

Upon hearing of the passing of Harper Lee, my mind wandered to the early years of high school and trawling through To Kill a Mockingbird, our setwork for English Literature … willing the time on in the last lesson of the day, desperate to get out and don kit for our cricket match that afternoon.

My father related many of Ali’s fights to my brother and me as youngsters waiting outside the Park Lane Clinic for my Mom, a nursing sister, to come off shift on a Saturday afternoon. We were well versed on “The Rumble in the Jungle”, and recalled this childhood experience when a well-known insurer recently used this story to promote its investing prowess.

These “memory bombs” cause unsolicited floods of emotion and memory. Your eyes fill up with tears (happy or sad) and you don’t know why. This is a great example of sentimental nostalgia – a rush of emotions resulting from our ideas about the past.

Merriam-Webster describes sentimentality as: resulting from feelings or emotions rather than reason or thought.

Google’s definition compares sentimentality to nostalgia, and nostalgia is defined as: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

We believe that our lives happen in chapters, but in one philosopher’s opinion, our lives are actually one continual flow of experience. We define and name our life experiences (based on sounds, smells, tastes, touches, looks of life) and catalogue them as memories.

It’s interesting how Merriam-Webster pits sentimentality against reason and thought. In such a comparison, sentimentality is immediately cast as the lesser (at least, in our society).

Why is society averse to sentimentality?

Perhaps it’s because the emotional response is unsolicited and is regarded as a weakness. It appears to go against the control of reason and logic.

I believe that holding memories dear is an essential element of emotional maturity.  Certainly, we must live in the present, but we can celebrate and learn from the past, and especially cherish those people and experiences that have allowed us to grow into the people we are today.

My heart still fills when I hear Toto’s “Africa” –  the song so cleverly used by SAB (as they were then known) to promote Castle Lager, particularly to expatriates living in London. That advertisement was aired when some close friends and I were touring overseas. We were immediately homesick. Today, I am reminded of why I love South Africa and why I work in a company that aims to meet the needs of employers and employees.

My thanks go to our Chartered family who work so hard to achieve our aims, and our clients whose faith in us is the motivator to do so.

May you take all that was good in 2016 with you into the new year … with a good dose of warm feelings! 

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