Sensible Emotional Investment

That’s an oxymoron of note, I guess. Emotions generally take us on a journey of reckless abandon, even if that abandon is just the unrealistic expectations that the emotional highs spawn in us. One of the downsides of living with conviction is that you easily become emotionally invested in almost any objective that you set out to achieve. Conviction dictates that you would only do something if you were proud to be associated with the outcome, or perhaps just the effort regardless of the outcome. Without conviction, the focus would be on what you can get out of a given opportunity without being invested in its pursuit or outcome. Although that is not entirely true.

I think we have convictions, whether or not we realise it is a separate matter. Just because we’re not aware of what drives us does not mean that we’re not similarly driven. I see people struggling with mindfulness and I wonder why it is so difficult for them to achieve. At times it is elusive for me as well, but that’s usually when I’m distracted by entertainment rather than meaningful endeavours.

However, most appear to seek entertainment (read ‘distractions’) actively while meaningful endeavours are only pursued out of necessity. It seems like such a lopsided way to live. Either way, those prioritisations that we subconsciously subscribe to determine our convictions. The more subconscious it is, the more likely we are to respond instinctively or habitually without fully understanding why. I’ve seen people getting themselves into all sorts of twisted knots when going through life this way because they most often find themselves weighed down without knowing why, or caring while knowing full well that that emotional investment is unappreciated or abused. Underlying all of this mindlessness is a deep sense of self-deprecation.

Ok, did I lose you at mindlessness? Think about it. If you’re not mindful, then you must be mindless, at least within a specific context where you’re not fully present. When we’re mindless, we don’t suddenly stop functioning. We continue to function reasonably well. But being mindless, it must mean that we’re on auto-pilot at that time. Which begs the question, what programs our auto-pilot mode? I think it’s the constant internalisations of how we want to be perceived, relative to how we conduct ourselves to achieve such a perception.

Ugh, that sounds unnecessarily complicated. Let’s try again. When we focus on how we appear in front of others, we obsess with how we need to behave to maintain our preferred appearances. In other words, we know what others admire or respect, and we play to those whims. In so doing, we condition ourselves to respond in line with those perceived expectations. The more accurate our assumptions about those expectations, the more effective our auto-pilot responses. The more effective our responses, the more likely we are to feel a sense of validation and acceptance, resulting in a further investment in that approach to life. Until we have a jarring moment that prompts us to wonder if we really subscribe to the value system that has turned us into whores for that attention or acceptance.

In that moment, we’re forced to either accept or reject what we have grown to stand for. The idea of self-rejection is so troubling for so many, that most convince themselves that they would be worthless without such whorish behaviour. Challenge them on it and you’re likely to get a response along the lines of, “You don’t know what it’s like to be me.” Or similar drivel. Mindlessness is therefore a result of a lack of self-worth. A lack of self-worth then must be spawned by a lack of conscious purpose. That lack of conscious purpose is driven by a need for validation, which pretty much starts with an ingratitude for what you have and what you’re capable of while you’re focusing on how much others have and what they appear to be capable of. Hold on, did we just come full circle for mindfulness?

Looking inwardly, not to achieve a moment of silence or pause, but to recognise what is good and what is beneficial in your life is the starting point of investing your emotions in the right place. When you do this, you develop the convictions needed to establish yourself as a contributor of meaningful outcomes to those around you, rather than riding the coat-tails of others while pretending to be supportive. As long as you’re riding someone else’s coat-tails, you’ll have a deficit of self-worth because you will always be dependent on their presence and acceptance of you for your sense of self-worth to flourish. In other words, the moment they push you away, you will have no grounding point with which to determine your ability to contribute something of value to others.

Invest in your awareness of what your capabilities are, understand clearly what difference you want to make to this world, and then define a path of progress that will allow you to hone your skills and abilities to contribute meaningfully towards that difference you wish to make. Don’t worry about attracting the right person into your life, or worse still, going out in search of the right person or friends, because if you do what you love, and they do what they love, it stands to reason that you will find yourself associated with those that hold a similar conviction, and therefore live their lives with a similar passion as you do yours. And all this confirms the age old saying that you should not go searching for the one you love. Do what you love and your love will find you.

P.S. If you don’t live your life in this way, you will live your life expending massive amounts of energy competing with others that are vying for the attention of those that live their lives in this way. Your emotions. Your choice. Do you have the courage to make that choice, or are you waiting for someone to come along and save you…from yourself?

When Understanding Goes Too Far

I sometimes watch the wayward behaviour of some while observing the contempt of others that are watching it play out, and wonder who between the two are less aware of their actions or motivations to behave that way. The ones among us that are of a softer nature will look on and seek to understand why someone may be acting out, afraid that judging them for acting out may be too harsh. The world is harsh enough as it is, and only getting harsher each day, so I guess there is merit in such an approach.

At times, when we’ve had enough to deal with in our own lives, we look on with intolerance, demanding that the wayward behaviour be checked, because if no one is willing to accept such behaviour from us, why should we accept it from others? Right? But demanding change without offering a solution helps no one. It only exacerbates the already toxic state of the relationship or the environment around us. It provokes the wayward ones to escalate their protest against whatever it is that they refuse to accept, and it frustrates those that seek to understand.

Moderation in all things is always called for. Demand without understanding, and you lose credibility when the solution becomes obvious later on. Understand without demanding, and you lose credibility when the demands foster the change that was needed to break the cycle. Do either without the other, and you resign yourself to an end of insignificance. Unfortunately, doing both requires purposeful conviction. Not blind conviction. Not the kind of conviction that is driven by a self-belief of what we stand for but for which we are rarely capable of defending when challenged. That belief that we insist on being respected despite not knowing why, but only knowing that through receiving such respect for our beliefs, we feel significant and less threatened.

Purposeful conviction. You’d think it was easy given that it’s a simple matter of cause and effect, but of a different kind. You recognise the cause that you wish to champion, and you put your efforts into effecting the change needed to support that cause. Problem is, most don’t recognise the cause, they only recognise the affiliation. The need to be associated with something meaningful or relevant, rather than establishing meaning and relevance through their own actions and contributions.

It’s all well and good to understand. But the failing of many is that we stop at understanding. We spend much time and energy in achieving that state, but then avoid taking steps to remedy the causes that we now understand leads to that unacceptable behaviour. Being perceived as understanding in nature makes us popular with those that don’t want to change, those that prefer acting out, being rebellious, and refusing to accept accountability for their state because they find it much more convenient and less taxing to blame others, or circumstances.

The ones that act out, and are left to act out, become masters at presenting their tantrums as legitimate gripes or demands. They often end up being the bullies, the type A personalities, and the abusers. They become the oppressors that they grew up whining about. And those that sought only to understand but chose not to curtail such behaviour, or offer healthier forms of expression, they feed that cycle. They enable such outcomes, and they become the liberals. The ones that stand for nothing, understand everything, and fall for every whimper regardless of how incredulous the whimper is.

Understanding is only ever the first step, and never the last. There is no point in seeking to understand if you intend to do nothing more than reflect on that knowledge that you have gained. Understanding must inform our decisions to act. Not acting is a decision in itself, but it’s usually the easy way out. It’s often under the pretense that we don’t want to get involved because we have enough problems of our own, or it’s none of our business. And that’s how the cycles of violence, intolerance, and abuse in society spiral out of control. It’s because those that understand do nothing, while those that do not understand act without guidance.

Prompting someone towards having the courage to take control of their lives, regardless of what came before, is more selfless than it is selfish. Too often we’re distracted by the assumption that by demanding more, we’re behaving selfishly because we don’t understand how difficult it is for that person to be who they are if only we knew what they’ve been through. That is a horrid distortion of the truth. The truth is closer to the fact that leaving them to succumb to their past is in fact selfish, because prompting them to rise above it is often met with resistance and contempt, both of which erode your sense of significance or likeability in that relationship. So when you withhold advice or decide not to take action because you don’t want to be ‘the bad one’, you’re behaving selfishly. Standing up and being counted in a time when guidance and good advice is needed, not necessarily wanted, takes more courage and is much more selfless than shutting up and minding your own business.

We have far too many that shut up and mind their own business, except when they enjoy the anonymity of social media and similar platforms, because once again, there is limited (if any) risk of them becoming unpopular in the relationships that they covet. I suspect that the point of this post has been made somewhere between all the venting, but at the risk of being redundant. It’s simply this. Seeking to understand is a noble first step. But it’s only a first step. Don’t stop there. Take the knowledge that you gained through that process and apply it with conviction in a meaningful way. Don’t be a passive observer of life, or the lives of others. Have the courage to change it for the better.

That Half Full Glass

Do relationships end because people change, or because they finally realise who they’re with? Or is it closer to going in with a belief that growth is possible, only to discover that their partner was uninterested in growth? Or maybe the possibility of growth spawned an immature competition between the two, and they grew apart instead of growing together?

I’ve seen and lived through my fair share (and then some) of bad relationships. The haunting reality of every single one of them was the amount of self-denial if not self-destruction that was insisted upon by one or both parties. In my mind, I visualise relationships as a glass half full. No, not that glass, another glass. We’re all semi-filled glasses of water in a way. Any person that claims to be entirely fulfilled by their own endeavours and independent of the contribution of others to feel completely whole is a liar.

Back to that glass. We hold on to many glasses in our lifetimes with each glass representing a major area of interest, or passion in our lives. When it comes to relationships, our relationship glass is half full as we invite others into that space. We only invite those that hold the promise of adding to that half full glass so that we can top it up, realistically only trying to approach the brim while knowing that getting it to overflow is rarely, if ever possible in this lifetime. This world was simply not created for such perfect fulfilment.

Nonetheless, when we invite others in, we hold an innate expectation that they will contribute towards that glass which will serve as inspiration for us to contribute to theirs. Sometimes, we’re not aware of how full or how empty the glass of the other is. We assume, based on our own perceptions and life stage, that those that appear similarly inclined have glasses filled similar to our own. This assumption, based on superficial interactions, inform our decisions to invite them in or pull them closer, all the while looking to draw on those expectations we never realised we had. It all seems natural until it’s put to the test.

The gaps that exist in the souls of others only become evident when they’re exposed to the prying eyes of one who appears less vapid. Often, this awareness is news to them as well because in our efforts to protect our vulnerabilities from the world, we’re easily convinced of our completeness in the face of adversity. Believing that we’re victorious over our adversities steels us against the harsh reality of our weakness or neediness. No one wants to appear weak, except where such appearances promise to solicit the affection of those we seek.

It’s quite the charade. When we desire the embrace of another, we’ll easily allow our weakness to show if there is reason to believe that such weakness will be perceived as tenderness, rather than impotence. Similarly, we go out seeking such weakness if we wish to be perceived as strong and dependable. But almost always, unless we’re self-destructive by inclination, we look for one that counter balances who we are. Our strengths must complement their weaknesses, and their strengths our weaknesses. Otherwise we encourage competition in a space where we seek harmony, and so the cycle plays out in varying permutations, all the while reflecting nothing more than the glass that needs to be filled, just in different ways.

When our expectations are failed, we respond in one of three ways. We cut our losses and focus on our investment in our own glass, protecting what little we’ve accumulated over time by extricating the drain on that precious life source that gives us reason to pursue a new day leaving the empty glass to find another source of affirmation from which to fill its voids.

At other times we compensate for what is lacking by complementing our lives with the contributions from others that are not fully invested in our intimate relationships, but fill the gaps of the plutonic needs that remain unfulfilled by the ones closest to us. Some see this as infidelity, depending entirely on your cultural or religious subscriptions, while others see this as a balanced reality that can’t be avoided. Again, entirely dependent on how you view the innocence or deviousness of such an effort. What it does do for the ones closer to us is it eases the burden of expectation that we place on them because we effectively buy ourselves time while waiting for them to catch up. We see their weakness and trust their sincerity to improve their state, so we offer them support while we nurture ourselves through other means in the hope that such alternate nurturing will be temporary only. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it taints us to the point of needing such variety of nurturing as a permanent feature in our lives.

The third response is the most destructive of them all. Pride, ego, commitment, or simply a rigidity informed by all of the above drives us to allow that drain to suck the life out of us as we wait patiently for the other to catch up. Their glass slowly filling up while ours drains, eventually resulting in them feeling emboldened in the face of our growing weakness. Their newfound confidence leading them to believe that they’re worth more than the spent soul they see before them, convinced that they were not the problem to begin with. In allowing ourselves to be exhausted in so many ways by contributing to a vacuum, we become the masters of our own demise. This is only ever possible if we feel responsible for the poor choices of others.

As I mentioned in my thoughts about unconditional love, sacrificing yourself for the benefit of others in fact denies those that are worthy of your full contribution to begin with. Allowing your glass to empty because of some irrational commitment to an outcome that causes more destruction than it contributes towards a wholesome life is not martyrdom, it’s foolishness. Worse than this, it is reckless and selfish, because that moment of self-indulgence, when we reduce the purpose of our lives to propping up those around us at the expense of our own well being is nothing more than a statement of ingratitude for all that we are, and all that we’re capable of being.

My glass will never be full, but I will never willingly allow it to be exhausted by others either. It’s the least I owe to myself, and to those that have a legitimate reliance on me to contribute towards their glasses as well. Anything less is unacceptable.

Firefighter Syndrome

I’ve heard this term firefighter syndrome used loosely over the years, most often referring to people that have a tendency to want to rush in and fix things without thinking it through. Not suggesting that firefighters don’t think things through, but I’m sure you get the picture. You know, like the saying that if all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail? Similarly if everything you see looks like a fire then rushing in to put it out seems like the sensible thing to do. In fact, it almost seems like an inspired calling in life. 

My experience with this mentality has been somewhat different though. For me, the fire represents an opportunity to be significant and the firefighter represents the one that seeks significance in a crisis situation. It reminds me of an incident a good few years ago in Cape Town. The famed fynbos on Table Mountain and surrounding areas had caught alight due to the recklessness of a smoker (no pun, just the truth) during the dry season.  Their carelessly discarded stompie (a.k.a. cigarette butt) caused the fire to burn out of control for weeks, killing off acres and acres of fynbos and forests. A subsequent investigation revealed that the government agency responsible for managing forest fires in that area had routinely dowsed the flames from fires that started up over the years. Those smaller fires would have resulted in a natural culling of the density of growth,  but by preventing it from self regulating, they created a perfect setting for a perfect brush fire. As a result, when the mother of all fires started, the rate with which it spread was beyond any expectations, and it burned out of control without anyone being able to contain it.

Too often we convince ourselves that it’s a selfless act to sacrifice our own comforts and well being to alleviate the discomfort or struggles of another. Sometimes that may be true, but most often, it’s not. Most often it is simply a form of escapism from our own lives. It’s easier to feel significant and celebrated when we contribute towards the upliftment of others, than it is to resolve some of the challenges that we are faced with. By focusing on the fires of others we achieve two key objectives. Firstly, we have a seemingly legitimate reason not to reflect on our own problems because of the constant busyness associated with being there for everyone else, and secondly, we provide a very meaningful distraction for them to avoid any opportunity to focus on us. Or more importantly, allowing them to see the mess of gaping holes in our lives. 

Yes, there is merit in indulging in the upliftment of others, provided such indulgence is not an escape or deprivation of what we need for ourselves to be whole. Also, its merit only remains credible as long as we are convinced that the whole of us is not of more value to the world than the assistance that we offer others. This is especially true when we find that their cries for help are usually not much more than a variation of our own self defeating behaviours. While busying ourselves with helping others provides us with the distraction needed as described earlier, for some, reaching out for help to lift themselves out of their challenged state is their way of getting the affirmation needed to justify their weakness. 

Consider it from this perspective. The one that is knocked over and finds that their dignity has taken an equal beating as their ego, will find that the shortest path back to a dignified state is found in obtaining the recognition from others that being overwhelmed under such circumstances is entirely understandable. It’s a vicious cycle of sympathy. The one recognises and relates to the weakness of the other because they would desire such sympathy and understanding if they were in a similar position, and the weakened one saves face by appearing downtrodden and therefore oppressed by the circumstances they find themselves in which appeals to our compassion for long enough to distract us from questioning the choices made by the victim that landed them in that state to begin with.  

How does this relate to the firemen syndrome? I think it encourages a shared weakness in society that supports the abdication of responsibility for our contribution to the straitened circumstances we may find ourselves in. It also encourages the mentality of victimhood. That belief that we’re only strong if we have someone from whom to draw strength when we lack purpose or meaning in our lives. I think that is exactly what it all boils down to. When we lose sight of the value we wish to contribute to this world, or worse, when we lack such convictions to begin with, we look for opportunity to draw on the energies of others in ways to sustain our fragile ego without admitting such fragility. 

Like the self regulating brush fire, if we constantly protect others from themselves by helping them up when they are entirely capable of standing up by themselves, eventually they will find no use for their own legs or their backbone, and we’ll find ourselves overwhelmed with the burden of having to maintain their fragility because of the unwavering support we provided that protected them from having to grow up. 

Sometimes the greatest help we can offer is a clear view of reality, not a shelter from it. The more we invest in protecting others from reality, the more we limit our capacity to improve our own. Before you think this is a selfish way to live, consider who is more dependable in times of genuine need. The one who was protected from becoming a fully formed adult, or the one that has grown stronger and independent from the knocks that life has dealt? 

Taking Care of Me 

In a self indulgent world, distortions of reality threaten to taint the essentials that hold our sanity together. The essentials are so much more difficult to recognise these days. This binary lifestyle that we’ve perpetuated for so long now insists that if we take care of ourselves, it must be to the exclusion of taking care of others. Even though I believe there to be truth in that, making such a statement seems like an unfair projection of my gripes on the world.

Setting out on some open road therapy this week, hints of guilt trailed closely behind me. My focus having increasingly shifted to servitude over the years, self indulgence suddenly felt wrong, or blameworthy. Taking time to collect my thoughts, clear the fuzz, and regain my sense of purpose offered the only hope of holding on to what defines my unique contribution to this world.

Self-censure has been rife in recent times. Sometimes because of the futility of expression to an oblivious crowd, but more often because of the taunting accuracy of predictable outcomes. Hope flirts on the edges of such trends and promises a break in the cycle, but that break is never self-realising. It takes an active contribution or effort to break a cycle.

It’s like the waves that I see breaking over each other. Those washing up against the shore full of energy and motivation to reach the land as they crash and subdue the residual of the ones that went before. The ones that went before spread out lazily on the beach, aerated and foaming with delight at their achievements, then losing momentum from the complacency of their arrival only to recede in order to make way for the next wave of enthusiasm. And each time I saw this cycle repeat itself I was reminded of the lapping ripples of the Mediterranean off the island of Kerkennah. Peaceful and uninspiring, but so easily disrupted. A thrashing run through the waves I saw before me now would leave no trace even before my feet would reach the sand beneath it, while a casual stomp through the ripples on that island would see my footprints left in the sand beneath the water. Even if only for a while before the complacent lapping erased its presence while restoring the order of the ages.

Life plays out in the cycles we disrupt every day. Without a critical mass of support, we’re no more than a bad wind drifting out to sea. Sometimes we impose ourselves as rocks of confidence and guidance as we watch the waves shape around us. But there are too few rocks and too many waves. Being such a lighthouse of fortitude can be taxing, but only as long as we expect the waves to stop pounding and instead to become ripples that caress our foothold.

Abstracts aside, taking care of me threatens to become a central theme in my life if I lose focus as to why being me is important. It’s not important because of a need to prevail. It’s important because I provide, or at least seek to provide a counter balance to the insanity I see crashing down around me. The moment I stop serving a purpose larger than me, and I start serving me only, I add to that stench that I so revile.

Taking care of me becomes more difficult as my awareness grows of what plays out around me. It’s easy to dismiss my contribution towards those that are obstinate in their distraction or defeatism, because I can easily justify it by focusing on the quick-wins instead. The ones that are hungry for change, for advice, for support, and so much more. But I’m always faced with the blunt truth when I shy away from the tough ones. Am I turning away to preserve my ego, or am I turning away because my time would really be better invested in one that will embrace my contribution? In fact, isn’t there a threat of ego-preservation in that as well?

Egos, expectations, trust, and betrayal. It’s all part of how we express our happiness or dismay at the world. None of us are immune to its ill effects so be sure never to trust one that claims to have risen above it. The challenge is in being able to reflect and recognise the influences that each have on our choices. If we do, we stand a chance of living purposefully, rather than defensively. Without an ego, a leader will not step up to lead the masses out of a sorry state, and without expectations, followers will not look to leaders for guidance. Everything has its place. It’s when we allow it out of its place and let it prevail where it shouldn’t, that is when we lose sight of ourselves, and taking care of me suddenly becomes denying the rights of others in favour of me.

We all need some self-indulgence sometime. Even for the one that has it all. When you find yourself awkward in your own company without any distractions or company to keep you occupied, when your thoughts scratch the insides of your skull or gnaw at your rib cage, and your instinctive response is to get busy with something, anything…when that is the state you find yourself in, know with certainty that you have not taken care of yourself. You have only distracted yourself from the reality you wish to avoid.

[Another incomplete thought process to add to the collection.]

cropped-cropped-cropped-cropped-tumblr_mu79gcdgio1qeoyseo4_128013.jpgI’ve always believed that if we were to live a long and painful life, and in the end, in our last few moments, we experienced the absolute serenity and completeness of everything we sought to experience or achieve in our lifetime, the entirety of the pain and struggles of our lives would be easily forgotten. It would still feel like a complete and beautiful life, because the intensity of the struggles before that point would directly inform the intensity of gratitude and peace we would feel when experiencing it. But only if we live in the present moment. Otherwise we’ll lose that beautiful moment cursing at its late arrival while still yearning for the past to have been different.

Zaid Ismail

Perfectly Distracted 

There was a time when I judged the character of others by the number of times they would use terms like existential, nihilism, fatalism, and the like often with the words of Einstein echoing in my head regularly reminding me that if I can’t explain it simply enough, it’s because I don’t understand it well enough. And that’s how I viewed those pretentious ones that used large words to explain simple concepts of hope, struggle, or despair.

One of my challenges in life has been my inability to articulate my thoughts in ways that made it relatable to others. From a young age I was recognised as the kid on a different wavelength. I was the one the bullies generally ignored because my response was unpredictable, while they picked on the ones that were somewhat ordinary, because ordinary, for all its merits, is predictable.

Without any fanfare or deliberate effort, I found myself trying to polish my grasp of the English language so that my thoughts would tumble out of my mouth or keyboard with at least a vague similarity to what was going on in my head. The more coherent I sounded, the more confident I grew, and seemingly, the more people I found were willing to interact with me. I guess people generally do avoid the unpredictable or misunderstood.

The buoyancy I felt from these simple little milestones of inclusion pushed me to hone my skills further. My innate need to simplify a complicated life contributed to this by driving me towards reducing the effort needed to achieve simple outcomes. After all, why do in ten steps what can be done in two? It would be such a waste of energy to continue the ten step way.

Equally so, I found myself growing more succinct, or as some would assume, short in the way in which I expressed myself. To me, I was improving my skill for clear communication without being flowery or longwinded about it, but for everyone else, I was cocky and presumptuous because I apparently didn’t have the patience to work through things with them or explain myself properly. What I saw as saving them the monotony of a longwinded explanation, they saw as an arrogance on my part for assuming that they’re not worthy of such an explanation. Or worse, they assumed that I took found joy in making them look stupid.

And that’s how I’ve found efforts at effective communication can become defective communication. An innocent assumption on my part that suggested that others had a similar level of understanding or appreciation of the topic at hand, meaning that I didn’t see my knowledge as superior, was automatically misconstrued by others as me being arrogant and aloof. Of course, every assumption we make, correct or incorrect, is a reflection of how we view ourselves relative to what is going on around us, but that was hardly an effective point to make in such a situation. Although I did make it from time to time, depending on how keen I was to annoy the audience I was with.

The point is, it’s easy to be distracted by our pursuit of perfection in any field that we’re passionate about, to the point where the purpose of the pursuit is forgotten, and all that remains is our sights on perfection. Most often, we seek to perfect in order to be more effective at achieving something, but along the way we become distracted by how our perfection is perceived and lose sight of what we set out to achieve in the first place.

When that happens, perfectionism takes centre stage and purpose or meaning becomes a secondary consideration. I think it’s possible to achieve perfection relative to purpose, although true perfection is unattainable. There is merit and virtue in pursuing perfection, but both are undermined when the purpose or value of such efforts are discarded in favour of being perceived as perfect in that regard. Our efforts, if left unchecked, will result in us allowing our proficiency of practice at what we’re pursuing to define us, rather than remembering that our proficiency was intended to enable us to define something else in a more valuable way.

Life is lost in moments of distraction, but we grow distracted in moments of pursuing a better life. Being surrounded by a social standard grounded in escapism doesn’t help either. And labeling people that use big words without appreciating why they choose to communicate the way they do reflects a superficiality and insecurity on our part, more than it does on theirs.