Monday, May 25, 2015

Discovering Our Place in the Lives of Others

"Our lives are not our own.
From womb to womb, we are bound to others. Past and present. 
And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future."
- Somni 451, Cloud Atlas.

In the recent Angels and Life's Crossroads post, we saw that everything in life happens for a reason. That the people life brings into your life are always meant to help you find a purpose, a purpose that's often greater than yourself.
These human interactions are at times life's way of bringing you Angels to inspire you when you have needs that are to be met, when you are at a crossroads.

Today's post further explores the role we play in the lives of others, and how we can discover our place in the lives of those we get to interact with.

On of the most emotional moments I've seen on TV was in the LOST finale 'afterlife' scene where Jack Shephard met his father Christian. When Jack wonders why they are where they are, Christian explains:

This is a place that you all made together so that you could find one another.
The most important part of your life, was the time that you spent with these people. That's why all of you are here. Nobody does it alone Jack. You needed all of them, and they needed you.

The air-crash survivors in LOST soon realized that they were better off living together and working in teams to deal with the challenges they faced every day they were on the mysterious island.

That situation is always replicated in our lives. Each is born into a family made up of siblings and in most cases, siblings. In some cultures, the extended family comprising grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins remains a part of one's upbringing.

These people often shape one's perceptions and greatly influence how one relates with other people later in life. Should one encounter abuse in his or her formative years, the child remains traumatized and scarred for life. For the fortunate ones who are showered with love, genuine unconditional care and purpose-driven upbringing, they blossom into people who are outgoing and who engage with others in amiable and socially acceptable ways.

For those among us who are entrusted with raising young ones - be it as a parent, uncle, auntie, teacher or care-giver, the onus is upon us to be a positive influence. These kids are quite impressionable during their formative years. This has been shown in this TV commercial that underscores the importance of your influence:

Beyond childhood, we meet people in the schools we attend, we get to meet people in the neighborhoods we live and in our workplaces. These people may share a few things with us such as a class, office or neighborhood, but what has brought them to this day always remains different.

When we encounter these people and our paths cross, it is important to realize that what has always worked for us may not work for them. It is true that we are united in our differences. But these differences must be acknowledged and respected. Looks may be deceiving and first impressions may last. But it is important to take a moment and properly understand others before engaging them with the assumption that our way is the right way.

Discovering our place in other people's lives is a great way to also realize our purpose in life and what we have to do to shape our destiny. Given that nobody lives along in this life, the greatest achievements are invariably hinged on the constituents roles many people play towards something bigger than the sum of its parts.

Our lives are wholly dependent on services provided by others, and we always use tangible things that others have made. Such people indirectly make it easier for us to meet our obligations and realize our dreams.

I shall end with the role those who are blessed and fortunate among us should play in the lives of people of less means.
We get to meet people who are unwell, who are going through a rough stretch in life or who are battling untold anguish in life. Some of these people may only need just a smile to lighten their day, genuine care and understanding that it is not irreparably damaging to go through such hard times, the assurance that hard times do come to an end in the fullness of time.

In some cases, they need actual involvement - someone to hold their hand, lend a hand, offer material support, moral support or ultimately make their fight one's fight. They need people who realize that sometimes, those who seem least deserving may be the most in need. They need people to walk with them without ever giving up. They may need someone to take a much-needed and beneficial place in their lives.

Ralph Waldo Emerson who was born today 212 years ago, sums up the purpose of life above. Making a difference in the lives of others is at the core of these timeless words!

 * * *

I was torn between ending with Daniel Powter's 'Bad Day' and the song that I have finally settled on. It beautifully lays down the tenets of friendship and genuine concern.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

How being a Victim of the Tall Poppy Syndrome made me a Better Person

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a sob story. If anything, the only person who should be sobbing in shame is anyone who was, or still is, bitter at the genuine accomplishments of others in the stead of celebrating and encouraging them. It sucks!

The Walkabout has always been about insight, inspiration and self discovery.
Today, let us candidly say some not-too-pleasant-to-hear things about ourselves.

First off, we all love to think that we are perfect. We post photos and status updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram whose primacy is to show just how much of a good time we are having compared with others, how awesome our lives are and how infallible our thinking and "considered"  opinions are. Truth be told, social networks are a big, albeit virtual pissing contest where we scamper for attention to show off just how hung we are in a vanity inspired dick-measuring contest.

So, how about we stop brown-nosing for a while, and get to hear some deeply seated concerns that have stayed hidden and largely ignored.. about how society, much as I believe it can change, can almost break someone?
This especially goes out to everyone who knew me in my childhood. It's finally time to shine the spotlight on you and reveal what most of you really were, and some still are.

I've always said that I had a difficult childhood. Growing up, I was a victim of the Tall Poppy Syndrome.
You see, I was born and raised in what I now realize was a dystopic and crapsack neighborhood in Nderu village in Ndeiya Location, Limuru Division. Until very recently, this is a place that was considered backward and underdeveloped. Thanks to the absence of development-inducing infrastructure such as mains electricity, piped water, all weather roads and telecommunications, the inhabitants had become complacent and gotten used to things as they were. Only a few strove for better, which was achieved by either going abroad or moving away to Nairobi.

That said, a key characteristic of any crapsack society is the corruption of inhabitants into perpetuating nastiness against one another. Such a place is not at all kind to idealists, and anyone who acts differently, rises to greatness or escapes the 'social ghetto" is pulled down.

The Tall Poppy Syndrome

This is defined as

a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers. This is similar to begrudgery, the resentment or envy of the success of a peer.

In other words,

the Tall Poppy Syndrome is in play when a character or characters act to achieve parity with another character who is presented or perceived as somehow "better" not by improving themselves, but by bringing the other guy down to their level. 

Better than them

Right from the time I joined nursery school in 1986, I was the top student. This went on in Class 1 a year later until 1994 when I sat KCPE. What kept surprising me is that I seldom had to read all that hard to pass examinations. My siblings too, were also top in their respective classes.

You'd be forgiven to think this would result in endless joy every time results were announced and all the top positions were occupied by Mr Njenga's children. Far from it. Fellow classmates, neighbors whose children we invariably defeated in academics and most of our teachers did resent us. At times, quite openly.

I can point out several of the most vexing incidents:

1989, when my class teacher simply refused to give me a Swahili textbook but still expected me to have done her holiday assignment when school reopened. It took the intervention of the Headteacher for her to change her mind.

1996, when another teacher openly told me that I'll not take the University Degree I'd one day get to her house, but would deliver it "kwa Njenga". All because I'd been involved in an altercation with her son. This infuriated the Deputy Headteacher, and a fortnight later, she was compelled to come over to apologize both to me and my father in our house.

1993, the headteacher telling my father she had heard some parents saying how they could slaughter a goat and throw a huge bash were his sons and daughters to fail exams. Thankfully, this never happened.

And I could go on and on, for every year I was in Primary School.

Every time I saw Caruso bully Chris in Everybody Hates Chris, or listen to Eric Cartman endlessly call Kyle names and even sing disparaging songs about his family in South Park, I identified with the pain. We often laugh and joke about it, but it is a serious matter to the victims.
I too, was bullied. Never beaten up, but called names, ridiculed and embarrassed by my peers for being different and better. I must say I wasn't always in the right, but there was no justifiable reason to warrant such meanness.

I therefore found solace only at home. Only in the company of my siblings and parents did I feel at peace. I got to dislike people. And got lost in the wonderful world of books where I could be physically present but mentally away in far off places. Looking back, I would have slipped into depression, even lost my mind had I not had the amazing support that I always found at home. And shame on you if you think I was too serious to take a joke from my peers. You simply do not understand.

The result was a socially awkward person who like Finch in American Pie, had to take a dump only at home. Going to school was a necessary evil, and to this day, I remain in favor of home-schooling for kids of a certain age. I still live alone in a place where I seldom encourage visits. And neither do I hang around my neighbors' homes unless it is absolutely necessary that I visit. But not to worry, I am NOT a psychopath.

To this day, I abhor crowds and go to great lengths to avoid public gatherings. School assembly throughout Primary and High School were a great deal of patience, unease and tolerance. Adjournment was always a huge sigh of relief.
I have so far only attended two weddings. One, my mother's in 2000 and the other, my sister's in 2013.

And to a great extent, this is why I spend most of the time alone in my den, reading. I am reserved and only encourage one-on-one interactions. No group excursions, and certainly no group dates. Team sports remain something I cannot stand, both watching and participating. Thankfully, there is Sudoku and Chess...

Care should be taken not to mistake this with having a low self esteem. Far from it. Those who have encountered me soon realize that the opposite in in fact true. For a long time, I always believed I was mostly right. I still tend to think of myself all too highly, bordering on harmful narcissism. At times, my words and mannerisms present me as a person who is full of himself.

I'm yet to realize why some people think looking down on others, despising them and cutting them down to size is of any gain. Despite being enormously wealthy, I am not rich. But never once have I felt bad about someone coming into great fortune. When others exceed me in certain ways (which happens all the time), I never hesitate to be genuinely happy for them, congratulate with a pat on the back as I cheer them on to greater achievement.
I do realize that it is the presence of short people that makes some people tall, that we all need one another. Every single person has a reason to be and a place in this world, just as every species of flora and fauna is necessary for a healthy ecosystem.

Why then, do people find it necessary to cut others down simply because they are different? Because they are better? Is it too hard to realize that we are united in our diversity?

As I grow wiser and get to meet some of the most amazing people in recent times, I am alive to the fact that it is no longer about me. I've had to stop focusing so much on my awesome self, and realize that it is in giving that we receive, that altruism and genuine concern for others can be most rewarding. That it always works for the greater good.

I have not only grown intellectually with time, but emotionally as well. Now willing to listen and take suggestions, I have found that the process of discovering who I really am begins with knowing who I really don't want to be. For this reason, I have learnt to forgive those who were mean to me and let go of a most imperfect past.

But all is not lost. It never is. And I did come to find most, if not all that I all along sought, only when I stopped looking. I have gradually started making appearances in public places, such as burials in the neighborhood.

In Sum

Social interactions, especially those hinged on an unpleasant past, cannot become perfect. But they can be perfected.

It may not be enough to look back at a difficult past that's inundated with painful memories and unpleasant experiences. It is not enough to wish that things turned out differently. It is definitely not enough to live with regret. Even accepting the sad realities of this life is not enough in itself. It is true that I cannot go back and make a brand-new start. But I can, and already have started, making a brand-new end.
And that is where the perfection starts.

* * *

I've never ended a single post with two YouTube tracks. Today, I get to do that.

The first one illustrates why I've largely retreated to books, inspired by the hypocrisy so well hidden in some societal expectations and its attendant conventional thinking.

The second one simply underscores the realization that all the bad is now gone, that I have forgiven, learnt, let go and moved on. I am no longer defined by my shadow days. If anything, hard times have only made me realize that I am a good man with a good heart...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Angels and Life's Crossroads

'Angels are dispatched from heaven to inspire people who are at a crossroads in their lives.'

First off, this is a comeback post. I haven't posted on The Walkabout since January 2015.
A lot has happened since that time. There has been so much to write about, and it is my hope that I'll be able to distill all the insight, inspiration and self discovery that has been piling up in my Draft Posts. All in all, I'll endeavor to make regular posts.
That in itself, is a good thing.

Another good thing is that we're having an exciting addition on this journey, on this blog. This person has a more inspiring story to tell than I ever could.
I honestly cannot wait to read my friend's first post, and many more for days and years to come.

* * *

Well, I do have a copy of the Devotional Study Bible, NIV version. I read it every once in a while, unlike years past when I spent time with it every single evening. Not that I no longer read the good book, I still do. I just happen to have a more accessible one - the ever present YouVersion Bible on my Android device.

Isaiah is my favorite book, and this is how it is introduced:

This eloquent prophet lived at a time when the nation of Judah could either regain its footing or begin a dangerous slide downwards. Isaiah was uncompromising, and his "telling it as it is" eventually cost him his life. It is believed that King Manasseh had him fastened between two planks of wood and his body was sawed in half.

Truth be told, we often find ourselves at a crossroads. At times, we feel that we have no choice and have to wade through the murky inevitability that Catch-22 situations bring with them.

And before you say that one always has a choice in any given situation, some choices may be as difficult as a Buridan's ass choice or as limiting as a Hobson's Horse option.
All in all, life is inundated with circumstances that call for external input and much needed assistance.

It is during such situations that you get to meet people. People who are in situations where you can actually help. People who have a genuine need that in your heart of hearts, do realize you can help meet.

You look around and quickly realize that there is indeed a method to the madness that life can at times be. That things indeed happen for a reason. And as Esther came to realize many years ago,

And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?

Earlier in the verse (Esther 4:14) the matter of failing to do the needful is addressed. For Esther, relief and deliverance for the Jews would've come from someplace else but her family would have perished.
Thing is, it is never by accident that you get to meet some people in your life. It is always for a reason.

As always, I am allowed to go back to LOST, which inspired the very first post on The Walkabout.
Here, we meet Jack and Locke expressing varied viewpoints about what possibly brought them all into the mysterious island after Oceanic Flight 815 crashed. It is for a reason and a purpose, says Locke in this video.

All in all, life's happenings are always for a reason. It is upon you to find out how the circumstances you find yourself in, and those with whom you interact, are meant to bring out your purpose and your destiny.
Take time and find out why you're meeting the very people life keeps bringing your way. There is a reason why. And once you find out the reason, be sure to do the needful.

I end with Graham's famous opening lines in the movie Crash:

It's the sense of touch... I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

PS: This one is for you F.G.N.
Thank you.

* * *

Touched by an Angel was a popular show on KTN Kenya some years back. I rarely watched it, but still purpose to someday get the DVD set and experience all these angels.
Meanwhile, in a song I first heard in 1999 on Family FM, one of these angels, Della Reese, already promises to walk with you...


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