Saturday, October 24, 2020

Gone till November




We are taking a one week break from publishing regular posts and updates on this site.

We shall be back in November.
See you then!

Saturday, October 17, 2020

No Second Chance

If your interest in the HBO TV Series Succession goes beyond Shiv Roy's turtlenecks, then you'll be pleased to know that Succession Season 3 is coming out soon. 


 

In the second episode of Season 2, Shiv is having a conversation with her father Logan Roy on who will take over his media conglomerate 'Waystar Royco.' He tells Shiv that for her to take over as CEO, she needs to undergo months of training. Following is part of their conversation:

LOGAN: So... here's how I see it. Come in. Six months with Gerri, six months with Karl. Hong Kong for, say, another 12. Uh, Berlin, or London. Management training program for six. Come back, spend 12 months alongside me. And when you're ready, I'll step aside.

SHIV: Wow, Dad, that's a lot of months.

LOGAN: It's an appropriate amount of months.

SHIV: Also, management training program? Roman's COO. You have a toddler with a hard-on for chief operating officer, and I'm going through a management training program?

LOGAN: You're a young woman with no experience.

SHIV: A woman. That's a minus. Well, of course it's a fucking minus!

LOGAN: I didn't make the world!

The world is unfair, and Logan Roy didn't make the world.


* * * 


We like to talk a lot about second chances. Late last month, we had a post about Expiation and Revival and it was predicated for the most part, on the idea of righting wrongs and having a second chance.

But there's something we also come to learn about life: it's full of you-have-to-get-it-right-the-first-time-or-not-at-all situations. This may sound profoundly unfair, and it is indeed. There are certain things that are so exacting that you can't possibly get them wrong at all.

For instance, you get only one chance to make a good first impression. Should you screw up, then it becomes near impossible to change that initial perception given that first impressions are most lasting.

And this is something a renowned philosopher had thought of and written about centuries ago:

He who has not first laid his foundations may be able with great ability to lay them afterwards, but they will be laid with trouble to the architect and danger to the building.
- Niccolo Machiavelli.

In my native tongue, there is a saying that goes like this: "ngari ndiri sorry." Loosely translated, that means someone cannot hit you with a car then tell you "I'm sorry" since most likely the damage is both permanent and often irreversible. 

And this goes further to cement our argument that life sometimes just one chance. Not more, not less. Just one opportunity and that's it.


* * * 

Sometimes in this life, you have to simply say it right. Get it all right, or nothing at all. Much as it is true there is a time and place to try again.





Saturday, October 10, 2020

We did not ask for this

Today's post is short and sweet. Straight from the heart, and straight to the point. And yes, we are going waaaaaaay back!


It is from the final episode of the Hulu miniseries 11.22.63, based on the 2011 novel by Stephen King.

 

* * *

Ms Sadie Dunhill, who was school librarian back in 1963 delivers a speech, most of which is a poem by then School Principal, Dick Simmons.

This is what she says:

We never know which lives we influence or when or why, but I am so very grateful to be part of yours.
You older Jodie grads who are here tonight... you might remember Dick Simmons. And some of you may recall that little poem that he loved, that he kept copies on his desk that he can handle them out to troublesome students. Or, to students that were troubled.

Well, this was the poem:

"We did not ask, for this room, or this music.
We were invited in.
Therefore, because the dark surrounds us,
Let us turn our faces to the light.
Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty
We have been given pain, to be astounded by joy.
We have been given life, to deny death.
We did not ask for this room, or this music.
But because we are here, let us dance."


* * *

I remember watching The New Guy more than a decade ago. Those were the same years we couldn't get enough of 'Play' by Jennifer Lopez, 'I Dance' by Lenny LeBlanc or 'Let it Whip' by the Dazz Band. All said and done, play the funky music!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Danger in the Familiar


 

 

On July 31, 2020, Netflix announced that Money Heist has been renewed for a fifth and final part/season. Money Heist is a massively popular TV show that recently won Best Drama award at the Emmy Awards.

 

* * *  


I was recently reading some interesting articles about why we are so fascinated by true crime. part of this obsession is that deep down, we are voyeurs and hedonists.

But surprisingly, true crime also offers a space for empathy and understanding.And whilst everyone individually draws his or her line as to what is acceptable interest in these crime stories, few if any entirely opt out of engaging with this fascination.

Read more on the BBC and NPR web sites.


* * * 

 

The most obvious thing you'll note about any premeditated crime is the detailed knowledge that the perpetrators have of their victims or crime scenes. This is very well depicted in Money Heist.

Without getting into so much detail, this can be equally applied in human relations. Very few people are actually harmed by strangers. As unfortunate as it is, we note that a majority of kids are molested by people who are very well known to them. At times, relatives and close family members.

Malicious damage to property or to one's self or well-being will usually be done by someone a person has closely interacted with. A person that is familiar.

The reason is that in familiar places, situations or with familiar people, we let down our guard. We feel at ease, get comfortable and throw caution to the wind. We relax. We trust. We assume and overlook. We believe sans scrutiny.

Whilst it should be noted that this observation isn't based on any solid research, methinks there is a danger that often lurks in the familiar.


* * *


I'm yet to read 'Talking to Strangers' by Malcolm Gladwell. But this recent post about strangers on The Walkabout still holds water. In any case, we say in Swahili: "Kikulacho ki nguoni mwako." 

So what to do, when you come across a beautiful stranger?






Saturday, October 3, 2020

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss


 

I'll keep this Walkabout Weekend post short and sweet.


The modern world has placed many of us in a uniquely difficult position. We want things, and there is a never-ending pressure to have things. Even worse, this same societal pressure fashions "you want" as "you should have" and "you deserve." Entitlement is deeply rooted.


* * * 

This has made a majority of us very transactional. We now approach life on QPQ (quid pro quo) terms where the thought of giving something for nothing is openly frowned up. A generation of quitters who at first opportunity, would rather walk out than try to fix anything that needs to be set right.

So what happens when we embark on something but for some reason, things don't go our way? We immediately want out. After all, the grass is "definitely" greener on the other side, and we do have endless choice and innumerable opportunities elsewhere. Or do we?

 

Let's explore a few examples:

1. A well educated young man who aspires for greatness and wants the fine things in life gets a job soon after graduating summa cum laude. But the pay is not good enough for him. He quickly resigns, sans a backup plan of either going into business or the promising prospects of getting a better job soon.

 

2. Two people get into a relationship. They truly want it to work and to have something that lasts more than a fad, something that isn't as transient as the clouds. Soon enough, while still in the process of figuring out their common direction and learning more about each other, they have a major fallout. The now all-too-common reaction happens: they call each other names, go silent on each other and ultimately cut off communication by blocking one another across all social media platforms. There is not even an attempt at trying to find out what the problem is, working on it and amicably coming up with a solution that both can be comfortable with.


3. A young, creative and brilliant radio presenter has been working in an upcoming radio station. In under a year, his popularity has grown by leaps and bounds. A larger radio station owned by a mainstream media conglomerate takes note of his massive popularity and poaches him, in the process doubling his salary and giving him "a much larger platform." But our guy doesn't last long on the job. Another station poaches him, and this begins a series of months where he has a stint in almost every radio station in the country. What he fails to realize is that as he hops from station to station, his star gradually fades. In under 5 years, very few can even recall his name.


* * * 

We like to assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. In relationships, we are thrilled at the prospect of the "happily ever after," yet we don't want to put effort in the "here and now." We are taught that it's okay to have lofty expectations and that it is our right to demand things without even thinking about how those same things come into being. As long as we can see or point at it, we want it.









Monday, September 28, 2020

Expiation and Revival

It is profoundly quiet in my house today, as I listen to my inner voice.

 


 

This past weekend was an unusually bad one. On both Saturday and Sunday, I put (won't say I found) myself in unfortunate situations that revealed I am a deeply flawed individual.

Whereas I'm not at liberty to divulge the intricate details of the weekend's going-ons, let it suffice to say that it was characterized by lapses in judgment that were not only regretful, but which unchecked, would have resulted in irreversible damage both for me and others present.


* * * 

In the movie Crash (2004 film) police officer Sgt John Ryan tells his partner, Officer Tom Hansen:

"If you think you know who you are, you have no idea."


 

There are times in life when we find ourselves saying or doing things that shock even us. Not to excuse any bad manners, but I have always looked at such moments, no matter how poignant, as moments of clarity that are brought about by an inadvertent glimpse into what we are capable of thinking, saying or doing should we fall over the edge.

It is always an eye-opener that points to what wickedness stands to be awakened should we lose control.

Later on in Crash, Sgt Ryan rescues Christine Thayer when she gets stuck in a crashed car that's about to burn down. That act of compassion where he puts himself in great danger to save her life may not be enough to redeem himself given how he had wronged and humiliated her earlier. But the way I see it is that even the worst among us are not entirely bad or evil. Likewise, the really nice ones in our midst also do have frailties, some of which only get revealed in dire times when circumstances drastically change or other pressures become too much to bear.

But human nature is that once a good person does a really bad thing, we then define that person based entirely on that singularly bad act. This is something Malcolm Gladwell tries to address in Sn02E09 (The Road to Damascus) of the Revisionist History podcast.

The premise of this episode is if we can stop seeing a former terrorist as a terrorist after he has a change of heart.


* * *

 

We all seek to perfect our lives. When we fall down, we get up. And even when we cannot walk, we can and should still crawl or climb like an Ivy and make progress. And there is an enduring faith that making yet another attempt will hopefully make things better. That even when we lose now, we can make gains tomorrow. Maybe different gains. Maybe better gains. 

All in all, my redeeming Grace is that I continue to be a work in progress. In repair. Not together, but getting there...

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Time to Pretend ... Not.

I've been away for two months. And during that time, I came to realize the importance of having thick skin and an elastic heart.


On August 31, I did the usual inventory of that particular month. And something came out clearly, in light of some of the online conversations I had either been party to or read across social networks:

How we view ourselves is disproportionately affected by how others see us.


In other words, how a great number of people today think of themselves is governed by either the impressions one hopes to make on others or dictated by what others say about you. And I feel that this need not be the case.

 

* * *

The One Last Thing documentary on PBS takes a closer look at the life and times of Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, who died in October 2011. Here is a clip that ties in with the central message in today's Wednesday Walkabout post:


 

Years later, Steve Jobs gave a commencement address at Harvard, where he said this:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.


* * *

The modern world, where a majority are making impressions with a 'fake it till you make it' attitude has meant that is is almost always a time to pretend. But someone beautiful need not feel unsexy and someone interesting need not feel boring...





Monday, June 1, 2020

Gradually vs Suddenly

“A man,” wrote an Irish poet, “is original when he speaks the truth that has always been known to all good men.”
- President Barack Obama (Beau Biden eulogy)



Today is the first day of June. So, happy new month!
And instead of focusing on self discovery, how about sharing an all-too-common, albeit enduring insight this Monday?


* * *

Azziad Nasenya started lip syncing and creating content on TikTok in August 2019. In April this year, her Utawezana Challenge video went viral and she became quite a sensation.
The adorable household name that she now is both in Kenya and beyond.




What many of us fail to realize is that it took quite a while for her to come up with a hit video. None of the previous videos she did may have seemed to be paying off, until the day #UtawezanaChallenge happened.
The growth both in numbers and fan-base was gradual, until we suddenly noticed. That "suddenly" is what the media wrote about, it is what we talked about for days.


* * *
Just how long does it take to design a good logo?
This is a question I often  have to address on the few occasions I wear my graphic designer hat. That most logos are seemingly simple graphics or typefaces gives that misleading impression that it takes just a little time to create one.

The same goes for creative writing, composing music, painting... or any other skill that takes painstaking, meticulous and unrelenting practice to get it right.
But what we notice is the novel that takes less than a week to finish reading, the song that is less than 4 minutes long ...you get the drift.

This human tendency to value things based on how long we take to appropriate them is where the importance of gradually gets lost.


* * *

Losing everyday opportunities is a gradual thing. It is barely noticed when little bits of value are lost. Who has the time to notice or even appreciate the journey, when all focus is on the destination?

But starting today, I want to also make the intricacies of the race count, even as I have my sights on the Finish Line. I don't wanna miss a thing, when it comes to the process.
Neither will I waste another moment...






Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Kindness of Strangers


I have in my possession a copy of the voluminous 'The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined' by Steven Pinker. In 776 pages, Professor Pinker argues that over the years, violence has gradually declined. In other words, the modern age is a much better time to be alive because people are less violent (and I would guess, better?) than they have been before.




This is not exactly easy to believe, since we live in a world that has vibrant media - both mainstream and social - that seem to glorify as well as normalize violence.
Catching up on news is essentially a voyeuristic experience today.

Steven Pinker does present a contradictory argument: what has changed is only our awareness and sensitivity to violence.
And as Bill Gates writes in his review of this book:

The book is about violence, but paints a remarkable picture that shows the world has evolved over time to be a far less violent place than before. It offers a really fresh perspective on how to achieve positive outcomes in the world.

Pinker presents a tremendous amount of evidence that humans have gradually become much less violent and much more humane.
Pinker isn’t saying that peace, justice and nonviolence are inevitable. He acknowledges that modern technologies have really expanded how lethal wars can be. Things can go very wrong, but Pinker is saying the arc of history is toward less violence, and we should understand that and tap into it.

* * * 

I've always maintained that this "I can't trust you since we are strangers" cliche is way overrated. Even stranger is the reasoning (see what I did there?) that we should be very wary of what is either unfamiliar or different.
We were very much discouraged from talking to strangers in childhood, and this notion that was ingrained into us continues to live on in a majority of well-meaning adults.

It is not uncommon to see us cast very presumptuous and prejudicial aspersions on the character of a person that is pretty unknown to us. And this is rife in this day and age where people make contact to other people using the ubiquitous and instantaneous digital connection methods that the web readily accords us.

Malcolm Gladwell has recently published a book that is aptly titled 'Talking to Strangers.' He talks about what we should know about the people we do not know, and proceeds to examine interactions with rather conflicting outcomes.
For one, human beings are quite trusting. This is why people submit to even damaging religious beliefs and in the same vein, unquestionably believe the media.

Humans are also pretty bad at making that initial decision on who or what to trust. This is why it is so hard to accurately judge character.


* * *

One very hot day, a guy was sitting on his porch when he saw three guys standing nearby. He walked up to them and said "Hello." He then proceeded to ask them to come in and had his wife offer them some baked goods, tantalizing veal, with milk and butter to boot.

For his generosity, his post menopausal wife become a mother.

This is the story of Abraham and Sarah as we read it in Genesis chapter 18. It is then mentioned in Hebrews 13:2

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Strangers can be kind. And generous. Even altruistic.


And this is exactly what happened when in 1945 towards the end of World War II, a young Jewish boy was liberated by American soldiers. Strangers who were outraged by what they witnessed at Auschwitz, but who were also driven by compassion for the victims of the systemic genocide that was perpetuated by Nazis.

This young boy did live on to become an old man who finally died on 2nd July, 2016. But that was not before he bore witness not only to the horrors of the Holocaust, but also to the magnanimity of human compassion. In 1999, Elie Wiesel gave a speech where he said:

I am filled with a profound and abiding gratitude... "Gratitude" is a word that I cherish. Gratitude is what defines the humanity of the human being.

There are additional links and excerpts on this past post about the perils of indifference on The Walkabout.


* * *

What do you do when you encounter strangers? The acceptable and seemingly smart thing would be to run away, especially if it's strangers in the night. But who knows, things might be quite different and in the likelihood this is a beautiful stranger, the person turns out to be good for you.
Anyways here is some Frank Sinatra magic!







Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Ditch Desirability. Pursue Purpose



The Greatest Love of All

Many years ago on a beautiful, sunny afternoon in March, I walked into a room on the fourth floor of Hall 6 at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). I was a student there, and so was the man I was about to meet.

But I wasn't meeting him for the first time. He was a classmate. A very cool dude in fact. Very low-profile. Quiet. The most outstanding thing about this guy, noticeable within a few minutes of meeting him, was that he really loved smoking. To this day, he reminds me of Terry O'Reilly's line: "Light them if you got them" in his Age of Persuasion episode about the AMC TV hit show 'Madmen'.

Soon after I sat on one of the beds in the University hostel room, I was offered black coffee and some mandazi. That, given the time and circumstances, was unparalleled 'Ivy League' hospitality!

I had come to this room to get myself some music. Illegally, of course. But it was quite a process, much unlike simply downloading an MP3 track from the Napster website and adding it onto a collection on my personal computer for offline access and - it goes without saying - additional distribution of this bootleg music through endless copying.

Joel gave me a tape cassette. On it was recorded ninety minutes of Whitney Houston music. This included some of my then favorites, and others I hadn't listened to before.

Back in my room, I transferred the music from cassette player to a desktop computer. It was a time consuming exercise, that involved the use of JetAudio, Nero and Winamp audio software. I ended up sleeping past midnight.

Finally, I had the one Whitney Houston Song that carries so much weight, and around which I write this post.




Loving oneself is the greatest love of all.


Utaambia Watu Nini?

Throughout the December 2018 holidays, there was a radio (I neither possess nor watch TV, so I wouldn't know if there was a television version) commercial by the StarTimes terrestrial and satellite TV company. Voiced by one of Kenya's pseudo comedians, the advert ended with the question: "Utaambia watu nini?"
That, of course, is if you didn't get yourself a StarTimes decoder.

That is an interesting persuasion technique, for anybody who knows just how much people love to belong and to not miss out. But there is another way of looking at it - just how much do we say, do or acquire on the strength of what others will say, think or feel?

A key premise of the Advertising classic 'The Mirror Makers' is that advertising doesn't merely show people how or what they are, but what they'd like to be.
And this is also what predisposes people to conmen and frauds - all it takes to manipulate or otherwise unduly influence a person is to tell them a story that resonates with what they either believe or want to hear.

The best example of this is the hope peddling that happens every Sunday...


The Divided Self


In his book 'The Happiness Hypothesis,' Jonathan Haidt writes about "The Divided Self."
In a nutshell, Haidt outlines the various divisions the self has to contend with, given that they often work in cross purposes. These are mind vs body, left vs right, new vs old and controlled vs automatic.

It is for this reason that each one of us, despite the obvious assumption that one would have his or her best interests at heart, will occasionally do irrational and stupid things, fail to control oneself, or do what one knows is not good for him or her.

How should a Person Look Like?

In the United Kingdom, Chidera 'The SlumFlower' Eggerue is a young woman who has had to constantly deal with the pressure to have what is considered perfect boobs.
At one point, she decided she's had enough of this nonsense and launched the #SaggyBoobsMatter hashtag on social media.

Chidera was bold enough to refuse being shamed for how her breasts look.
Sadly, not every person has the support systems around them to come out and speak boldly against harmful societal constructs that dictate what is popular or even acceptable.





It is acceptable and in order that humans will want to belong.
But time and again, we have seen people across all age groups and regions of the world, lower their dignity or otherwise harm themselves in an effort to be accepted by others.

An even more harmful version of this happens on the web, thanks to social networks. It is not uncommon to see people post fake photos depicting their near "perfect" lives in an effort to flaunt glamour and "success" in life.
All this vanity is informed by a misguided craving for social approval and validation by strangers online. Many people feel like they owe their followers and Facebook friends an account of how well they are living their lives.

This is why in August 2018, a popular Kenyan TV presenter was exposed for having projected a very exaggerated and fake lifestyle on Instagram. She would use photos lifted other sites and using filters and digital graphics editing, claim to be doing fashionable things or being in exotic places - all of which was entirely untrue.


The Purpose Driven Life



This book by Rick Warren is a great guide to living a life that is driven by purpose. It is true a lot of it is based on Christian principles. But religion aside, it has wonderful insights that are worth considering.

It much better to pursue one's purpose in life, than to be burdened with an endless search for desirability in the eyes of other faulty humans.
Or even worse - and more damaging - feeling the need to explain oneself to others as if one owes his/her life or happiness to them.

* * *

There is need for every individual to learn how to love oneself unconditionally.
There is honestly nothing wrong with loving who you are, you were born that way. There is no need to hide yourself in regret or feel the need to gain the validation and approval of strangers who in actual fact do not care about you at all. Everybody is beautiful in their own way.








Thursday, April 30, 2020

Why do we almost always Make it about Ourselves?

Human beings have this incredibly irrational desire to have the final word.



Suppose you are let go of at the workplace.
Upon going to the premises, you quickly realize you're no longer invited nor allowed to access your (former) office. What would you do?

Would it make any sense to start shouting "I quit" at the gate?
Would it be any necessary, much less useful, to openly start expressing regret and saying how big a mistake and waste of your time it was to work in that particular company? Wouldn't it be much more important to try and find out what the situation actually is, without first putting yourself in it?

My point here is that when certain things don't go our way, particularly things we have emotionally invested in, we find it very hard to adjust to the abruptly altered reality.
This is something Malcolm Gladwell captures very well in his Preface in The Person and the Situation book by Lee Ross and Richard Nisbett. He writes:

When we perceive the actions and intentions of others, we tend to make mistakes. We see things that aren’t there and we make predictions that we ought not to make: we privilege the “person” and we discount the influence of the “situation.”
The obvious thing many of us fail to realize, being too blinded by emotion, is that life is made up of finite seasons. And what matters in the end is what one gets out of every season.

* * *

In the last week of last month, I sadly lost my sister. Between March 24 and March 28 when we buried her, I did put on a strong face and managed to get a lot of things done with minimal interruption. I guess this is because there was constant family support and daily communication with one another.
In fact, many people that I regularly talk to, particularly on chat, barely noticed a change.

Things, however, did change after Sunday, March 29. My mind got inundated with endless thoughts about her. It was quite a mix-up - at times nostalgia, other times past challenging times we have jointly faced, again it would be moments I cherish, and the ever present sadness that comes with asking: "Why Njeri, and not me?"

It was for this reason that I actually went quiet all of that week between Sunday, March 29 to Saturday, April 4, 2020. I just didn't want to talk, as I took time to internalize and come to terms with suddenly losing someone so close.
And a funny thing happened. Someone I had grown very fond of reached out on April 4, accusing me of ghosting and consequently saying (a very ironic) goodbye.
That singular act of making things that deviate from the realities we are used to all about oneself is what has inspired this post.

Another thing did happen, thanks to the insights and enlightenment I have so far been getting from some of the books I have been reading both in March and April.
Were it not for this, I would have mistaken that particular "friend" - who opted to walk away in a huff instead of actually asking what may be happening in my life - as being among people who are so full of themselves.
These are the people who always make it all about themselves, by throwing tantrums as spoilt brats do, and playing victim. Or in more vindictive situations, passing blame and unfairly accusing other persons.


* * *


Niccolo Machiavelli also intimated the following:

"For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are."

One of the reasons we repeatedly engage in irrational behaviors is our innate tendency to view everything within the world in relationship to oneself. In other words, to be self-centered.
That is why we "act out" when we don't get our way. It is also why we contradict and deceive ourselves in countless ways. Writing in 'Critical Thinking: Tools for taking charge of your Professional and Personal Life,' Richard Paul and Linda Elder have put it in these words:

"We act inconsistently, ignore relevant evidence, jump to conclusions and say and believe things that don't make good sense.
We are self-destructive, petty and vindictive. We rationalize, project and stereotype.
Humans live with the unrealistic but confident sense that we have fundamentally figured out thet way things actually are, and that we have done this objectively."

All this happens because naturally, we do not appreciate the point of view of others or the limitations of our own point of view. This is all due to egocentric thinking, which we can only explicitly become aware of if specially trained to do so.

It's for this reason that Jonathan Haidt also shared in his book 'The Righteous Mind: How Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion' that we are a bunch of hypocrites so skilled at putting on a show of virtue, that we deceive even ourselves.


* * *

In sum, it is important to both acknowledge and counter the egocentric thinking that all too often predisposes us to use self-centered psychological standards to determine what to believe and what to reject.

Instead of depending so much on our intuitive perceptions, it would be helpful to engage intellectual standards in thinking. This can be achieved through self-understanding, becoming critics of our own thinking, being fair-minded and purposing to make intelligent decisions that are not always subjective i.e. centered around our selves.

* * *

Sooner or later, every person comes to the realization that in running ahead, he or she actually goes too slow. Acknowledging that one is trying to get their hands clean in dirty water is always a reminder that it's become necessary to take a different road.
Only by diligently going back to the basics of life can we stop being blind with our eyes wide open.






Friday, April 24, 2020

In Memoriam: Pauline Njeri Njenga

Yu gonplei ste odon, Mamimami.

On Tuesday, March 24, 2020, Pauline Njeri didn't spend the night at her home along Waiyaki Way with the kids as she had done each and every day of their lives. She spent that night at Aga Khan.


RUNNING OUT OF DAYS

"Lives of great men," wrote an esteemed American poet and educator, "all remind us that we can make our lives sublime. And departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time."
Njeri was a great educator whose life epitomized clarity and transparency. She leaves behind indelible footprints. And fond memories.  For she loved deeply, and she was loved in return.

* * *

Njeri spent that night at Aga Khan in Parklands, Nairobi. But not at Aga Khan school where she had taught for many years. She was in Aga Khan University Hospital. Specifically, at the morgue.

Today marks exactly one month since her death on March 24, 2020.



"MAMI MAMI"

When Njeri got her first child Zipporah, it was during a tumultuous time in her life. The reasons why this was so are well beyond the scope of this post, but I'd be remiss in not saying that I was wowed by how gracefully she coped with those difficult times. And she did emerge stronger at the broken places eventually.

Njeri lived in Kasarani at the time, and as Zippy learned to talk, she had this penchant for voicing words twice. Zippy nicknamed my dog "doggie doggie" and each of the cats was called "miau miau." Her mother, as expected, was christened "mamimami."
That is how my sister Njeri became Mamimami, a name that everyone in the family stuck to forthwith. Even our parents.

Njeri was, and forever remains Mamimami. And as it'll become evident elsewhere in this post, she was also the quintessential deputy parent. In particular, to my sister Winni and I during the many years she worked at Juja Preparatory & Senior School while we schooled next door at JKUAT. And to our last-born Magda who practically lived in Mamimami's house throughout her college days at UoN and for some years thereafter.


WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS MAMIMAMI

Being the first born, Mamimami had our best interests at heart - all her six siblings as well as our parents. To this day, each one of us can point to a tangible item whose purchase Mamimami either significantly contributed to or financed entirely. And endless moral support that we cannot even begin to quantify.

At JKUAT where my sister Winni and I schooled, Mamimami was a regular presence. She was both parent and sister to us, and at no time did we have fees arrears or lack pocket money.

A number of furniture items in my house once belonged to her. She has always had my back and financed innumerable projects I've had over the years. And that goes even to other things in the family that I need not mention here.
I shall, however, talk about the two things that I make a living from and the role she did play in fashioning my life in bits (see what I did there? Only someone proficient in computing will appreciate the byte-sized pun)... I digress.

While I was a 3rd year student, I did my Industrial attachment at BIDCO in Thika. We used to get a small allowance and at the end of the 3 months, I bought myself a Nokia 2300 (yeah, among the very first phones to have an FM radio and polyphonic ringtones!) I was striving for higher ideals, however. I wanted to own a Computer in 4th year. Ordinarily, it became truly necessary in final year (in my case, 5th year) due to the unique demands of a student's practical Engineering Project. I therefore started saving cash from my pocket money and proceeds from the audio amplifiers and speaker cabinets I used to make and sell to fellow students.

I had only managed to purchase a CRT monitor, a keyboard and a mouse at the end of 3rd year. I had no cash to buy the main unit - the CPU and this would cost anywhere between 15k and 20k. Mamimami knew I had these computer parts, in any case I would keep them at her place at Juja Preparatory & Senior School.
You can then imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when she one day asked that I join her in going to Nairobi CBD to do some computer "window-shopping." And I happily tagged along. In town, she asked me to take her to the computer shop I was buying the other parts from and once in there, she asked that we check how much a good P4 CPU was going for. To cut the long story short, we eventually walked out with an AMD Duron CPU, and it cost her 18k. This happened to be a very big percentage of her salary back then.

And her benevolence goes on to this day. The HP 630 laptop I am typing this on was once hers, she generously gave it to me in December 2019 after my long-serving Toshiba L300 notebook of 11 years stopped working back in November last year.


HELP, I'M ALIVE

Sunday, April 13, 2008. The day President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga unveiled the Grand Coalition Cabinet. At around 8pm, I was accosted by thugs just near Kenya Tents in Roysambu. Those guys forcefully took my laptop, two phones, a significant amount of cash, National ID, bank cards, then cut my hand with a machete and broke my left arm. Horrified, I rushed to Mamimami's house in Kasarani and she took it upon herself to wash my bloodied white trouser. But that was only after taking me to a nearby medical center where my badly cut hand got stitches.
Early the following day, she didn't report to work but instead accompanied me first to Kiambu Hospital for X-rays and thereafter to Nazareth Hospital where my arm was put in a POP cast.

After this, she bought me another phone and was really instrumental in helping me get back my bearings after that near-death experience that saw me nearly slip into depression.

And I could go on and on and on...
Mamimami was always there when we needed her. At times, she would come to our aid long before we realized we needed her. She took good care of each one of us as if there was only one of us. Her affection was wholesome, her concern genuine. Always benevolent.


USE SOMEBODY

To Mamimami, family meant everything and she did all within her means to ensure those in her care never lacked. It is for this reason that she oftentimes worked long and odd hours.
Many are the days that she was essentially both the father and mother to her kids, because as far as these fabulous four were concerned, their interests invariably preceeded hers. She wanted the best for them and was quite unrelenting in this regard, right to the very end. And the clarity and transparency that characterized her life will forever stay with us.



Altruism was Mamimami's second nature and this predisposed her to the ever present risk of an unscrupulous entity keen on taking advantage and using somebody so good, so generous and so kind for hideous and evil exploits.
So graceful and selfless was Mamimami that someone uncultured would easily take that as a vulnerability or naiveté to maliciously exploit. But in hindsight, Mamimami was wise enough to never feel bad when such a self-seeking person would remember her only when in need of her. She instead felt privileged that she was like a candle that comes to mind when there is darkness. To shine the way for others without ever losing the light within her.


KNOCKING ON HEAVEN'S DOOR

On the day that Mamimami breathed her last, my sister Winni and I shared something that each of us had individually wondered: "Why her and not me?" We each had felt that Mamimami had so much going for her, what with four young kids to take care of and a very bright future for them all thanks to her dedication and focus in selfless parenting. We each felt that we do not have as many responsibilities as hers.


And life ain't no beauty show
We don't know where tomorrow ends
And when we're sad
It's kind of a drag.
- Matchbox Twenty (All I Need)


It is then that I remembered a story I once read, about a girl asking her grandma why God had called her mother to Heaven just when she needed to be there to take care of the girl and her siblings. The grandma replied with this question: "When you go out to pick fruits, don't you pick the biggest and ripest?"

Upon her passing, this reminder that it is the very best that are taken away gives me the strength to realize that much as I may currently see no good in her dying, it was for a reason. A good reason. One that I may one day come to acknowledge and appreciate. I am persuaded that there is something good and I may be able to perceive it should I look hard enough. My biggest consolation is that this world no longer deserved Mamimami and she just had to go. She is survived by four fantastic children Zippy, Sophia, Spencer and Stanley whose best days are definitely ahead of them.

She needed us, and we needed her...




...and now all we can do is remember and let go. And move on.

That's why I do not mourn Mamimami, I celebrate her. She is without a doubt in a much better place. I keep thinking of her each and every day. As I go about my duties and as we talk with my parents and siblings, (something we do every day) not a day goes by without mentioning her. I'm learning to let her go, even as I continue to miss her dearly. I bet this is what Christine Georgina Rossetti advises us to do in her poem:

When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me,
I want no rite in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little - but not for long.
And not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that once we shared.
Miss me, but let me go.

For this is a journey we must all take,
And each must go alone.
It's all part of the master plan,
A step on the road to home,
When you are lonely and sick at heart,
Go to the friends we know,
Laugh at all the things we used to do.
Miss me, but let me go.

* * *

IN PARADISUM

Mamimami's last moments found her at work, her other passion in addition to family. It was her joy to each and every day put life into the words of that American poet with whom I began, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, when he wrote: "So let us be up and doing, with a heart for any fate. Still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait."

We buried Mamimami on Saturday, March 28, 2020. It was a brief ceremony that was attended by only her children, immediate family members and few close friends. And standing by her grave, I was reminded of Mary Elizabeth Frye's poem:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

* * *

When he spoke at Stanford in 2005, Steve Jobs spoke of death as life's change agent. Much as no one wants to die.
That last day, much as we all try to delay it all we can and avoid thinking about it as much as possible, is an inevitable certainty. Despite death being both permanent and irreversible, I find great comfort in the fact that many of us who live to become adults always have so many other days at our disposal to do with as we please. Until that final day, which catches some completely unawares as it did Mamimami. Hers happened to be a swift, relatively painless death.

And given the very personal reminder our family got on March 24 that life is both fickle and fleeting, I have since elected to try all I can to seize the days I still have left.




Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Who is in Charge of Your Thinking and View of Life?

Today's post is fairly disjointed. It is a random amalgamation of thoughts that I currently have. Thoughts that leave me inexplicably conflicted in he wake of the current Covid-19 virus that has occasioned a global lockdown and led to loss of life, particularly in Italy.






This past weekend, I spent Sunday afternoon watching 'Everest.' It is the tragic tale of a mountaineering disaster that occurred on May 10, 1996 on Mount Everest.
Lives were lost, including that of New Zealander Rob Hall, who headed Aventure Consultants.

It was then that I recalled a day on May 18, 2016, which was just over two decades since this disaster, I had bought 'The Climb.' This is a book co-authored by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston De Walt and it recounts tragic ambitions on Everest. Key among the factors that heralded this fatal disaster were crowded conditions, bad judgment and a bitter storm on the imposing mountain. Much as the expedition was fated for disaster, blind ambition was also to blame.

I am now reading 'The Climb' to better understand how these people vanished into thin air.

* * *

Since the Corona virus started getting out of hand, I have been trying my very best to focus on other things. I have a lovely pal who keeps reminding me to focus on positive outcomes. And this hasn't been the case only recently.
On November 11, 2019, I completely stopped listening to all radio stations, including the BBC World Service (which still remains my top favorite). About 5 years earlier, I had deliberately given away my TV since I opted to only watch video in my time: YouTube, where I get to decide what I watch, and when. And movies and TV series already downloaded on my hard drive.

My reasoning is that the media - mainstream outlets in particular - have this undue ability to not only shape our opinions, but influence both our thinking and perceptions. I know it is all too easy to openly say and brag how you're totally in charge and how nobody can influence how you think. Nobody is impervious, and just last week, I was writing this about lies:

"What is the cost of lies?
It's not that we'll mistake them for the truth, the real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.
What can we do then? What else is left but to abandon even the hope of truth and content ourselves instead with stories."
- Valery A. Legasov.

And some months ago, when I was reading 'Zero to One' by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters, I came across the following:

"But advertising matters, because it works. It works on nerds, and it works on you. You may think that you're an exception; that your preferences are authentic, and advertising only works on other people. It's easy to resist the most obvious sales pitches, so we entertain a false confidence in our own independence of mind. But advertising doesn't exist to make you buy a product right away. It exists to embed subtle impressions that will drive sales later. Anyone who can't acknowledge its likely effect on himself is doubly deceived."

Advertising is mediated persuasion, and it works just as propaganda does.

* * *

I started off my day reading 'Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of your Professional and Personal Life' by Richard Paul and Linda Elder. My focus today was Chapter 12: Developing as an Ethical Reasoner.





This comes in the wake of a conversation I had yesterday with my father, about the Kenya airways employee who got suspended for revealig on social media, that a Southern China Airways plane full of passengers had been allowed to land at JKIA at a time when Kenyans were asking the government to no longer allow flights from abroad.

Accordingly, what Ali Gire did was ethical. But it was not procedural.
And this got me thinking: at what point does what is for greater good supercede what is the right or legal thing to do. Remember this is the same dilemma John Grisham was addressing in 'A Time to Kill.' And it is the same issue that Jonathan Haidt, Silvia Koller and Maria Dias try to tackle in their research paper titled 'Affect, Culture and Morality; or is it wrong to eat your dog?'
The central question in this paper is this: Are disgusting or disrespectful actions judged to be moral violations,  even when they are harmless?


Back to ethical reasoning.
The problem I have with modern society, this neoliberal, "woke" world which pontificates and promises endless choice and freedom on one hand, while hindering free expression in the name of political correctness and which is driven by a hypersentive, fault-finding generation of intolerable individuals who cannot accept views that differ from their own.

In essence, we end up moralizing everything. And this moralizing is indeed subjective, which means that it is not based on what is right or wrong, but what is deemed to be good by those who can shout loudest. What they prefer.

This is where ethical principles, which should never be a matter of subjective preference, lose meaning and value.
It follows that ethical concepts should be distinguished from the norms and taboos of society, peer groups, religious teachings, political ideoligies and the law.

* * *

In closing, the above (if it makes any sense at all) is precisely why I am deliberately and actively taking charge of my thinking. First, by carefully curating what media I consume. This may not seem important, but a lot of what the TV and radio stations are feeding us daily is for the most part manipulative and toxic.

Secondly, I have become very wary of Twitter and Facebook timelines. As I wrote again last week, these platforms are inundated with people whose favorite pastime is pointing out the faults of others, with a callous self-righteousness and satirical condescesion through which they take no responsibility at all for anything, while at the same time not suggesting or offering solutions to the malaise that modern society has become. They make zero effort to right wrongs.

All in all, there is a good reason why Henry David Thoreau retreated from society and stayed in the woods for two years. During this time, he not only penned 'Walden' but - I do believe - he also gained a deeper insight into how exactly to take charge of his view of life and his thinking.


* * *

Just as Tupac did years ago, I'm now wondering if heaven's got a ghetto. The more the world changes, the more it stays the same. You need not look far to realize that though we proudly proclaim our "love" for our brothers, we still haven't realized that we can't go nowhere unless we share with each other. For a start, we can stop seeing one another as distant strangers...
Anyways, it seems that step to step, heart to heart, left right left...we all fall down like toy soldiers.





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