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Read to rid yourself of ignorance and possible embarrassment

May 26, 2014

It's been a while since I failed you my readers by not submitting an article for this column. Last week this happened and for that I sincerely apologize. I was down with malaria, some strange flu (but not dengue thankfully) and a nasty cough that made my chest sound like a bass drum that's never been tuned. After having my bedroom transformed into a mini pharmacy, I'm glad I'm better. Hopefully, in the not so distant future I'll be able to share with you the lessons that I learnt while I was forcefully grounded by my own body but for now, I'll share a different experience all together but not before saying this: take care of your health because it is your greatest wealth.

About a fortnight ago, I was walking on the streets of Nairobi when I passed by several women comfortably settled on the pavements selling stuff. Forget the fact that they were breaking the law, but from what I know of them, these women will do anything to ensure they get money to feed their families, regardless of whether they have husbands or not. I salute them for their guts, their resilience and dedication to making sure they achieve what they set out to do.


Anyway, as I passed one of them, I saw some little tiny shoes that could only be worn by a baby less than 3 months old. This reminded me of when my firstborn son was born 15 years ago; I didn't know then that there were shoes that could fit his tiny feet. Instead I bought him booties - those shoe-like “socks” that are mostly handmade. Since my mum was quite good at making them, you can rest assured he had a lot of those in different colours and patterns with matching sweaters and hoodies to keep him warm all year round. But he had no shoes for the first one year of his life simply because I didn’t think there’d be any shoes to fit his feet. Key words in this case being "Didn't Think".

It was not until much later when he was about 7 months old when I went to visit a friend who had just given birth that I noticed she had bought little shoes for her new-born daughter. Since I had gone to see her with my son, I was embarrassed that he didn’t have shoes on him, not because I couldn’t afford them, but because I didn’t know they existed. However, I down played it by saying that it didn’t really matter whether he had shoes or not because he wasn’t walking yet. The shoes were only going to be “ceremonial” on his feet anyway.

Thinking about this made me smile because today, the challenge I have is not that his feet are too small to get a fitting, but rather that his feet are quite big and often pose a challenge when it comes to getting trendy shoe designs that would be a perfect fit for him. My baby is no longer a baby (physically), but he is still a baby as far as I am concerned. Anyway, I digress....

Going back to that time when he was small, what made me think that there were no shoes for 0 – 12 month old babies? Had I asked and was told no? Did I embark on a research and found out that there were no shoes for kids that age? Actually the answer is no. It was an assumption I made based on what I used to see around me. When my aunties got married and got their babies, none of them bought them shoes but instead they got my mum to make them those booties. As a result, signals were somehow automatically sent to my mind that small kids didn't wear shoes but instead they wore booties. Indeed Einstein was right when he said, "the source of knowledge is experience". My knowledge of "small shoes" was limited to the experience I had gone through with my aunties.

This doesn’t just apply to the shoes part only but it also applies to many other areas of my life. For instance I grew up knowing that Kasuku was the best cooking oil, and Omo the best cleaning powder. Why? Because I grew up in an environment where Kasuku was the favourite cooking oil for many and Omo the washing powder that removed “madoadoa yote”. I used to see my folks using these things so for me, they set the precedence and I followed without a question. Until much later in life when Idid my own research and discovered better products.

Thinking about all this now as I was walking down Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi made me realize one thing: a lot of what we are is as a result of where we have been. This means that we allow ourselves to become the products of our environment, without questioning whether things could be different. We let what we've gone through dictate where we are going, without considering the limitation this might have on our future.

What environment are you exposed to right now? Is your environment building you or destroying you? Is your environment offering you a chance to progress or is it robbing you of any possibilities of progression, simply because you are letting it do so? Are you questioning your situation? To quote Einstein again, "learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning"

The truth is, you could be living in the heart of a slum but if you have made up your mind not to be influenced (negatively) by that slum then you will not be. I subscribe to the school of thought that your destiny is in your hands and not in the hands of your surroundings. That is why two children can be born on the same day, one from a filthy rich family and the other from the poorest of them all but when the two grow up, the one from the poor family reverses his destiny and becomes one of the richest men on earth, while the one from the rich family maintains just an above average life, the fact that he was born into riches not withstanding.

It is all in your mind and like someone said, you are what you think you are. If you think you are a loser, then it doesn’t matter how many people think you are a gem because unless you believe it yourself, no one can help you on that front.  Similarly, if you consider yourself a winner, then it doesn’t matter how many haters hate you and try to bring you down because every time they try, you will shake it off and move on to become the winner you know you are. You have the sole authority to decide to build a wall around you with the stones life hurls at you or you can decide to build a bridge that connects you to your empire. The choice is in your mind but to make it happen you have to implement it with your own hands.

Like it has been said often, if there is no enemy within, the enemy without can do you no harm. In other words, as long as you win the battles in your mind, then the wars around you will be easy to win. One of the ways of ensuring you win those battles in your mind is by feeding your mind with healthy materials. Read motivational and inspirational books, listen to and watch inspiring people and learn from their mistakes, surround yourself  with people who have the right attitude and let their attitude rub out on you, and most importantly, keep your mind refreshed by reading as many sensible books as possible. You will discover that the more you read, the more exposed you become to many options that you would not have had if you had not read.  Make and take time to research on issues that are of interest to you and your future success.

Reading and researching indeed does help in ridding ignorance. Using myself as an example, if I had taken the time to find out whether there were small shoes for tiny feet, I would have gotten a pair for my son but because I opted to go with what I had seen my aunties doing, I made an assumption that there were no shoes for tiny feet. You might laugh at me for being such a “mfala” but trust me if we decided to put you on the spotlight…

Friends we are living in a time where information is becoming obsolete faster than it is being generated. If we want to stay ahead of the pack, we have no choice but to keep refreshing what we know with newer and latest versions of information in order to stay relevant. The certificates you took ten years ago may not be valid today because the environment for which you took them has most likely become extinct. You need to upgrade yourself and even though you might not get newer certificates, you will at least be updated (mentally) to prepare you for what’s coming next. We cannot afford to be complacent today and expect to keep winning. Yesterday’s news is today’s history, just like yesterday’s future is today’s reality. Today things are happening at the speed of thought and if your thoughts are not in sync with what is happening around you then you will be left on the wayside.

In concluding this article today I will say this; don’t settle for what is common practice. Have the courage and confidence to set your own standards and be a trendsetter. Let not your current circumstances dictate your future but instead determine to have your desired future regardless of the circumstances surrounding you. Remember, read, read and read some more like your future depends on it because it does. You cannot have an overdose of reading but you can become obsolete by not reading.

From me to you, I wish you all a studious week.

PS: Article published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 25th May, 2014, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words"

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