Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Thursday, May 13, 2010

For Zayda: No short cut to honesty

Better you lose time than character. (Jamaica)

Dear Zayda,

You will find a lot of short cuts in life, and you will want to avoid those that will place your honesty in question. Sometimes the rocky path up the hillside does us much more good than the smooth highway down the valley.

The Bruce Golding we see today bears little resemblance to the person who seemed to be taking a long rough road to honesty more than ten years ago. He said then that he would be a new and different politician, and many of us believed him. We wanted a leader we could trust. Perhaps we wanted to believe him so badly that we did not look beyond his words. Remember, my grandniece, that words are never enough.

Since the 1970s Golding had been like a prince expecting to become king in the palace. In 1995 he came out and said that palace was rotten inside even if it still looked great from the outside. So he left the palace and set up his own little hut outside. “A hut where you can be honest is better than a palace where you have to be dishonest to keep your place,” his action said.

Many of us fell in love with Golding’s little hut, even though we may have yearned to be in the palace where we could sleep on soft beds and eat shrimp and steak all day if we wanted to. Just calaloo and water (no wine in the little hut) could be boring after a while, but we had the great feeling that the hardships were building character. We would wait for the day when the prince would become king on his terms. He would never allow power to go to his head like those who entered the palace as mice and became tigers overnight. He would be neither a mouse or a tiger, but just a man who cared for people and would rule in their interest.

Many were shocked when Golding returned to the palace in 2002, especially as the palace seemed the same as it was when he left it seven years earlier. The king was then fighting a battle in a war that he had lost for 13 years. If he won this time, he would finally be able to rule the whole country rather than just the gardens around his palace. Perhaps life in the hut was moving too slowly. Too many years would pass before the hut could look like a palace and Golding could act like a prince again. Perhaps he could see no way to become king that year, the next year, or even 20 years after that. In addition, some of his followers wanted to get back to the luxury of the palace; and they thought Golding was the only hope of their being on the winning side again.

Golding took the shortcut. As far as anyone could see, the palace was indeed the same as it had even been - just as dirty and dusty and broken down inside. Those who questioned the king could still be cast into the dungeon, and those who did the king’s bidding were still sure to sit at banquets with him.

Golding and his followers captured the palace, took power from the king, and won the war. With the crown on his head, Golding promised change. He would be the chief servant of the people, not a tyrant as kings tended to be. He would be open and honest, not corrupt. He would clean up the palace and allow the people to come in to inspect it if they wanted to. Some people had doubts about this man. They were worried that he left his hut for the palace because he was hungry for power. However, many others wanted change so badly that they believed his promises and were happy to have him as their king.

Many of those are now insisting that he leave the palace and never return, because he took one shortcut too many and lied to the people about it for eight weeks.

As a Yoruba proverb says, Zayda, “One loses one's reputation in one day, but the disgrace is for all days.” Golding tried to gain time but lost character, and that loss might last for the rest of his days.

A lesson is here for each of us who is tempted to take a shortcut.


Your shangazi

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

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