Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

For Zayda: Short Journey of Truth

Daily African Proverb: Whereas a liar takes one thousand years to go on a journey, the one who speaks the truth follows and overtakes the liar in a day. (Ghana)

Dear Zayda,

The truth might get you into trouble, but in the long run telling the truth is worth the risk. Bruce Golding, Prime Minister of Jamaica, has been lying to the country for eight weeks, and today he is in big trouble.

Golding is related to us on both sides of the family. Some of his blood relatives are McCallas like you, and some of his in-laws are my mother’s cousins. In Jamaica, blood or marriage connects many of us. But lies take away trust, even in families.

The first truth we need to tell you, my grandniece, is that all of us lie at some time or other. Mostly we tell lies when we are afraid of being punished. Let us say that someone whom I will call Bobby breaks him mother’s favorite crystal vase. He might say, “The dog did it.” Since the dog can’t speak for itself, Bobby is safe for the moment. But what if the dog is not allowed anywhere near the crystal vase? Bobby might say, “Someone left the door open and the dog slipped in.” Bobby may well have to continue to tell lie after lie to cover up the first one.

Bobby, like Golding, will now have to remember all the lies he told. So Bobby might throw tantrums to cover up gaps in his stories. Let us imagine his mother says, “Who could have left the door open?” Bobby might add to the lie by naming his brother and getting him in trouble. Or Bobby might act upset that his mother would think he would disobey her order to keep the door closed. He may jump to defend himself even before he is accused of anything. He may become angry so as to push away any possible blame, so now he is lying not just in his words but in his action.

At the start, he could have said, “I broke the vase. I didn’t mean to do it, and I am sorry.” His mother may have fussed for a few minutes, and she may have sent Bobby on time out for a while. Bobby may have had a short period of discomfort, but his mother would know she could trust him. If, on another occasion, Bobby said, “I did not break the vase,” his mother would know she could take him at his word.

Bobby also needs to be able take his mother at her word. Like you, Zayda, Bobby was born knowing truth, and he learned lying from adults.

Prime Minister Golding could restore trust in his word by admitting that he lied. He could stop sounding angry in the hope of shutting up those who question him. He could stop blaming others in the hope of taking attention away from his own lies. He could come clean and take what comes from telling the truth.

Golding and the rest of us need to set the young an example of honesty. We need always to opt for the short (even if sometimes painful) journey of truth.


Your shangazi


Anonymous said...

We were both New and Different. What a disappointment. I remember a talk he gave on what would happen if a constable came knocking at his door wanting to arrest a party official. What a joke he pulled that day.

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

I also believed him, believed in him, and thought I was doing my country a favour by voting him into office.

Her certainly pulled a joke on us.


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.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at