Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Monday, May 17, 2010

To Zayda: Price of wisdom

Only a fool believes everything he is told. (Ethiopia, Eritrea)

Adinkra symbol for wisdom, creativity

Dear Zayda,

We can be in big trouble if we believe everything we are told. That is why we need to ask questions. Children are great at asking questions, and I hope you remain a questioner for life. Children also have great instincts for truth, and I hope you always trust your instincts. Some of us as adults swallow our questions and deny our instincts. That’s when we open ourselves to being drawn into a cult.

Yesterday I thought I was watching a cult when Samuda and Baugh, two persons from Golding’s party, say Golding would neither resign nor apologize for telling lies to the country. They said the whole party believes Golding and supports him. They said people were being unfair to Golding to ask him to go when he was innocent of doing anything wrong.

Sometimes adults create their own fairy tales, and then try to convince us that the fairy tales are true. If we ask too many questions, the adults might find ways to punish us, whether we are children or grown-ups. It takes courage to stand up against a cult, and I am happy to tell you that one person (so far), someone close to Golding, has been brave enough to think for himself, even if he is alone. He has said openly that Golding should apologize.

You need to ask questions always, my grandniece. You need to learn to trust your instincts and your judgment. You have a right to your thoughts, to your own opinion. I hope you always remember that you don't have to believe all you are told, no matter by whom.

You will find cults everywhere – at home, at school, and later at work. You will hear words like “loyalty”, and “team work”. Loyalty is important in relationships, and teamwork is important because we can do so much more together than we can do alone. However, you will know you are in a cult when you have to:

• follow exactly what the group tells you, without asking any questions;
• depend on the leader and defend him even if he hurts others or breaks the law;
• avoid any sign of disagreeing with the group; and
• dislike outsiders and say bad things about them.

When I was growing up, adults wanted children to be seen and not heard. When there were family quarrels, I was supposed to take my parents’ side even if no one told me what the fuss was about. If they didn’t like someone, I was supposed to dislike that person as well and even stop playing with their children. Sometimes families act like cults, and prepare us to fall in with cults when we are adults.

Traditionally, boys get some room to be independent, but girls are often under pressure to obey without question. I hope your world is different from the one I knew. At that time, many of us girls believed that we belonged to our parents when we were young, and would belong to our husbands when we got older. I was grown with children of my own before I realized that I could belong to myself.

So you can love your parents and your elders, and still disagree with them. Parents, teachers, and bosses are human, so they are allowed to be wrong. And you are also allowed to make mistakes; you are allowed to be wrong as well. As you will soon find out, we learn to walk by falling down.

I do not think Golding’s followers do him a favour by treating him as if he were a cult leader who can do no wrong. He might be better of if his followers loved him well enough to ask all their questions, and trust their instincts to know when he is telling them the truth. They could then be able to help themselves and all Jamaica by showing him where he went wrong, and helping him to correct his mistakes.

Zayda, you can be sure that I will support you in thinking for yourself, asking questions, trusting your instincts, and coming to your own conclusions. We pay a price for being wise, but an even greater price to allowing ourselves to be fooled.


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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