Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Not dwelling on mistakes

Aunt Ettie and me

People who love one another do not dwell on each other's mistakes. Kenya (Gikuyu)

Dear Zayda,

Your great-grandaunt, my Aunt Ettie, was born on this day in 1904. She lived fully till she was 96 years old. To me, she is an example of someone who did not dwell on mistakes whether made by others or by herself. So she freed herself to love others, and to enjoy life.

She loved to travel, and I learned a lot from the way she responded to when things (that most of us would call ‘bad’) happened to her on her trips. For example, once when she went to Miami, a hit-and-run driver hit her down. The accident left her with a fractured pelvis, and she had to remain with a relative in Miami till she was well enough to return to Jamaica.

Well, if I were waiting to hear Aunt Ettie complain, I would be still waiting. Did she have bad things to say about the driver who injured her? Never. Did she blame herself and decide to stop traveling? No. Did she tell herself that continuing to go on trips at her age (she was then in her eighties) was a mistake? Not at all.

Aunt Ettie loved herself too well to spend time blaming anyone. She just focused on getting better as quickly as she could. She was too upbeat for anyone to even whisper to her that bones of older persons didn’t heal quickly if at all. Her one concern was not seeming like an invalid. So she was relieved that the plane bringing her from Miami arrived at night so no one she knew could see her leave the plane in a stretcher. She always wanted to stand on her own feet.

When she was recovering, Aunt Ettie’s only talk was of the progress she made. So we had a celebration when she could move her toes and when she could bend her knees. The day she made it to the dining table was like Christmas Day for her. The accident took place in September, and by early November, Aunt Ettie was well enough to return to her own home. She lived by herself in a townhouse with stairs to climb, but she tackled those seeming obstacles with the courage that marked her life.

You many find, Zayda, that today many people go to all lengths to pick out and dwell on other persons' mistakes. What that hit-and-run driver did may have gone beyond just a ‘mistake’. The police could have charged him with a crime. At times, people also treat it as a crime if someone doesn’t say a word correctly, or cooks a meal that is not tasty, or wears a colour that is not in fashion. If people are looking for mistakes, they will find them. One of the main reasons is that we are only truly living when we make mistakes. That’s how we learn and grow. Just the same way as you are going to fall down a lot of times before you learn how to balance yourself on your legs.

Aunt Ettie showed how useless it is to blame others, even when bad things happen. Picking on others for their mistakes will make us unhappy. Picking on ourselves for our mistakes will make us even more unhappy. And who wants to be around unhappy people, except for other unhappy people?

So let us love ourselves just as we are, and love others just as they are. Perhaps then, as with Aunt Ettie, how we treat mistakes can make us bless the lives of all who can see us as love in action.


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.

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