Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Monday, August 9, 2010

Independence means trusting yourself

His opinions are like water in the bottom of a canoe, going from side to side. (Efik)

Dear Zayda,

I imagine that you already have opinions of your own, deciding when you want to eat or when you have had enough to eat. Most of all, you probably have clear ideas on when you want to sleep and when you want to play. Babies are good at knowing what is on their minds. By the time we are grown up, however, many of us stop trusting out opinions. We may then change our mind depending on what the last person told us to do. This is when we go from side to side, confusing ourselves and others around us.

When I was a little girl, I learned this fable that was first told long long ago by Aesop who was an African.

An old farmer and his young son were taking their donkey to the market. The two of them walked along a path with the donkey beside them. They didn’t ride the donkey because they didn’t want the animal to get tired.

On their way, they met some people who laughed at them.

“You and your son are so foolish,” they said. “Why are you both walking when at least one of you could ride the donkey?”

The farmer thought those people were right, and he made his son ride the donkey. They went on a bit further and met a group of older persons.

“You are so foolish,” they said to the farmer. “How could you let your young son ride the donkey while you walk? Tell him to get down and let you ride instead.”

So the son got off the donkey and his father rode the animal. A little further along the path, they came across a group of women going to market.

“You are foolish and hard-hearted,” they said to the father. “How could you ride the donkey and leave your poor son to walk?”

The father then made his son ride behind him on the donkey. They had not traveled far when they met another group of people.

“You are cruel,” a man shouted at them. “How could you treat a dumb animal like that? Do you want to kill the poor donkey with all that weight?”

By this time, the market was close by, and the farmer wanted to get a good sale for the donkey. So he and his son decided to carry the donkey the rest of the way. They tied the donkey’s legs together and slung it from a pole that they hoisted on their shoulders.

When they reached the town, people laughed at the sight of these two men carrying a donkey.

“You are both so foolish,” the people said. “Don’t you know the donkey is supposed to carry you?”

The people laughed so hard that the donkey started to bray and kick. The rope that held him to the pole broke, and the donkey ran away. So the farmer and his son walked back home without the donkey and without the money from the sale of the donkey.

My grandniece, we can’t please all the people all the time. We can’t have opinions that go from side to side like water in the bottom of a canoe. We need to be open to changing our opinions, but not just because other people think differently. And we also need to know which views are not open to change because we hold them so deeply and for reasons that are important to us.


Your shangazi


CPA2010 said...

Yes indeed, we cant please everyone..We just have to stick to our opinions.

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

Thanks for your feedback on my blog post. My view is that we do not allow people's approval to determine our opinions. We can trust ourselves to judge when an opinion needs to be held or changed. What do you think?



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