Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Using Internet to heal not damage

One who damages the character of another damages his own. (Yoruba)

Dear Zayda,

I was excited when I was first connected to the Internet. Sure my connection took forever in those dial-up days, but it was all magical for me then. This was my chance to make Marcus Garvey’s dream come true. I believed that people of similar mind would come together, share their dreams, and create a family that would bring about peace and prosperity. I still believe that day can come, perhaps when we learn to use the Internet more to heal than to damage.

The first Internet group I joined was formed by Black activists. We all seemed united in wanting to fulfill Garvey’s mission. In one spot we could reach brothers and sisters from the US, Canada, Europe, and Africa. I imagined I would learn as much from them as they would learn from me. And together we would build a world in which Black people would respect each other, respect themselves, and be respected.

This group led me to some lasting relationships. I developed a sisterhood with Askhari, and we went on to become fellow writers, writing partners, and business partners. The downside of the list was the anger people showed to each other. Members and fellow activists turned their energies against each other. People damaged themselves while trying to damage others. Worst of all was the damage done to the cause we all said we believed in.

Too much character damage continues to take place on the Internet. To me, the abuse on message boards and networking sites like Facebook shows the number of people who damage their characters by their Internet posts. In the days before the Internet, character damage would spread by word of mouth, by hand-written letters, or by phone calls that were usually too costly for casual chat. Today, the damage can spread in seconds, with just one click of the mouse.

In the days before the Internet, people could see each other’s faces or hear each other’s voices. The Internet today allows people to post messages without letting anyone know their real identity. It is easier to be nasty to people we do not know and who will never know who we are.

But the same tool that can damage can also heal. Your mom and dad will teach you that lesson about about fire and about knives. Besides, if we turn around this Yoruba proverb, we can see that those who seek to heal will also be healed. This is the law of sowing and reaping.

I have just become active on Skype, Zayda, so the Internet is about to allow me to see you on real time. All I have had so far are your pictures and your voice when you babble to me in our conversations. But we are about to come face to face, showing the power of the Internet to bring people together as well as divide them.

The Internet is likely to play a much greater part in your world than in mine. I hope for you that you will use it to pursue Marcus Garvey’s dream of a world of greater peace and justice for our people. I hope you will understand the power of the Internet to damage, but that you will always use it to heal.


Your shangazi Nothango (Yvonne)

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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