Growing in Knowledge
A True Story
on Feb 24, 2021
Ever since I was in primary school in the '90s, I have always been an avid reader. I acquired that passion for reading thanks to my father who placed a premium on academic excellence. To make us excel in school, Dad bought us plenty of books, magazines and newspapers for us to read. And reading them, I did.
Unfortunately, my reading efforts were never fully reflected in my performance at school. Like when I was in Standard Five in 1998, I scored mediocre marks that made me the object of ridicule at home. That was in spite of the much studying that I did in my free time.
Never one to give up easily, I continued reading voraciously as my primary school years wore on. I not only read academic books but also such classics as Robinson Crusoe which riveted my imagination.
And when I got into Standard Eight in 2001, I studied even more so that I could pass with flying colours the national primary school exams known as KCPE. I remember dipping my feet into warm water to keep myself from dozing while reading late into the night on some days in 2001. On other days, I would wake up as early as 4.00am to do some private studying. Such was the diligence with which I prepared for my KCPE exams.
Given all the studying I did in 2001, I am sure I read more than any other KCPE candidate of that year. And there were more than half a million KCPE candidates in 2001. But guess what! When the 2001 KCPE results were released in late December that year, I didn't appear among the top 100 pupils in my province, which makes me wonder where all the knowledge I had read had gone.
But at least my reading efforts weren't in vain because I scored enough marks in KCPE to get into Starehe Boys' Centre, a prestigious institution in Nairobi where I had my high school as well as college education. When I entered Starehe, I continued studying diligently with the zeal of a he-goat on heat. And as was the case in primary school, my reading efforts were never fully reflected in my academic performance at Starehe. For how else can you explain that I never emerged among the top five students in my class in my entire high school career?
Yes, I used to read a lot during my primary and secondary school years. Sometime in 2001 as I was preparing for KCPE exams, my younger brother Symo suggested that the reason I wasn't excelling in school was due to the much reading that I did. One of my high school classmates named Rocky Mbithi echoed similar sentiments sometime in 2004 by telling me that reading a lot was making me confused.
Rocky must have had a point because after I left Starehe in April 2007, some of the people I met in church and at the university remarked on how confused I looked. Imagine after all the knowledge I amassed in Starehe, all I showed was not brilliance but confusion! It was such a disheartening experience.
Recently when I reflected on how I read a lot in those bygone years, I arrived at the conclusion that the knowledge I gained wasn't finding a home in my head, so to speak. It was like much of what got into my head while reading got out through the nose, ears and other body orifices. What's worse, the knowledge that remained in my head wasn't organized, hence the confusion that people saw in me.
When I talk of knowledge getting out of my head, I am reminded of another experience I had while I was revising for the SAT exams in 2009. Taking the SAT exams required that I absorb a lot of college-level vocabularies. I would drill the meanings of the vocabularies into my head, and then you know what? When taking sample SAT tests, I would bump into a vocabulary I had studied but be unable to recall its meaning. I had a memory like a sieve.
Despite all those setbacks, I have never given up on reading. I have kept devouring books, magazines and newspapers. But these days, I am making a conscious effort of letting the knowledge I gain find a home in my head and soul. I now agree with the great English philosopher John Locke who said, "Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours."
And why have I kept reading and acquiring knowledge? Because I believe the more knowledge we acquire, the happier and more peaceful our lives become. Also by growing in knowledge, we attract the opportunities that launch us to the lives of our dreams. Life becomes exciting when we apply our knowledge to our day-to-day living. The United States Air-force has it right when it says in its motto that "man's flight through life is sustained by the power of knowledge".
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on growing in knowledge, you might also enjoy another one I wrote two years ago on "Wisdom From a Cab Driver". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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Living Above Neurotic Guilt
A True Story
on Feb 19, 2021
While roaming the World Wide Web a couple of years ago, I came across an interesting blog article written by a 24-year old Kenyan female blogger. In the article, the blogger enumerated 24 lessons that she had learnt in her 24 years of living on this planet. As I read the lessons, I thought that that was too much wisdom coming from a 24-year old. I really was impressed and inspired by her article.
The lessons? Well, the ones I remember is her saying she had discovered God is real; she therefore advised people to trust in Him. She also said that everything in our lives will eventually work out, a lesson of hers that has instilled me with hope. And she encouraged young people to find their own voice instead of imitating others.
But the lesson of hers that stuck in me most was her claim that all people get corrupted at some point in life and begin experiencing neurotic guilt. That lesson has come as a surprise to me because I have thought the neurotic guilt I have suffered every now and then since 2009 has been as a result of the way I messed up when I was at the university in JKUAT.
Yes, I have suffered from neurotic guilt occasionally since that time in 2009 when I was dropping out of JKUAT where I had been pursuing a degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering. Sometimes the guilt has become so intense that I have become afraid of being seen by people in the streets.
Thankfully, for the past one year since I developed a disciplined lifestyle, I have almost succeeded in living a guilt-free life given the way I have been feeling at peace most of the time. I have used the word "almost" because I still do feel a minor guilt feeling on some evenings when I go for my daily walks to my hometown of Kiserian. I believe that I will soon overcome that minor guilt feeling through God's redeeming grace.
Over the last few days, I have thought long and hard on the tactics I can use to totally overcome neurotic guilt. And today, I have decided to share with you the tactics I came up with, hoping that you will also benefit from them.
First is silencing the inner critic. There is this voice inside our heads that tries to put us down by reminding ourselves of our weaknesses and past mistakes. As for me, I have resolved to silence that inner critic by speaking encouraging words to myself, like reminding myself of my strengths and past successes. And I know I will find lots of good things to say about myself to myself.
Second is developing a healthy self-love. We must love ourselves to be truly happy - and that's a point most people don't seem to understand. As for me, I will say some nice things about myself when I see my reflection on a mirror. Like how I am kind, compassionate and empathetic - qualities of the heart from which true self-worth stems.
And loving myself includes overlooking my imperfections. I will endeavor to remind myself that no one is perfect apart from God. So I will not be hard on myself for the imperfections I see in myself in my day-to-day living. I will appreciate myself as I am. Different ... yes. Imperfect ... certainly. But nonetheless valuable.
Third is not letting the negativity around me get inside my heart and weigh me down. I have heard it said that ships don't sink because of the waters around them; they sink when the water gets inside them. Similarly, I won't let the insults and complainings of my work colleagues and family members get into my heart and contribute to my guilt feelings.
And lastly is cushioning myself against the acid cruelty of the world: that is, the unkindness of others. This world is full of negative people who try to put us down at every turn. When I find myself the victim of such negative attacks, I will understand the problem is with the critic, not with myself.
Well, I admit some of the criticism we receive is fair and can be helpful to our growth. But much of the criticism is due to the pecking order of the society: others want to escape from their own insecurities by pointing out how they are better than us. The best way to deal with such unfair criticism is to ignore and forgive it, however hard that maybe, because if we don't, it might fuel our emotions of neurotic guilt.
As I strive to implement those tactics in my day-to-day living, I will adopt the attitude of Abraham Lincoln, the great American president who was elected on a Republican ticket. Lincoln was not such a handsome man. Had he lived in these media-crazy days when looks seem to matter more than character, he probably wouldn't win the Republican primary, much less the presidency. But Lincoln would have been happy anyway. He once said, "It's up to me to whittle what I can with what I've got. I am ready to admit you can make a better looking dog out of the same raw material, but what I am, I am. So this will just have to do." Adieu!
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on living above neurotic guilt, you might also enjoy another one I wrote about three years ago on "Slaying the Dragon of Guilt". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.