Back in 2011, two lady-friends of mine named Ruth and Susan, with whom I served in a choir at All Saints' Cathedral in Nairobi, took me to an up-scale restaurant for a talk. I hadn't been attending choir consistently for more than year and they were eager to hear from me what I had been up to. As we began our conversation, I mentioned to them that I was a votary of President John F. Kennedy. (I still am.)
"Why do you admire him?" Ruth asked.
Then I quickly replied, "Because he was a wise, young and charismatic president."
Well, I can't recall when I first heard of President Kennedy or how I came to admire him. All I remember was the way I quoted him in an argument I was having with my volleyball team-mates at Starehe some time in 2003 as we debated on who would travel to Kisumu for the national championships which we had just qualified to attend. Using President Kennedy's words, I challenged the team-mates by saying, "Ask not what the team can do for you but what you can do for the team."
Later on in 2007 when I became interested in public-speaking, I came to love President Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address which was voted as the second best speech of the 20th Century. I would listen to it again and again whenever I was alone and in high spirits.
I can still recite some lines from that famous inaugural address, like President Kennedy asking Americans to join him in fighting "the four common enemies of man: poverty, disease, tyranny and war itself."
When I matriculated at JKUAT that same year in 2007, I came across Theodore White's The Making of the President in the university library which had a cover-page photo of President Kennedy looking calm and composed. I came to like that photo so much that I would view it most times I visited the library.
Over the years since my JKUAT days, I have read more about President Kennedy from books, magazines and newspaper. And from those readings, I learnt that there was one virtue he loved and admired most: that is courage.
So much did President Kennedy admire courage that he wrote a book about it titled Profiles in Courage which became a best-seller and won him a Pulitzer Prize. He narrated in the book about the experiences of men who demonstrated great courage in times of national crisis. I read that book when I was at the University of Nairobi in 2011, so I know what I am talking about.
When I reflect on the stories of men who demonstrated courage as narrated by Kennedy in his book, I am left wondering how it is that I have been afraid to demonstrate courage in my everyday experiences. I have nonetheless resolved to work on my muscle of courage especially in the following day-to-day instances:
- Speaking up against intimidation and bullying
- Saying "no" firmly, politely and unambiguously especially to friends
- Standing up against enemies as well as friends when they err
- Speaking against unacceptable talk and behaviour
- Defending personal decisions
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on developing courage, you might also enjoy another one I wrote some time back on "Cultivating Love." Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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Lessons From Ngong Hills
I can still remember that day I climbed Ngong Hills with my schoolmates at Noru-Moru Primary School way back in 1999. That day, I woke up early eager for the adventure which had been organized by some of our teachers in the school.
Before heading for Corner Baridi (a place on the Southern foot of Ngong Hills where we were to converge), I packed a bottle of soda and bread into my bag. Then I went to the home of one of my class-mates named George Gitonga to pick him up so that we could walk to Corner Baridi together.
I arrived at Corner Baridi with Gitonga in time. After waiting for all school-mates to arrive, we began our hike through the hills.
Now, Ngong Hills consist of a series of hills that make a ridge. That day, as it is the case with all climbers, we ascended and descended each of those hills like a yo-yo. And wa! What a taxing task climbing those hills turned out to be!
I recall vividly of me getting exhausted at having to climb some of those steeply hills and looking forward to when I would be done with ascending and start descending. And, believe it or not, I also found descending some of those hills equally taxing.
Fortunately for me that day, the daunting journey through the hills was spiced up by my love feelings for Veronicah Kitmet, a beautiful and attractive classmate I secretly admired. Imagine as we climbed the hills, I occasionally felt like turning back to carry her on my shoulders. You can call me naughty if you like, but I am telling you the truth.
After what seemed like an eternity of ascending and descending the hills, we arrived safely in the afternoon at Ngong Town, which is on the Northern foot of the hills, where we partook whatever we had carried for lunch. As for me, I had carried a bottle of soda and bread as I have already told you.
For quite a number of years, I often felt I never had another day in which I walked as much as I did that day we climbed Ngong Hills. And today, as I reflected on that adventure, I have discovered that it bears resemblance with real life on a number of aspects.
First, like climbing Ngong Hills, we are always experiencing ups and downs as we journey through life. The ups are those moments of excitement we feel when we achieve something. The downs are those moments of pain, conflict and disillusionment we often feel once in a while. As I have told you, Ngong HIlls are made up of a series of hills which have to be ascended and descended. So how does that relate to real life? That when we are feeling low, we are just at the right moment to taste our next victory.
Secondly, climbing Ngong Hills requires that you carry some snacks to eat. In life, we also need education if we are to endure the ups and downs with satisfaction.
Thirdly, we fare much better in life if we have someone to love and share experiences just like the way my love feelings for Veronicah Kitmet spiced up the taxing journey through the hills.
The last lesson I can deduce from climbing Ngong Hills is about enjoying the little pleasures of life. The hills provide a spectacular view of the Great Rift Valley which climbers are free to savour as they hike through them. In life too, there are many little pleasures for us to enjoy: music, books, food, sports, movies, sunsets - just to mention but a few. My advice to you is, as you journey though the ups and downs of life, take time to enjoy those little pleasures. They may end up making a big difference in the quality of your life. Adieu!