NEW POSSIBILITIES

A feast for the eyes and the palate to welcome you into 2020

The New Year gives each one of us an opportunity to start afresh while at the same time aiming at doing more and doing better.

Oprah Winfrey once said: “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”

 The big picture of your life and mine comes to us piecemeal year by year. This explains why we have to look at the passing year closely before planning for the New Year. I have had to assess whether I was able to achieve the goals that I set for myself for this year and the progress I made towards advancing my overall purpose in life. I know that I should have done better in some areas and in others; things were beyond my control. I am now determined to use the lessons I have learned from my failures to improve my future, as for the achievements, they point me toward bigger goals in the years to come. They say that Experience is the best teacher.

As I write this post, a quote by an unknown author keeps coming to me: “Set your goals high enough to inspire you and low enough to encourage you.”
Unrealistic goals put you on pressure and lead to frustration.
For the last seven years, I have been a keen Follower of Michael Hyatt, the renowned American life coach and Virtual mentor. He advises each one of us to plan for the year as planning gives us clarity and helps us to make progress to achieving the goals. The three elements of the plan are:


1. The Vision- this is the big picture of your life and it should inspire and inform your plan. Each one of us is born with the power to create, transform and heal. What is most critical is that your vision conforms to who you are at a deep level and what your life, at best, should really be about. Look within yourself to identify your unique gifts, talents and skills and then use them to create your own ideal life. Having a vision of the future stretches your sense of possibilities and brings you closer to achieving your own ideal life. A positive but realistic projection of the future frees us to enjoy the present and to make our dreams come true. The vision should be very concrete so that it becomes real to us. You are free to fake it until you make it.

2.The Priorities- the most important things in your life that advance your personal development and fulfillment.
We live in a fast-paced, competitive world and many demands are made on us. It is vital that we consistently apply the 80/20 Rule of Time Management: prioritize the 20% most important things in your life and devote 80% of your time, energy, efforts and resources on them. It is the only way to stop the ‘Urgent’ from drowning out the most important activities that advance your overall purpose in life.

Life is too short. Do stuff that matters.”-  Siqi Chen

The priorities change as we grow but essentially they are: family, career, health, finances and relationships.

3. The Actions- the steps to be taken to fulfill your priorities.

Dante Alighieri rightly said: “The secret of getting things done is to act.”

 These are the goals and are better laid out using the SMART acronym:
S- Our goals should be Specific
M- should be Measurable( year-long)
A- should be Actionable
R- should be Realistic.
T- should be Time bound.

The above three elements of the year plan should be aligned together.

I have always had to remind myself that I am in control of my life. It fuels my determination to follow things through to achieve my vision and stay motivated to reach my goals. I must admit that this year my greatest weakness has been procrastination- the Thief of Dreams. I have had to fight fiercely to beat it. I had to encourage myself to stick to the deadlines and to ask my eldest son to hold me accountable.
I would urge you to believe in yourself and encourage yourself by rewarding yourself for the achievements. Be smart to let go of what no longer serves you and pick what really fits who you now are. This is the only way you can be yourself and let yourself have what you truly want.

Interestingly, I have had to take off my hat many times to Vuvu Mpofu, the newest opera singer star at the annual Glyndebourne Festival Opera of UK. She comes from a small town in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She first heard of opera at the age of fifteen when she watched a Mozart aria at a school concert. It cast such a strong spell on her that she bought two opera DVDs and taught herself to sing by mimicking singers in the DVDs. She did it over and over again until she became confident and competent to be noticed by a voice coach. Last August, she was chosen to participate in this traditional summer event. At twenty eight years of age, she became the first non-British artist to win the John Christie Award for the most promising young singer of the year.

I have watched her videos on YouTube and I have been blown away!

 With her vocal extraordinary talent, she is really going places.

This is what I call faking it until you become it.

I hope that reading this post has given you the confidence to make Smarter goals for 2020 , making it different from 2019. I wish you happiness, good health and prosperity in the New Year.

QUESTION:

Were you able to accomplish the goals you set for yourself for 2019?

What was your biggest hurdle? How did you overcome it?

A SEASON FOR GIVING

Christmas is once again here with us.

A  SEASON FOR GIVING

The end-of –the –year festive season is fast approaching and before we know it, we shall be singing Christmas carols, attending church services, feasting and exchanging gifts with loved ones. I only hope that the true meaning of Christmas to any Believer will not be lost in the merry making.

The birth of Jesus is a free gift from our Father; given to us out of his love. Jesus was later to die at the cross for our sins so that we could have eternal life. For as Jesus rightly said: If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free.

 Just as I was thinking about giving and sharing, I found myself singing The Twelve Days of Christmas song. It is an old English Christmas carol (1780) which I was taught in junior school some donkey’s years ago! In this song a generous person sends a gift to his true love each day for the twelve days of Christmas – from the 25th December to the 6th January and the gifts become increasingly grand as the days go by. I surprised myself by remembering all the twelve gifts though I have not sang this song for more than ten years!

Can you imagine receiving a gift from your true love each day for twelve days? I would probably walk on cloud nine or walk around as if I owned the world. For the love he feels in his heart would be driving him to send those twelve gifts. Amy Wilson Carmichael, an Irish Protestant missionary in India said:

You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.’’

I laughed out loud and then I got the idea of writing this post just to remind ourselves of the importance of giving and sharing what we have all the year round. It is not the gift that I give that is important but the reason of why I give. You give because you want to and you give out of the love and concern in your heart for the person you give. This also makes us understand why the best gifts that a parent can give to a child cannot be found in any shop simply because they are too priceless: namely love and prayers from your heart.

Those of us who read the Bible cannot forget the Widow’s offering of two little copper coins into the temple treasury while the rich people dropped what they had to spare of their riches. I also remembered that the poor and needy are always among us throughout the 365 days of the year so they need to be shown our loving kindness every day not just during the twelve days of Christmas.

This was ingrained in me by my late father at a tender age. There was a time when our home had the only telephone in the village ( compare with the present time of mobile phones). It became the public phone to use for all emergencies in the village: to call a father at work to come home to take a sick child to the hospital, to call a father at work to attend to a child sent away from school due to unpaid fees, to call the Fire brigade to attend to a house on fire or kill a python at someone’s home. Thankfully, the service was never abused for the emergencies were genuine. My father never charged for this service for all those years. He provided the service out of concern and love for his many neighbours.

My favourite writer Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese born American writer and philosopher said, “You give most when you give of yourself- your time, efforts and energy.”

I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and saw that life is all service. I served and saw that service is joy.’’

My father made time to serve gladly with Uganda Red Cross Society, YMCA, Lions’ Club, Uganda Boys’ Scouts Association, The Bible Society and many School boards. Up to today I cannot figure out how he managed to get the hours to serve wholeheartedly during the 24 hours of the day! Surprisingly, he had time to play games with us and to supervise us do our holiday homework and even watch whether you held the pen properly!

For all the festive seasons we spent deep in the village, my father would order a cow or two slaughtered then have small packages neatly wrapped in banana leaves sent to all his neighbours. He was not looking for their votes; he just wanted to share what he had with them. He understood that by giving to others , you live a meaningful life. Winston Churchill, a former Prime Minister of Britain once said that:  “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

I have also come up with my own simple ways of giving to the needy for if I do not do it ; I would me dishonoring my father’s memory.

As one of King Solomon’s proverbs says : “Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their lives.”

Giving gladly is a form of ‘Double’ currency in that it enriches both the receiver and the giver. I have experienced this first hand; for some years until the children flew the nest, together we would collect and sort out toys, books and items of clothing and shoes they had outgrown and I would take them to the nearest orphanage or SOS Village. When I close my eyes now, I can see the big smiles on the administrators’ faces as I handed them the items. Much later when I would see a child wearing any of those items; I would smile to myself out of the joy in my heart.

May we all learn to give gladly to the poor and needy throughout the year not only at Christmas time.

Wishing you all a peaceful, joyful Christmas and a prosperous 2020. May it turn out to be your best year yet.

QUESTION:

Love is what it does. How has the love in your heart made you give and share gladly what you have with others?

I THOUGHT I NEEDED LESS TO BE HAPPY AND CONTENT UNTIL………..

Being surrounded by loved ones often, gives long term fulfillment.


I thought that as I grew older, I needed less to be more happy and content. I had come to believe like Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that less is more: less decoration properly deployed , has more impact than a lot of it. The same way a makeup artist  believes that light make up makes the individual features more prominent. I have been reading widely about happiness and life satisfaction and to my shock and amazement,the psychologists are telling me that I am wrong: what makes one happy and content does not vary much with age but some of the contributing factors to life satisfaction may change with age.

Kahlil Gibran once said: “To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction , is to live twice.” 

According to the psychologists, happiness is  a state of living an enjoyable, meaningful , rewarding and exciting life. It is born out of a deep satisfaction with one’s relationships with others, surroundings, accomplishments and oneself.

Some psychologists like Martin Seligman of USA think that happiness has 3 distinct elements:

  1. The pleasant life- having fun, joy and excitement in life. Having as many as positive emotions as you can as you go through your day- to- day activities.
  2. The good life – achieved by  identifying your unique skills and abilities and applying them to enhance your life and others. You cannot engage fully with life until you find out who you are- your strengths and flaws. You then apply this knowledge to find the great story of your life.Secure in this knowledge you are less likely to be confused by the inessentials or be pulled down or manipulated by others.
  3. The meaningful life-  involves a deep sense of fulfillment that comes from using your talents to make a difference in the world around you.Living your genuine story makes you feel deeply satisfied  and gives meaning to your life. No life no matter how successful and exciting it might be, will make you happy , if it is not really your life. No life will make you miserable if it is genuinely your own.

The happiest people tend to pursue a full life encompassing these 3 elements.

It should be noted that each of our individual journeys is  intimately interwoven with the journeys of family members, friends and co-workers. The steps I take toward becoming truly myself affect them in the same way the steps they take affect me.

Mahatma Gandhi once said:  Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Extensive research done over the years has shown that age is related to happiness but  happiness is not related to gender. Life satisfaction tends to increase as people get older.

A growing child needs to feel safe and secure in a home, loved and valued by the parents. He/she needs to be surrounded by happy loving parents and people. As emotions are contagious, children who are given much love and care in their childhood learn to be kind to  themselves and then go out to love other people and animals.They grow up very optimistic ; resilient and can face life’s bigger challenges better.

The teenagers in any given population, are going through a period of rapid changes and transformation towards becoming  adults. During this transitional period, the part of the brain that controls emotions and motivation  and directs behavior to meet the challenges of their environment or weigh risks and rewards is not yet fully developed. Therefore, the teenagers cannot  direct and control their behavior and they feel happy if they are able to fit in with their peers and be accepted by them. Any rejection by their peers can push a teenager into terrible misery or even mental illness. Available scientific reports show that 50% of all mental illnesses in the USA begin by the age of 14 and 75% occur by mid 20s. Teenagers need affirmation , approval and acknowledgement. They need to feel loved and valued. If a child is good at something, he/she needs appreciation. This demands that parents, teachers should assist children to develop positive emotions.

The psychologists  who have studied positive psychology- the study of happiness and well being have identified a number of factors that consistently relate to happiness and fulfillment  in young adults and and older adults. They include:

  • Positive affect-  focusing on your individual positive traits: your strengths and virtues.

Optimism- expecting the best outcome in any situation. This positive frame of mind helps you see new opportunities, learn from different situations and keep  moving forward.

  •   Flow-  A mental state of well being achieved by being involved in an activity to the point where you feel you lose yourself in the activity, effortlessly maintain concentration and focus and feel in complete control of your action and time seems to pass more quickly than usual. 

No one is completely happy all the time, encouraging one to experience these three contributes to life satisfaction.

For the older adults,the psychologists have identified  six main factors related to happiness and contentment:

  1. Strong healthy relationships with loved ones- you learn relationship skills that help you make responsible decision making.
  2. Fulfillment from work- It pushes you to want to be more and do much more.
  3. Satisfaction with physical health- exercises optimises your brain’s ability to learn. It helps you  regulate your emotions.
  4.  Happiness with your romantic life
  5. Content with your personal growth
  6.  6. Secure in spirituality or religion

Greater life satisfaction makes us feel happier and helps us to enjoy life more. All in all, it has a positive impact on our health and well-being.

In the elderly, the need for life satisfaction remains relatively high though the illnesses associated with old age; aches and pains may reduce one’s engagement in life. Older adults  have weathered many storms of life and tend not to place more value on things and status like the young people. Instead, they place more value on family relationships and other genuine relationships which give them long-term fulfillment in their lives. It has been observed that happy people tend to have more friends, more high -quality social relationships and strong social support networks than less happy people.

 The illusion that I needed less to be happy and content developed after my sixtieth birthday. I had observed that I derived more joy and fulfillment by just spending time with family and genuine , old friends. I also observed that I could get a natural high by simply immersing myself into creative writing. I could effortlessly maintain my concentration and focus, felt in control of the action and time seemed to be passing quickly. It is a pleasant experience which requires me to use my skills, knowledge and passion. At that moment in time, I feel happy and fulfilled.

Digging deeper into the psychology of happiness and contentment  has helped me understand that the main factors contributing to my happiness and contentment have more or less remained the same but it is the value that I attach to each of those factors that have changed as I grew older!

I have to admit that it has indeed been a rude awakening! It has helped me to appreciate more that learning is a lifelong process. The more I learn the more I get to understand myself , the people around me and my environment. The wisdom of old age is pushing me to search for the reality behind appearances and  is opening me to the deeper truth about life.

QUESTION:

What activity is giving you the flow experience at this moment in time? How has this experience changed over the years?

TAKING RISKS

Mother barnacle gosling teaching her chicks to fly.

Image from Unsplash.com

                                          

On the 30th September 2019, twenty- five- year- old , Halima Nakaayi, of Uganda , won the Women’s 800 metres  finals at the Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar. It was the 17th IAAF Athletics World Championships. Nakaayi, the simple girl from a small town, Mukono, had overtaken Ajee Wilson of USA, the obvious favourite to win the title. Nakaayi was considered as an outsider; having never run in a world Championship or Olympic final.

I stood up and cheered wildly as she crossed the line. I was intrigued by this young woman who had won us the first medal at the IAAF Athletics World Championships.  I ended up reading her life’s journey to that magical moment. She first competed in the World Youth championships in 2011 later she competed in the Commonwealth Youth games as a middle-distance runner. She has kept on training hard and competing to perfect her race. Just like everyone else, she has had some good and bad days.

 Her unique story got me thinking about the risks and sacrifices that we have to make to continue moving forward and to get what we want in life. This is why I am now writing about Taking Risks.

Wikipedia.org defines risk as the potential for uncontrolled loss of something of value.

Values like physical health, social status, emotional well- being or financial wealth can be gained or lost when taking risk resulting from a given action or inaction, foreseen or unforeseen.

Every day we take risks as we go about things with the intention of achieving our goals and dreams. We take risks to move forward and get where we want to be.

Mark Zuckerberg, the co- founder and Chief Executive Officer of Facebook once said: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that changes really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

And the Writer, Christy Raedeke also emphasised the significance of taking risks in our lives when she said: “ If there is no risk, there is no reward.”

Risk is part of life and yet most of us fear to take risks out of fear to fail and this hinders us from pursuing and living our dreams. Every decision each individual makes every day including the decision to do nothing, carries some element of risk. The best thing is to focus on the opportunity other than exaggerate the riskiness of the decision

The psychologists advise us to take small risks before taking a big one. Taking small, measured risk-taking behavior increases our confidence and self- efficacy. As our confidence builds up, we become less afraid of failure or risks.

Sometimes, I have had to admit that the fear was not as risky as it seemed. After all, great success is built on many failures; the lessons learned from the failure inform your next decision about the issue at hand.

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric bulb failed 999 times before getting it right. Being an optimistic person, when a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?’’ Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

As taking risks is normal animal behavior ,the psychologists have studied it and come out with the benefits of taking  risks:

  1. Taking a risk causes the release of the hormone Adrenaline from the adrenal glands at the top of each kidney and some neurons , into the blood. Adrenaline prepares the body to react quickly to the threat or danger: the heart  beats faster, the blood flow to the brain and muscles is increased and the cells are stimulated to make more sugar available for use for fuel. The sudden release of Adrenaline makes you feel high and it is what is known as the ‘Adrenaline high’. At that moment in time you can either fight or run away from the danger.
  2. Taking a risk also releases Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that transmits signals in between the nerve cells of the brain. Dopamine is the ‘feel good ‘ factor which makes us happy and motivated as we go through life.  It controls emotions and cognition.

The sudden release of these two chemicals that cause a  natural high also helps to ward off depression. Studies have proven that risk taking in small doses is almost universally beneficial for our brains and mental health.  However, the natural high can become addictive to some people.

The psychologists keep reminding us:

  • that each risk taken has potential consequences and that some risks are not worth taking.
  • An individual’s willingness to take risks varies across age and situations
  • Individuals have risk preferences- a mountain climber may find it difficult to take a financial risk- to invest his money into the stock market other than keep it in a simple saving account. Risk preference is a form of characteristic traits.

The willingness to take risks starts early in childhood- boys tend to engage in greater risk taking than the girls. Children take risks by trying to do scary things. They do so to get a thrill out of it and but in the process, they gain confidence, learn and grow.

Studies done by the psychologists show that there are 6 categories of risks that attract children everywhere as they play:

1. Great heights- climbing trees, walls so as to see things from a vantage point. It gives them the thrill to say, “I did it.’’

2. Super speeds.  Racing down a hill in a toy car just for the thrill of it.

3. Dangerous tools- playing with knives, farm machinery. They get the thrill of being in control.

4. Dangerous elements- playing with fire or water. It pauses some danger but feels good doing it.

5. Rough and Tumble- chasing each other or wrestling. They know it could hurt but at the end the child will have acquired the skill.

6. Wandering off- getting lost, playing hide and seek in new territories that could even be dangerous, to enjoy that thrill.

Many young mammals also enjoy risky play: puppies try to wander off from the mother to explore, young monkeys swing from branches of trees. They chase one another around and play fighting. They are aware that it could cause injury but they do it to get the thrill of doing it. It is self-chosen, thrilling play.

I grew up in a big family where the girls were even more than the boys. Our parents were strict disciplinarians who spelled out the limits to us but on many occasions we willingly stretched the limits by climbing very tall trees, riding on the neighbour’s motorcycle and swimming into pools of muddy water. Most times we got away with it but on the few times we were caught, we were punished appropriately.

All in all, we found out that the benefits outweighed the risks; we grew up to be confident and emotionally strong. Now at my age I know for sure that I have to continue taking risks in life and to encourage the young ones to do so.  If I win, I can lead and if I lose I can still guide others.

Studies in laboratory animals like rats have clearly shown  that overprotection of the young ones turns them into emotionally crippled adults; not knowing what to do in unfamiliar or new environments.

The same thing applies to overprotected children who are denied free risky play by parents who believe that they are protecting them. They tend to grow up into children with mental disorders. The psychologists therefore advise parents to set limits according to age but then allow children to play freely and play risky without adult control. The children will gain trust and responsibility, become more confident and emotionally strong. Children know how far they can go and what risks they are not ready for so it is the parents themselves who have to learn to be trusting and tolerant.

The Adolescence( 10-24) years.

 Many of us have been there and done that during this period of rapid changes and transformation. The Adolescent period is the period when boys and girls engage in risky activities like: reckless driving , alcohol and drug abuse, and risky sexual behaviour  at the most. The female and male hormones flowing in their bodies, cause physical, emotional , intellectual and social changes. The brain begins to mature: organize and regulate impulses. The brain development is completed by the age of 25 years. It is influenced by hereditary, environment and the sex hormones.

 Since the invention of the Magnetic Resonance Imaging(MRI), a medical diagnostic technique in 1977, it has been used to study how the brain develops to maturity. With the MRI ,a  picture of any part of the body can be made if the body is exposed to an electromagnetic field.

MRI studies of the brain demonstrate the developmental changes between 10-24 years of age, in the white and grey brain matter. The Prefrontal Cortex which controls our emotions and motivation and directs and controls behavior in order to meet the challenges of the environment is the last area of the brain to mature. Before it matures, adolescents cannot direct and control their behavior to meet the challenges of their environment or weigh risks and rewards- they have no sense of self –regulation. This explains why the teenagers focus more on the rewards of peers than from adults; turning to their peers for help mainly for social inclusion. This increases their chances of engaging in risky behavior. Adolescents take more risks than any other age group to explore themselves and their environment.

The role of the parents and teachers is to engage with the teenagers and offer them the correct information about the changes and transformations going on in their lives. They have to engage teenagers in all areas of their lives, listening, offering suggestions and guidance. The adolescents should be allowed to make mistakes and to learn from their own experiences. Setting limits for peer interaction and supervising them can limit opportunities for risky behavior.

After the age of 25, the willingness to engage in risky activities declines after gaining the ability to self-regulate. As we continue to grow, we acquire more skills for assessing risk through our own experiences and those around us. We learn that risk taking is good for everyone and we work towards minimizing the risk of losing. We consider the profits and losses but still focus on winning. Over time we all learn to live with acceptable risks. We learn the process of making good risk decisions by :

  • Thinking for yourself- use your common sense to reach a conclusion and move forward.
  • Take one risk at a time- it builds your confidence for bigger risks. You will become bolder and braver every day.
  • Do not put everything on the line- time and money in one venture.
  • You create your own safety standards, setting limits and timelines. It is your life to live and live fully.

For those of us who read the Bible, the parable of the three servants who were entrusted with money has a lot to teach us in our time. The one who received five thousand coins doubled it and was promoted to handle larger amounts while the one who received one thousand coins buried them  in the ground had them taken away and given to the one who had doubled his.

A life without taking risks is stagnant and boring. I would rather get bruised other than find myself at my deathbed saying, “ If Only I  had…………………..

Or asking myself, “ How would my life have turned out if I had……….

Jim Rohn once said: “If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.”

No doubt , our young woman from Mukono , Uganda, must have taken numerous risks to end up winning us the first gold at the IAAF Athletics World Championships. I take off my hat to you!

QUESTION: 

Have you undertaken a big risk in your life recently? Did the worst that you feared happen? Did the outcome change your life for the better?

SOMEONE TO LOOK UP TO

An African Mother elephant with its baby.
The photo is from Unsplash.com

Some years back, I attended a wedding of a young couple where the groom’s speech left his father a humbled and incredibly happy and fulfilled man.

The groom had said with great appreciation, “As far as I can remember, I‘ve always wanted to grow up and be like my father. He loves and respects my mother and always consults her about almost everything. He regards her as the most important person in his life and is always ready and willing to do things for her. That’s what I want to be to my dear wife.”

Six years and two sons down the line, he has loved his wife and children and they are all as happy as they can be. Becoming what you want to be is a lifetime process that requires focus and intention. Every single day that dawns, you are becoming that person.

To this young man, his father was his role model: he had values, principles and practices that the son admired and he was motivated to become like him.  The psychologists tell us that our parents especially the same-sex parent has the biggest influence on a child’s development and the influence lasts for a lifetime. The groom’s journey to becoming a loving, caring and generous husband had started in his childhood!

Humans actively learn from each other and one Bible proverb tells us that: Iron sharpens iron.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary defines a role model as: a person you admire and try to copy.

Parents are the child’s primary role models. When you start school, then the teachers are added on this list followed by any other person in your community whom you consider competent and an achiever and carries herself/himself with respect. The most visible in our environment like athletes and actors tend to drive many people to become the best they can be. The role models teach us to identify our true potentials and how to strive to make use of them fully.

Among the many are:

Stephen Kiprotich, the winner of the Men’s Marathon during the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Phiona Mutesi , known as the Queen of Katwe, the young international Chess player from the slums of Katwe in Kampala.

The late Rotarian Sam Owori whose passion to serve others helped him leave Uganda a better place than he found it.

Usain Bolt, the 9-time Olympic gold medalist.

Lenin Moreno, the 44th President of Ecuador who is also known as the “the President in a wheelchair.”

Malala Youssafzai, the 15-year-old year-old Pakistan girl who defied the notorious Talibans by standing up for the education of girls. She survived an assassination attempt in 2012 and went on to become the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014

The other side of the coin is that there are also negative role models who demonstrate harmful and disruptive behavior in our communities. They influence us to accept negative behavior as normal in our society thus bringing out the worst in each one of us.

One famous quote spells this out: “Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate.” Anonymous.

Positive role models bring out the best in each one of us. They are badly needed by all young people as they struggle to develop their own identities. The psychologists tell us that each one of us has the responsibility to act in ways that make the world a better place. We cannot contribute to making the world a better place unless we know who we really are: our strengths and weaknesses and embrace them fully. We use our strengths to lead and excel and the same time use them to improve our weaknesses where possible.

There are two ways in which one can find her/his true identity:

  • By finding and following what you love- in this respect one is guided by the positive role models in the world around us. In them we see what we want in our lives and they demonstrate, motivate and inspire us to become what we want to be.
  • By being totally different- These take pride in their uniqueness and their indomitable spirits turns them into Trail Blazers. These include people like Emeritus Professor Josephine Nambooze, the first Ugandan woman doctor and Engineer Proscovia Njuki, the first Ugandan woman engineer. Professor Nambooze had to transfer to an All boys school to continue with the science subjects she needed to pass to join the only medical school of the time while engineer Njuki was the only student in her A-level Mathematics and Physics class in an All girls school!

Role models help us to find our own identity and strength, open up possibilities for getting what we want in life. They empower us to chart our own career paths. We learn from them and take responsibility for our own lives.

Since childhood I had wanted to care and help people and somehow I felt I could achieve this by becoming a medical doctor. In the late 1960’s , when Dr. Alex Sempa  who happened to be an old girl of my school , became the second woman medical doctor after Dr. Josephine Nambooze, my future was more less sealed. I just wanted to be like Dr. Sempa. From that time, I trusted myself that if I worked hard and smart, I would become a doctor. Later, when I met her in person, she became my idol. She offered me an insight into the realities of being a doctor. In today’s jargon I would say from that day, I started faking it until I made it.

When I joined the Makerere University Faculty of Medicine, and Dr. Josephine Nambooze was one of our senior lecturers in Public Health, it pushed me into wanting to live my dream so badly that I worked extremely hard and smart to achieve it.

My role model didn’t tell me, he showed me.” Anonymous

I grew up in a different world where a child was brought up by the whole village. Today’s children operate in their own world where the internet has shrunk the world into a global village. In this Global Village, things are changing all the time and fast too and the environment is generally competitive and harsh. The students have many options and sometimes they are spoilt for choice so they need more guidance than our generation; they need more role models.

We are all ‘Works in Progress’ needing modeling and reshaping.

Adults also need role models to push them from mediocrity and develop into greats. Positive role models are human just like any of us; facing problems and obstacles in life but they strive to overcome them. Observing them and sharing their experiences ignites the same passion towards life.

Whenever we receive motivation, inspiration and mentorship from these role models it gives us the responsibility to become positive role models for the young generation. This is what keeps the conversation going- one generation lending to the other.

By the lives we live and how we behave and carry ourselves in our communities, we are influencing many people around us especially the young ones. May we all strive to be positive role models who will leave the world better than we found it.

Looking back, my best role models who turned me into an all- round human being are my mother and father. The best way of paying them back is to be the role model that I needed when I was growing up.

Two more quotes: “One man with courage makes a majority.’’ Andrew Jackson

“When the whole world is silent, one voice becomes powerful.” Malala Yousafzai

QUESTION:

When a snail moves, it leaves a trail of slime.  Are you leaving an indelible impression for others to follow along your path?

WE LIVE IN A HIGHLY COMPETITIVE WORLD

Robots are replacing human security guards. Image from Pinterest.com

In all our daily interactions, we are knowingly or unknowingly competing with others.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines ‘competitive’ as being inclined, desiring or suited to compete.

Being competitive is inborn: siblings compete for food at the table and attention and approval. At school, children compete for the best grades despite there being no guarantee that the best students will be the most successful in life. As adults, we compete to see who gets the best job, best car or who makes the most money.

Competiveness is not bad but how people treat competition is what causes problems.

“Competition is always a good thing. It forces us to do our best.  A monopoly renders people complacent and satisfied with mediocrity.” Nancy Pearcey.

In life you compete with yourself and others.The psychologists tell us that competition can be either healthy or unhealthy.

Healthy competition serves to help you learn, improve and grow and become better at whatever you choose to do. It is about improving your ‘personal best’ as you take yourself to the next level of success.

 Unhealthy competition focuses on winning; sometimes it goes as far as winning at all costs. You are only interested in the results and you think that you can succeed only if others fail. Who can forget how Ben Johnson of Canada fell in an instant from hero to zero at the 1988 Seoul Olympics! He had won the 100m race but tested positive for use of Anabolic steroids, Performance Enhancing Drugs. Then Lance Armstrong who dominated the Tour de France cycling race from 1999 through to 2005 but became the cycling’s biggest fraud for use of Performing Enhancing Drugs.

George Leonard said: “Competition is the spice of sports; but if you make spice the whole meal you’ll be sick.”

 Unhealthy competition puts too much stress on the individual and harms one’s mental health. Whenever you do not win, you are left feeling inadequate or a failure. It is responsible for ill health, depression and anxiety in children and youths.

One Swahili proverb says that : “What your mother does not teach you at home, the world will teach you at a price.”

The psychologists also advise all parents to motivate their children to participate in simple competitions at home and at school because it has some benefits for them:

  1. It prepares the children for the wins and losses of adult life.
  2. It helps them develop important life skills like resilience, perseverance and tenacity. They learn to encourage others and develop empathy.
  3. It teaches them the true meaning of competitiveness- not to focus on winning but also appreciate that by participating in a competitive task, they learn something that will in future inform the decisions and choices they make.
  4. Over time they will learn that failure is part of success and therefore they should not fear it. Naturally in life, you win some and lose some. This is what makes a balanced individual. Such an individual grows up knowing that it is fine to lose as long as you know that you accomplished what you set out to do and you gave it your best efforts.

Howard Cosell rightly said that, “The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give.”

             Parents like good sports coaches, can empower and motivate their children to excel by:           

1. Believing in them and getting the children to believe in themselves. Most accomplished individuals relate their achievements to the power that comes from learning to believe in themselves and knowing for sure that their parents and teachers believed in them.

2. Inspiring them to do more than they think they can do- assist them to gradually reach their full potential and provide encouragement.

3. Teach their children to do things right and to be responsible for their actions. They should help them to recognize their strengths and weakness and teach them to look out and explore available opportunities.

4. They should guide them through life by being the best role models to them; children do what they see not what they are told.

  5. By sharing their wins and losses and motivating them to keep trying.

In a nurturing and empowering environment, children learn to trust their parents and teachers enough to open up and learn from them. I grew up in a home where I was loved and cared for. My parents created situations that helped me to grow and develop. I was empowered and motivated through rewards and grew to love winning. I was always sure that my parents would willingly share my wins and losses. They always assured me that I could be anything as long as I was determined to work hard and enjoy what I did.

The Church -founded school that I attended for all the fourteen years of formal education offered many extracurricular activities like sports, gardening, clubs like debating, Geography, visiting the elderly in the village, acting, dancing. It turned me into an all-round student who is confident, self-motivated, interdependent, has a good sense of time management and believes in herself and in life – long learning.

Over time, I came to learn that the race of life is not a sprint but a Marathon- endurance running. To complete the marathon you have to start off with the end in mind then plan how to get there at your own pace or rhythm. You have to be always aware that you are surrounded by other runners. You can use them to your advantage to achieve your personal best.

  In the Uganda of today life is highly competitive for the children as their parents make efforts to take them to the best schools and universities. Available statistics show that 400,000 thousand students graduate from the tertiary institutions every year to take up the 100,000 jobs available!

This calls for a different approach to education from primary to tertiary institutions. Yesterday, we should have started producing students who think for themselves and have the skills they need to create jobs for themselves other than be mere job seekers. With their creative minds, the students would have been able to create appropriate solutions to the common problems in our communities like deforestation, drought, youth unemployment and garbage disposal to name but a few.

The students have to remind themselves regularly that there are no more permanent skills in this 21st century; skills keep changing. Skills have to be upgraded and enhanced to enable the worker to have the right skills at the right time for the right purpose.

 The 21st century is the Information Revolution, the most innovative age of all time. It is Science and Technology- driven.  The world has shrunk to a global village in which the most science and technology- driven countries like USA, Finland, Japan and Israel lead. Other countries like China  and India are catching up too. Thankfully, knowledge and skills are transferrable and portable in this Digital era and developing countries like mine are gradually building their own capacities in Science and Technology and getting transformed by them.

The new lunar race for space exploration plays out the necessity of Science and Technology remarkably well. Since the July 1969 moon landing , USA has led the race followed by Russia, Japan, China and Israel. With the accumulation of scientific knowledge and its technological applications, other countries have joined this race.

China is now a great power and wants to claim its position as a world power off planet Earth while India wants to test and prove its advances in science and space technology.

 Among the biggest challenges of our time are Climate change/ destruction of the environment resulting in frequent droughts, floods and fires and water and food security, conflict and wars and unemployment. Countries that are most advanced in science and technology irrespective of size, but are ready to apply them to solve these problems, will lead the world.

 As things stand now, global competitiveness increases with each passing year and to thrive in this fast –paced world, driven by science and technology, we have to prepare ourselves and our children for the changes by becoming more innovative and creative. Continued skills training to share new knowledge is essential at all workplaces.

 Charles Darwin, the British naturalist, said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.”

QUESTION:

How are you helping your children, your workers or the young members of your community to fit in a competitive and fast- changing world driven by Science and Technology?

GIVING IN GRATITUDE

My beloved father at 80.

 On Wednesday, 13th September 1989, my father passed away aged almost eight nine years.  He was the most generous person I knew; he gave his time, energy, efforts and money to others without taking away their dignity or expecting anything back.

Kahlil Gibran rightly said: “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?”

Most of my siblings followed their hearts and dreams and are currently living and working outside Uganda. To mark the 30th anniversary of our father’s passing, we decided to celebrate his rich life by holding a Memorial and Thanksgiving Service on that day in the church in whose very grounds he was laid to rest. We felt that remembering him was the best way of reminding ourselves of his generosity. His memory remains alive and useful to the children and their children.

He was a busy politician who joined politics simply to serve and contribute to the development of his country but he also worked as a volunteer in many organizations like Uganda Red Cross Society,   Young Men Christian Association, Uganda Bible Society, Uganda Scouts Association,  Lions Club of Uganda to name but a few. He was also an active member of his church community and clan.

We grew up seeing him go out to serve others with a big smile. Unknowingly, he was bequeathing to us the best gift: Giving to express your gratitude for the good things in your life. I now know for sure that generous giving be it time or resources comes from a generous heart and displays courageous confidence in God’s loving and faithful provision. My father always gave gladly not out of a sense of duty; not that he had a lot to spare but because he wanted to do it and it felt right to do it. He gave from the heart and his reward was the self-respect that came from doing what was needed at the right time.

Despite running such a hectic life in politics and charity organizations, his family came first. He was indeed a hands-on father.He was always there especially in the evenings to spend quality time with us

He taught me how to hold the pencil and write bold easy-to-read letters. I practiced regularly under his watchful eye on the Ladybird Books, the famous children’s books of the time.  And it paid off, I won many prizes in the form of books from the Children’s press of London, at the prestigious Gayaza High School for neatness and the best handwriting. I took the responsibility to pass on the art to the young generation.  He taught us to read newspapers every day with him and summarize the most important news items, he taught us how to debate and practice public speaking.

“Stand boldly, hold your head tall, look at your audience and speak,” he would emphasize.

 He taught us that it was important to stand up for what you believed in- never to compromise your core values. If we did this over time we would develop a strong sense of self, develop self-respect, would build our integrity and it would help us become independent people not having to rely on others for validation.

  He made us aware that we had some rights as children but they had to be enjoyed responsibly and that having fun was essential for living a good life.  

Early in our lives, he encouraged us to read books and bought us all the African Writers books- blue for the fiction ones and orange for the nonfiction, from Heinemann publishers.

He encouraged us to compete among ourselves in writing, bicycle racing, indoor games like Ludo and crosswords, preparing us for the competitive world.

He encouraged us to be each other friend and keeper. He considered his loyal and genuine friends his greatest wealth on earth. He could drop everything to help any one of them. We did not know until late adulthood that some of those friends were not our relatives!Thankfully , the majority of us inherited this trait from him and find it extremely rewarding.

We would spend the long Christmas holiday on our farm in the village and this would give him the opportunity to teach us how to pick ripe coffee berries and how to take care of the herd of cows. We shared all the household chores irrespective of our gender. He always rewarded good behavior but punished you appropriately for the wrong done.

Later, in his sixties, he was humble enough to learn new subjects like Biology from us or how electric items worked. Had he been around in this Digital technology-driven era, he would have asked one of his grandchildren to teach him how the Mobile phone worked and then he would have started using it and respecting it.

Little wonder then, that thirty years on, we remember him for his love and generosity. Many of us accompanied by our children flew miles to hold a service to express our gratitude to him. The service turned out to be another learning experience to the children, grandchildren and our guests about good parenting and writing your legacy by your daily actions and behaviuor.

 They say: “

It is not what you leave for your children that matters most as what you leave in them.”

Myles Munroe said: “True leaders don’t invest in buildings. Jesus never built a building. They invest in people.”

Our father invested in us, he instilled into us the virtues of honesty, integrity, and discipline,a sense of responsibility, reliability and having fun. This is exactly what we are passing on to our children and they will pass on to their own. To be women and men of values and principles while at the same time respecting their traditions.

Psychologists like Paul. J. Zak reveal to us the science behind generosity.

You give because you understand the perspective of the one in need. Being generous connects us to other people; we engage with them and feel the joy of giving.

Your happiness increases with your usefulness to others. You feel happier when you give to others than when you give to yourself.

When you give out love, gratitude and compassion, your brain releases the hormone Oxytocin into the blood stream. Oxytocin is one of the ‘feel good’ hormones and is specifically associated with bonding and trust which are essential for human relationships.  An oxytocin surge causes us to feel pleasure and  to trust and to connect with others. This is what is referred to as the joy of giving.

This feel good experience has a ripple effect in that when we give to people, we make them feel like giving to others and the cycle goes on. Generosity improves our mental health and well being.

The best way of teaching a child to give to others is for it to see you practice it because children always do what they see not what you tell them to do or to be.

We grew up seeing our father going out to serve and give to others and for sure it rubbed off on us.

It is was therefore most befitting for us to remember to give something back to him in acknowledgement of what he had given to us so gladly and abundantly!

Mother Teresa said: “We can’t all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

QUESTION: Are you aware that by doing simple acts of kindness and generosity and standing up to do what is right, just and fair, you are writing your own legacy?