SMILE AND LAUGHTER

The Smiling Emoji

My last post on this blog was about communication, the bedrock of all human relationships and a necessity for survival. Reading around this subject led me into the physical, mental and social benefits of laughter.

We all know that smiling is the beginning of laughter and like laughter, it is contagious. Many times, we have been advised to love simply, laugh often and love deeply. The cliché of “laughter is the best medicine”, could be said to be as old as civilization. I was even reluctant to include it in this post but then I remembered one proverb in King Solomon’s Book of Proverbs: Proverb 17 verse 22 : “Being cheerful keeps you healthy. It is slow death to be gloomy all the time.”

A genuine smile is a facial expression conveying one’s deep feelings. The smile is expressed more with the mouth other than the eyes. The Americans are good at displaying their emotions and to them the smile expresses happiness and respect. The Japanese are not very open with their emotions so in a smile, they focus more on the look in the eyes other than the mouth. The Germans do not show their emotions often so they smile less often. In my country, Uganda, a smile expresses warmth and in my local area, the central region, we can laugh out loud with family and friends until we cry. The over 600 years old royal dynasty of Buganda in Uganda, has always had singers, drummers and comedians at the royal court to entertain people and make them laugh. World-wide, a good belly laugh makes each one of us feel good.

Since 1995, the unfatiguable Dr. Madan  Kataria of Mumbai, India, a country where people laugh until they hurt, has been advocating for laughing for health and happiness. He has become the world’s Laughter Yoga Teacher. He is the founder of the laughter Yoga Clubs in over sixty countries. He arranged for the first World Laughter Day in 1998 to increase awareness about laughter and its health benefits. Since then, the first Sunday in May, people gather in public places just to share laughter.

 Dr. Kataria is popularly known as the “Guru of Giggling”. As a medical doctor, he explains that a good belly laugh expels air from the lungs allowing them to take in more fresh air. The oxygen in the fresh air is made available to the cells in the body to convert biochemical energy from nutrients: sugar, amino acids, fatty acids .This energy is then used by the cells to run the essential cellular activities or processes.

Studies have proved how laughter improves our health and happiness.

  • It improves cardiac health by increasing the blood flow to the heart, lowers the Blood pressure and this reduces the risk of stroke and heart attacks.
  • It reduces the stress hormone levels thus reducing anxiety and stress on the body. Stress and anxiety have adverse effects on the body.
  • It tones the abdominal muscles that are used in a loud laugh.
  • It boosts the body’s immune system. The T-cells, the specialized cells of the immune system are activated by laughter. This improves the body’s resistance to disease and cancer.
  • It triggers the release of the endorphin hormones one of the “feel good/happy chemicals” from the brain. Endorphins improve one’s mood; adding joy and zest to life.

Endorphins are natural pain killers that temporarily relieve chronic pain, leaving you feel better.

The relief of physical tension and stress which leaves your muscles relaxed, goes on for up to 45 minutes after.

Human beings are programmed to be social creatures and laughter has been proved to have some social benefits.

Laughter connects us to other people- it attracts other people to us.

It helps to diffuse difficult situations.

It promotes group bonding.

In intimate relationships, sharing laughter strengthens the relationship and keeps it fresh and lasting.

Over the years, I have learned not to take life so seriously. I laugh at myself and at life itself.

 I make a conscious effort to laugh several times during the day. After a long day I put up my feet and watch Just for Laughs: Gags or a good comedy on the television and by the time it ends, I am enjoying a happy high.

I intentionally spend time with fun-filled, playful people like children and old friends. With such people, I find myself more relaxed, more positive and joyful.

I never forget to find my inner child- I claim the spontaneity and the ability to laugh at ordinary things.

I spend 10-15 minutes in a day, doing something that I love and that makes me laugh; like reading a funny story.

Sometimes I just decide to do something silly like making funny facial expressions in a mirror or mimicking funny voices in my past. In such situations, I focus on having fun.

And in a group I allow myself to be drawn to where the laughter is.

Sometimes all I need to do to make myself laugh is to remember a few funny experiences in my life.

Strangely, as I enjoy a happy high, I find myself admitting that Laughter is the best medicine. It is also free, can be self-administered safely and can also save you time and money at the doctor’s. It adds years to one’s life.

QUOTE:

“Trouble knocked at the door, but hearing laughter, hurried away.” – Benjamin Franklin

Simply find opportunities to have a hearty laugh every day.

QUESTION:

How often do you give yourself permission to play for fun and to laugh out loud every day?

COMMUNICATION

The photograph is from Unsplash.com

According to Aristotle, a Greek philosopher of Ancient Greece, human beings are social animals; they naturally seek the companionship of others as part of their well-being. Our ancestors were hunters and gatherers and those who worked together well survived and passed on their genes to the next generation. This explains why each one of us needs to be connected to a family, community and a nation. In these diverse groups we become more creative, diligent and hard working and thrive. Group interaction is to one’s own good and to the group as a whole. Hardwired to be social beings, each one seeks to be accepted in the group, affirmed, approved and acknowledged. It gives a sense of belonging and stirs us up to want to do more, be more and brings out the best in each one of us.

Franklin Roosevelt said: “It goes back to the basic idea of society and of a nation itself that people acting in a group accomplish things which no individual acting alone could even hope to bring about.”

 When you are rejected by the group, you feel inadequate, unlovable, you feel not nurtured, cherished or guided. You grow up yearning to be more perfect and lovable and to be more worthy. You go through life looking for a home.

Like the wild animals, our ancestors first communicated with each other by sounds and movements but as they evolved and the environment changed, they began to communicate their thoughts, ideas and feelings through the spoken word. Language, a form of complex communication, was born out of the need to how best to survive. The language helped them to communicate with each other as they hunted, helped them to depend on others thus giving them a survival advantage. As there were numerous groups of people in different areas , many languages were created and continue to change up to today. We have come a long way from hunting and gathering and yet communication still remains the bedrock of all human relationships as a necessity for survival.

Social interaction is essential for our emotional and mental wellbeing. Any interaction between two or more human beings takes the form of verbal(30-40%) and 60-70% Non-verbal communication. Verbal communication is by means of a spoken language while non-verbal is portrayed by facial expressions, gestures and postures, tone of voice and tactile stimulation such as touch and body movements. We use our five senses during the interaction: 

83% sight, 11% hearing, 3% smell, 2% touch and 1% taste. Children learn early how to communicate by mere observation of the adults around them. Psychological research in social and behavioural sciences has revealed that such non-verbal communication also conveys cultural values as well.

The English naturalist and biologist, Charles Darwin (1809-1882),

 studied the non-verbal communication as early as 1872. He observed that human beings could use facial expressions to express their emotions and attitudes about others.

One quote always reminds me that of all the things I wear, my smile is the most important.

While I was researching and writing the last post entitled: Embracing my Age,

 I read extensively about facial expressions. The common ones well known to all of us are the smile and the tears. Each facial expression communicates the emotion deep down. The movement in the mouth determines the intensity of the smile while the sparkle in the eyes conveys genuine happiness. Many of us bare our teeth in a rage.

The American anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell (1918-1994) who pioneered the study of facial expression, gestures, posture, gait and visible arm and body movements in the late 50s, collectively called them kinesics- the human body language. He estimated that humans could make and recognize around 250,000 cultural-related facial expressions conveying emotions and attitudes. While my children were growing up, they could tell what I required of them by simply interpreting my facial expression. In their cheekiness, they would say that I could ‘beat’ them with my eyes.

Fast Forward, the first SMS was sent from a computer to a phone in UK in December 1992. Since then, text messaging has become the order of the day in this Digital era. They have changed the way the world communicates in the smartphone era.

In the late 1990s, a Japanese telecommunications company created emojis-communicating in pictorial faces and symbols- info graphic. The Western world adopted this form of communication from 2010. Emoji was added as a real word in the Oxford Dictionaries in August 2013.

They have become a permanent fixture in today’s Digital communication. When I first came across it, it  reminded me of Hieroglyphics: the formal writing of pictures and symbols in Ancient Egypt.          

One linguistic professor, Professor Herring called emojis a sort of  pictorial pidgin language- the primitive tongue that emerges out of necessity between two population with no  common language that lacks plural markers and functions exclusively  in the present tense.

  It is a rudimentary language. Emojis are not universal ; different messages can be conveyed by the same image  depending on the culture. Some messages have been lost in the translation only to be clarified by text words.

The smiling Emoji. Can be said to be universal.
Praying hands for the likes of me and ‘Thank You’ for the Japanese
The tears of Joy Emoji, the most popular emoji used on Social Media.

Over time, all languages develop, more words are added and a few may be left out. Emoji as a Digital language will continue to evolve.

We all have our languages of communication, the human body language and now we have added a Digital language that we use online, I would not be surprised if we borrowed the birds’ song and calls to enhance our digital communication. Anything is possible in this technology -driven age.

QUESTION:

Have you ever tried to text a short paragraph without using words, using emoji only? Did the receiver understand your message easily?

EMBRACING MY AGE

This photograph was taken on 24/08/1968
This photograph was taken on 24/08/2018.

Louise Hay once said, “Know that you are at the perfect age. Each year is special and precious, for you shall only live it once. Be comfortable with growing older.”

Last Wednesday, I visited my regular supermarket to stock up on my monthly grocery items. I took longer than usual not because the place was full of shoppers but just because the items I buy are imported from several countries. I spend more time checking the labels on the packaged foods than in buying them. In my commitment to eat healthier foods, I check out the fat content of the milk, yogurts, cheese and the mono-unsaturated fats in the different types of Olive oil on the shelves. I do a lot of walking between the shelves looking for wholegrain bread, brown rice, lentils, fresh tilapia fish, fresh local fruits like pineapples, mangoes, oranges, watermelon and leafy vegetables. For more than three decades, I have focused on eating to be healthy so that I can build and maintain a healthy body, stay energized and get the nutrients I need for proper body function.

 I know very well that if I want to live a good quality of life in old age, I have to engage in physical exercise every day, eat  a well- balanced healthy diet and honour the regular medical checkups  with my doctor. The old adage, “Prevention is better than cure,” holds true today, more so in this digital technology- driven and era of huge scientific advancement. 

World Health Organisation(WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. I have to maintain the enriching relationships that I have established over the years. They form an essential element of my Social Wellbeing.

Later in the day, I was required to send some old photographs to one of my childhood friends to include in the Thanksgiving Service  booklet for her mother. Long before the invention of the Digital camera and the Smartphone, I used to be a keen amateur photographer so I have a big collection of photograph albums. I spent some time scrolling through them,  I was reminded that I had been taking official photographs on my birthday since I was that little sweet sixteen girl! As you have guessed it, I have a catalogue of such photographs. Little wonder then that I got so wrapped up in these photographs that I forgot why I had opened up the albums in the first place. I looked at each photograph carefully as fond memories flooded in. I could see how my face and body had changed over the years. Having taken each photograph on my birthday , I noted that I was relaxed and calm. It turned out that they were all great photographs communicating the joy within. They went from a simple genuine smile to a wide grin, capturing moments of true joy.

The most recent one taken last year in August , showed that the once plump lower face had grown small as the jaw bone grew smaller making the forehead, the nose  become more pronounced. The lips were becoming thinner and a few permanent wrinkles had developed round the corners of the mouth. However, the eyebrows and eyelashes had not yet gone grey and the eyelids were not drooping.

I was thrilled and excited that despite the years, the eyes had remained sparkling , conveying happiness and confidence. The confidence had come with age and endowed me with more beauty!

William Wordsworth said, “The wiser mind mourns less for what age has taken away than what it leaves behind.”

Franz Kafka said that: “Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”

My experience in the supermarket and now this treasure trove of photographs got me thinking about growing old and other major life changes.

Undoubtedly, change is an integral part of life and therefore inevitable. The world around us is constantly changing though most of us prefer to cling on to the old and familiar. The psychologists tell us that most of us fear change just because we want to have control over the future. We tend to demand for certainty in a world of uncertainty. This is what creates anxiety and stress in us. Dr. Elliot D. Cohen, PhD,  a psychologist and critical thinker advises each one of us to strive to find a comfortable place between  blind fearlessness and cowardice – not being too afraid and  not being afraid enough. It is the only thing that will keep each one of us balanced and relaxed.

For the young ones, they have to be reminded that the present affects their future; today’s choices will create their tomorrows. They need to acquire more knowledge and skills to help them accept responsibility for the choices they make about the future. They still have the power to control their desires, hopes and wishes but have to be reminded that external things like approval of others and guaranteed success are not in their control. Making informed choices will give them some degree of freedom over their future.

As for the likes of us, the senior citizens, we need to keep ourselves busy doing what we love and reading  more to understand the changes going on in our bodies and in the world around us. We have to keep ourselves relevant and useful. We can do this by  using our knowledge, skills and experiences to serve others , to mentor the young and help them to achieve their goals and full potential.

We have to summon the courage to face the uncertainty of the future other than cave in to the fear of uncertainty. According to the psychologists, we can age gracefully by embracing our age then keep moving forward happily and remaining optimistic that we still have a lot to offer to the world.

Embracing the natural process of ageing has its rewards: feeling energetic and youthful internally.

Many times in the past, I have asked myself  why I should  fear what is inevitable instead of accepting death and allowing it to guide me through life  for the rest of my life . When we are still young , we tend to be guided through life by our ambitions, success and achievements.  By middle age, most of us have come to accept our mortality so we start focusing on being good, wise and generous human beings.

 Being led through life by death, has  proved extremely liberating to me; humbled and grateful and endowed with the wisdom and hindsight of old age,  I have been able to live a relatively relaxed , happier and meaningful life. I wake up each morning filled with gratitude and ready to take on the day’s adventure.

Jackie Joyner- Kersee, a 1988 American Olympic  medalist, once said,  “ Age is no barrier. It’s a limitation you put on your mind.”

Sophia Loren’s quote about ageing made me extremely comfortable with growing older. She said, ” There is a fountain of youth : it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of those you love. When you learn to tap its source, you will truly have defeated age.”

I can’t wait to celebrate my next birthday and to pause for the next official birthday photograph.

Question:  Have you yet embraced who you are?

                     Are you proud of it?

GIVING YOUR BEST

The photograph is from Unsplash.com
The onetime Professor and head of the Blue Firm left the ladder leaning against a solid wall for others to climb up.

   Last Sunday , I was among the group of medical doctors who were given the privilege to  join Mr. George Kamya, an Emeritus Professor of Surgery of Makerere University College of Health Sciences ,celebrate his 94 th birthday at his home in Kololo, Kampala.

I had not seen him for more than twenty years but I was amazed at how robust he was. He was full of life , very alert and relaxed. All you needed was to introduce yourself to him and then he would say a word or two indicating that he had recognized and remembered you. Apart from losing the use of his legs, I would say that he has changed very little in the time I have been away. He felt comfortable with his wife of many years seated beside him. It was a real celebration of his long, rich life. A worship service followed by a few speeches and the traditional African lunch of plantains, millet, rice ,chapatti, sweet potatoes, sweet plantains, yams served with beef and chicken stews, groundnut sauce, a variety of local vegetables and a variety of fresh fruits like pineapples, water melon and mangoes.

The ambient atmosphere reminded me of my teachers, mentors and sponsors .

My favourite author, Kahlil Gibran(1883-1931) , the  Lebanese- American artist, poet and philosopher said: “You give but little when you you give of your posessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

This nonagenarian has lived a professional and exemplary ethical life:  many years ago, he had mastered the art of balancing family responsibility and serving his country as a surgeon. He gave a part of himself to all of us who passed through his hands as undergraduates and post graduates. He was a pillar of strength, support and discipline. He intentionally picked those with great potential and encouraged them  and showed them how to become  noble surgeons. He invested in them and they responded because they wanted to be like him and  to make a difference in their communities.

  Among the crop was my late husband, the first Ugandan woman surgeon, Dr Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe. She later went on to become Uganda’s first woman Vice President( 1994-2003). For over fifty years, he left fingerprints on those he worked with and indelible footprints where he passed for others to follow and create their own stories.

  The Association of Surgeons of Uganda is a vibrant one where women are visible as general surgeons , neurosurgeons, urologists, plastic surgeons and pediatric surgeons. Its members are also active members of  COSECSA- the College of Surgeons of East and Central and Southern Africa.

Jim Rohn (1930-2009) an American entrepreneur and author said: ” All good men and women must take responsibility to create legacies that will take the next generation to a level we could only imagine.”

And Shannon L. Alder , an inspirational author said: “ Carve your names on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”

Most of us remember how he created his own brand, success and managed and protected it on what came to be known as his ward up to today: ward 2A, the Blue firm ,of the New Mulago Teaching Hospital .

He always acted with honour and truthfulness and his patients always came first. He paid strict attention to detail and time. He was positive, had strong self-esteem, was patient with himself and others  and kept learning. He stood up for his values and spoke against unethical behavior. He lived his values in relationships with  the co-workers and patients. He created his life out of the truth of his soul and what he was taught by his parents, teachers and life itself.

He helped to create a culture of teamwork, inclusiveness and reward and recognition for great performance. Each member felt a sense of belonging to something bigger than herself/himself, worked with integrity and was empowered to explore. Things ran like clock –work whether the seniors were present or not. Responsibility and accountability were their badges of honour.

He retired officially in 2000 but those he mentored have been able to lead and carry on his work with enthusiasm.

Over the years, as I interacted with him, I came to respect and admire him for his wealth of knowledge, skills, experiences and his passion to share it with the young generation but more for his humility and easy demeanor. No task was either too big or too small for him to perform. He performed them all with a smile.

The psychologists always help us to understand why human beings think, feel and behave as they do .As soon as this seasoned surgeon came to know who he truly was, he became secure in it to become a professional of the world while at the same time opening himself up to learn from others. He knew who he was and appreciated that he was a human being who had strengths and flaws. He learned to tolerate others , lifted the weak up while pushing the strong ones  higher up the ladder of success. He left the ladder leaning against a solid wall for others to climb up as he did.

I pray he lives for more years to take the credit for all those whom he has created through mentoring, sponsoring along with his own family. His legacy lives on through them.

 All in all, I was glad I had been part of the celebration of  a man who did the best he could with what he had  and became all that he could be. Amazingly, he never stopped at creating himself, he helped others create themselves too. As they say, what you gladly give away comes back to you multiplied many times over.

Writing this post has challenged me whether I know for sure that each day I live, I am writing my own legacy and on how I have been able to empower others to succeed.

QUESTION:

After creating your own life , how have you facilitated the young generation to create their own lives too?

THE POWER OF THE COLLECTIVE

This photograph is from Unsplash.com

Each one of us is born as an individual and dies as an individual. In between these two stages, one has to live effectively and leave the world a better place than he/she found it. None of us can produce her/his best work alone; you need others to teach you, mentor you, and sponsor you and friends to encourage you. Many old age adages, proverbs and quotations attest to this. Among them are:

Two heads are better than one.

Iron sharpens iron.

None of us is as smart as all of us. By Kenwood Blanchard

John Donne’s poem: No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main………………

One local proverb loosely translated says: You need a functional set of teeth to chew the meat.

Former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan: Yes we can.

Even the members of a cabinet in a democratic country bear collective responsibility for decisions made in the cabinet.

In this Digital era, where the internet has become an integral part of our lives, one needs to check out and belong to at least two groups of like-minded people working towards a common goal. You may call it a Tribe or a Community but your combined efforts motivate and energise  your Community to participate fully and create change in Society.

Henry Ford once said,“Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress and working together is success.”

My late father always advised me to belong to something bigger than myself if I were to realize my full potential. It was not until many years later that I understood what he had meant: It all had to do with synergy-The creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.

Now it is absolutely clear to me after reading Ash Hoehn’s They told me there is no “I” in the Team .

He says that when he became the team the team became him. The team absorbs “I”………

When the “I” is absorbed then he becomes part of something much more powerful.

 This also reminded me that in any chain link fencing, I can be as strong as the strongest and as weak as the weakest.

In a Kindergarten, children are taught to hold hands and stick together in preparation for how they will later live their lives.

In the wild, a pack of the African Wild dogs also known as the Cape dogs, are the best examples of team work or joint efforts.  A pack of twenty of them or more lives together, hunts together, eats together. They are very good communicators and among the most efficient hunters.Little wonder then that they always flourish wherever they are.

I have been around for a while and the best example of team work that comes to my mind is the organization of the Cooperative movement in my home country, Uganda.By the late 60’s this movement was at its peak and most farmers belonged to a cooperative society in their district. They grew cash crops like coffee and bought it, sold it together and bargained together with the government of the day for best price possible.

These farmers grew very rich; sent their children to the best schools in the country and some of them to universities abroad, built modern homes and bought lorries to transport the coffee and personal family cars. Farmers have never been that rich.It was all the result of the power of collective action. Later, during the 1979 Liberation War, the Wakombozi of the Tanzanian Defence Forces mistook many of those big houses for government offices where soldiers of the then Uganda Army (enemy of the people) could be hiding. Many such houses were bombed for this reason.

Who can forget the thousands of women textile workers of the Russian Empire who organized marches that ended in the overthrow of the Tsar in March 1917? They spearheaded the 1917 Revolution!

And in today’s well connected world, the youths of France organized through the Social Media, developed increased political interest. They engaged in the general election of May 2017 and ended up changing the political landscape. Later in June, the youths of Britain actively participated in the general election causing a huge upset in the results.

In December 2018, the military government of Sudan cut subsidies on basic goods like bread and fuel. The Middle-class professionals – doctors, health workers and lawyers, got together under their umbrella organisation, The Sudanese Professional Association(SPA) and organized demonstrations that culminated in the overthrow of President Omar al- Bashir on the 11th April 2019.Since then, they are struggling to work  towards forming a civilian –led transition government.

 It won’t be surprising to us if similar events occurred in other countries.

Today, worldwide, we have many challenges like extreme climatic changes, deforestation, youth unemployment and Substance Abuse, the best way we can develop locally appropriate solutions which we can own is by working together like the Cape wild dogs.

The Kenyans have a proverb that says: Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.

Working together, we can help to build and improve our communities.

QUESTION:

Are you a member of any like-minded group of people striving to give back to the community and aiming at leaving the community better than they found it?



THE POWER OF A CONVERSATION

The photo is from Unsplash


The Merriam- Webster dictionary defines a conversation as an oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions and ideas between two or more people. When nothing is discussed, it is simple talk.

When you hold a conversation with someone, you express your thoughts, ideas and beliefs about the matter at hand. This demonstrates the power of the mind over us. This is why we are most times warned  about being  careful   of what we think. What we think determines our actions and shapes our lives.

Mahatma Gandhi ( 1869-1948),  an Indian activist, lawyer ,and politician expressed it eloquently in this quote;

“Your beliefs become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.

Man is a social animal that craves for acceptance, affirmation, and approval to thrive. If he has to be accepted or approved , he has to communicate with other human beings and form relationships. Life is essentially  about relationships, a relationship with your God, with yourself,  with your family and friends and other people.

Communication by the spoken words, conversation or discussion is the bedrock of all our relationships. A simple conversation requires two people who talk and listen to one another. As each one communicates, he/she puts her/his needs, wants and desires across. Each one has different communication needs and style but how the two communicate to each other determines whether the relationship lives or dies. The communication has to be open and honest to benefit the two people concerned.

Without effective communication, unwanted problems arise and small ones grow bigger. When you talk about something honestly and effectively, most times you find a solution to the problem. Open and honest communication builds trust and respect.

My grandmother used to warn me during my teenage years that what I did not talk about had the power to  enslaves me. Not talking about a problem hurts me and will also hurt the relationship. It takes two to tango so the two people in the relationship contribute to its health or misery.

 You talk about the good, the bad and the weaknesses with the aim of making the relationship better for the two of you.

The other most important element of a good conversation is listening to one another. Talking and listening are two sides of the same coin. It is essential if the two people or more are to communicate effectively and understand one another. Everyone wants to be listened to, to hear her side of story.

One local proverb loosely translated says: You cannot pass judgment in an argument involving your son and daughter-in-law until you have listened to the daughter-in-law’s story.

  For doctors, psychotherapists, teachers, lawyers, journalists, listening is considered as a professional discipline. Not only do you listen to understand but you also listen to figure out what important narrative elements are being left out.

The psychologist Theodor Reik ( 1888- 1965) one of Freud’s first student in Vienna, Austria,  coined the phrase: Listening with a third ear. What he meant was that in a conversation you listen to hear and understand and then go beyond this to decipher the deeper emotional meaning being conveyed by the speaker. Listening by the third ear helps to detect unstated needs in a relationship that may have to be addressed. It helps the listener to think deeper and then give a useful response. It also teaches the listener to listen to her/his inner feelings thus awakening a deep understanding of things. Doing this consistently, makes you a better listener.I for one sometimes find myself closing  off in a conversation and then I remember  the first two lines

 of Max Ehrmann ‘s prose poem of the early 1920s entitled,  “Desiderata”- Things desired.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,

and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible , without surrender, be on

on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,

even to the dull and ignorant, they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,  they…………………………………………………….

These lines help me to collect my thoughts, refocus on what is being said and be considerate.

I have trained myself to listen to others as we talk and many times it has helped me understand clearly the issues at hand and the speaker. Understanding one another helps to change our attitude, to forgive one another and to love and trust one another better. Being considerate to one another and loving and trusting one another never allows us to hurt each other but instead we protect one another. Nobody wants problems.

We are all human therefore not perfect. Perfection is for God only. Effective communication has saved marriages, stopped unnecessary wars, brought factions back to the centre, and tamed difficult situations.

This is the power of a conversation.

Clay Shirky said, “When we change the way we communicate, we change society.”

QUESTION:

How easy is it for you to talk and listen to others?


THIS IS WHAT I HAVE BEEN READING LATELY


I have been an avid reader as far as I can remember and then six years ago I recognized that I had potential for a writer. Reading books made me a citizen of the world long before Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn invented the global free Internet. Reading nourishes my soul and helps me to develop into a better person. In my attempt to become a remarkable writer, I have found myself focusing more on writing other than reading. It is not lost on me that all good writers are avid readers. A writer has to read, read and write to stay well informed, be relevant and remain useful to herself and to her readers. The writer’s creative works are works in progress. I write short stories, fiction novels and posts for my personal blog mainly to express what is beautiful and significant in my life.

As I read and write, I strive to find the truth, seek more knowledge, let go of illusions and false hopes. The more I read and write, the better I become as a writer. I am proud to admit that reading and writing are in my DNA. Whenever I take long to read a book, I feel as if there is something as essential as a Vitamin missing and I start craving for it.
This is what I have been reading lately:

  1. BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah. This is the autobiography of Trevor Noah, the South African comedian who moved to USA in 2011 and has been hosting The Daily Show on the American network Comedy Central since September 2015.The book is a in itself a comedy.
    It is an interesting read in that it tells you what it was like to be born in Apartheid South Africa and grow up in the post-Apartheid Republic. His existence as a mixed race child was a crime since he was born to a white Swiss-German father and a Xhosa mother. He neither fitted in his grandparent’s family in Soweto nor in the school in the white suburbs of north Johannesburg that he attended.

For anyone who has never understood what Apartheid stood for, you will see it face to face and even taste it. You will also understand how the hopes and dreams that the Black Africans expected to follow in the new democratic South Africa after April 1994 were shattered. The majority of Africans in Johannesburg and elsewhere still live in abject poverty and this drives the crime and violence in the country. However, there is an oasis of “ les nouveaux riches “, the affluent blacks, right in Johannesburg itself.

I take off my hat to Trevor’s mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo,for fighting against all the odds stacked against her to give her son quality education and being his solid pillar of strength. It is because of her determination, insight and love that Trevor is the host of a popular television show in USA. Every child needs a ‘ mother Nombuyiselo” to break the vicious cycle of poverty.

2.LIFE CODE by Dr. Phil McGraw- The New Rules For Winning In The Real World.
Many of us remember this psychologist on Oprah Winfrey’s Talk Show but later he went on to host his own Show: Dr. Phil Show. In Life Code, Dr.Phil is coaching you and your children on how to survive and thrive around the negative people , he calls BAITERs. These are Backstabbers, Abusers, Imposters, Takers, Exploiters, Reckless operating in the new digital technology –driven world. Much of the conventional wisdom of the last generation is no longer applicable in this fast moving world. We all have to learn fast and move fast so as to win and even keep what we have worked hard for.

In this competitive world, we are surrounded by many bad people who are only interested in self-preservation. My greatest pick from this book is that everything in life is a negotiation and therefore I have to master the art of negotiation to thrive in the real world. I first read this book in 2016 and have endeavored to read it many times over. Since then, I have had to encourage myself to learn how to haggle, bargain and to become tough and smart.

Learning to negotiate for my best interests protects me from becoming a victim in this radically changed world. I cannot afford to be soft in a tough world. He helped me understand that I have to negotiate every day of my life so I have to stand for myself and that negotiation is not about cheating but about give-and-take. I can win when I start off by knowing what I want for myself and then what the other on wants. He has succeeded in instilling it in me that Life changes every day, demanding renegotiation in many situations.

I would recommend the young and the old to read this book many times over as you run the marathon of life while focused on getting to the end.

3.CHERIE BLAIR. Speaking for Myself. This is the autobiography of Mrs. Blair, the wife of Tony Blair, a former Prime Minister of Britain( 1997-2007 ).She rises from a childhood in working –class Liverpool, where she was abandoned by her father, to become a barrister, a mother of four and a supporter of many charities. She becomes a positive role model for many women.

By the time her husband becomes Prime Minister, she is a successful barrister in her own right, speaking for the voiceless majority. Many career women would relate to her as she juggles motherhood, a career and supporting her husband to govern.

The establishment had never had to work with a prime minister’s wife who had her own career. This created a difficult relationship between her and the media. I loved it whenever she put her foot down when she felt that she was doing the right thing for herself and her family. Over time, it dawned on her that she was not going to be Super Woman- doing everything. She chose to focus on her most important roles of being a wife, mother and the most solid pillar of support for her husband. Her religion and sense of humour saw her through many dicey situations.

Many times, her opinion or advice were disregarded just because she was a woman. She gave herself permission not to remain anonymous like the majority of wives of the civil servants in UK. She created a role for herself and made herself useful by getting involved in the work of many charities like Breast Cancer Care and Nazareth Home, an HIV/AIDS orphanage in South Africa. She was part of the team for the Olympic bid for London in 2012. She exploited her position and influence to make a difference to many lives.
She organized the wives of the former British Prime ministers to write their experiences in Number 10 Downing Street. Later,these memoirs were compiled and published as The Goldfish Bowl book.

I saluted her for acknowledging that her success with her multiple roles in Number 10 Downing Street, was the collective effort of her hands-on husband and father, her mother, those who ran the place and her law practice. As an advocate who speaks out for others to improve, influence and stir people into action, she continues to be a good role model for girls and women alike.

QUESTIONS
Which books have you been reading lately? How have they influenced your life?

THE NATURAL BORN ANIMAL LOVER

Aunt Lena with her friends.

Uganda has only one centre for the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals – USPCA. It was founded in 1996 to promote animal welfare and support animals who cannot support themselves. It depends entirely on the generosity of the people. It is located in Mbuya , Kampala. It shelters more than 200 dogs, cats and puppies and kittens awaiting adoption. You can learn more about this organisation on their website uganda-spca.org.
In a country where the majority of the population are struggling for their own survival, adopting a pet is an unlikely option. However, there is one animal lover whom I have known since the 1960s. She is a teacher by the names of Adelina Lubogo. To her family and her catalogue of friends she is simply known as Aunt Lena.

For all the time I have known her, she has never had less than five dogs and two cats in her home! Recently I learned that things have remained the same in her home in the twenty two years I have been away in economic exile.
Maya Angelou said: “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
Jesus taught us that it is always more blessing to give than to receive.

I had not seen Aunt Lena since the beginning of the year so last month I made it a point to check on her. She came down to open the metallic gate for me and there- lo and behold! – She was followed by five dogs of different breeds, size and colour and a cat. After a giving me a bear’s hug, she led me into the house. Over fresh hibiscus juice and graviola(soursop) fruit juice ; all fruits from her garden behind the kitchen, we caught up on each other’s lives. Her only son left home for university decades ago and settled in USA so Aunt Lena lives with a helper. At 82 she is still vibrant and energetic and prepares everything herself that she serves to her visitors. She finally sat down to share the juices and sweet plantains chips with me while her family of dogs watched like eagles over us.

“Aunt Lena, I’m surprised that you only have these few,” I said, smiling.
She laughed, “They could be more but now age is catching up with me, I’m learning to restrain myself. I used to find it terribly hard to say no but slowly and surely, I’m getting there.”
“There must be a Snowy among these,”I said, reaching out for more chips.
“Yes, indeed. That white one with long hairs,” she said, pointing to it. Believe or not, each dog except Snowy has a long story behind her or him.”
We exchanged knowing smiles.
I poured myself more of the rare delicious, fresh graviola fruit juice and listened intently.

I’m starting with that Maltese poodle seated near the door to dare anyone coming in here.
A relative of mine brought it here almost three years ago. It was a small, unruly dog but it’s now one of the most well-behaved dogs that I ‘ve ever cared for. When the young man brought it here he had smiled and told me that he had something small for me. I had no idea about what he was talking about until he opened the spacious car boot. I peeped and saw a frightened small dog on a leash.

He had gone on to tell me that for two days he had passed by one trading centre and seen men throwing stones at the small dog. On the second day, he had stopped and asked those men why they were being unkind to the dog. They had told him that it was bothering them as it looked for food. They did not know its owner. He had driven to the nearest supermarket and bought a leash so that he could rescue the dog. He had driven straight here knowing very well that I would give the poodle a loving home. Since then it has become my best keeper and friend.

There is a black sausage dog(dachshund) that was given to me by my nephew’s eleven year-old daughter. Her dog had two puppies. She chose to keep one and bring the other one to me with a lot of love.That small black one is a recent acquisition. Three months ago I was in a queue at a supermarket talking to a friend. She was consoling me after I had lost one of my old faithfuls.

Three days later when I went back to pick some grocery items, the manager had appeared from behind and greeted me with a big smile.
“I understand you lost one of your dogs. If you don’t mind, I have a puppy for you.’’ He had disappeared behind the tills and came back with a puppy in a box. I was caught off guard but was happy to get a replacement.

This reminded me of what my other nephew, now a seasoned lawyer, had done in the early 1970s. Their neighbour had moved away but left his old cat behind. The cat made it a habit to go to their house to look for food. The mother would leave food and water for it on the veranda. The nephew had pleaded with his mother to adopt the cat. It proved difficult since the nephew suffered from bad Asthma.
“If we can’t keep it, then I know the right place for it. Let us take it to Aunt Lena,” the nephew had made the recommendation with a sense of warmth and pleasure.

Amazingly, that is how it has been to this day; my home has been a shelter for stray cats, rescued dogs and extra puppies. One time a Snowy had suckled two kittens picked from the neighbourhood. I took some good photos of this natural nurturing instinct unfortunately my camera was stolen at a party.This was long before the invention of the digital phone camera. I have many more stories to tell of my friends, it may take the whole day!”She concluded with a hearty laugh.

“What do you get out of this hands on care?” I asked.
“Ever since I can remember, caring for animals and gardening have given me a normal life outside work. I treat my pets as friends and they return love and loyalty to me.”

I felt privileged to know this amazing woman. She is loving, selfless and has a big heart. She has many caring friends, she spends one day in the week at the Centre for the Disabled teaching the children Art and bead work and she is a natural animal lover. No wonder she is still energetic and vibrant at her age.

Later at home, I read about the psychology behind loving animals and being concerned about people. It helped me understand Aunt Lena better. She must have been given so much love and care in her childhood that she learned to be kind to herself and then go out to love other people and animals.

Caring for people and animals is the highest expression of her compassion. With a deep well of love in her heart, she can give without maiming herself. She must have felt secure with her parents to develop her own identity and establish her own boundaries. She loves and accepts others without breaking her boundaries and losing her identity.

Talking to her, she indicated that she was more than willing to give and love until she breathed her last. She is an incredible woman!
Thank you, Aunt Lena, for teaching us to love and care for ourselves, other people and animals and to assert ourselves. We are the richer for knowing you.
The famous Anne Frank said: “No one has ever become poor by giving.’’
And Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Writing this post has got me thinking that if each one of us worked brilliantly at her/his small part that fits into the big picture, we would make the world a better place.

I am curious:
What are you doing in your community to make other people’s lives better or make them feel that they matter?
Are you an animal lover? Has this post stirred you into adopting a dog or cat or supporting the Uganda Society for The Protection and Care of Animals?

The Brain Function: Use It Or Lose It

This is a sequel to my last post entitled: Use It Or Lose It. Brain function is one of those things that deteriorate as one grows old. Watching my octogenarian mother struggle to play with the Rubik cube box , requiring skill and determination, made me think more about the age-related deterioration of brain function.

One renown expert , Dr. Michael Merzenich Ph.D. of Scientific Learning Corporation in Oakland , California has made numerous studies in brain function. He tells us that this age-related functional decline can be reversed or be slowed down by engaging into mentally demanding activities. The mentally demanding activities include reading, solving hard crossword puzzles and playing brain games. They stimulate and challenge the brain unlike the simple mundane ones like walking to the neighbour’s or performing any task routinely.

He also informs us that by the age of 40, most of us are largely using the abilities we acquired early in life. We could be said to be operating in ‘automated pilot’ mode. We are doing things without being consciously engaged in what we are doing. As a result, gradually the brain function begins to slowly deteriorate. We become slow in action and slow in making decisions.

He reassures that we can reverse this functional decline by appropriate stimulation of the brain with new challenges. He therefore recommends that each one of us should engage in new learning all our lives by picking new hobbies or learning new skills altogether. After the age of fifty, it is essential that we maintain and improve brain function simply by keeping it mentally active. An active brain is a healthy brain. We do not have to wait to grow old to start playing the recommended mentally demanding activities; the earlier we start the better.
Proverbs 19 verse 27 warns us that : If you stop learning, you will forget what you already know.

I for one have started seeing the changes in bits and pieces: how fast I remember names, how fast I make decisions but have found the following activities extremely useful:
• Reading- I have been a voracious reader since the age of six. I read for fun then read for knowledge.
As a medical doctor I read a lot to acquire new knowledge, to remember what I already know but in my leisure time I read for fun. The Internet has increased access to reading materials to many of us.

I also make time to read my Bible every morning.
I can say that this is the best time to be an avid reader. Reading helps me to concentrate, and engages my brain fully as I follow the characters through the story. It also improves my fluency in the language.

• Writing- I would have cheated the literary world if I just read others’ books or blogs all this long.
I had to contribute to something which has given me so much joy and knowledge. I have published two fiction novels, several short stories and I am working on several of them at the moment. I have been running a personal blog since October 2016. I wanted to share my wealth of experiences and impact other people’s lives for the better.

I always research what I write about so this opens me up for more reading and acquisition of knowledge. I have made lifelong learning a priority.Posting articles regularly on my personal blog teaches me the discipline of remaining consistent.
As I write, I am fully engaged and my mind is taken off everyday worries. I am alone with myself so it helps me to decompress and unwind too.

• Crossword Puzzles- I usually solve the crossword puzzles in the daily newspapers that I read and those in the magazines I buy regularly. I have been doing this for a long time but while researching about crosswords I noted with great interest that the first crossword puzzle was published in the New York World newspaper in December 1913!

As I try to solve the puzzle, I am fully engaged and focused on what I am doing. The hardest puzzles are the most engaging and challenging. Completing such a crossword puzzle gives me a sense of satisfaction. The feeling causes the brain to release the ‘feel good factor’ known as Dopamine , in several areas in the brain. It is the Dopamine which makes us happy and motivated as we go through life. Small jobs and achievements throughout the week naturally keep up my Dopamine levels. Low levels of Dopamine are associated with feelings of apathy, depression and low energy.

Of late I am trying to solve the number game called SUDOKU. It is hard but it exercises my brain immensely and has improved my memory and my number skills.

Dr. Merzenich‘s team of top scientists has developed some brain games to improve the brain function. You can look them up at BrainHQ. Playing them regularly sharpens the brain and as a result you think faster, focus better and remember more. Who would not want to remember more? I am at the beginner’s level but just like any learned skill, the more you practice, the better you become.

Next time I have a full house, I will dust off Chess , the board game. It is an engaging game that demands total concentration and intense focus. It tests your memory too.
Mark Twain said: “When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not.’’
And Thomas Fuller said: “We all forget, more than we remember.”

QUESTIONS:
How fast are you at making decisions or remembering things?

Has this post fired you up to pick some mentally challenging games like Chess?

USE IT OR LOSE IT

Take time to exercise.


I wonder what has come to your mind now! I am talking about the strong relationship between exercise and the muscles of the body.
Twenty one years ago, one rainy day, I was involved in a nearly fatal road traffic accident. I broke two of the six bones of the neck. It is really a miracle that I am up and bout today and thankfully not in a wheelchair.
After eight weeks of neck traction and two operations on the neck, I was on my feet again and had fallen back into my normal routine.

Since then I have thanked God for this gift of life each time I wake up in the morning. I also damaged the nerve to the little finger and fourth finger of the right hand. From that time, it has always been clear to me that if I am to have a functional right hand and strong neck muscles,
I have to exercise the muscles intentionally. Regular exercise combined with dogged determination, have strengthened the muscles, and helped to maintain balance and flexibility. The need to lead a normal life and be as independent as I can has always motivated me to focus on the exercise routine.

I was doing extremely well until age-related changes to muscles, bones and joints set in. Some of my muscles have grown smaller as muscle tissues are being replaced by fibrous tissues. The movements are becoming slow. The changes are more pronounced in the once injured right hand. My hand writing is changing for the worse. It can be scary at times.

As expected, the orthopedic surgeon’s advice has remained the same: “Exercise the muscles or lose them.” Research has shown that at least half of age –related changes to muscles, bones and joints are caused by inactivity or disuse. I have to motivate myself to do enough exercises to maintain strong bones, muscles, bones and joints. While thinking about this change in my life, I recognized that motivation changes with time. At this moment in time, what motivates me to keep strong and healthy is the desire to carry my grandchildren. I remembered one television interview of Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man. He was asked what motivated him to do what he does. By then, early in his career, he badly needed to clear all his debts, build homes and have financial security for himself and his family. He had gone on to explain that motivation had helped him focus on what was most important at that time. With motivation, discipline and commitment he became the best and a legend in his own right.

In my simple way, I am ready to challenge myself before my time runs out.
Many times during the day, the orthopedic surgeon’s words keep playing themselves in my head: “Use it or lose it.” It got me thinking about other things in life which we lose if we do not use them.
Among them are:
• Brain Function- Science has proved that the brain requires continued stimulation and challenging not to suffer functional decline. Simple unchallenging tasks will not stimulate the brain so the task you are doing has to keep you engaged, must be important and meaningful to you.
According to Dr. Michael Merzenich Ph. D, of Scientific Learning Corporation in Oakland , California ,by the age of forty, you are largely using the abilities you acquired early in life. You could be said to be in ‘automated pilot’ mode. You are doing things without being consciously engaged in what you are doing. As a result, gradually the brain function begins to slowly deteriorate. You become slow in action and slow in making decisions.

You can reverse this functional decline by appropriate stimulation of the brain with new challenges. He recommends that we find ways to engage ourselves in new learning all our lives by taking on new hobbies or learn new skills.
Anybody above 50 years can engage in work that demands your attention and focus. It will keep your brain young, many years younger than your biological age.
Dr. Merzenich has a website where you can pick different exercises designed to improve brain function and allow you to track and monitor your progress over time.
The website is: BrainHQ.com. It is one of the oldest and most widely used and is supported by dozens of published Science studies.
I have taken time to go through some of these brain exercises. Like all forms of exercise,
you have to play them for some time to enjoy the benefits of increased capacity to record and remember information and improved brain speed and accuracy.

• Acquired Knowledge and Skills- Scientific studies have shown that the brain loses 10% of what it has learned each year. In five years , you will have lost 50% of what you have learned. To reduce this rate, you have to practice and read regularly to keep what you know, to update what you already know and to learn new things. You practice, read, share and add on what you know to stay relevant and useful to yourself and others.
This explains why Learning is said to be a lifetime job. In this era of information technology, there is an information overload and the information changes often and fast so one has to learn and relearn fast to keep abreast with the times.


• TIME- Time is considered to be the most precious commodity in life. We all have only 24 hours in a day and the most successful among us are those who have mastered the art of getting more out of life in those 24 hours.
Time once lost, cannot be recovered.
Time and tide wait for no man. – Geoffrey Chaucer.

Most of us always complain about not having enough time to do what we want to do and what is demanded of us from the different roles we have taken on in life. We are daughters, mothers, professionals, friends and members of our communities.
Seneca, a Roman philosopher said: “ It is not that we have a short time to live but we waste a lot of it. Life is long if you know how to use it.”

Michael Hyatt, the renowned American virtual coach has come up with some strategies and tactics to help us put the 24 hours to the best use. Top among these is Prioritization. You prioritize what is most important to you at that moment in time and keep sight of your priorities. You will become more effective and efficient because you will be spending 80% of your time on the 20% most important things in your life. This will help you to reclaim your health, time and sanity.
“We have enough time if we use it well.’’
“ If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.’’ – Maria Edgeworth

QUESTIONS
Is there anything precious in your life that you lost by not using it?
When was the last time you felt that you had enough time in 24 hours of the day? What were you doing?