Category Archives: Inspiration

OF GODS(DESSES) AND (WO)MEN 1 [OGAM]

Education has for its object the formation of character.

Herbert Spencer

This is the first part of a series that will focus on the character flaws of celebrated and successful individuals. Some of these men and women were successful in getting beyond these flaws; others fought the battle till they died. These flaws whatever they were did not stop them from being successful and in some cases the desire to be rid of these flaws may have influenced their successes years later. By beaming the searchlight on these behavioral issues I hope to bring attention to the humanity of these individuals who seem to us like the gods of mount Olympus. I have no intention of denigrating or demeaning their achievements but to humanize these “gods” and celebrate the fact that they too like so many of us waded through the murky waters of teenage issues and character evolution to become who they are today.

He is known as the “Oracle of Omaha” or the “Wizard of Omaha” or the “Sage of Omaha”, he became the owner of a 40-acre farm while a sophomore in high school and had an employee that was working the farm for him (he bought the farm from profits from his various businesses), at the time he finished college he had almost $10,000 in savings, he became a millionaire at the age of 32 and eventually a billionaire a couple of years later. He is an American financier acclaimed to be the greatest investor of all time, he was listed as part of Time magazines 100 most influential people in the world in 2007 and was listed by Forbes magazine as the richest man in the world in 2008, in 2006 he committed 85% of his wealth valued to be 42billion USD at the time to five foundations with the largest portion going to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation: making it the largest act of charitable giving in US history.

He is Warren Buffett; astute investor, frugal manager husband of one wife and father of three children who has lived in the same house for more than 50years.

Warren Edward Buffett was born to a stockbroker father and a home maker mother. He was the second of three children and was the only boy. His father’s job as a stockbroker greatly influenced how he will eventually turn out. As a boy he was regarded as a mathematical prodigy having no problem in calculating large columns of figures in his head. It is said that he still shows off this ability to his friends once in a while. His school grades were excellent and he exhibited early a knack for investment and financial management. He made his first investment at age 11 when he bought 3 shares of Cities services which he later sold at a profit and by the time he was 13 he was running his first business delivering newspapers and selling magazine subscriptions.

When he was about twelve years old his father won a seat in the U.S House of Representatives and the family had to move from their home in Omaha, Nebraska to Virginia, Washington so that his father will be close to his new post as a Congressman.

According to, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, an extensively researched book written on him, the move to Washington was bumpy and he fell in with a bad crowd.  The hitherto golden boy started unraveling.

He began to miss classes and this became evident in the plummeting of his grades. He took up shoplifting as a hobby, stealing things that were not useful to him. With his new set of friends they will go to a sports store and steal golf balls. At some point in this unraveling he ran away from home.

Things came to a head when his father noticed the obscene amount of  golf balls in his sons closet  and gave him an ultimatum to either straighten out or lose his thriving business of newspaper delivery and magazine subscription sales.

He listened and made changes in his life that will see him become focused on his goals in life to the detriment of other aspects of his life.

His newspaper delivery and magazine subscription business made enough profit for him to buy a 40 acre farm in Nebraska while a sophomore in a Washington D.C high school. He would eventually graduate from college at the age of 20 with about $10,000 in savings from his businesses.

Today he is 85years old and a multibillionaire worth about 70.1 billion USD

The take away from this is that no one is perfect — not even people who have crafted a perfect public image. Buffett’s secret shoplifting adventures just go to show that a troublemaking eighth grader might just end up being one of the world’s brightest businessmen of all time.

And people can change. Buffett undoubtedly learned from his shoplifting experiences. Much later, and with gray hair, he told a class of undergrad students how important it is to hire honest people

Warren Buffet acclaimed investor and proclaimed “Oracle of Omaha” was not perfect, but never stopped working out the chinks in his armor. He kept polishing his character so he could be better. Today we celebrate him as a success ,an Olympian “god” , and forget that he was once a man like us, we forget the lesser battles he fought with himself both the ones he won and others that he lost. These battles made him a god among men.

I can rise above my defects in character and so can you. My tomorrow can only be what I make of it today.

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Hubris; saint or sinner

Of all the causes which conspire to blind
Man’s erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is Pride, the never-failing vice of fools.

Alexander Pope

 In his classic work Odyssey, Homer tells the story of Odysseus the king of Ithaca. Odysseus is portrayed by Homer as a brave and cunning warrior who was awarded the famous armor of Achilles after Achilles’ death. He is credited with proposing the strategy of the Trojan horse that led to the defeat of Troy. After playing a significant role in the defeat of Troy he was overcome with hubris and claimed the defeat of Troy was his handiwork without any help from the gods. Hubris will be a common flaw noticed in the life of this great hero pitting him against the gods who were out to humble him.

Despite being at odds with the gods on account of his pride he continued his journey in hubris and in his encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus son of Poseidon he again let his hubris override his better instincts. During his wanderings he and his men were marooned on an island unknown to them inhabited by a Cyclops. The Cyclops took to killing off his men one after the other. Odysseus , in his cunning got the Cyclops drunk and gouged out his one eye but instead of leaving him in defeat he  taunted (despite his men advising him to the contrary) him , saying ” Cyclops if any man asks how you came about your blindness, say that Odysseus sacker of cities, Laertes’ son a native of Ithaca , maimed you”. This led the enraged Cyclops to pray to his father Poseidon for vengeance.

Throughout the story of Odysseus his pride was a flaw that he couldn’t live without and because of it the gods put many obstacles in his path so as to humble him. Eventually after ten (10) years wandering without reaching home he admitted his incapacity to survive without the gods and so was humbled and was allowed to return home.

But is pride all bad news?

He that is down needs fear no fall;
He that is low, no pride.

John Bunyan

 A little pride is good for the soul; it’s an attribute that is 99% bad and 1% good. In measured doses pride can drive an individual to excel in his chosen field, to attempt the impossible and to become successful. The hubris of Odysseus was deadly , an abundance of pride that sees everybody as inferior and claims a right of supremacy over everybody. That could also be said to be the vice of Icarus who flying on wings made of wax ignored his father’s advice not to fly too close to the sun.  He flew too close to the sun, which melted his wings and he fell to his death.

A lot of us desire success but only a few pursue success and even fewer maintain the course after failure. Those who maintain the course and are eventually celebrated often talk about an innate sense of confidence in their ability to find a way out, if they did not believe that they could, they would have fallen by the wayside like the rest.

Self confidence, the utmost belief in the capacity of the individual to pursue and attain a goal diligently irrespective of the odds, has at its foundation pride. Pride in one’s ability, pride in ones capacity and pride in one’s self.

I know of no case where a man added to his dignity by standing on it.

                                                                                            Attributed to Winston Churchill

Admittedly it is difficult to maintain a balance between deadly hubris and confidence building pride. But that’s where character comes in. Character grounds us and keeps us focused on the journey. Character according to the author John Maxwell is made up of 4 components; self discipline, core values, self identity and integrity. All these come together to give us strong character and if our character is strong then we can maintain the pride balance.

The idea that man is from birth a conceited creature gives us a scope of the work needed to keep pride in check. Pride can be real or imagined it is defined by the next person and not by the person in question. Somebody said that the moment you think you are not conceited you are already manifesting conceit. Pride is so interwoven into the fabric of who we are that it seems almost impossible to live without pride.

Pride is like a perfume. When it is worn,

 it radiates a sense of self the world reacts to.

Stevie Wonder

Pride in  accomplishments in spite of the odds, pride in the journey about to be undertaken in spite of the strain, pride in one’s children that turned out well in the face of contemporary difficulties in raising them  right. There’s so much to be genuinely and respectfully proud of but often times we allow our successes redefine our lives, so because we have recorded some successes we think everybody else is a failure, because we passed an exam others that did not pass like us become dullards.

We acquire a superiority complex that breeds arrogance and deep seated hubris; we learn to separate ourselves from the motley crowd of “underachievers” who are trying to be successful. And being blinded by our overinflated sense of self worth we do not see the trip stone that eventually sends us hurtling down hill, and so the aphorism that pride goes before a fall is absolutely manifested.

There is no one successful man or woman who is not proud of his achievement, but the difference is in the way we allow these successes limit our quest to accomplish more. When we allow hubris overcome us in the successes of today, it makes us to be focused on this one accomplishment , this one plaque we polish it put it on the mantel piece and explain to everybody that passes how we achieved that. We lose sight of tomorrow and get ourselves shackled to today’s awards. So we stop progressing and get lost in the stagnation of present success. We tend therefore to exist in yesterdays pride and forfeit tomorrow’s opportunities. That is why hubris is deadly because it literally kills talent and innovation; it kills a teachable spirit and makes an individual a god unto himself.

The pride that sustains is what you see in your fathers’ eyes when you tell him how you stared down a bully in school or how you defended your principles to your peers when they were persuading you to go against what you were taught was good behavior.

I am proud but I try to control it the best I can by remembering my failures when it seems my victories are overwhelming, when I seem lost in triumph I try to remind myself that I have failed a thousand times for this one success. Is it easy , absolutely not. I have been lost to deadly hubris a couple of times but losing doesn’t keep me from trying once again to find the virtue in hubris.

Beyond betrayal

I read a lot of novels growing up but I was not one for memorizing texts and speeches. One of my teachers in school got me interested in a particular speech in “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare. The speech was one made by Mark Anthony at the funeral of Julius Caesar who was murdered by his close allies. Even now I still remember it and the stirrings it occasioned in my heart when I heard it for the first time: “Friends Romans and country men lend me your ears. I have come to bury Caesar and not to praise him, the evil that men do lives after them and the good are oft interred with their bones….” the speech was a master work of oration by Mark Anthony, and it was crafted as such for a purpose.  The speech was punctuated often by the phrase “…and Brutus was an honorable man”. A little insight into the story of Julius Caesar will help unveil the man Brutus.

The tragedy of Julius Caesar is a story of politics and betrayal. Some of the Roman elite feared that Caesar was becoming too powerful and conspired to kill him and in their own reasoning save Rome the trouble of having a king reign over them (the Romans detested the idea of having a king over them). For their plan to be appealing to the populace the conspirators needed a man of honor to stand with them and for them and Marcus Brutus was that man.

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.

William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice)

Having aligned himself with the conspirators, Brutus was present in the Senate forum when the attack on Caesar began, they stabbed him multiple times, and in the agony of death Caesar looked around and saw Brutus, a man whom he knew to be honest and forthright not shady in his dealings but principled in his actions, among the conspirators and made that everlasting cry of despair in the face of absolute betrayal, “Et tu, Brute?” (Thou too Brutus?).

The impassioned speech by Mark Anthony during Caesars funeral eventually drove the crowd of roman mourners to go after the conspirators and drive them out of the city, by the end of the story, Marcus Junius Brutus had committed suicide.

To betray ; to deliver to the enemy through treacherous means, to fail or desert especially in a time of need, to sell down the river.

At one time or the other we have all felt betrayed be it by parents, friends siblings or spouses. Most have also felt betrayed by circumstances or situations. But of all forms of betrayal we reckon less with our betrayal of ourselves. The betrayal of the values we hold dear, our principles our goals our views of life or circumstances, our political and religious views and other things that make up the fabric of who we are.

We never are but by ourselves betrayed.

William Congreve

For little favors we have betrayed our principles, in order to belong we have betrayed our religious convictions, we have become a people without philosophies or ethos. Its easier for us to quote philosophers and scholars of centuries gone by but we lay no claim to new ethos of living our lives.

In being betrayed you learn a few things, part of which is that every human being has the capacity to betray someone and that most betrayals if not all are done out of a survival instinct to preserve self. I am not trying to make excuses for anybody but it will be nice to understand some part of the wiring of a human being that allows him act the way he does.

Both imagined and real fear has a way of getting people to betray the things that they are supposed to cherish.

So how then do we get over and above betrayal, how do we survive being betrayed or betraying others. Following a betrayal the reflex action is to cut off the offending individual, remove from your consciousness anything that will remind you of the harm done to you. But beyond that, its important to allow yourself the opportunity to heal.

Depending on the magnitude of the betrayal healing might take a while, dont force it but be open to its soothing waves. Its normal to find no reason to forgive the offender, but their cant be genuine healing without forgiveness. After the anger has abated listen to your heart and seek peace, focus on the action that hurt you but not on the individual. Dont rationalize it, dont make excuses for why the individual could have betrayed you, just look beyond the action to see a flawed human being like you.

Reason to rule, but mercy to forgive:
The first is law, the last prerogative
.

John Dryden

If we relate with each other on the basis that we are a flawed species then forgiveness will come easy for us. It is tragic that of ourselves we have never been able to give perfection but we demand it of others and when they fail we condemn them.

The commonest story of betrayal in the world today is that of Judas one of the disciples of Jesus. He betrayed his friend and master for 30 pieces of silver. His crime did not stop in the betrayal but continued into his hopelessness that he could never be forgiven. The end point of that loss of hope was him committing suicide.

Even as there is a discernible pathway to a better life following a betrayal so it is when you betray yourself in your principles, visions, dreams or goals. You have to recognize the betrayal, you have to acknowledge it and accept responsibility for it.  And then you have to find it in yourself to forgive yourself and move on.

The stupid neither forgive nor forget;

the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.

Thomas Szasz

Life is not just about the big victories, it is the small victories that aggregate to become big victories.

A little step here and a little push there and on you go to becoming a better person.

The face of fear

In Nigeria we call it “ojuju”, at least that’s in the Eastern and Western parts, in Europe and the Americas it is the bogeyman. Across cultures it is known by different names but has the same effect: fear. As children growing up we were indoctrinated into the fact that “ojuju” is resident in every dark corner of the house. Now we all know the implication of that when suddenly electricity fails at night. Every child looks for his or her mother to hold onto ( I wonder why it’s always the mother). In a way we raise our children on this culture of acceptable fear.

And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you,
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you
I will show you fear in a handful of dust
.

T.S. Eliot

Acceptable because the adults know it’s nonsense so they catch their fun for the day watching kids try to flee the clutches of “ojuju”. We grow up and understand the joke played on us and we set out to do the same to our kids.

Fear is a common denominator to all human beings, we have all been afraid and we are all still afraid. I try to arbitrarily classify fear as conscious and unconscious fear. Conscious fear will include the numerous phobias; from agoraphobia to xenophobia to claustrophobia. The list is endless, these fears are known to the individual and he/she tries avoidance as a panacea. When the individual is exposed to this type of fear the individual freezes, pulse racing with palpitations, excessive sweating, maybe tremors and other physically observable symptoms are present .these phobias are incapacitating to the physical person.

You may take the most gallant sailor,

the most intrepid airman, or the most audacious soldier,

put them at a table together—what do you get? The sum of their fears.

Winston Churchill

What I term unconscious fear on the other hand comes from our minds, the object of fear is abstract, it is intangible and the effects have a less physical manifestation if any. This is the fear that that limits our drive to succeed because we fear failure, or the drive to form relationships because we fear betrayal. It limits our desire to know God because we fear what we can’t comprehend.

I once refused to write an exam because I was afraid of failing, my classmates were preparing for this exam but I found a convenient way to sidestep it. Now looking back I could have written that exam even if I failed I would have learnt of a better way to write it the next time. But my fear kept me from moving.

That’s the type of fear we are talking about, the fear that stops your mind from taking necessary steps. After years of being made to feel like fear was a defect in my life, I have come to the understanding that fear is essentially necessary for growth and development. It is a necessary motivator for success if well understood and applied.

Today we celebrate people that contributed in no small way to our development as a species in this century. Men and women who through hard work and determination gained knowledge that is helping us know our world better. We like to paint them as fearless achievers but I like to remember them as men and women who knew and understood their fears and employed these fear in their journey of life.

Every man has a House of Lords in his own head.

Fears, prejudices, misconceptions—

those are the peers, and they are hereditary.

David Lloyd-George

The difference between success and failure lies in the ability of one to feel afraid and yet do the needful, to be mortified and yet not be paralyzed by fear. Courage is not overcoming your fears but having mastery over them.

We can’t talk of the courage to succeed or to achieve and make exploits if we don’t talk of the fear of being a mediocre. Courage to eat right to be healthy can only come from a healthy fear of becoming sick through unhealthy eating habits. Fear, healthy fear should drive us to succeed, it should drive us to not conform but to be positively different. The business man who is striving to be wealthy is probably afraid of seeing his children suffer the want that he suffered growing up, the medical researcher spending night and day looking for the cure of rare diseases may well be afraid of seeing the despair in the eyes of a patient he could not help. The wealthy individual that became a philanthropist may well be afraid of how he will be remembered when he lives the world stage, and that drives him to try and write a new epitaph for him/herself.

More than being the negative force it has been described as, fear is a positively motivational force for success. When we were in school we were always  told to strive to be better than our fathers in terms of education and achievements in life, so at some point in life the fear of being less lettered than your father drove boys to school. Even now that a lot of us are professionals the fear of not standing out among your peers drives a lot of people to pursue excellence so that they could be outstanding.

Okonkwo’s fear … was not external but lay deep within himself.

It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father.

Chinua Achebe (Things fall apart)

This is not to disregard the negative influences of fear but to focus by choice on the positives. Because at the end of the day the path we follow is a path of choice.

Two young girls came from the same village, both their mothers were widows and were petty traders striving to make ends meet. For both girls the fear of not wanting to be like others in their age group in the village drives them to look for a better opportunity in life. One apprenticed in a hair dressers saloon and years later has become the owner of a number of saloons. The other, driven by the same fear found herself with a group of girls that took her down the wrong way, she became a prostitute and started having unprotected sexual intercourse. She got infected with HIV/AIDS and died. Same fear different outcomes.

Today the call is to acknowledge your fear and strive to master it; it’s only the fool that thinks there is nothing to be afraid of. Your courage will be measured not in the mountain of fear you overcame to become successful but in your understanding of your fears and having them as a companion on your path to success. Someone once said that “the opposite of courage is not cowardice it is conformity”, choose not to conform today and take a dive into the deep end of the ocean of courage.

Finding the Beauty within

I was surfing the news this morning when I came to a startling realization: that there is war and conflict in every continent of the world. From minor political conflicts within nations to cross border conflicts among nations graduating to full blown wars both within local borders and international ones, as if that was not enough the news of West Africa battling with Ebola viral Disease is on , the disease has killed more than 10,000 human beings and still counting though it appears to be under control. The terror attacks by Islamic ideologues against innocent civilians are on the rise, young men and women travelling to Syria to apply for the position of “suicide bombers” so they can kill others for their belief are on the increase. Economic conflicts here and there, the European Union and Greece trying to out negotiate each other, citizens in Spain staging anti-austerity rallies. The list goes on and on and it made me wonder: is there still beauty in this world?

The focus on negative news in our world today has made us lose sight of the beauty that still is in the world. The Liberian nursing student who alone nursed 3 family members who had Ebola viral disease to health, the mother that gave birth naturally to a 14 pound baby in Florida, USA, the man in Dubai who was morbidly obese, diabetic and had heart problems who changed his lifestyle and increased his exercise and in 3 months has lost so much weight that his heart has started functioning normally and his blood sugar is on an all time low with minimal medication. We do not see the journalist in America who lost his arm to acute compartment syndrome tell his story of denial , despair and eventual recovery from the loss and his actively conscious effort to focus on the good and live one day at a time.

It was the Chinese philosopher Confucius that said that “everything has beauty but not everyone sees it”. We have to learn to see the beauty in our lives, our environments and then the world. Don’t for a second think you can blank out the negative news, you can instead choose not to focus on them.

This applies more to our personal lives, some mornings we wake up to the realization that a lot of things are not working in our lives as they ought to. I don’t have my preferred job, I am not promoted as I should, I have been married for a number of years and no child yet. My company is recording monthly losses and it looks like I may have to declare bankruptcy soon. It seems that at that moment that you woke up, your entire challenges and difficulties gate crashed into your consciousness and so you think, “My life is a mess, nothing is working”.

It is very instructive to know that nobody’s life is free of challenges or difficulties of one sort or the other. The one worried about job promotion should remember there are those who don’t have jobs, the one worried about not having a child yet should remember that there are some who want to be married and cannot. No matter at what level of life we are, we are always better than somebody. This does not imply we should be complacent in our life’s pursuits rather it should give us the latitude to judge well where we are and where we are coming from; laying a lot of emphasis on what is working for us now.

Your challenges don’t go away, there are solved eventually. The solution most times do not come from an obsession with them to the detriment of all others rather it is easier to find solutions to difficult problems in the silent reminiscing of the good that has befallen us. For him who is gifted sees inspiration in all things but the one who labors to attain the level of “gifted” seeks for inspiration in all things.

“Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them”

                                                                                                                   David Hume

Can you find beauty in yourself and in the life around you? We have become such a noisy society that we don’t even have time again to think and reflect on the nuances of life, our life has by our own design become more outward looking than inward looking. So we see the successes of others and not the challenging journey that brought them there, we can give up anything for fame  which for a lot of young people gets peer group validation. We idolize celebrities but don’t learn from their lives, all because we don’t stop to think. In this age, we have access to so much information that it is immensely hard to determine what is important and what is not. The millenials as this generation is known by, focus so much on what is on the outside than on what is on the inside.

Well this is the time for us to stop and find the beauty on our insides so that we can teach the world that beauty beyond compare still exists in this world because we have found exceeding beauty in ourselves.