Saturday, January 02, 2010



“What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story…” –Chimamanda Adichie.
In Indonesia, they have a phrase that has become an integral part of my life over the past few months - djam karet. Loosely translated into English, it means the ‘hour that stretches’.
Once in a while, I have one of those ‘hours that stretch’, where I try to take an objective look at life. I approach those thinking sessions trying to become more aware, trying to understand why I think the way I do and trying to identify which parts of my life I could take more responsibility for.
Recently, I set out to identify what was responsible for my thought patterns, and what kind of effect it had on my quality of life. The results of that session gave rise to this post. I would like to share what I learnt, because I believe that they apply to everyone, regardless of age, culture and other differences.
Let’s do this, shall we?
Have you noticed that we never really see the world the way it is? Has it occurred to you yet that we all see the world the way we are; that we see a reflection of ourselves in others? Let me give you a way to picture this, other than the clich├ęd belief window concept. Think of yourself as looking at life through sunglasses, tinted sunglasses. Now, while your pair of glasses might have clear lenses, it still has some element of shade built into it.
Have you heard it said that we are products of our environments and our choices? From that popularly held assertion, it follows that two factors are responsible for the tints on our sunglasses: our environments, and the choices we make consciously.
Here I will make my first proposition, and I will make a lot more in this post – so please, follow me. The quality of your life is largely dependent on your belief system, which comprises of your belief or disbelief in God, your thoughts (desires, expectations, etc), virtues such as discipline, commitment etc, and other factors. Now, very importantly, your thoughts are largely dependent on the way you perceive the world around you, which is largely dependent on the ‘tint of your sunglasses’. At this point, I can suggest further that the quality of your life is partly dependent on your perception of the world.
We will call that proposition one, and take a break from that line of thought for a moment.
If you look deeply inward, you will find a lot of things you believe but which you have not yet experienced and which you did not just choose to believe. Does that make sense? Let me give you an example. I have never been out of Nigeria, yet I believe that snow exists. I also belief that exposure to its attendant cold may cause frostbite. Yet, I have never seen snow fall. Now, I did not just wake up one day and decide to cook up snow in my mind, so it was not a conscious choice; at the same time, I have not physically experienced snow yet, so my belief in snow does not result from my environment. I will leave you to guess how I found out about snow.
You will note that I have identified a tint on my sunglasses - however small - that was not put there by my environment or by a choice that I made. Also, if you will look carefully enough, you will find tints on your own sunglasses that did not arise from conscious choice or from your environment.
At this point, you will agree that there is an underlying factor that might be common to and even more important than your environment or the choices you make because of its subtlety. It begins to be obvious that there is something that influences our choices, and colors the way we perceive external influences. And here I must make another bold proposition.
I propose that your experience of the world outside of your environment is given to you by the books you read; the movies you see and the music you listen to; and the people you meet. Do you agree with that? Now, can you identify a common thread that runs through these external influences? You probably guessed right: stories! Simply put, I propose that your experience of the world outside of your environment is shaped by the stories you connect with.
Now, let us take this further one step. Beyond a passive experience, the stories you connect with largely affect what you come to expect from life. Like I wrote above, I have never experienced snow but I absolutely expect it to be very cold. For you, it could be that you have never written an exam, but you expect it to be very hard; because someone who wrote it a while back told you that it was. It could be that you have never met that new guy in your office, but you expect him to be a pain in the neck; because you heard your co-workers saying something to that end. It could be anything.
Now, these prophecies often self-fulfill. After engaging and connecting with a story that a particular interview is rock hard, that interview often turns out to be hard. After engaging and connecting with a story that a particular guy is very hard to get on with, you go into your first meeting expecting him to be ‘nasty’, he picks up your negative vibrations, and he responds in like manner – so you leave him with your initial belief reinforced. Examples abound.
Finally, I want to propose that the quality of your life is partly dependent on the stories you connect with; because the stories you connect with affect how you perceive the world.
Now, this gets really cyclical here. In earlier posts on this blog, I quoted Philip Larkin, who postulated that life has a practice of living you if you do not live it. Here, we must note that except we decide which kind of stories we will engage and connect with, life will tell us all sorts of stories. So, in the long runit still boils down to choice. The major difference between people who live consciously and those who just drift through life is that the former take responsibility for the kinds of stories they engage and connect with while the latter just connect with whichever stories come their way. Have you noticed the two words ‘engage’ and ‘connect’ yet? You engage stories when you choose to listen to them, and you connect with stories when you choose to believe them.
As we travel through life, we must remember that the kind of stories we listen to and believe ultimately affect the qualities of our lives. More importantly, we must realize that it is up to us as individuals to determine which stories we will listen to, and which ones we will believe. Life will bring all sorts of stories your way. While you may have to listen to them all, you do not have to believe all of them. In fact, you take an important step on the path to improving the quality of your life when you consciously choose the stories you believe.
Which books do you read the most often? What kind of movies do you see consistently? What kind of music do you listen to most often? Which people do you spend the most time with? You absolutely need to take time out and answer these questions, because these answers will ultimately determine the quality of your life.
Finally, beyond all of the rhetoric, you can actually download the ultimate story for your life from God. When you find out what He is saying about you through his Word, believe it with all of your heart, and trust in Him to keep you till the end – then you can look at the world through the eyes of its creator and then go on to write your own script! Absolutely!
Let me leave you with these questions: which stories will you connect with, and whose report will you believe?
You are the same today that you are going to be five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you associate and the books you read. - Charles Jones.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, great personal development article bro, great one...

    Was starting to think you had gone off blogger for ever...

    Take care of you and have fun... And by the way, your word use is really impressive