9 Lessons I have learnt in Life.


I have lived a full and interesting life. I count myself fortunate in having had an idyllic, safe and middle class childhood. I was lucky enough to attend a high school, which was a beacon of multi-racialism during South Africa’s Apartheid years. I am a proud beneficiary of Ireland’s wonderful tertiary education system. For a decade, London was my home, THE global city. I have had the opportunity to work in various countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe., and I have met wonderful and interesting people, who have made me a better person.

So, I would like to give you 9 lessons that I have learnt.

1. Don’t judge.

We all judge. That is an undeniable fact. But, it doesn’t get you anywhere other than wallowing in your judgemental echo chamber. How often have you landed in a foreign country and judge the country from your experience at the airport? Here’s one I would like to share with you: I was recruited to go and work for a telecoms company, in Kabul. At the baggage hall, there was just a pile of luggage heaped up. They were brought from the aircraft in barrows. I couldn’t see mine and my anxiety levels jumped. The F1 landing hadn’t helped. I was used to landing at a perceptibly slow touchdown. Not this time. Maybe, because I was in a war zone and I did see wreckages of aircraft. I felt a tap on my arm. A dusty-faced youth gestured to me. I got the message. He would get my bag for a $5 baksheesh. I, clearly, heard the word and warning bells rang. The smallest currency on me was $10. I agreed. He was a smart kid. He found my bag in no time. It was a travel set with my backpack. He found my case. I nodded. He smiled, a beautiful innocent smile. He took my money and gave me the 10 minutes wait sign. At least, I had my bag. So, I sat and waited for my change. I, also, waited for the company rep to find me. Easy, since I was the only non-UN Black civilian. I felt that I was on Tatooine and I had no Obi or Han Solo. I was centuries from Cape Town and in a war zone. The airport was full of ISAF contingents and PMCs, departing or arriving. After an hour, Dusty came back with my change. He had a big smile, as if he proved me wrong. Well, he did. I had judged him and his country without truly knowing his culture or his life. I had come with my Western, middle class baggage. Every culture is different, just different — not better or not worse, just different. The rest of my stay in Kabul was as interesting as my encounter with Dusty.

2. Every problem has a solution.

I was a student at University College Cork, studying Commerce, in the early 80s. I lived on monthly allowance, which was mostly spent on cultural activities, such as traditional Irish music nights and the raising of Cain. One time, when the money had run out and the food was down to a few potatoes, I decided to think of a plan just before I fell asleep. It worked! So, ever since, I have used the same method to find solutions to my problems. It worked most of the time, but, at least, I had a solution to my problem.

3. No guts, no glory.

I once bought a greeting card. It had a mouse on one side of the pavement and a piece of cheese on the other. Between them were feet of people going up and down. On the inside was printed “No guts, no glory”. Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing, which you think you cannot do.” It is all about find Courage and not letting Fear enslave you”.

4. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.

And they are! I’m not even talking about Big Brother. I’m talking about people that don’t have your best interests at heart. These could be family members, friends or colleagues. Don’t believe that saying, “blood is thicker than water.” More people are killed by those they know than complete strangers. Remember the Good Samaritan?

5. Solitude is your friend, too.

Solitude is a wonderful friend. Paul Tillich, the German-American Christian existentialist philosopher and theologian said, “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone”. It’s necessary to be alone to recharge and get that self-awareness back, as well as to reconnect with your Self.

6. Be a Chameleon.

The poor chameleon has been given a bad rap. A chameleon is said to be a person who changes his or her opinions or behaviour to please others: I like to think of a chameleon as someone who’s able to blend into whatever environment without changing her or his true nature. As Meat Loaf once said, “It’s like people call me a rock star or this or that. And I go, ‘Don’t call me that. I don’t think of myself in those terms. If you have to call me anything, call me a chameleon.”

7. Miracles are unconditional acts of kindness.

Jon Bon Jovi once said “Miracles happen everyday, change your perception of what a miracle is and you’ll see them all around you.” He is quite right. I used to believe that miracles where huge events like the old Biblical ones. But, I have come to realise that they are unconditional acts of kindness. It’s that Dollar you put in the hand of a stranger. It’s that returned smile that you gave a troubled teen that stopped her from committing suicide that day. It is that phone call you received, on the Friday evening, from a tired HR assistant, which could have waited until Monday, to tell you that you have the job and have a nice weekend. Those are miracles, and we can perform them every day of our lives.

8. Friends are like shoes.

There are two types of shoes. Those that are real nice and glamorous, which you wear on special occasions, and are replaceable because they have no real meaning. They are just to be seen in and nothing more. Then, there are those that you’ve worn for years and looked after. And when you wear them, they are so comfortable, and you remember when you got them and the times they have been there for you, come rain or shine. Real friends are like that.

9. May the Force be with you.

However much we might think and pooh-pooh it, there is a war between good and evil. And, no, it’s not about religion. We have to choose a side. There is no fence to sit on. Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, the Russian novelist, historian, short story writer and outspoken critic of the Soviet Union, wrote “The battleline between good and evil runs through the heart of every man [woman].” The choice is ours alone. May the Force be with you!

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