When Saying NO is The Most Important Word to Say

It is all rooted in our childhood. While growing up, our parents or caretakers have the primary responsibility to love and care for us and to encourage us to develop the basic skills of life and work.
Their love and care keeps us safe and secure until we are old enough to care for ourselves. Through the simplest but most important words of YES and NO, they teach us what is right or wrong. A child’s worst fear at that age is being rejected or abandoned and any child will do anything to retain this sense of belonging. So we all learn to play along to get along. We become eager to please whom we love. We carry this from home into schools and elsewhere. In the schools, we want to bond with the peers to the point of sacrificing a sense of self to belong to the group. We have all been there and done that. Hair has been bleached, noses pierced, ear lobes pierced, bodies tattooed and alcohol tasted all for the sake of fitting in.

Through the guidance of our parents, relatives and teachers and the experiences we go through, we learn and grow. Among the important things we learn is that each one of us is different and has different skills and talents. This gives each child the responsibility for finding and getting what he/she wants in life. Secondly we learn that we are simply human and fallible and cannot please all the people all the time. At the same time, we are reminded to take responsibility to live our lives interdependent on others. A sense of own identity helps each one of us to create her/his own boundaries and defend them. Gradually you develop principles and values and over time you learn to trust yourself and stand up for yourself. You begin to assert your own desires and wishes where you are while at the same time respecting the needs and feeling of the other person. Since you are now free to be yourself and it is coming naturally to you, saying NO to what you do not believe in becomes easier.

All over the world, the professional woman faces the biggest challenge of finding a healthy work-life balance as she rises to the top. Many of us have found ourselves taking on too much and too fast. Getting to the top has come to us at a cost. This is one major milestone in one’s life where you have to pause to learn or re-learn saying a firm NO when choosing to take on commitments. This has to be done every day otherwise you get overwhelmed with work. You do not just stumble into this place; you have to work towards it with the help of others. Once achieved, you have to protect it. Nothing is as frightening as being out of control. The simple words YES and NO that our parents used to prepare and guide us through life are the same words we use to run our lives smoothly. They become more significant as we walk through life. One has to think carefully before using them and when one does, one has to say them confidently.

Here are a few quotes to indicate that each one of us still has the basic right to say NO.

“No ‘’ is a complete sentence. It does not require an explanation to follow. You can truly answer someone’s request with a simple No.” Sharon . E. Rainey

“It takes true courage and real humility to say No or Yes.” Ernest Agyemang Yeboah.

The common thread that runs through the lives of great men and women who lived rich and fulfilling lives and worked for the common good, is that they were able to balance Yes and No in their lives.
Tony Blair( Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1997-2007) once said : “ The art of leadership is saying No not saying Yes. It is very easy to say Yes.”

Over time most of us learn to  say NO to unfair demands or requests and not to allow anyone to argue you out of your NO.Similarly, learn to respect others when they say NO to you. Keep practicing it ; it gets better with time.

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The Power in Knowing Who You Are

Last February I wrote an article about ‘ Being Me’  to encourage people to  accept who they are. Of late, each time I listen to the hit gospel song I Know Who I Am by the Nigerian Award Winning Gospel Singer Sinach, that post keeps coming back to me. The psychologists tell us that the experiences you go through shape your character and gradually you learn who you are – your strengths and flaws and what is deep in your heart. Then moments of sudden clarity hit you. Usually, it is an experience like the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or escaping death by a whisker which initiates you  into this new you. Such experiences shock you out of your normal way of seeing or doing things. You begin to search for meaning at a deeper level. Slowly you get connected to your depths and in so doing you experience meaning and authenticity in your life. You accept the responsibility for living your own life fully.

Tapping into the power of your uniqueness, you seek to become more enlightened and transformed. This is when you find yourself wanting to be more and do more with what you have for yourself and the community you live in. You feel you need to belong to something bigger than yourself.You begin to live with the constant challenge for self-improvement and to look out for like-minded people. You join clubs like the Rotary and other voluntary organisations to use the power within you  to help yourself and others. The awakened genuine identity deep within you makes you more imaginative and creative. It becomes a lifelong process achieved through day-to-day experiences of your life.

With sharpened imagination and creativity; writers are said to be writing from the hearts, singers are said to be singing from their hearts, painters are said to be dipping their brushes in their own souls and architects are said to be creating houses with souls. You are creating a life and things that emerge out of the truth about who you are. You start seeing things and hearing things differently and thinking differently. Whatever you choose to do, you do it effortlessly and gladly too and the reward is for you to feel completely whole and yourself.

Getting to know the truth about yourself and learning to love and respect yourself is a lifelong process. It frees you to love and respect others. It also opens you up to learn from others and to take more risks in the world. A number of us take a long time to achieve this clarity while a small number never achieve it at all. They go through life confused about who they are and terribly frustrated about what is happening to them.  They are not empowered to find their uniqueness and mission in life and therefore never live out what is their own to do and never make their unique contribution to world.

As expected, the process starts with the parents or caretakers. They have the primary duty to help the growing child to acquire the necessary emotional and social skills from birth to the transition to adulthood. The social and emotional skills are closely related to both the social and cultural framework of family and the surroundings and they help the child to shape his future.Children are supposed to be adequately socialized to be themselves, part of the family and later to be effective in the society in which they live. If this is done properly then as adults they are free to follow and assert  independent values, opinions and desires.

There is no doubt that you give of your best when you know and understand who you are and the environment you live in. It stirs you up to strive to achieve your inner potential. A few quotes below clearly point this out:

“She understood her worth which made her powerful. The world gravely needed a hero so she became one. No superpowers really, just a strong woman who took no nonsense from anyone.” Rabdall Core

“ No one is you and that is your power.” Anonymous

“When you know your worth, no one can make you feel worthless.” Anonymous

Let each one of us awaken to the unique power within just as Morgan Harper Nicholas reminds us in this quote:  “Know your worth, hold your own power, be you.’’

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Seeing What is True Around Me 11

This post is a follow-up to the first one of 2nd October 2017.

In this Digital era where information generation and sharing have become the normal and the world shrunk to a Global village, all cultures are affected worldwide. This demands that our cultures become more dynamic so as to remain relevant in this fast paced world.
Since the Dawn of Time, parents have been their children’s first teachers and they have shouldered this responsibility for a lifetime. They have had to give their children love and affection to make them feel a sense of being desired and belonging. Once the children feel secure, they can then engage fully in the world around them. The parents continue being their role models and doing things with them.
Most African cultures are more concerned with group cohesion- groups like tribes than the individual. It is therefore mandatory that parents teach their children their heritage and traditions, encouraging them to embrace what the parents themselves cherish and want to preserve. Children should be encouraged to develop a positive view of their identity and to be involved in the celebration of their culture. They should be taught to speak the language, cook and eat the food, wear the traditional attire and to spend time with relatives and family friends.Gradually they develop a sense of identity and as they continue to grow they are socialized adequately to be effective in the society in which they live. Anchored in their culture, they will be free to follow and assert their independent values, opinions and desires and use them to seek their own good and for the good of humanity.

From what I see around me;I grew up in a different environment where my parents took the primary responsibility to make sure that I was safe and secure as far as the environment could allow. At the same time, like the pack of the African wild dog, the whole village played a role in bringing up all the children.
At a tender age, my parents taught me some simple but significant common sense safeguards that helped to keep me from being easy target for a criminal. I still carry them today and have passed them on to my children.
They include the following:
1. My identity : my names, my age, the names of my parents, where they lived and worked,our home telephone number(landline) the names of our neighbours
2. Never to be collected from school by anyone else
3. Never to accept gifts or money from strangers
4. Never to accept a lift from a stranger
5. There is Safety in numbers.
As I grew up, more of them were added as the need arose while my parents’ love,guidance and advice became more significant.

Before I knew it, I had become the parent of the day and had to shoulder the same responsibility as my parents. I polished up on what I had seen my parents do then I opened my mind to learn the new things every day. By then,many things had changed in the real world. None of us ever saw it coming: the 3rd Industrial Revolution-the Digital Revolution.It changed and continues to change the real world forever. I have no doubt that my children will face bigger challenges than myself as they bring up their children.
Any children caught up confused about who they are :in terms of values and traditions, will find it terribly hard to thrive in this ever-changing environment. As I said earlier on that the Internet had shrunk the world into a global Village, Telecommunications has opened up a varied mixture of cultural richness. In this Global Village,we have to embrace diversity and the values it brings with it-different gifts of different cultures and races.

If we did a good job in anchoring our children in what we cherish and want to retain in our cultures, past and present, then they have become open –minded and free to learn from others and love and value them. Anyone who is secure in who he/she is, has been empowered out of ignorance, prejudices and tyranny. He /She can easily become a citizen of the world while standing firmly on her/his launching pad of uniqueness.

As our children fulfill their responsibility of bringing up their own children during the Digital Revolution , their work is already cut out for them. No doubt it will be a more challenging task since the 4th Industrial Revolution is already gaining more momentum leading to a proliferation of more new technologies.
As Alvin Toffler (1928-2016) an American author said: “The illiterates of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.’’
Socrates, the classical Greek philosopher(469-399 BC) pointed out: “The more I learn the less I know.’’
As we learn, unlearn and relearn we have to avoid becoming Copycats: not to copy wholesale- not just copy and paste but only pick what we consider relevant and what will help us to develop into better human beings.  I have observed that grounded into what I value, I become more receptive to new ideas and I at the same time acquire a deeper knowledge of my own identity and strength.

Learning remains a life-long process and only becomes easier if we are grounded in the rhythm of who you are: a member of a family, a member of a gender group, community and a nation.
The famous Physicist, Albert Einstein said: Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.’’
As you can see, you and I are somewhere along this journey of a lifetime. Do not allow yourself to become one of the illiterates of the 21st century. Keep walking to find a more fulfilling and effective life.

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After being away for two decades, I returned to a country changed beyond recognition.  I am not talking about the many skyscrapers in the cities but I am more concerned  about the change in the moral fabric, the cultures and even the languages themselves.

I have been around long enough to know that culture has to be dynamic so as to remain relevant. Culture itself tends to be more dynamic than us the individuals. The individuals affect the course of history by how they live their own lives. I am of the Ganda culture: a culture which is more concerned with the freedom of the clans- group cohesion than the individual. I am part of a family, a gender group, a community and a nation. In all these roles, I have the responsibility to conserve what is best and cherished and to change what is not good.

Looking around, I can see many changes and I have been swinging like a pendulum between illumination and alarm. I take comfort in the knowledge that the changes are not unique to my country, Uganda, but are happening virtually everywhere in the world.

We are living in the Information Age ; technology has become an integral part of our lives. Telecommunications has shrunk the world into a global village where information generation and sharing have become the order of the day. Some years back it had dawned me that I was no longer living in the world I knew: my old world was dead. I had two options: I could sit back devastated and just let the new world create itself or I could roll up my sleeves and consciously participate in the process of creating the new world that I would love to live in. I chose the latter and started off by making sure that I knew who I really was – my core values and beliefs. This was a prerequisite because technology had already opened up a varied mixture of cultural richness. Anchored in what I cherish and want to retain in my past and present then I could easily open up myself to learn from others and love and value them.

In this Global Village, we all have to learn to embrace the diversity around us and the values it brings- different gifts of different cultures and races. We have to be smart enough to learn from other traditions and other people’s lives, to engage in efforts that empower others out of poverty, ignorance, prejudice and tyranny thus helping to create a peaceful and a prosperous world.

Sharing what I have learned transforms not only my own life but makes a contribution-however small to transforming the groups which I am a part. Sharing what I know with other people, builds a community of like-minded people who can collectively begin to create the new world we want to live in.

If we do not actively participate in the creation of the new world; it will create itself and it may not be the world we want to live in.

Instead of playing the Blame game, all of us who care about our communities should become part of the transformation. We do this by holding on to what is best in our culture and picking what is best and relevant to us from other cultures. We cannot wait for someone else to bring about the change we want in our communities for it is our responsibility to create the world we love and to make the world a better place to live in.

Not forgetting that we both influence and are influenced by the world in which we live.

I for one, I am now fully within my own culture; I appreciate its strength and values and take responsibility for its weakness. I stand solidly on it as a launch pad: I am free to become a citizen of the world and to learn from the wisdom of other cultures without fearing to be swallowed up. This did not happen to me overnight; it was a gradual process that was started by my parents while growing up. By their gentle hands they changed me from being a drifting water-lily into a sturdy, robust, flexible member of the Bamboo forest.

They say that one generation lends to the other so as parents we have to continue helping our children to be anchored firmly in their cultures. Anyone feeling safe and secure in her/his identity never fears to learn from others and has no need for dominance. He/she just looks for partnerships.

Two quotes have come to my mind:

“There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children – one is roots, and the other is wings.” By Hodding . S. Carter

“ When a society or civilization perishes , one condition can always be found. They forgot where they came from.’’ By  Carle Sanburg

In this  Age of  Information explosion, let us all first honour and be part of our uniqueness as a community and then open up to learn from other cultures. It is the best way of embracing diversity and using it to create peace and harmony.

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