The Gossip Disease - Reflections of a Young Man™

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The Gossip Disease

Gossip is a disease endemic in the human race and it stems from idleness, jealousy and hatred. I have personally been a victim of idle gossip. Okay, let me tell the story.

One night in my university days in 2008 during a busy exam time period, I struck a conversation with a pregnant student in the library. We had a lively talk after which I offered to escort her to her room of residence. When I went back to the library to continue with my studies, a friend of mine named Mulinge mischievously inquired how I had met the young woman. From his facial expression, I could tell he had been gossiping about me with his male colleague that I had impregnated the young woman student.

The truth is - I had never known the young woman before that night. And I have never seen her again since then. I only remember her vaguely as Gertrude who impressed me with her candour and friendliness.

Thinking about the Mulinge's gossip-like inquiries reminds me of this story that can be found in Technology for Revolution by Mithilesh Kumar:
Socrates was a great Greek philosopher who was adored for his breadth and depth of knowledge. One time, a young man went to Socrates and animatedly exclaimed, "Socrates, I have just heard some news about one of your friends!"

"Hold on a minute," Socrates replied, "Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you're going to say through three tests. The first is the test of Truthfulness. Have you made absolutely sure what you are about to tell me is true?"

After thinking for a moment, the young man replied, "I heard this news from someone else, so am not 100% sure if it's true."

"The second is the test of Goodness," Socrates continued, "Is what you're about to tell me something good?"

"No, actually it's the opposite."

Socrates interrupted the young man, "So what you're going to tell me is neither true nor good?" The young man was slightly embarrassed and shrugged his shoulders.

But Socrates continued, "Hold on. You may still pass because there's one test left - the test of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?"

"Probably not," the young man replied.

"Well, if you're going to tell me something that's not true, good or useful, then why tell me at all?" responded Socrates. The young man walked away feeling embarrassed.
The moral lesson of that story is to avoid spreading gossip that results from idleness, jealousy and hatred. Instead we should share stories that are true, good and useful like the ones I post in this website.


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Lessons From Bill Clinton

At just 28 years, this is Bill Clinton in 1974 campaigning for congress in his home state of Arkansas in the United States.

When I matriculated at JKUAT in May 2007, I befriended our amiable Communication lecturer named Prof. Paul Njoroge. And he ended up lending me four books - two of which I never returned. The books were Science and the Making of the Modern World by John Marks, the biographies of Nelson Mandela and Joseph P. Kennedy (the patriarch of the legendary Kennedy family) as well as the autobiography of Bill Clinton.

But the book that really interested me was the 969-page autobiography of Bill Clinton which I read almost twice despite the pressure of the engineering course I was pursuing at JKUAT. I really desired to understand how Clinton overcame a humble background to become a charismatic President of the United States, the most powerful super-power the world has seen so far. And for your information, he is the third-youngest person to be elected US president after Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy - two other heroes of mine.

Interestingly, one university official commanded me to stop reading about Bill Clinton when he spotted me with the autobiography and instead advised me to concentrate on "serious" stuff like Analogue Electronics. I did the opposite by reading less "serious" stuff and more Bill Clinton. Apparently, all that university official knew about Bill Clinton was the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He just didn't know that Clinton was elected twice as president and presided over an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity in America. Poor fellow!

So I read and read the autobiography till it got worn out but thankfully, Prof. Njoroge never reprimanded me when I returned the book. And the lessons I gleaned from Bill Clinton were to develop an interest in books, music, sports and movies as well as carve some time for solitude.

But the passage that really moved me in the autobiography was an essay that Clinton wrote as a boy which resonated with the person I was at JKUAT. I later on modified it (with apologies to Bill Clinton) to make it fully reflect the person I was and what I aspired to be. Here's the modified version:
"I am a person motivated and influenced by so many diverse forces that I sometimes question the sanity of my existence. I am a living paradox - deeply religious yet not as convinced of my exact beliefs as I ought to be; wanting responsibility yet shirking it; loving the truth but often at times giving way to falsity; believing in moral rectitude but at times viewing obscene materials. I pity those, some of whom are very dear to me, who have never learnt how to live; I desire and struggle to be different from them but more often, I am almost an exact likeness. I detest selfishness, hatred, jealousy, envy and cynicism but I feel them in myself every day.

What a little boring word - I! I, me, my, mine, myself - the only attributes that enable worthwhile uses of those words are the universal good qualities which we are not too often able to place with them: love, faith, trust, regret, responsibility and knowledge. But the acronyms to those good qualities which enable life to be worth the trouble cannot be escaped. So I, in my attempts to be honest, will not be the hypocrite I hate, and will own up to their ominous presence in this young man, endeavouring in such earnest to be a gentleman." [1]
I drilled that modified passage into my memory with relative ease and made it my mantra. And thankfully, I have ended up becoming a smarter, serene, authentic, determined, bold and noble person. Do you want to know how I have achieved all that? Well, that's a story for another day.

[1] Modified from a passage on page 58 in My Life (paperback edition) by William Jefferson Clinton, published in the United Kingdom by Arrow Books in 2005.


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You Matter

Bill Bryson wrote a charming science book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, in which he tried to explain the marvels of Science right from the formation of the universe 13.7 billion years ago to the discovery of DNA by Watson & Crick in the 1950s. For me, the section of the book that captivated me most was the first nine paragraphs which clearly revealed that everybody matters. Okay, let me re-narrate the section in my own words.

First of all, congrats for reading this story of mine because to be alive in the 21st Century is no joke. You are a product of a long series of evolution and reproduction that scientists claim began 3.8 billion years ago, right from primitive single-cell animals to the civilized man that you are today. The fact that you are here means none of your ancestors was killed before passing on a tiny sperm to an ovum that made you possible. And you survived the fragile infancy years thanks to your mother.

Don't be tempted to think that you will always be strong and healthy because, like it or not, you are going to die in the next couple of decades or even tomorrow. But if you really wish to continue living for the next 50 million years, then you must be willing to evolve; like you should be ready to develop smaller testicles, larger buttocks, protruding eyeballs, elongated ears and a razor-thin tongue.

That is, of course, the gospel according to Science. But if you believe in the gospel according to John as I do, then you just have to think that you will die; that Christ will come again to raise the living and the dead for final judgement.

Back to Science, scientists say that you are made up of infinitesimally small atoms which are themselves not alive. In fact, the atoms that make you don't know that you are alive. They are just mindless particles that will move on to make other things when you die. And interestingly, the same atoms that make you are the same atoms that fail to make life in all the other planets of the solar system and perhaps even beyond. That is, of course, the miracle of life which makes me believe in the Bible.

To make the story more interesting, scientists say that of all the species of living things that have existed on earth, 99.99% of them are now extinct. So we seem to be living in a planet that is good at sustaining life but even better at extinguishing it.

As you can see, being alive in the 21st Century is no joke. And because you are here, let no one ever make you feel inferior just because you didn't attend a prestigious school or haven't flown to America. You matter, your opinions deserve attention and as Lupita Nyong'o put it, your dreams are valid.


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