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How delusion of self-importance holds us back

By Jenny Luesby | June 18th 2013

By Jenny Luesby

Kenya: Across human history, there has been a single lesson for all societies. Those that failed to grasp it suffered hugely, and inflicted massive pain on many. And yet, still, in 2013, it is the plague of our species that we so often cannot appreciate this single point, and live by it. 

The fact is that across all organisations, nations, families and every other kind of grouping of humanity: “divided we fall, united we stand”.

But being united requires understanding, effort, compassion, loyalty, and, above all things, communication and tolerance.

Feeling undervalued

These can be hard things for each of us to push ourselves to, most especially when we don’t feel valued or heard ourselves — we can easily move into a revenge mode of inflicting damage in retribution for our own grievances.

But sometimes we truly need to step back, and weigh again, just how great our own grievances really are, and how much pain we want to inflict on others, and with what point and what end. It’s a reflection that, for myself, the wise and the good can help with, perhaps foremost among them a now-dead Canadian philosopher called Carl Sagan.

He once wrote one tract so powerful that even today, when life is dumping buckets on my head, I still watch his video on YouTube.

These are the days when my child is ill and in pain, or my driver calls to tell me he’s been arrested with the car and the police are saying he must pay them Sh5000 or they will take it for testing for three days, or when the stories that were being written have collapsed on some multiple set of reasons, or bloggers are chucking vile gossip, the water supply has stopped, and maybe some of my employees are cc-ing me on mails about how they object to each other’s behaviour....in fact, just the kind of normal days we all live through.

Sometimes, our petty problems can suck the joy out of every hour, wiping away our smile, depleting the energy we have to love and care for others, destroying our patience and making us even mean.

Gulag horrors

But these are the moments of downtime we all need to understand as a very big, red flag:  to take heed and take warning that this is a moment to get some perspective back, and love ourselves enough to find our way onwards to what we believe in and what we care about.

For myself, I know that the problems I live through are indeed minor. Kenya is not yet at war. I watched a film this weekend about the horrors of the Warsaw gulag, where more than a million died.

Nor is it mine, at this moment in history, to lose both my sons to trench warfare. Yet many other mothers are still living that reality. I do struggle to pay my school fees, but there is always food on the table, where many in Kenya, 50 years on from independence, have no food security; and a majority now have no jobs or livelihood.

Small stage

The truth is that everyone has their story. We all have our difficulties, our pains: no one here, of all of us, doesn’t lie awake some nights haunted by challenges that feel far bigger than we can ever be.

Which is the moment when I, personally, turn to Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, which he wrote about a photo taken by the space module, Vovager 1, in 1990, more than 4 billion miles from Earth. It shows our planet as if a speck of dust in a sunbeam.

Everyone we have ever known lived on that speck, he states, before observing:

 “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.

 Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.”

His own conclusion is that we need to show more kindness to one another and take better care of our planet, as the only home we shall ever know.

For myself, if I had a single plea, it is only that we might all understand each other better, celebrate each others’ strengths, understand and compensate for each others’ weaknesses, and just work that extra bit harder to work together – even if we argue, even if we need to communicate more, even if we need to tolerate more.

For that way we could, at least, stand united in pulling our nation into a better future that hurts fewer people, and helps us all. And that is a reality that would be worth every hard day, and every setback, forever. 

The writer is Consulting Editor at The Standard Group.

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