Can You Pound Yam?

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A friend recommended that I watch a video about Millennials by Simon Sinek (https://youtu.be/lU3R0ot18bg).

Sinek’s core argument (and research findings) seems to be that Millennials are not as committed to things as the preceding generation. Growing up in a milieu dominated by technology, they are characterised by a short attention span and an inordinate focus on personal fulfillment & satisfaction. If things don’t work out immediately – whether a job, course or relationship – then it’s not right for them. They try something else. They also possess a feeling of entitlement. These are of course generalisations, but you get the picture.

Sinek traces the main cause of the attitudes of Millennials to parental upbringing (or a lack thereof). He then states that since the problem has now been dumped in the laps of corporations that are staffed by Millennials, it is their duty to rectify it. Hmmnnn. While I understand this practical approach, I wonder if corporations taking on this obligation are not taking away the responsibility of Millennials.

I also believe we unfairly focus the blame on parents. There are incredible environmental forces at play that have impacted norms and values. Media and the breakdown of governance are some of them. As long as people spend more time in the world than at home, they will be influenced positively or negatively.

Now, if you grew up in lower middle class Nigeria, there are a few things you experienced that shaped your worldview. I will share some of them.

– You learnt how to cook (and possibly, manually pound yam).
– You can hand-wash clothes and iron them.
– You know how to change a plug and set up your DVD player and sound system.
– You know how to price pepper in the market.
– You have taken buses, okadas and keke marwas on a regular basis.
– You consistently traveled to school on your own by road.
– You traveled abroad for the first time for school or as a young professional.
– You spent holidays with cousins or other relatives.
– When you were born, your religion was automatically bequeathed to you.
– You speak or understand a Nigerian language.
– Reading was an indelible part of your childhood.
– You did research manually, referencing physical books and dictionaries.
– You had a defined allowance (for school). If you needed more, you had to work for it or sell something.
– You had home chores – cooking or cleaning (a section of the house that wasn’t your room).
– You cooked with a kerosene stove before changing to gas.
– You’ve bought mosquito coil before.
– You’ve read with the light of a kerosene or oil lamp.
– The generator was only switched on at night.
– TV entertainment began at 4pm. You had to wait for it.
– A relationship was not transactional (and anyway, you had no money). You had to work for it and give of yourself.
– Character and values were celebrated and used as benchmarks.
– Material possessions had intrinsic value because they were not casually obtained.
– Friendship was measured in years, not months. You visited your friends’ homes.

These things developed certain traits in you. Here are a few:

You developed independence: From an early age, you learnt how to do things for yourself and by yourself. You could move from place to place on your own.

You developed capabilities: You knew how to take care of things around the home and possessed basic life & survival skills. You also learnt basic negotiation skills.

You developed exposure and social skills: Through interactions in school or with your extended family, you learnt how other people and cultures lived. You also traveled.

You learnt rigour and commitment: You had to pass exams and on leaving school, you had to get a job.

You developed commitment, loyalty and an appreciation for values: You were a person of substance and character.

These traits were channeled into work and entrepreneurship. Training at work was a privilege and not a right. You were thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow. Because you knew money didn’t grow on trees, you valued it when you got it. You weren’t waiting to “hammer” or get free money. You worked hard and when you went on vacation, you knew you really deserved it. Working late or even overnight was the price you paid for excellence.

You had value for others and treated the less privileged with regard. You remembered where you came from.

You had the fear of God and respect for spiritual things. Taking care of your family was a sacred responsibility and duty.

I do not think there’s a short cut to developing character. Finding a “mentor” won’t get you there. Reading biographies won’t produce it. You have to learn real skills and commit to things.

Now to the issue of pounding yam. I believe in progress. If we have more efficient ways of doing things, we shouldn’t hold fast to traditions. But engineers will tell you there is beauty in first principles. There’s a joy that is derived from doing things with your hands and tearing things apart to see how they work. Some skills require hard work to learn and they in turn, build character.

If you truly want to develop the things that are missing in your life, then draw up a personal plan. What are the skills you need to learn this year? What type of exposure do you need? What are you going to be loyal to for at least a year (whether you enjoy it or not)? Which friendships are you going to deepen and whose home are you going to finally visit?

Until you begin to do these things, your life, personal development and relationships will be poorer for it.

There's a joy that comes from doing stuff with your hands & seeing how they work. Click To Tweet Learning skills is hard work but it builds character. Click To Tweet

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