As the New Year settles in, many at this point are or have been preoccupied with making New Year resolutions. For me, this is more of a time of reflection, while I leave resolution making to my birthday. So I still have four good months to go on that one! However, in the process of reflecting back on 2012, I recently dug up one of my favorite inspirational books – A Life Worth Living, by Nicky Gumbel. It is one of those books that you read and can keep re-reading from time to time because each time you manage to glean something ‘new’ or some message you can really do with at a particular point in time. I have about four of such books, including Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, and Rabison Shumba’s Greatness Manual. In Gumbel’s A Life Worth Living, I came across something I marked in pencil a few years back. The paragraphs I marked describe an ideal kind of life with the ‘right attitudes’ with which one can never go wrong. The paragraphs also make reference to ‘wrong attitudes’ one should aim to desist from, whenever turning over a new leaf. You will find that these lessons are actually nothing new, but in our humanness; we often forget and can do with reminders. Below I have highlighted some of the key lessons that may be of interest to reflect on in this New Year. They are paraphrased in most places for easier reading:
Wrong Attitude 1: Self Importance
Or vain conceit, which can be described as the desire for personal prestige. This is the type of prestige, which for many people is even greater than wealth. To be respected and admired, to have a platform seat, to have one’s opinion sought, to be known by name and appearance, even to be flattered, are for many people most desirable things. However self-importance can be very unattractive, and there is a certain public relief in seeing such people deflated. Good attitude strives for the opposite of pomposity and pride, which is humility. If you aim to be humble, no matter how important you think you are, you go much further in having a more fulfilling life.
Wrong Attitude 2: Self-Centredness
Self-centredness is about being concerned only with ourselves and our own interests. Many consider self-centredness to be at the heart of the human problem. Martin Luther described fallen humanity as ‘man curved in on himself’. Malcom Muggeridge describes the same as the ‘tiny dark dungeon of the ego’. Most Poignant however are the words of William Temple:
I am the centre of the world I see; where the horizon is depends on where I stand… Education may make my self-centeredness less disastrous by widening my horizon of interest; so far it is like the climbing of a tower, which widens the horizon for physical vision while leaving one still the centre and standard of reference…
We are encouraged to look to the interests of others, which basically calls for an attitude of love in big and little things, not only in the whole direction of our lives, but also in the everyday actions. It is about how we treat others as encapsulated in the golden rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. This is more fulfilling.
Wrong Attitude 3: Selfish Ambition
Ambition is the desire to succeed. There is nothing inherently wrong with ambition in itself, particularly if it is genuinely subordinated to the glory of God. Selfish ambition is the one that’s problematic in that it brings unhappiness and to some extent disunity. Life is more valuable when in our endeavors to succeed, we seek to uplift others and give credit where it is due.
Wrong Attitude 4: Unkindness
Though Gumbel makes reference to unkindness as a generally wrong attitude, I would like to discuss it from a perspective rendered in reference to the question of love by my good friend Delta Ndou in a recent blog titled: What will be will be. Delta writes:
…people matter, and how you relate with them has a bearing on the quality of life you will enjoy… if someone loves you, treat them kindly especially if you do not reciprocate.
I thought to end on this note following some harsh experiences of unrequited love, which have recently affected some people I care about. It is a reality that people sometimes fall madly in love with other people who do not return the sentiment. A fact of life is that you cannot control whom you fall in love with or who falls in love with you. And very often, people that know they are loved wield a certain invisible power that makes them inconsiderate and capable of leading others on. Considering the rules of karma and life in general, it is far much kinder to be straight than to mislead. What goes around often has a way of coming round.
Let 2013 be the year where you are not self-important, self-centered or unkind to those who love you. Happy New Year.