Azuka Onwuka, email@example.com
0809-8727-263 (sms only)
Every parent wants a brilliant child with wonderful grades. But beyond the academic brilliance, one thing I pray for in my children is that they should have a questioning mind. This quality is lacking in many people, especially in Nigeria. Mischievous and dubious politicians, religious leaders, leaders of thought and fraudsters are aware of this. And they use it to their advantage.
In this era of the social media and the Internet, all a mischief maker needs to do to get many people excited is to sit down somewhere and concoct a story, post it online and maybe, add a photoshopped picture. Even if the story looks fabulous, many will believe it and share it. If the story is made to sound plausible, that is the best. The bottom line is that even with access to the Internet, many people do not bother to crosscheck the information they receive or to question it.
It is the lack of a questioning mind that made a former minister in this country to believe a rumour, which was widespread in 2001, that a certain brand of sanitary pad had been spiked with the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus to infect women. The minister threatened on national television to deal with the company if it was found out to be true.
At that time, the HIV was known to be incapable of surviving outside the body for more than five minutes. How then could anyone add the dreaded virus to a dry and inanimate material, package and transport it to distributors who would sell to retailers, who would in turn sell to individuals and the HIV would still survive? How many days could this process have taken? Even before a buyer moves from a shop to her home to use it, would it not be more than five minutes? Yet, the minister, who attended university (and probably studied natural sciences), heard such a wicked rumour meant to destroy someone’s brand, believed it and came on air to threaten the company. And she was not sacked after such an embarrassment.
The reason why the human race has been moving from one level of civilisation to another is that man continues to ask questions and seek answers to those questions. You may not be another Edison or Einstein, but you can at least utilise that which God has deposited freely in you. You don’t even need to create a new thing; all you have to do is to think of a better way to do an old thing. It may simply be a new way to package an old product or a new size or shape for an old product. That can make a world of difference to your status and bank account.
Those who move ahead in life do not believe that there is only one way to kill a rat. Even when they do not know of any other means to tackle a problem, they do not conclude that there is no other way. They do not lock their mind and throw the key into a river. They may take a position on an issue, but they keep an open mind in case their position is wrong. And if the need arises to change their mind on an issue, they don’t feel ashamed to do so.
They don’t feel satisfied with whatever achievement they have recorded. If they can’t think out new ideas, they ensure that they surround themselves with those who can. And they don’t condemn ideas, no matter how silly and impracticable they may appear. According to Einstein, there is no hope for an idea that does not seem stupid at first.
Wave-making ideas sometimes come from unusual sources. Remember the story of the madman who told a sane man how to fix his tyre that had no bolts. The man had had a flat on a lonely bridge. While he was trying to change the tyre, the four bolts rolled down the bridge into the dirty water below.
Our man – a wise man by all standards –stood gazing at the pool of water in despair. A madman, who had been watching him from a distance, came close to him, laughed at his stupidity (and madness) and pointed three times at his car, saying, “One here, one here, one here and you go your way.”
The man chased the madman away, but when he looked at one of the tyres on his car and repeated mockingly what the madman said, “One here, one here, one here and you go your way,” he realised that his problem was solved. He took one bolt from each tyre that had four bolts and fixed the tyre that had no bolt at all and went his way. Unfortunately, the madman, who gave him the idea, was no longer around and he could not thank him for providing the answer to his problem.
The reason why ordinary people don’t question age-old wisdom is that they do not want to stand alone. They do not want to lose the endorsement of loved ones; nor do they want to be blamed for questioning the accepted way and failing in the process. Such things don’t bother great achievers. Great achievers don’t feel their individuality if they move with the crowd.
The reason why some people stand out in a crowd and they are celebrated, by those who are even more intelligent than they are, is because they have their own mind and try persistently to do what they believe in. If they fail in the venture, they are not deterred by snide remarks or the mockery of the crowd. Their conviction is what motivates them, not the endorsement of the crowd.
The bad thing about moving with the crowd is that you don’t see far ahead. You can’t pull out along the way for fear of being vilified or trampled upon and you don’t even know the direction you are going. You believe that those in front of you know the way and you follow them sheepishly into trouble most times. But the good thing about standing apart from the crowd is that you can see clearly ahead and can decide to take left or right or turn back and start all over again later. You can rest on your way and continue when you have had enough rest.
It is better to move with a companion than a crowd. A companion will reason with you and strengthen you when you are weak, but a crowd can only lead you into confusion or danger because it acts on impulse always and changes its mind easily. That is why one can be called a saint in the morning and the devil incarnate in the afternoon by the same people. The person in question has not changed within a few hours, but the crowd’s opinion has turned full circle because a strong voice has swayed it.
All inventions and discoveries occurred because some people decided not to move with the crowd. Even when the crowd jeered at them, they were unperturbed.
Many marketing breakthroughs have come through the actions of those who chose to move away from the norm. Once they succeed, the crowd surges in their direction in adulation. Copycats join the fray promptly. But sensible imitators add a little dimension to the latest marketing breakthrough and make it their own.
In Nigeria, until the 1980s, water was sold in transparent polythene bags tied manually for those who could not afford to buy water in bottles. Then somebody decided to use a machine to seal the water. It was named pure water, not because the water was pure; but because it looked more hygienic. The water in the sachet could not be resealed once the seal was broken, unlike the case of the manually packaged water which could be untied and re-tied.
Then Cowbell milk appeared in sachets in 1993 and changed the market. Then other companies began to package most of their products in sachets.
There is no crime in questioning whatever exists. It helps one to have an open mind on an issue and think of ways to improve upon what exists. That is a trait of great achievers.
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Azuka Onwuka, firstname.lastname@example.org