The 19th Century American Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson was so right when he wrote in that famous essay of his – “Self Reliance”, that “Envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide”.
Why in the world would the Mango tree envy the hibiscus flower? Or the palm-tree envy the Iroko? It does not really make much sense, you know? It is sheer ignorance of its potentials that makes a palm tree complain about not having flowers. That was what Emerson meant by “Envy is Ignorance”, and Imitation? Suicide. You kill the potential of the orange seedling if you want it to imitate the flower in the corner of your office. It may not be immediately obvious, and it may never be. But something dies in the species that imitates another of a different kind.
That was why I opined (in the first part of GARDENER. mentor. friend), that the first duty of the gardener is to “Know your seed!” We cannot over-emphasize the fact the first step to giving our children independence in this world, and indeed maximizing their potentials in a fast-changing world, is to watch out for their in-born, natural gifts, and leanings. Some of these gifts are familiar, the ones we expect to find, given the fruits we’ve already tasted from the parents, grandparents, and other contributors to the DNA. I must sound a note of caution though. The objective is to WATCH OUT FOR the gifts, not force it down the hapless child’s throat. Some other gifts will show up as they grow. In fact, if you get the job of “Mentor” right, you will be surprised by what you see.
I firmly believe that EVERYBODY is a GENIUS in something! It is not the type of talent that matters, but the attention that is paid to it.
A child may inherit the oratory of his grandfather, but decide to be in Politics, and not Law. Fine. Or he could choose to become a Hollywood Star, just because the seed has branched out, somewhat. That’s also fine. A sculptor’s daughter insists on becoming a surgeon? Great. Those steady hands will be useful there as well.
All gifts are fine, as long as they are found, and nurtured. Nurturing is the second task of the gardener, and sometimes he needs to step up nurturing, and become a MENTOR.
Step back with me, if you will, to the garden again.
We have the seed; we have an idea of its potentials; we’re confident that it is of good stock, and it will survive. Not only survive, but flourish. We’ve settled the issue of “Nature”. We should then be concerned about the next most important thing:
After nature, Nurture is EVERYTHING. Nurture not only talks about the nutrients in the ground, and the fertility of the ground but also the environment, the exposure to the sun, water in the right quantity, poles for the wandering plants to lean on etc. Sometimes you even need to keep the young seeds in Nursery till they can be transplanted.
In a lot of cases, it is nurture that is wanting. Let me expantiate.
There was an old man in one of the schools where my Mum was Principal. “Baba N’irorun” as he was fondly called, was the school gateman. I knew him between the years 1992 and 1995. He was already an old man at the time; he must have been at least seventy five years old at this time I speak about. But he was also a notorious drunk. He earned the nickname “N’irorun” which loosely translates to “With ease” from the ease with which he got drunk, and scattered everything and anything in sight.
However, he had two truly amazing talents.
By 1992, Baba N’irorun had been at the gate for more than thirty years. The school had a boarding house system, and this old man, well into his seventies, never forgot a face. Or the name that went with it. It was such a remarkable talent that another senior citizen happening to pass through the gates was shocked to be greeted very warmly, and pausing to find out what the familiarity was about, Baba N’irorun asked after the old woman’s daughter that had graduated from the school about twenty years before then. He remembered most of the students’ names and the parent’s faces. And where they usually came from to drop the students in the boarding house. That was a truly photographic memory if I ever saw one.
Secondly, he had an amazing gift with languages. With his very limited elementary education, he could speak very fluently, English, French, German, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Efik, Fulani, and many smaller dialects. He had been in World War II, and had travelled quite widely, picking up the languages wherever he went, the European languages were learnt in Burma (now Myanmar) when he was with the British Forces, and I believe he also had a long stint in the French-speaking Cote d’Ivoire.
Now imagine what a career Baba N’irorun could have had in the Diplomatic Corps. Or in media. Or in the movies. His talent was amazing. The seed was of superior quality, but it was not mentored properly to bring him to a more beneficial fulfillment. He also had habits that obviously sabotaged his potentials.
This was superior seed that was not properly cultivated.
What then are the most important things a mentor should cultivate?
1. Hardwork. This is the 90% perspiration that you have always heard about. In the fantastic book “Outliers: The Story of success” by the phenomenal Malcolm Gladwell, he brilliantly expounded the theory that goes like this: More often than not, between raw talent and globally-acclaimed expertise are at least 10,000 hours of practice. Plain, hard work. There is absolutely nobody, no matter how talented, that practice did not improve. And it seems that every expert in any field of endeavor today, has devoted not less than 10,000 hours honing his/her skill.
Paul, who wrote about 2/3rds of the New Testament himself said “…and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them” (I Cor. 15:10). He was basically saying: See, I was a lawyer by training, and I have the natural gifting to be a travelling and writing apostle, but I did not rely on that alone. I worked more than all the other Apostles. He was in prison and he kept writing to the churches he had founded. He kept at it.
If that genius growing up in your home will be celebrated the world over, he must work hard, push himself. If he is top of his class without pushing himself, you have failed in this mentoring process. Somewhere in your child’s future is a situation that will need the strength that is being built in the extra push. He may be top of his class because he is right now in the wrong school or in the wrong city. Truth be told, being top of your class without pushing yourself to get there is often a minus in the journey of life. And it does not matter what position you come in these days’ generalised tests, if you push yourself and become the best of you, your work is done.
Push is a must. You will be stretched, if you will ever be your best.
The best comedians practice their jokes more than their peers; the best ballet dancers spend more hours on their routines every week; and you can be sure that Serena Williams did not become Serena Williams by lazily hitting the tennis ball once a month.
The gift or talent, like John Maxwell said, is never enough!
By the way, I strongly recommend that everyone reads that Malcolm Gladwell book, “Outliers: The Story of Success”
2. Character and Integrity: Simply put, character is a set of moral or ethical conduct, and integrity is being dependable to stick to the character you hold high.
This is very much like what keeps yam plant growing up straight. Yam, as grown in West Africa, is a crawling root plant that needs to be supported with stalks. If it is not supported, it does not grow up right. The roots, which is the real gain, comes up stunted because the leaves were not held upright, or when they fell, were not corrected.
This will serve your child well, whether she wants to be in the movies or she wants to be a model. It is such a universally accepted value, and so rare in the world that anyone that has it, is bound to attract much more value to him/her self, just because of it. People should be able to count on you to do the right thing. Like Abraham Lincoln, popularly called ‘Honest Abe’. There are shortcuts that appear ok for the moment, like letting your child get away with small lies. But be careful, that little character slip is cancerous, and can throw geniuses behind prison bars.
John C. Maxwell again said “Character protects your talent”.
Interestingly, children, especially at a young age, tend to copy the behaviors they see. For character and integrity, you best lead by example. No preaching will work if the father is a thief.
3. Imagination. This is a relatively ignored ingredient, though the whole world stands to benefit more from fertile imaginations of geniuses than we care to admit. It was imagination that made two brothers – Orville and Wilbur Wright build their contraption and give mankind the first airplane. It is imagination that keeps giving mankind invention after invention, novel after novel, cures for age-old diseases, and more than you’ll admit, even your best cuisine.
Unbelievable wealth and fortune are locked up in our imaginations. Let that child you are nurturing have a fecund imagination. It will yet save the world.
Four lepers stood at the gate of a city that was in a siege. Starving. Then imagination kicked in. They thought of all the food that the invading army had brought, and just the possibility that they may live to tell the tale. Imagination pushed them to dare, to believe. Then they followed their imagination to birth the 24-hour miracle recorded in 2 Kings chapter 7.
If we tell it true, imagination is the most important tool that God gave man.
Make sure the eyes and ears of your children are exposed to art, music, drama, dance, science, technology, innovations. You MUST evoke and provoke that “Waoh” from them. Imagination breeds imagination. Let them write fiction, tear apart toys, and work their minds in any way you can. Seeds of innovation get planted when the world of opportunities is opened up to talent.
This is as important as anything the Mentor has worked with. The environment. I strongly believe that we must do everything we can to provide the best environment for the nurturing of the talents that we see in our children.
Lauren Keyana ‘Keke’ Palmer was born in a small town in Illinois, in August 1993. Her singing and acting talent was recognised very early in church, singing at age five, and she was found to have taken to the stage in a very natural way. She was very comfortable with microphones and cameras like most adults could never be. By age 9, she was acting alongside Hollywood greats like Queen Latifah, and today at age 20, she has won more than 10 National Film Awards in the US, with more than 17 nominations, and you may recognise her as the hugely talented Akeelah in the 2006 movie, “Akeelah and the Bee”.
What you may not know is that having found their young daughter to be so talented, the two parents made a huge sacrifice, leaving their secure jobs in Illinois, their newly purchased home, and also moved their other three children to explore the 9-year old Keke’s acting opportunities in Hollywood, California, the other end of the country.
You may not have to move your family to Kutuwenji to achieve the desired result, but you must always ask yourself, “Is this the best school for my child’s natural talents and inclination?” “Should Charles not be attending the Arts classes instead of the popular sciences, in spite of his natural aptitude for Mathematics?”
Like the good farmer will ensure that his plants get the right exposure to sun. Not too much, and not too little. “Should I take my son out of school completely at age 14 and let him try out at Arsenal’s Youth Academy?”
Of course, there are much more roles for the Mentor, including pointing out real-life mentors for your ward/child. The point I must make here is this. No matter what your child wants to spend his/her life doing, no matter what natural aptitudes they have or do not have, the nurture of the soul must take priority.
If you nurture the plant with care, and loving guidance, the whole world will stand to gain when the fruits ripen.
Chukwudi Adepoju ©9th July 2013.