The Calabash of wisdom – I read the story a long time ago. It was taken from a book titled Twilight and the Tortoise, which I read during my secondary school days. Tortoise is a very popular character used in animal stories. He is usually portrayed as very wise and cunning. He has so many tricks up his sleeve, is as slippery as an eel and no one can outsmart him.
In one of the stories in that book, Tortoise steals all the wisdom in the world, puts it in a calabash and decides to climb up a tree to hide it, so he alone can have access to it. And he struggles to get to the top of the tree. Unknown to him, his son is hiding near the tree and sees his father’s struggles. When the little tortoise cannot bear it anymore, he tells his father how he can climb the tree. Father Tortoise tries his son’s method and it works!
As Father Tortoise works his way up the tree, a thought strikes him: If I HAVE ALL THE WISDOM IN THE WORLD in this calabash, how come my little son gave me the solution? He realises that there are lots of wisdom left out there in the world, that he does not have in the calabash.
Then the final reality hits him!
No one has a monopoly of wisdom. No matter how wise you are, there is still something you can learn from the other person.
I think of this story in the light of some disturbing trends I have observed.
There is this ‘kabiyosi’ concept that has become a problem in the society I belong to. The term ‘kabiyosi’ in the Yoruba language in Western Nigeria means, ‘the one who cannot be questioned.’ It is usually used to address the king and it has spilled into other aspects of the society.
And some disturbing scenarios emerge. Some leaders oppress followers, telling them they are to be SEEN but not HEARD and followers quake before these leaders, saying they cannot ‘correct’ a leader who is walking on the wrong path because it is disrespectful.
I want to draw the line here.
It is disrespectful to ‘CONDEMN’ your leader’s actions in public, calling that CORRECTION. That leader will resent you and discard your suggestion, no matter how ‘noble’ it is. I have been a leader almost all my life, from being the first born child in my family to leading in many other capacities and I know how bad I would feel if someone condemns me in public. Correction is best done in private and the HOW is very important.
I love the motto of my department at the university: Not just WHAT but HOW said.
I remember an incident that happened during my days as a banker. I had this boss whom everyone saw as very tough. People said all sorts of things about that boss and my ears were full. I was quite close to that person and one day, I felt I had heard enough. I called and asked to speak to my boss when everyone had left the office.
I spoke about what I had heard, not mentioning names, told of my own observations and gave suggestions on the way forward. That boss of mine was very grateful, saying no one had mentioned any of those things before. The suggestions were implemented and I was not victimised for daring to ‘correct’ my boss.
And a new respect for that boss grew in my heart!
Many people are surrounded by sycophants – dangerous people that clap for them till they enter a ditch. That is what happens when a leader becomes KABIYOSI.
Even the Almighty God, whom we give this kabiyosi title still gives his people an opportunity to speak their minds. He said in his word, ‘Come let us reason together (Isaiah 1:19). Now if God, the creator of the universe, can ask his people to come to a round table conference with him, why do you, like Father Tortoise, want to have monopoly of wisdom?
Not a wise path to follow.
Let us learn to listen to others. In WHATEVER capacity of leadership you find yourself, as a leader of your team at the office, as an older sibling, a guardian of a child, a husband, father, mother, church leader or leader in any other sphere of influence, give your people a chance to speak.
Nobody has a CALABASH that contains all the WISDOM in the world.