The Silent Graveyard and Ears of a Moth
More than two thousand years ago, the Roman orator, belletrist, thinker, Stoic, manipulator-politician, and (usually) virtuous gentleman, Marcus Tullius Cicero, presented the following story. One Diagoras, a nonbeliever in the gods, was shown painted tablets bearing the portraits of some worshippers who prayed, then survived a subsequent shipwreck. The implication was that praying protects you from drowning. Diagoras asked, “Where were the pictures of those who prayed, then drowned?”
NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB, The Black Swan (2007).
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the iconoclastic author of The Black Swan, wants you to spend more time in the graveyard. Not literally, although that wouldn’t also be a bad idea. Nothing scares most men more than a visit to the cemetery. Nothing reminds them more about their morality and how they have less time to accomplish all their dreams than they think.
Although the Author, Taleb, isn’t precisely pointing you in that direction. Hitherto, the author is trying to outline how we as humans like to seek answers and allude evidence to only the achievements or success of people or things. That is, we ignore all the failure, effort and travails of those who came close but never close enough. This is why the graveyard has a remarkable and unmatched silence when compared to the bevvy of noise and applause that is synonymous with award ceremonies.
Furthermore, Taleb tries to point out how dead men get to tell no tales, either about their tribulations or trials. It is only those- the few of us – that somehow manage to hold success by its grip that are celebrated or sought after for advice, guidance and mentorship. Isn’t it ironical that we learn more from our failures, but yet success has the most friends? Therefore, if knowledge is truly what you seek, perhaps you should spend less time at award ceremonies and more time in graveyards – whether or not you choose to interpret this metaphorically of literally is entirely down to you.
Most writers, historians and journalist tend to work with success in reverse. While only highly successful people get to ever have great biographies, documentaries or are more favoured for any form of analysis or study, they often share a specific trait that is said to be at the core of why they rose to the heights that they did.
Similarly, it is generally assumed that if you also adopted some of these desirable traits, you too would likely attain the heights that they did.
In Nigeria, we tend to exhibit some of these traits, however, maybe not exactly in the context that Taleb postulated. This could be the reason why we continuously aim to celebrate or commiserate with other nations when they are in joy or grief but hesitate to do so when something similarly befalls us. Could it be that we are drawn to the cheers and jeers in the award ceremonies than the silence and failures that lies in our graveyards?
Are we quick to hide under the guise of religion or ethnicity when it comes to helping or consoling one another? Are those our “failures” that we have refused to identify with? While we are still on the matter of religion, the two major religious groups in Nigeria – Christian and Islam – has never compelled anybody to take up any arms on its behalf or shed any blood for the good or furtherance of it. Both religions clearly state that every man would face the end or judgement as one person and not as a group, tribe, clan or family. We would eventually be judged based on the aggregate of all our actions or inactions while we lived. Therefore, who are we to blindly go to war for either God or Allah? Where have we been instructed to do so?
Our religiousness does not stop us from stealing or killing each other. It hasn’t prevented us from taking advantage of each other and oppressing the poor amongst us. However, we have somehow found inspiration in shedding blood and causing havoc under the religion umbrella. As a people, isn’t it crystal clear that even if we all adopted one religion, we wouldn’t really be any different from what we are now? And that our actions come from our individual thoughts and not necessarily to the groups we belong to.
Nobody explicitly came into this world and picked a group or religion that they wanted to belong to. Nobody chose a country nor tribe in the same country. In the North-West people are being slaughtered, families are being displaced, and the picture is as grotesque as you can think of. Yet, we play the fool and pat a blind eye to all the atrocities that are carried on there on a daily basis, simply because we are not directly affected, or we do not identify with the dominant tribe in the region. This same attitude is exhibited across the board, regardless of the part of the nation in crisis, the other parts seem to pretty much ignore them.
Alas, we are quick to commiserate with happens thousands of miles away from us. While we should also extend our condolences to people suffering in any part of the globe, we should not be hypocritical about it. A saying comes to mind; Charity begins at home. Why are we playing to the gallery, impressing those that are not impressed by our antics? We have to learn to take care of home before impressing the streets.
We also have politicians that are hell-bent on furthering their individual purposes as they shamelessly hop from one political party to the other, brazenly displaying their lack of values and morals. Rogues and charlatans find their way into political offices because we do not seek to elect people with a solid track record and clean reputation. In the end, we all pay the price for our actions or inactions.
Our failure to visit our ‘graveyard’ means that our failures and trials will continue to hunt us. Our love for the noisy ceremonies where real lessons cannot be learnt or taught is pure folly that will eventually lead us nowhere – at least not any place that we would like to be.
Be it as it may, to begin to solve our plethora of problems we must look to those that we have handed our country to and demand that they give a fair account of their stay or time in office. Better still, we must ensure that we hand over the affairs of our country to trusted hands that have demonstrated the pedigree to proudly and intelligently lead people. We must say a big no to senators that will reconvene when they please and not place the interest of the nations first. We must say no to overnight politicians with no track record or those riding to power on the back of political godfathers.
It continues to remain an insult on the intelligence of over 180 million Nigerians that wake up very early in the morning and set out to work many hours for meagre wages that are not enough to sustain 80% of the population. Never again should 180 million individuals seat back and allow a few run the nation like a circus, subjecting every one of us to circus clowns that are merely regarded as objects of entertainment rather than people to serve and defend. We must stand firm and say Never Again to modern slavery. This is the time to retreat to our graveyards and wallow in the silence of our misfortunes, with the goal of avoiding the mistakes of our past. We must awake from our slumber and say good morning to a new dawn!
“God Bless Nigeria”