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I recently wore a size 17 shirt for a really important event. On a good day when I feel very fat, I wear a 15 and half, slim fit, so size 17 sure was a parachute. The event was once in a lifetime event but I had only gotten myself in such a mess because I assumed. I had assumed that, the shirt will fit because all the other accessories accompanying the formal dress code fitted. I had ordered for the whole set and so if one was okay, it was safe to assume the others were okay too, right? Well wrong, and on this occasion, very wrong.
I bear my soul often in my writings, I tell stories about myself, I share through the hurts, the painful childhood, fond memories and hope that, at least one person may find inspiration and courage to face each day at a time. As I tried to look for experiences to share, I was reminded of a recent experience. Not a childhood memory, actually it is as recent as less than a month but one that confirms one lessons I learnt from the Boys Brigade, one of my childhood experiences that, transformed me.
Growing up, there was a woman in our village, Maame Nyameama, who most of my classmates were terribly scared off, of course including me. She was the dreadful symbol of all that was fearful but we had to pass in front of her house, through her gardens to the hospital quarters where I lived. The assumption however was, only the bad boys who stole from her should be afraid and since I was a ‘good’ boy who only passed in front of her house to my house, there was nothing to be scared of. And yet indeed, even as a child and in all my innocence, assumptions did not make it truth. I was very wrong as she caught me and my friend one day, gave us brooms to sweep her whole compound and it only took someone going to report to my mother to save us from crying and the terror of Maame Nyameama. Assumptions even in innocence had led me to an experience that haunted me for days.
But today is definitely not about Nyameama, today is about her only tenant, Lawyer, as we called him. He was a man who owned a lotto kiosk around our school, always drunk and professed to know everything. We used to ask him questions as we played with him. I grew up remembering we called him Ndeporinga (or something really close, but I am sure I have massacred his name). We all called him Lawyer Cupa. He had a great sense of humour and unlike Maame Nyameama, he was the joy of most of my class mates and I.
I made a reference of him in an article recently and humorous as the reactions were, some people assumed I meant someone else. Some people I greatly respect and even may have considered friends had concluded on an assumption and said things they would not have ordinarily said (I assume yet again, perhaps, those are things they always wanted to say). Their comments did reveal a lot, I like research and I was right in the middle on one. As I enjoyed the emotional outpourings, I kept on asking myself, why does it appear that humans can be completely wrong and yet truly sold to those falsehoods in strength and commitment? To be completely honest, I cannot say, I did not anticipate those assumption, but in that anticipation of error is my central lesson, why do we assume too much? Why do we present as facts that which is at best opinions bereft of evidence?
In chapter five of my new book, ‘Be the Difference; A leadership Roadmap for the New African’, I discussed challenges I think are cultural hindrances to an effective culture of leadership. The third challenge out of the ten I could find is exactly the discussion of heuristics and biases. A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly. These rule-of-thumb strategies shorten decision-making time and allow us to function without constantly stopping to think about the next course of action. While heuristics can speed up our problem solving and the decision-making process, they can introduce errors called the cognitive bias. Relying on an existing heuristic can make it difficult to see alternatives, introducing false confidence, prejudice and stereotyping.
I have learnt the hard way that, for even constants like facts are supposed to be, one can be trapped by anchoring facts in perspectives. For example, when the question of what is the tallest mountain on earth is asked, the most likely answer you will hear is Everest. But is Mountain Everest indeed the tallest mountain on earth? This question reveals a lot about perspectives rather than absolutes of facts. The correct answer to the highest mountain on earth will be, it depends on how you define ‘highest mountain’. Geology.comexplains the answer to the question of highest mountain could be Everest, Mauna Kae or Chimborazo.
I joined the Boys Brigade before my 6thbirthday, a group that taught me a lot of discipline. One thing we were taught to pray was, ‘…that every member past and present, may prove steadfast in his fight…’. The chant was always, ‘Will your anchor hold, in the storms of life?’. We always sought to find and to hold unto truths, unwavering in the search and never concluding on the façade. We usually played a game in our drills, the commander will keep on saying “Left, Right, About, Right, left …” and always left the ‘turn’ to catch as many as were not paying attention. We kept eliminating until somebody won. The lesson was clear; until you hear turn, no command had been given. It was a game I learnt to win often, only because I was constantly reminding myself not to assume!
Let me conclude with yet another story, all with the view of sharing the simple yet important lesson, ‘Do not present as fact to anyone that which is at best opinions’. Akosua, my friend, put on her status recently, “Nipple piercing hurt (with a crying emoji) but SOOO worth it.” I responded and said, ‘Huh (with a laughter emoji and an outstretched hands)’. She then sent me a list of ten options, I had become part of a game. She then said, the comments by people are hilarious. I asked, how about the many who may not have commented and only believed you just got your nipples pierced? She responded with a big laughter and said, ‘That’s their problem’. Indeed, that is our problem. May God be our helper. My name is Yaw Sompa and I believe in Ghana.