The Dumb Syndrome


Toddlers are fascinating creatures.

I sat at edge of the couch watching my two year old daughter play. She, such a bundle of joy, had discovered a new game. She would throw one of her toys across the living room. The toy would end up under one of the coffee tables where she would eagerly go, get under the table in an effort to retrieve it. Needless to say, her head would get stuck under the table. She would then do exactly what is expected of a toddler; she’d scream her lungs off as though she had thrown her hand into a pile of red-hot coals of fire.

Seeing that I am a loving father, by all standards-one who would never stand watching his daughter suffer, I would jump off my seat and ran to her aid. I would pull her head out under the table and save her from her predicament. Daughter would be very grateful. She’d hug me and I would proceed back to my sitting position.

She would then continue playing.

But then I noticed something odd. I noticed that she kept repeating the same thing. Daughter would wait for me to get her from under the table and sit. She would then take her toy and throw it back to the same place then ran back and get right under the table. Of course, she would end up stuck allover again. The next events would follow the exact same script as before: a loud scream, and the father coming to her rescue.

We played this game for a couple of minutes before I realised this game which was very enthralling to her wasn’t interesting to me at all. So I decided to act different. I let her get under the table and get stuck. When she had started screaming, I didn’t rush to her aid like before. I watched her for a few minutes. Her scream gradually became a yell. In a few minutes, pandemonium had broken lose. She yelled, and looked at me, yelled some more and looked at me, tears now rushing down her little chubby cheeks like streams of water. But I did nothing still; I just sat and looked at her as though I was as helpless as she was.

After a few minutes of yelling and crying me a river, I slowly stood, walked to her and pulled her out. She couldn’t stop yelling even after I had rescued her. I held her for a few minutes until she became calm. I then wiped her tears, looked into her eyes and said, “Mamaa, if you go under the table again I won’t help you. Sawa?” She looked at me, her eyes now all swollen from crying and of course said nothing-she doesn’t know how to speak yet but she did get the point because she didn’t go back to her game even after I had let her go. She had now figured out that if she got stuck no one was going to come to her rescue. The toddler had all of a sudden taken responsibility.

I couldn’t help but draw lessons from this thirty-minute occurrence. It got me thinking.

I first of all wondered how many times we repeatedly get ourselves into all manner of trouble and refuse to learn from it regardless of how much pain it causes us. I call it the dumb syndrome. This kind of syndrome is characterised by an individual clearly knowing that his or her action will cause unfathomable pain, as evidenced before in multiple occurrences, yet against the individual’s better judgment they still go ahead and do it. It is like knowing that you are allergic to protein but still devouring Nyama Choma whenever you come across the delicacy.

This doesn’t sound like you right now but I promise you, if you read again, and rethink your life, you’ll realize that most of us carry this trait. So many people are stuck in a destructive repetitive pattern. Like my daughter, they keep doing it even when they know the end result. How many people keep going back to their abusive exes? How many people lie over and over again? How many of us have said never again to this or the other today and woke up tomorrow to do the exact thing? It’s the dumb syndrome.

I also learnt a very unsettling lesson by watching my daughter. I learnt that the biggest hindrance to us dealing with the dumb syndrome is the ‘it wasn’t me’ attitude. See, while my daughter would continually get herself stuck under the table, without my help, she would make it my business to ensure that she gets out of her predicament. That, ladies and gentlemen, is baffling, in the highest sense. And again, it might not sound or even read like you to be this kind of a person but, too many of us believe that one; it is not our fault that we are in a mess and two; it is someone else’s responsibility to get us out of said mess.

There are so many adults who still blame their parents for where we are in life now. And while there might be some truth in this, the blame card can only be played for a limited period of time. You can’t blame your emotional or financial depravity on your parents when you are in your thirties. Grown up men who have turned into wife batterers still find comfort in blaming their estranged fathers. Women treat every man they meet like trash because they were never taught how to treat a man. Yes, there is sense in this but at what point does it become your responsibility to author the direction of your own life? At what point does everyone else cease to be the problem and you start to interrogate your own motives and actions? At what point do you call yourself to order and say ‘maybe I am the problem’ because everyone else can’t always be wrong.

At some point, we have to ask ourselves what part we constantly play to orchestrate our downfall. We can’t keep throwing the toy under the table, getting ourselves stuck there, and screaming our lungs out and crying a river for someone to come rescue us. What do we need to do? I suggest that we put a stop to the dumb syndrome. Learn your own toxic traits and deal with them. Eliminate them. Secondly, take responsibility of your own actions. It can’t always be someone else’s fault. Sometimes there is not devil, witch or weapon formed against you. Sometimes you are the problem. Sometimes you are the one who brings toxic into the environment. The moment we recognise and accept the part we have played in making the mess it becomes easier for us to get out.

We can’t always hope that someone will be there to pull us out of every self-inflicted mess. We might need to rapidly understand that it is no one’s prerogative to help us. People will walk with us for a few miles and leave us to complete our own journeys in life. You cannot solely peg your survival and success in life on someone else-you will be disenchanted. The world doesn’t owe you a dim; you will do well to remember that.

Lastly, while blaming others and not taking responsibility might offer some sort of comfort, it only leaves us in a state of immaturity. We will never completely heal, grow and thrive if we never learn to look ourselves in the mirror and tell ourselves the truth about who we are and what we are not doing right. The first sign of maturity is taking responsibility. It is healthy. It is what humans should do. How about we try it?

My daughter no longer gets under that table. Her head no longer gets stuck under it. She screams, yes, but for other reasons, not her head being stuck under the table. My two-year-old daughter has overcome the ‘dumb syndrome’ and ‘it wasn’t me syndrome’; if she can, I think we all have a chance. Yes?

  1. Hard pill to swallow

    May we learn to take responsibility- do better and be better. Beautiful read💙

  2. Reminds me of the meme that ” I come from a poor background,” when in real sense, at the age of 30 and above, you are the background. Being stuck on dumb syndrome. SPLENDID…..

  3. Talk of self introspection 👌this is an eye opener. Many are the times that we peg our salvation on others forgetting that we had a part to play. I believe I am becoming a better human by doing what is human: telling myself, “Maybe I am the problem.” There is peace in self analysis 🤩

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