Whose Life?


They taught us to color within the lines.

I think, largely, this is why I never really enjoyed school. Well, maybe I enjoyed the varsity experience but who says that that is school? University can’t be school unless you are in med school. No offense but, the rest of us weren’t really in school we were just growing up or having the life experience. It was more like a rite of passage and please don’t hate on me if you are a BA graduate, I am too, so be nice.

Formal schooling taught us one predictable, predetermined, ordered way of doing things.

In kindergarten, we were all taught the same alphabet. We’d be screaming out our lungs and counting one to a hundred joyfully following the teacher’s lead. It was the conventional thing to do. We were all age mates; we sat on the same kind of desks, and kinda looked the same. Kids have a way of looking the same even when they are different. They made us wear the same uniform because we all had to look a like, be uniform. Our books were the same, of course, because they were bought from the same bookstore.

Our parents covered the books the same way you’d think that they had gone to the same book covering school, the Book Covering Institute of Africa or something of the sorts. Our school bags were the same even. So were our water bottles, maybe just the color was different, and the inscription of the toddler’s name at the bottom of the bottle.

The teachers in kindergarten had been taught to ingrain some things in us. To ensure that we learnt to do things in a certain way that would be acceptable to the society. It was intentional, purposeful even. It was the norm. It was what I call, the system.

We went to primary school, which was no better. It was the same things reinforced, just that we did them with a bit more understanding. We no longer needed someone to tell us what clothes to wear to school, what time to get there, or what language to speak while in school. We had been indoctrinated. We simply followed the rules. Following the rules now was much easier than before, we simply drifted a long with everything as dictated upon by this system.

Anyone who didn’t follow the rules was punished or reprimanded.

Punishment was supposed to keep us in check so that we stay the course. We were not supposed to deviate, no, there was a certain way of doing things and that was what the society expected us to go by. Occasionally, there would be a fall out from the norm. You’d get to school late, your homework wouldn’t be done, you would be caught making noise during class time or come in a few minutes after break time. If and when that happened, the system would simply ensure that you wouldn’t forget it. They would put you back in your place, where the system had placed you.

Some of us struggled a little bit to fit into this system. We were growing older, almost into our teens. We wanted freedom, we wanted to go our own way, make our own choices and do things differently. But the system wouldn’t let us, we would be forced right back into it.

Then we became teens and went to high school. Our emotions raging and yearning to escape this system, this bondage meant to keep us on the straight and narrow. So all of a sudden school uniforms irritated us. If they were just the right size, we wanted them resized, to become a bit tighter. We no longer wanted to wear our neckties because for some reason they now chocked us. If the school shirt was sparkling white we looked for a cream one. We suddenly started struggling with our short hair. It was now irritating, our heads would itch like they had been infested by lice. Now we wanted it shaggy and long.

The girls hated their school skirts.

They said the skirts were too long, too lose, they wanted something that hugged their frame tighter. So they’d go to the local fundi behind their parents’ backs and had them shortened and tightened. They had to be just above the knees and even if they were below the knees, they would pull them up the waist. They no longer liked to conform.

All of a sudden the opposite sex became extra attractive.

We were ready to do anything for a boy or a girl. If she loved math we would enroll into the math contest just to go see her. We became Catholics so that we could go for YCS gigs in the sister school just to see her. Some of us even collected fake tongues along the way so that we’d fit into the CU services because that’s where she was.

Boys snuck out of school to go for the local gigs in town or during the yearly shows. There is something that just felt wrong about being caged up in school when you could be in town on Friday night clubbing and getting high. While most of us stuck to the rules, some tried to defy them but the system always found a way of dragging them back. Back to the norm, to the usual, to the way things ought to be.

So finally we made it to university, those who did anyway. Society even taught us that there was something wrong with you if you didn’t make it to university. Those who had made it to campus were better, brighter and better at life. Most of those who didn’t make it to campus would probably need psychic help to get through the rest of their lives never mind that some are doing ‘better’ at life than us. Others who did qualify for university paid a hefty price to get there by hook and crook. The system taught that were best placed to succeed if you made it to university. It was a scramble. Everyone wanted to get into campus.

There was freedom for those of us who found ourselves in campus. We had never seen anything like it before. For once no one really cared whether you attended classes or not, of course, unless you were in med school. You had your space and your freedom and you lived the way you wanted. Boys and girls were there; all you needed to do was pick one or two, no one cared. If you went to church it was because you had chosen to.

You basically charted your own course or so we thought.

Thing is, even here, with all this semblance of freedom, the system was still in place. There were still things we couldn’t do. You had CATs, individual and group assignments, then exams that you had to pass if you were going to graduate. If you failed they discontinued you and you were thrown off the wagon and termed a failure. You either graduated with a first class honors, a second-class upper, second-class lower or a pass. There was a system in place to guide what happened even in university. We just couldn’t see it.

We graduated, got a job, if we were lucky enough, and now we had freedom. We moved out of our parents houses and got a nice place, just what we could afford and like. We could decide what time to come home or not come at all, what we ate, how we spent our money and whatever else we wanted to do. We were now living ‘our lives’.

So we went on, found love, got married, babies came a long, a family of two or three. We bought property, we preferred to build our own house, some of us decided to forgo the hustle of dealing with fundis so we bought an apartment. We bought a nice car, some of us bought two, and others are still looking to buy one. Our kids go to good schools; we are in social clubs that allow us to do certain things over the weekend or in the evenings. We are members of a gym where we go to exercise at least thrice a week to keep fit. We are living our lives, or so we think.

Thing is, we are never really living our lives.

No, we are living the life the society has trained us to live. We hold on to ideals that society taught us. Every decision we make, whether we know it or not, consciously or subconsciously, is a matter of what we were taught to do. What we are living is what society wants us to live.

Society has a way of packaging us in a certain way. Let me give you an example. Say you are a pastor. I’ll use a pastor because their lives are very much a public affair, but also, because I know a bit more about them than most of us. If you became a pastor today, society dictates your life.

Did you know for example, that pastors should ideally dress in a certain way? Okay, so depending on where you are or what church you minister in, there is an agreed, even if loosely, form of dressing that is acceptable for a pastor. There are clothes you can’t wear to church. You have to be decent, mostly, wear a suit, a necktie, at times; you need a bishop’s collar.

Because there’s a certain way that you should dress then there is a certain place where you ought to buy your clothes. There are places where your congregants can’t find you shopping. So you pick where to buy suits, who to buy from and when to buy them. You also have a predictable wardrobe. One that is acceptable to society.

There are places a pastor should never be seen even walking past. You can’t even park your car next to a pub because what was the pastor doing there? You ought not eat at a pub never mind that they have Nyama Choma to die for. If you do they will question your allegiances and associations. Wait, it doesn’t matter how much you love football you should never be caught dead watching a Man U match at Kengeles or wherever. What would you be doing among drunkards? No, we don’t expect that from you.

That isn’t even enough. Society has expectations of what neighborhood suits your abode. You cannot live in some neighborhoods because, what will the people say? And no, ‘our pastor can’t live in that area’. You have to live in a good neighborhood, one that fits your stature as a man of god and that allows your congregation the luxury of saying that ‘our man of god lives in Runda’. No one, absolutely no one, wants to be pastored by a pastor living in a lower region estate. You’ll know that this true because even if that’s where you lived, you’ll want to upgrade the moment you become a pastor. Why? Society demands it.

Society expects you to drive, well depending on where you pastor at least. If you pastor in the city, everyone drives so you’d better find a way of finding an automobile. If you pastor in the village, then you ought to have a motorbike in the least, either way, you still have to be ahead of the pack. Your kids ought to go to certain schools and by certain schools I mean good schools. Society expects you to take care of your children almost better than the rest of us. So if we found your children misbehaving then it has to be your fault because how can the pastor’s child behave like that?

Society will tell your children what they should wear, who they should play with, where they should play, how they should dress, where they should eat, basically, society will tell your kids who they should be. Your children have standards set for them to live by. You might not like it or want it even but that’s society for you. It is the system.

It’s really not for pastors only; it is for all of us.

We are all following a script, whether we know it or not. Society dictates what doctors do, where they live, and what they do. Society dictates the lives of teachers as well. There are specific hotels that are known as favorites for teachers. They even know what teachers will order before they even get settled in their seats. The child of a teacher, just like the child of a pastor can be picked from the middle of a crowd with eyes closed. The life of a politician is ordered in a certain way. They eat in a certain place, dress in a certain way, drive a certain kind of car and live in a certain neighbor. If they don’t do this then we wonder whether they are really politicians.

Here’s the thing. If we deviate, we are demonized and called social misfits. A pastor who does things out of the norm is a misfit, a doctor who doesn’t live up to what the society expects is considered a misnomer, and a politician who doesn’t live large isn’t really a politician. That is what society has taught us to believe all our lives.

But what if we are just trying to live our lives? What if you don’t fit in this society’s description of a doctor, teacher, pastor or politician? What if you decide to take a different route, pursue a different path? What if you defied order and the odds?

If you did, society would call you a misfit but I would celebrate you!

I’d celebrate you because while the rest of us are fitting in and doing the ‘right’ thing, you would be doing your thing. And sure we wouldn’t like you that much. We would talk about you and say that you are a disgrace to society. You would become the bad example. You’d be the doctor that defied order, the pastor who is too worldly and the politician who’s straight and not corrupt. You would be living you life, while the rest of us, live what the society says live.

Thing is, we have too many people conforming, too many people flowing with the current. Too many just getting by and doing what society expects: conform. We have fewer risk takers. We have few people who decide that what society orders doesn’t necessarily have to be the only way. We have fewer bold people who decide to be misfits, misfits enough to live their own lives.

Few of us have courage enough to call bluff on the society and just live. Most of us are playing safe, and doing what we have seen everyone else do, follow the rules. Wonder what would happen if we decided to do what we really wanted. If we decided we do not want to go to university, we’d rather start a business. If we decided that formal education doesn’t work for us and hence our children will go through homeschooling. What if we got married when we wanted or didn’t get married at all if that’s what we really wanted? What if we challenged the status quo? What if we decided to live our lives as opposed to just fitting in?

What if we decided that this or the other is a society’s norm but no, we’ll just do what works for us, we will live our lives? What if we decided to live a full life?

I hope more of us chose to defy the system. I hope we can cause a revolution. I hope that we’d desire more. More than what the system offers. I hope more of us would want to pursue the unconventional. I hope that more of us would want to live fuller lives. I hope that more of would live our lives.

They taught us to color within the lines, and live in the norm. Quick question though… whose life are you living? Yours or the one prescribed by society?

  1. This is the most bold message I have ever read in a long while…. We need to find ourselves and realize how “conforming” can be misinterpreted, we need to liiive 😊

  2. Society has set standards which we should abide to. Its difficult to live your own life if society will keep analysing how your life should be or what norms you should follow. Great piece.

  3. Colonial era systems still work up to date. This is a totally different era. You cannot put new wine in an old wine skin… and Vise versa… that’s where we went wrong first…
    People should just live first!!

  4. I am living my new life in Christ, though it was injected in us through the school it doesn’t mean I or we should grow old with that, coz in Christ I am a new creation the old is gone see new has come. And I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

  5. Very True! And An Eye Opener.Many Of Us Are Held Captive By The Yoke Of The System,And Not Live To Manifest Your True self, Don’t Want To Get To Heaven And Be Shown The True Extent Of My Potential..Thanks Sonko!

  6. Food for thought. Truth is we can and should live authentic lives. We’re however caught up trying to follow a script, as you put it. We should write our own stories. That’s the path I choose. Then again, easier said than done…

  7. The so called ‘system’ doesn’t set one for being EXTRA ordinary..Well, defying the programmed way of life can be dangerous but worth the risk… Thumbs up mwendwa

  8. We are of the system but not in the system.
    We need to remember that nobody owns your life but you. At a young age, we do things blindly but as we mature mentally, spiritually we always have a choice. And i choose freedom. Freedom to be me.
    I am not what i do. I am not people’s thoughts. I am so much more. Letting other people detect my life is being a slave of culture. God set us free. I dare to live in that freedom 😌

  9. Isn’t that the truth! Be true to yourself and NEVER allow any system prescribed by the society to control or manipulate you.

  10. They taught us to colour within the lines, but what they didn’t tell us is outside the boundaries was infinite space to explore, infinite sheds of colour and infinite life experiences.

  11. 🎶Do what makes you happy 🎶Do what makes you smile 🎶Everybody’s judging anyway 🎶You’re only here for a while 🎶

  12. I have been born &raised by a teacher a d yes its true…From dressing,eating habits( mum couldn’t just cook anything it had to be good),& socialising ….we only Interacted with particular children…….
    ## Set Standards.

  13. “I’d celebrate you because while the rest of us are fitting in and doing the ‘right’ thing, you would be doing your thing. ” Most live to impress the society, so just live your life … Great piece Mwendwa

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