• October 22nd, 2019

In praise of the veritable beauty of old school


I recall visiting an elderly man who I proudly called “Baba” (father) in 2007. We had worked together in the Biomass Users’ Network.
   In the course of our meeting, he asked to use my phone. After his call, he requested me to place the gadget on the table. He was quiet for what seemed inordinately long. It was clearly a silence with a message.
Finally, in a quivering voice that genuinely sought to know, he asked, “what does that thing do?” The question did not have any pretence in it. I considered it best to seek clarification because I had not expected it.
   He said he appreciated that the gadget was a phone, but he was convinced it could do other things. ‘Other things’ did not sound innocent.
I told him that besides the phone function, it had a camera; a typewriter console, and it was Wi-Fi enabled. His next question disarmed me: “can it record me; did it record my call?”
   My attempts to assuage his anxieties initially fell flat on the ground. Even while I told him that the phone could only record if I activated the function, I could tell that I was losing his confidence. The man had once made what he believed were innocuous off-the-record remarks. Sadly, a voice-activated recorder captured them. His life drastically changed after that. 
It was then, that I appreciated the depth of his concerns. I fully understood the unalloyed truth of his question. The Nokia E90 phone could indeed remind one of an audio recorder. I valued his vulnerability. In his seeming weakness, he sought to know, sought to be empowered.
   For this reason, I find it sad that we have, today, a world that is supposedly more connected, convenient and sophisticated, yet still home to some heart-wrenching stories.  
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines old school as “typical of an earlier style or form: based on a way of doing things that was common in the past.” 
   A simpler rendition says old school is “a noun used approvingly to refer to someone or something that is old-fashioned or traditional.”
That is what I have in mind as I seek to praise the veritable (and simple) beauty of old school. I am not after the Romantic poets, musicians and other artists of the nineteenth century who liked to portray a world that was “idealized, heroic and adventurous.”
   My old school is about simple, honest and empathetic conversations about serious issues in life. I am guided in part by novelist Louisa May Alcott who says “good, old-fashioned ways keep hearts sweet, heads sane and hands busy.”
I cannot understand the scale of the tragedies, savage brutality and unfulfilled lives that characterize our twenty-first century world.
   True, the digital age gives better choices with regard to online education; searching for and finding employment; the wide range of tools and applications that are on offer, and discovering more about the world without necessarily incurring travel costs.
On the other hand, the medical world is increasingly warning about health problems associated with frequent computer use. It is not uncommon to hear the following words: “promote good posture; reduce the risk of back pain, and exercise more frequently.
   Yet for me, the real sting of this advanced world is that people are just not communicating. Someone has made the unorthodox observation that “modern people tend to communicate online than offline even when they are sitting face to face (the keyboard warriors!). It is getting easier to express their feelings with smiles than real emotions. It is a sad fact, indeed.”
Jeremy Chandler writes that “every millennial I know desires a mentor – someone other than our parents – who can help us navigate important decisions and grow.”
   It is my old school conviction that however efficient and business savvy the digital era is, it cannot supplant the human touch in our relations.
Marketing strategy consultant Dorie Clark advises that, “if you want to advance in your career, it’s almost impossible to do it on your own. So take a step toward controlling your destiny by getting the right people around you, so you can move confidently to the next level and cultivate real relationships.”
   We need mentors for much more than business education. It is an unforgivable indictment of our society that we find ourselves in a virtual time-warp: how can supposedly developed and networked communities compete for advertising space with rising cases of depression and suicide? Is a better life for all not possible? 
I have called this piece “in praise of the veritable beauty of old school.” This is because Jonathan Safran Foer reckons that “time is passing by like a hand waving from a train I want to be on.” We need to mobilize quick responses.
Many people in our midst are resorting to desperate cries for help. The good news is that we all can play a role in promoting mental wellness. I will be a volunteer in fighting for hope. 
* Lawrence Kamwi is at larrymphok123@gmail.com


Staff Reporter
2019-04-05 10:26:52 | 6 months ago

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