Excerpt for Thoughts On Granite: African Wisdom and Philosophical Reflections on Life by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


African Wisdom and

Philosophical Reflections on Life

Oluwole Komolafe

Books by Oluwole Komolafe

Sayings of the Great Masters of Wisdom

The Enigma:Rumblings and Ramblings of a Thinker

(Co-authored by: Iyabo Arinola Awokoya)

Colloquies: The African Poet, The African Philosopher, and the African Physicist

Thoughts On Granite

African Wisdom and Philosophical Reflections on Life

Copyright 2007 by Oluwole Komolafe

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any Web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid.

The views expressed in this book are solely those of the author .


To: Yewande and OluSeeni


in loving and evergreen memory


Olumide Komolafe, 1979-1999


The material in this book has been published in the order in which it was written by the author without rearranging the essays to suit particular marketing requirements. Anybody who knows the author well could almost certainly relate some of the essays to events in the life of the author. For this reason, I share the credit for the outcome of the book in its present form with these close associates, who persuaded me to leave all the writings in the book even though some of the material is intensely personal and subjective.

First, as with my other books, my thanks begin with my wife, Motunde, who has tolerated my restlessness at night; when attempting to creep out of the bed in the night to the family library, I would always stumble on a stool and wake her up. I also thank my children, Yewande and OluSeeni, who gave me peace of mind by being good children and good students. Within the last two years, they have made me the proud father of two graduates. I am blessed to have the best children in the world.

Mr. Lanre Adewusi, “Uncle Larry,” scholar and teacher, read this book as a manuscript and convinced me that I had a good product even when all I could see was a collection of words on paper. Uncle Larry, thank you very much for all your assistance in reading through the manuscript several times.

Pastor Stanley Uzoechina, writer and publisher, helped with the initial editing of this book. Thank you, Stanley, for your contributions and suggestions on the final edition of this book. I am most grateful for your patience and guidance with the various drafts and redrafts before we had a book.

My special thanks go to Honorable Justice R. O. Fawehinmi (Rtd.): philosopher, social scientist, historian and teacher, who has always been a source for wisdom and inspiration to me.

I owe special thanks to my friends, Mr. Alan Carroll and Mr. Alan Coulthart, who first described me as a philosopher even before I could write a line of prose. Thank you, both, for encouraging me to go on writing.

I also thank my friend of many years, Professor Helma Sauerbrey, for her contributions to the piece on the occupation of West Germany. Thank you, Helma! You stood by my young family during our difficult and trying student days in Germany.

Finally I want to thank all the aspiring sages at Sages Consult Limited, the colleagues with whom I have worked. They have offered positive reinforcement to me through all the years. I appreciate all the resources made available to me in the office for the completion of this work.


I specifically asked to contribute this foreword to Thoughts on Granite by Oluwole Komolafe, with whom I have been acquainted for a period of over fifteen years. In the preceding six years, since we have worked together as partners in the firm of Sages Consult Limited, I have had the opportunity to associate closely with the author and to respect his philosophical leanings. Some philosophers are born, and some are made. Mr. Komolafe is both; he is naturally inclined to scrutinize issues far more deeply than most of us do, and philosophy is his intuitive tool for understanding the complexities of life. Mr. Komolafe has a profound knowledge of African proverbs and African wisdom sayings, and his deep understanding of these proverbs and sayings has made Mr. Komolafe an outstanding African philosopher and thinker.

The title of the book leads the reader immediately to ponder the authorial motive. A man who puts his thoughts on granite wants them ingrained everlastingly in human memory. Why, one may ask, did the author choose to put his thoughts on granite? Their importance? The need for the world to bear testimony to an emotion? Marble is usually the stone on which men engrave their words of commemoration or commendation, but granite is the stone of permanence. Thoughts on Granite is a title suggesting solid words that the author wants the reader to cast in stone on his mind. On perusal of the book, this motivation does not seem far fetched, for this book contains words of wisdom for everyday life.

Most men do not think and cannot or would not sit still enough to ruminate. In our country, Nigeria, with so many problems buffeting the individual and with so many personal and economic needs unfulfilled, men have taken the easy way out and have chosen to fill their lives with mindless activities and frequently meaningless pursuits. The thinker is the one who will make an impact in this environment.

Scientists make good thinkers, but not all of them make good philosophers. But the greatest scientist is the one who can combine philosophy with science. Even Adam Smith the father of modern economics, who scorned many professions invaluable in contemporary life, acknowledged philosophy as a worthy, value adding pursuit.

The author is an industrial engineer who combined the study of civil engineering with economics. He possesses the attributes of a great philosopher. I daresay, also, that the author is one of those rare people who have been able to “discover” themselves and that he likes himself the way God made him.

Right from the first piece, “Dare to be Different,” to the last essay, “Up School,” the author demonstrates a numinous ability to talk to the soul of the reader in a manner that compels the reader to stop and reflect on life.

“Menu of All Sorts” started with an apparent soliloquy. In this essay, the author took the reader through the works of early philosophers, seeing philosophy in works of art, music, and in the phrases that make up wisdom sayings. He concluded the piece by advising his readers to adopt the lowly position of a seeker of wisdom, not the superior position of a teacher of wisdom.

“A Matter of Attitude” is a highly philosophical reflection on the examination of human nature, which always seems to desire what we cannot have and despise or be unappreciative of what we actually have. The author advises that we should reach within the recesses of our souls and find peace and serenity of mind. The moral in the piece just is this: change your attitude to a more positive one, and your life will be positively influenced.

“Up School,” a visit to the author’s past, is filled with nostalgia. This is not unexpected. As we all advance in age, hindsight shows us the beauty of the past, which we could not appreciate in youth. Youth sees beauty in the future and looks on the future with hope, while age looks back on youth with nostalgia and imbues youth with beauty. Such is life!

“My Four Ducks” shows the author’s interest in nature. You need to be at peace to be able to study the lives of animals, even the domesticated ones amongst your own home flock. The author observes that birds also have proprietary interests and preferences in mating partners, just like human beings. Perhaps ducks have emotions and fall in love as well, though we may not be able to affirm that idea categorically. The author has shown that this idea may not be as fanciful as we may believe. The piece is sublime and humorous. It tells the reader how futile it is at times for humanity to seek to interfere in God’s perfect purpose and His creation by applying human rules of justice, fair play, and ethics to the animal kingdom, which revolves around the survival of the fittest.

“Leader of the Masses” is both philosophical and political. The essay paints an authentic picture of the labor movement and its leadership in Nigeria. The lesson really is for would be leaders, urging them to focus on training the minds of their followers to understand the cause for which they fight, lest the followers fight solely for the sake of fighting and finally turn traitor to their cause. It also seems to warn leaders to monitor their followers and notice when these followers stop following. A fickle “followership” may make goals unattainable.

The message in “Machado’s Principle” is of particular delight to me. It incorporates the “Walk-Away Principle,” which we aspiring sages in Sages Consult call WAP. It advises the reader to avoid involvement in idle and unproductive arguments—and to walk away. This is wisdom that no one can fault.

The book contains fifty nine essays of wisdom on general knowledge, African philosophy, and abstract knowledge applied to real-life situations such as the ones summarized above. I have truly enjoyed reading the book and have also been richly blessed by the impact of the lessons for life contained in the essays. Life can be very tough, especially life in Nigeria, but the author has given us escape routes through his philosophy: Believe in yourself and your ability to attain goals and live a rich life. View life and monetary wealth as ephemeral and do not rely on their power to bring happiness. The more important things are those that influence one’s own life and the lives of others positively.

I pray that those who have the opportunity to read Thoughts on Granite will have their lives changed from within their souls. I also hope that these readers will seek a better quality of life by ruminating on the essence of life and seeking those things that really matter, not those that are transient.

Iyabo Arinola Awokoya


What is this insistent impulse that arouses me from deep slumber and prompts me to engrave my thoughts into granite? When these thoughts from deep within my mind erupt, sleep gives way to alertness at that quiet hour of the night when the city yields to deep sleep.

A dog finds his peaceful abode in a kennel to savor his meal of bones. A mouse hides in its hole. Birds of the sky descend from meandering flights to roost in their nests. The lion, successful in the day’s hunting, retreats to its den. All living creatures retreat into the recesses of their minds to find peace and harmony and the being called “self.”

What the kennel is to the dog; the hole to the mouse, the nest to the wandering bird of the sky; and the den to the lion, Thoughts on Granite is to me: a view into the recesses of my mind and a refuge from whence I draw strength.

Where, then, will I sit to etch my thoughts on granite? Where will I find that little corner in peace of mind and in solitude to engrave my thoughts on granite? Where will I stand outside the world, without wavering and fearing a fall, to give the world’s inertia a shove?

In the early morning hours, when I am in restless sleep, my mind speaks to me. At its very loud beckoning, I am summoned to my writing desk, and there I etch my thoughts in the penmanship of the mind in the grooves of granite. There, always there, at my writing desk, I find much-desired peace and tranquility.

Thoughts on granite, which flow from the abundance of the mind, manifest in heavy sighs and must be captured in contemplation and solitude. And so, like a doctor who carries his stethoscope in readiness for a patient who might not actually appear, I wait patiently in ambush for thoughts on granite, which occasionally might visit in the middle of the night, with my paper and pen beside my bed. So have I, as a matter of practice, learned the art of putting down my thoughts on paper in the dark when thoughts on granite arrive. But alas! The arduous task always remained: the need to decipher my illegible scrawls written in the dark in the daytime.

For five years, I scrawled on pieces of paper in the night. In the daytime, during discussions with friends, I pensively made mental observations of events that I would modify to add to my understanding of the world I live in. In my adult life, I have learned to survive on short periods of sleep. In the middle of the night, when others enjoyed a peaceful rest, I continued to wrestle with destiny, in search of truth and wisdom, in my den.

I enjoy reviewing the events of the coming day while I shave and brush my teeth every morning. It was during these precious moments that most of the thoughts in this book were developed.

Wisdom makes her rounds during the early hours of the morning, and to those who are awake and alert, she allows a little glimpse into her closet of knowledge.

I view sleep, particularly, too long a sleep in adulthood, as inertia of the body and brain. I compare it to the coma that sometimes precedes death. We do not know when Wisdom will be making her next rounds to allow a glimpse into the secrets of the universe, so the less we sleep, the more we subdue the world, and the more we live.

Thoughts on Granite is a collection of encounters with Wisdom, reflections on cryptic issues of this world all based on my personal experiences—imaginary, real, and surreal. Having converted these experiences into prose, it now remains for me to etch my words into the minds of men and women who may find the book worthy of attention

Oluwole Komolafe

Lagos, Nigeria

Dare To Be Different

The judge does not need to become a villain to understand the workings of a criminal’s mind. The thief does not need to experience ownership to steal what someone else owns. The wise man does not need to become stupid to understand folly. The priest need not commit sins to be able to preach penitence.

The aged need not descend to the level of the young to understand youthful exuberance. The teacher need not become the pupil to understand and teach his subject. The lover need not rehearse hatred to understand acrimony. The rich man need not give away all his possessions to know what poverty is.

The brother’s keeper, who has subjected himself to undue emotional distress, has gone beyond the call of duty we identify with good neighborliness. Helping to free others from pain does not mean inheriting the pain of those of others.

If we would rescue the person in danger of drowning, we must know how to manage the desperate, clasping arms of that drowning person. The man about to drown will grasp the rescuer just as he would seize a floating log. The sacrifice of one-self to save others may not be the ultimate sacrifice. It may turn out to be the height of foolishness.

The greatest learning experience may involve inflicting pain to relieve pain and save others.

Sometimes, in matters of the heart, abstract consideration may help us comprehend the situation without putting ourselves in the way of a solution.

Those who assist others must be profoundly detached, like a surgeon. In healing the sick, a surgeon may have to cut into the body of his patient as a butcher would cut into a pig.

Consider the caterpillar, which first takes on the form of a larva and later becomes a butterfly. Consider also the tadpole, with its tail and fin and fishlike appearance, and its later metamorphosis into a toad. It must be understood that by the law of nature, the larva loves the parent butterfly, and the tadpole adores the mother toad.

Too much attachment to the object of care may cause the mind to stray and lose focus on the problem at hand. In matters of the heart, we must adopt the strategy of nature and be direct or indirect, just as sometimes even the Creator in His majesty followed a pattern of direct and indirect method in creating the inhabitants of the universe.

From the lessons found in the metamorphosis of the larva and the tadpole, consider therefore a valley, a faraway place of green and velvet-like grassland, not only as a low lying area of good scenery amongst undulating green hills.

A stone in a quarry, broken to pieces by a blow of the stonecutter’s hammer, is not broken by the last stroke of the hammer. The boulder has been weakened by the accretion of many blows to the shoulder of the stony outcrop.

So, in essence, we need more than the one last blow that broke the quarry stone in order to dislodge the stone from the boulder. When we observe the bruised piece of the quarry stone, we must therefore not separate the final blow that dislodged the quarry stone from all the other blows of the sledgehammer.

Also, when you consider the mason’s stones, you must appreciate the intricate way that the stones are fitted into one another, one supporting and carrying the weight of the other. Do not behave like a layman who will see a stone-facing wall and walk away without appreciating that the stone-facing wall, like a building, must have a separate foundation of its own. You must also consider the stone’s journey from the quarry to the mason’s yard.

Consider this also: which of the many stones thrown at the martyr eventually killed him? Was it the first stone that broke his ribs, or the stone that hit him on the forehead? Which of the stones thrown at the martyr dealt the fatal blow while a mob of hundreds hurled stones at the holy man?

Which of the waters and grains of sand polished the stone that rolled along the riverbed? The smooth stone, polished by the movement of the water, was the result of years of flowing liquid, considered soft and weak, wearing out stone, which is known as hard and strong.

Likewise, the valley among faraway hills must not be seen as a feature separate from the topography of the entire landscape.

A day may come when the valley will show the strength it could channel from the surrounding hills and mountains by serving as a conduit for overflows of torrential rainfall, hastening to flow into the adjourning sea.

If viewed in isolation, the lowland may appear to be a peaceful valley rather than a reservoir for billions of raindrops. However, once collected, this water can sweep all in its way into the nearby sea. This awesome strength cannot be conceived when we myopically view the valley only as a gorge.

The strong must be contained and restrained in humility like the valley with its potential energy. We must learn from the great and mighty ocean, which is fed by rivers and the drainage of wetlands from marshy inland waterways all over the world. The sea lies low and derives its energy and strength from its lowness, serving as a reservoir for all the waters flowing downhill from the hinterland into the sea.

The rich must be a reservoir of kindness to the less privileged. The more important you are in the community, the less hasty you should be to pass judgment. As we age, we must store up virtue and self respect, and a place among the elders must not be demanded as a right of ripeness in age alone.

The wise must be reticent in demonstrating his wisdom. While speaking volumes with his mind, the sage remains quiet, emptying his mind in the depth of the valley of silence into which wisdom flows and finds its abode.

The village built on low ground, with the valley as its main street, is lined with cars and landscaped houses that may be swept away in the fury of mighty drops of rain collected from the distant hills. Considered alone, the valley has no strength and energy of its own; the power of the valley is reserved and vested in the environment.

Raindrops, when considered alone, are mere feeble drops of rain with little more energy than tears falling from the eyes of a child. While a child’s few innocent tears may weaken and melt the heart of even the most hardened of criminals, the strength of raindrops comes from their collective energy: billions of drops of rain in unison. The environment on its own is powerless until it receives the billions of raindrops that nature releases from the clouds.

One drop of water, separated from the mighty and strong ocean, is lost and weak like a lamb that is separated from the flock. The drop of water will be lost in a strange environment when, for example, it manifests as dew on petals of plants. The same drop of water in the company of other drops of water gathers strength. Billions of drops of water gather to form the great and mighty ocean.

Have you ever heard of a man drowning in a drop of water? Great and mighty ships have been submerged in the congregation of drops of water that form the mighty ocean.

There is strength in unity. The activities of a lone soldier attacking a town will be viewed as insanity, but same soldier, in the company of other soldiers as part of an army, will be accorded respect. Their activity will be termed war.

We must therefore learn from nature and the direct and indirect way nature solves its problems. Sometimes procreation in nature is direct; a baby has all the essential parts that its adult parents have, but does not immediately start walking as adults do.

To create a butterfly, first there exists the caterpillar.

To create the blue fly, the whitish larva is born alive, not from an egg.

To survive its waterlogged environment, the toad develops from a tadpole that behaves like an aquatic animal.

Again, a caterpillar does not have the beautiful colors of a butterfly, and neither can it fly.

And so mortal men, weigh all things in life and see how things conform to the way of nature itself. Wisdom is all around us, and he who seeks wisdom seeks freedom from bondage of the attachment to the worldly.

Man derives power from various sources. For some, power comes from external sources such as wealth, physical health, influence, and other ephemeral things.

The greatest power comes from within, and that is the power that takes its source from the soul.

Menu of All Sorts

I went from place to place and from people to people, studying the many faces of the people that I met, as I searched for wisdom as men know it. Sometimes pensive and lost in thought, still and quiet like a mountain, I pondered on the wisdom of man. I reflected on what man considers pleasure. I reflected on his habits, his culture, and his general ways of life. I mused and talked to myself, brooding in whispers, considering man and his nuances. In solitude, I asked myself questions and answered myself. I thought and addressed my soul in reflection in an attempt to know the mind of man.

I talked to myself in the manner of a homeless wanderer; I was tossed about in aimless pursuit like a rudderless ship. I was a drifting reed in a world that did not obey the prompting of a compass. I expressed my thoughts, making facial expressions and gesticulations, arms outstretched to emphasize my points. I sought support from the audience of my listening self. Sometimes I talked frankly to an imagined audience that seemed to regard me with querying, disbelieving eyes. At other times, my listener was a lone person who would stop, mouth agape, amazed at the eloquence of my utterances.

In my pensiveness, I tried to arouse the dead and formless thoughts that had been buried in me, lacking coherence and an appropriate audience. I imitated the sculptor, who first saw the form of his work of art and simply went to work and cut the figure in his mind out of the piece of marble. I poured out my mind in prose: I was the speaker, and I was also the astonished listener.

Sometimes my mind strayed, and I wondered whom the artist was addressing through his art? What listener did the poet address when he recited his poems? For whom was the message in the lyrics of the singer meant? The sculptor certainly has his audience, as do the poet and the singer. For me, the wanderer, the only company I keep is my own. My only listener is my soul, and my soul comprehends my grumbling, rambling self. And so, in my rambling self, I was able to find a listener for my soliloquies.

“What is wisdom?” I wondered. “Who is a wise man?” I asked myself. What makes one man wise and other men unwise? Can wisdom be found in only what a man says? Can you look at a man and see wisdom in the way he comports himself? If a man does not open his mouth to speak, can you discern wisdom from his ways? Can you decipher wisdom from the way a man speaks or writes? What words are used to communicate wisdom? Does it then make him a wise man, that man who puts together a few words and coins a meaning of his own for the world?

What, then, is so important about wisdom that all men crave to have it? Why is a little wisdom enough to set the captive mind of man free? Are the people called barbarians wise? Where is the dwelling place of the wise, or can you look at faces and see wisdom as you would see beauty in a woman? Is he wise, he who is circumspect in his judgment of himself? These were my thoughts as I voyaged through the lonely abyss of reflection that led to the harbor where wisdom berths.

Wisdom has been the common and unifying factor and the bridge between the past and the present through the development of the human race. Certainly there were wise men in Athens and in Rome during the so-called ancient and medieval times. The men who lived during these periods were devoted to the acquisition of knowledge and the search for truth, without which the discoveries of the modern world would have been impossible.

As far back as the eighth century BC, the Greeks had developed extraordinary curiosity about their environment and the world of nature around them. They had knowledge of astronomy, geography, and meteorology, and they also had a well-developed interest in human conduct. The Iliad, composed by Homer, in which the story of the Trojan horse that concealed the Greek soldiers was told, is a descriptive poem based on ethical observations.

Anaximander, who lived between 611 and 545 BC, was an astronomer and geographer. He made an astronomical globe, a sundial, and a geographical map. Xenophanes, who was born in 570 BC, was a religious philosopher. Heracleitus, who lived circa 536 470 BC, was called the “weeping philosopher” because of his misanthropy and the “dark philosopher” because of the gloominess of his writings. The more recent works of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, Marcus Aurelius, Søren Kierkegaard, Pascal, Nietzsche, Michel de Montaigne, Bertrand Russell, Immanuel Kant, and many other works on philosophy and general knowledge by notable authors have been well-publicized and studied.

We must also not forget the saints of philosophy and defenders of truth who died for their beliefs, who suffered persecution at the hands of their fellow men because of their superior knowledge. Socrates was condemned by an Athenian jury for having knowledge and wisdom ahead of his time. The Dominican friar, Giordano Bruno, was burned at the stake in Rome in 1600 AD for insisting that the Earth moved around the stationary sun. Baruch Spinoza, otherwise known as Benedictus de Spinoza, was expelled from the synagogue in 1656 at Amsterdam for his unorthodox beliefs and his defense of opinions that many considered heretical.

Galileo Galilei faced life threatening charges of heresy for an architectural concept of the universe different from the model sanctioned in religious dogma. The concept of a stationary sun was certainly heresy when Joshua, at the siege of Jericho, supposedly commanded the sun to stand still for a whole day. Galileo was ridiculed, made to dress in the white robe of the penitent, kneel before the tribunal, renounce and abandon his “false opinion,” and say in his plea:

“Therefore wishing to remove from the minds of your Eminences (the tribunal) and of all faithful Christians this vehement suspicion justly conceived against me, I abjure with sincere heart and unfeigned faith, I curse and detest the said errors and heresies and generally all and every error and sect contrary to the Holy Catholic Church.” (Galileo Galilei)

The heresy attributed to Galileo was his opinion that the sun is the center of the solar system and is immovable, that the Earth is not the center of the same, and that the Earth moves. Galileo was said to have risen from his knees after making his abjuration and swearing to the document, muttering under his breath, “Eppur si muove!” (But still, it moves!).

The study of the works discussed above suggests that knowledge or wisdom is the greatest virtue that man should strive for. It was suggested that the wise man must know what is good for him and do it. Deductions from the works of these great men also show that while all knowledge or wisdom comes from the senses, no knowledge or wisdom exists by itself in the senses. Knowledge or wisdom must first be acquired through learning by inductive or deductive reasoning. Just as it will be seen later, concerning the knowledge of music in the maestro and the works of art in the artist, knowledge and wisdom exist in the person but cannot be seen in their senses.

A book, no matter how well-written, is made up of everyday words used in common discourse and in quotidian matters. However, the way that the wordsmith uses these words makes the difference. Almost every literate person, even a child, will be able to understand the dictionary meaning of most of the words in a book, but not the book’s intricacy of construction.

A child, trying to translate the words in a book, may literally know the meaning of the words, but the child may not immediately see the wise and figurative meaning behind the sentences. If taken separately, at face value, the words may be everyday, common, utilitarian words. Sometimes a short and pithy sentence of three or four words can be so powerful that the sentence may become a saying, which can be quoted as the wisdom of a sage. It takes an enlightened and literate mind to assemble a few words to capture and convey deep meaning.

For example:

He is not very tall, and not very stout.

The very matrons look with much disfavor

Upon a man, of little parts. (Veterum Poetarum Catalecta)

But ‘tis a common proof

That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,

Whereto the Climber

Upward turns his face.

But when he once attains the up-most round,

He then unto the ladder turns his back,

Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees

By which he did ascend. (Brutus: Julius Caesar, Act II scene 1)

The seeker after truth should be humbler than the dust.

The world crushes the dust under its feet,

but the seeker after truth should so humble himself,

that even the dust could crush him.

Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of truth. (Mohandas K. Gandhi)

The three quotations above are couched in very simple language. The words are simple English words. The effect of the words comes from the connotative meanings and the phrasing. Considered on their own merit, words do not generate sense or wisdom. It is the way that the words are put together that gives the sentence the meaning that we desire it to have.

By way of digression, just like words, notes in music can be played from separate, distinctive keys of a musical instrument. When notes are played on the piano, where is the melody coming from? Does the melody come from the keys or from the fingers of the person playing the piano? What I mean is this: is the melody from the strings and polished wood of the piano or from the hands or brain of the pianist? If the melody were in the piano, when the piano is out of tune or when its wood is hacked to pieces to feed a fire on a cold day, then the melody should have been burnt in the fire. But no: the person playing the piano can go to another tuned piano and play the same melody again and again, from piano to piano, in different locations.

Any child can strike the piano and play the same chord keys as the maestro himself. However, just as single words may be read in a sentence, it is the combination of all the keys, the vibration of the notes of the piano, and the dexterity of the maestro’s fingers that create the melody.

Similarly, the music that comes out of the harmonica does not reside in the perforated wood and metal of the instrument. Where then does the music reside? Is the person playing the instrument, blowing air into the instrument or sucking air out of it, moving his mouth from side to side, trying to find the music? Can we separate the music from the instrument?

On one hand, any tune played by any person can be repeated exactly by another on the same musical instrument. If the instrument is lost, another instrument can be purchased, and the music can be repeated exactly. So it is also with singing. A song can be learned and sung by different people.

Voices though, differ from person to person. One can recognize a singer by listening to the singer’s recorded voice. And doesn’t a choir sing in unison, and yet one can recognize the individual parts that the members of the choir sing?

On the other hand, music can be documented. Single musical notes can easily be struck on a piano or played on a harmonica. It is the arrangement of the many notes that makes a good musician and not necessarily the instrument. The instrument, as the name implies, is merely a means for the musician to express his skill in making a melody.

We can separate the music from the instrument, just as we have shown above that we can recognize individual voices in the choir. We can take away certain notes in the music box and replace the notes with other notes or remove the notes entirely. We can change or manipulate the notes from the musical instruments as we may choose. We cannot do the same with the resident music in the man playing an instrument. We cannot take away one particular song in a person while the singer has the latitude to continue singing other songs of our choice. The music and the songs are resident in the man, and if we were to perform a surgical operation on him, we could find neither the music nor the song in one corner of his brain, though we could trace certain musical notes to strings and cords in the music box.

Science, however, has made it possible for us to record and broadcast music and songs; otherwise, with the demise of the musician or the singer, the music and the songs would have gone with him. The musician or singer can also teach other people to play his music and sing as he sings. We can record his music and songs on compact discs and play the same music, note for note. The songs can be copied and distributed all over the world. We do not have to travel to the musician to enjoy his music and songs. It is the same with visual arts. Multiple and simultaneous viewings of artworks are now possible in the privacy and comfort of remote locations through new technologies of the broadcast medium.

It can be argued that the music copied on a compact disc is not the same as when played by the maestro himself, in a music theater with ideal acoustics and sound-enhancement technologies. Listening to the music on a compact disc will certainly not give the same experience as when one hears the musician performing live on stage. When one watches the musician performing on stage, apart from the auditory effect of the music, the spectator carries away with him the visual impact of the performance. The spectator remembers the way the musician dances or the expression on his face as he sings a particular lyric. Also, he remembers the infectious effect of these nuances on the faces of the enthusiastic spectators when recalling the performance. .

Have you forgotten how easy it is to become part of the crowd as a spectator? As a test case, how long were you able to keep mute when the musician asked the audience questions like “You feel all right?” or exhorted them, “Everybody say yeah, yeah, yeah!” When he said, “One more time, two times, three times!” did you keep quiet? You obeyed, despite your age! Would you not jump up from your seat and leap for joy when your favored football team scores a goal? It is the same when you watch a tennis game. When the ball is played to the right, you will follow the ball instinctively with your head movement to the right and dutifully to the left when the tennis ball is played left. However, you do not have to move your head in any direction when you watch the tennis match on the screen of a television. Neither do you have to join the crowd to see the landing of the ball when watching a golf match on the screen of a television. These examples illustrate the limitations of the broadcast medium.

It is the excitement of not being able to choose where and what you want to watch in a stadium or tennis court and not being part of the teeming, surging crowd on a golf course, that one misses when events are flattened and presented two-dimensionally on the television screen. The effect is much the same with music reproduced on a compact disc and played on an inferior CD player in a moving car with opened windows. It is possible to copy and record the music, but the infectious enthusiasm shared by spectators at a live performance cannot be reproduced in the living room home theater.

The camera presents to the viewers only what the cameraman sees in the lens of his camera. The cameraman also decides what he wants his viewers to see. In his judgment, some events may be considered too unworthy or too indecent for transmission. Consequently, images on films are edited before being presented to viewers. However, the combined auditory, visual, and physical effects create the special experience of a live performance by a musician on stage, and this is what is recalled when one remembers the song or when the music is played at some other time.

It may also be argued that art shown on television screens to millions of viewers ensconced in reclining chairs in the comfort of their homes does not provide the same experience enjoyed by viewers who see the same painting within the serene walls of the National Museum. Imagine the impact on the tourist when he sees the painting in a room painted in sparkling white. Security contributes to the overwhelming effect; the painting will be protected by guards, priest-like and welcoming, who encourage the tourists to make obeisance to the art enshrined in the secluded room in the Museum.

The experience described above cannot be compared to one in which the painting is viewed casually on the screen of the kitchen television by a housewife in an apron, with a serving spoon in one hand and a pile of plates on the other. The housewife has no right to claim to have seen the works of Michelangelo in the same way that a tourist saw them. The picture reached her through the turbulent waves of the electromagnetic spectrum, manifested in warped and skewed form on the kitchen television. By contrast, the tourist traveled to the Vatican to see the original frescoed works of the Sistine Chapel or Michelangelo’s Moses in the church of St. Peter in Rome.

Returning to music after the tangent about pictorial works of art, musical instruments have numerous unexplored possibilities. Inside the piano and the harmonica is the possibility of new music, not yet composed by any living soul. Sometimes angels stir and inspire the souls of men on Earth and allow a foretaste of the music composed and played by angels in heaven to mortals when in a trance.

Those who make it to heaven will hear the original versions of such songs as “The Old Rugged Cross” sung by the choir of angels. Then the resurrected persons will look back and grin at the imperfection of the same songs as played by mortals on Earth.

The music of today’s generation evolved from the old musical instruments. The music of the future is already in these instruments and will be composed by generations yet unborn from the basic musical notes that are already resident in the instruments. Today we may know the notes, but we do not know the rhythm and the music that will emerge from the musical instruments in years to come. You may open up the piano, but you will not find the music of tomorrow in the piano. Neither will you find the music in one corner of the brain of the pianist who is still eating baby food in some obscure place in the world, that pianist who will grow up and compose the music of tomorrow.

A couple prayed fervently to have a child, not knowing that they were praying to God to answer another couple’s prayer for a wife or a husband for their own child. God answered the prayer of the first couple to have a child and the supplications of the other couple for a life-partner for their child. Someday you will become a grandfather or grandmother; somewhere a son or daughter-in-law is being weaned solely to grow into a mate for your own child and make your dream of becoming a grandparent come true. If you do not know this person yet, you may also not know the pianist who will compose or sing the music that will come out of your antiquated piano in the future.

Consider the dictionary, which contains the words from which the sayings of wisdom are composed. You will never find the exact words that form the sayings of wisdom all joined together in the dictionary. It is the sage who takes on the responsibility of joining the words together to form the masterpiece we assemble to read in literary groups. Today we know the words of the English language, but who knows what words of wisdom will be crafted out of these same words tomorrow as the basis for the development of future knowledge? If we are to judge from experiences in the past, prophecies are composed of words that can be found in the dictionary, but the prophecy itself does not come directly from the dictionary!

At this point, I have the duty to remind my readers that all the comments about musical notes and works of art were made to emphasize the point about the construction of sentences. The construction of sentences and the combination of musical notes are analogous processes. The poet who crafts his verse from simple words may also combine common words into wisdom sayings. Words so crafted might be written down in book form, or the words could be spoken and later recorded in writing.

Sometimes the man we consider wise may have been under inspiration of some sort. Inspiration does not come to one in an environment of noise and loud jubilation or utter disorderliness. To receive inspiration, one must be in a state of self-control and self-abandonment. In this way, self-abandonment means the surrender or submission of the physical self to the cerebral self. To be inspired, one must surrender to the numinous influence. In self-surrender, the soul has temporarily escaped from the corporeal body that will one day return to the dust from whence that body came.

It is the soul, not the body, that receives inspiration. The body only responds to inspiration from the soul. The difference between the soul and the body may be exemplified by the situation in which the slave dealer buys, has power over, and owns the carnal body of the slave, but cannot buy or own the slave’s soul, which is not of this Earth. As the carnal man who is bought and used as a beast of burden gains freedom from the master, one day the soul will be set free from the burden of the carnal body.

Let us stop awhile and consider the beauty of some of the works crafted by men under inspiration. Consider, for example, unique paintings, unusual sculptures, remarkable buildings, complicated machines fabricated by men, brilliant writings, inspirational speeches, and songs composed by men in the grip of inspiration. These achievements could only have been possible when inspired men were allowed a glimpse through a slightly opened door into the glory of heaven. It is after viewing the glory and wonders of heaven in this manner that men attempt to replicate the wonders experienced in heaven on earth, confirming the saying that as it is in heaven, so it is on Earth.

At this point, I must remind my readers that we started this chapter on the topic of the quest for wisdom. Drawing a conclusion on all these matters, I will refrain from trying to define wisdom to mean “this or that.”

The reference to the artists was necessary to add juice to the dryness of discussions in philosophy. It is easier to digest philosophy interlaced with wisdom borrowed from the lives of the artists; meat marbled with rich streaks of fat tastes better than lean meat, despite the doctor’s warning about the dangers of cholesterol.

Consequently, I will refrain from acting like Euthyphron, the religious scholar who, when asked by Socrates before his trial what piety meant, said, “Piety is acting as I am acting now.” Euthyphron thought he was acting piously by indicting his father for apparently causing the death of a laborer in his service. He therefore derived the definition of piety from his action.

Again, avoiding a direct definition of the subject matter of wisdom, it will suffice to say that wisdom is the knowledge of things real or ephemeral; the knowledge of self, physical or cerebral; and the knowledge of the omniscient and immortal God.

The knowledge of others and of self results in wisdom and self-mastery.

The path to wisdom begins with the knowledge and fear of God, with wisdom being the foreknowledge of things the soul had experienced on those occasions when the soul had momentarily separated itself from the burden and prison of the human body.

Great thinkers of the past have taught us that a wise man is one who finds his happiness in his individual life or in his friendships with other wise men.

Consequently, the person who is aware of his limitations, who adopts the attitude of a seeker, who engages in a lifelong quest for knowledge and wisdom, is wise.

The Sandbox as a Writing Pad

I once observed a man who has his abode under a makeshift shed near a popular street in Lagos. The man sits in his shed and writes on notepads. He has a high pile of notepads, filled from cover to cover. The notepads are neatly arranged on the floor near his writing bench. Dozens of used ballpoint pens in a polysterol box close to him, evidence of years of hard work, were placed next to the notepads. I was tempted to stop over at his shed to find out what the man, whom many considered insane, could have been writing in those stacks of notepads, but I could not pull over and park my car for fear of obstructing the traffic.

The fact that the man was quiet and lived in solitude, putting down pages upon pages of his inner ramblings, does not mean that he was inspired. As far as I know, he could have been writing nonsense; I know that he was not of sound mind. I therefore learned the lesson that introspection and self-abandonment in pursuit of a senseless goal do not make a man wise. The man who appears to have a pensive gaze, a thinker’s distant expression, with his elbow on a table and his hand supporting his chin, might merely be dozing off. Looks can be deceiving. Reader, beware.

Speaking of writing, I remember how, many years ago, I learned how to read and write. The Methodist School was about two kilometers away from my home. All the children in the family, without exception, started their early academic life at this school. We traveled the two kilometers on foot, with our metal portmanteaux balanced on our heads. I remember having a dried, patchy area on my head from carrying my portmanteau every day to school on my bare head.

I was very excited when I could join my elder brothers at school. Apart from reaching age seven, a child had to pass a test of maturity to start school. To pass the test, the child had to be able to bend his right hand across his head and touch his left ear. On the enrollment day, the line for the test was long by the time I got to school. When it was my turn, I very easily passed the test. I can presently bend my right hand to touch my neck, a feat that would have surpassed the requirements for enrollment into school in those days. I am sure that if I had been able to do that at the time I started school, I might have been considered too old for the elementary school! This would have been rightly so, for it has been scientifically proven that with age, the arms grow in a certain proportion to other parts of the body.

The first year of school was spent learning to write letters of the alphabet and in learning songs. Writing was done in a shallow sandbox in front of the classroom. The practice of writing in sandboxes must have been the most cost-effective method of writing invented by man. The teacher would summon a pupil to go to the front of the class and write in the sandbox, pronouncing the letters of the alphabet as the teacher did. The sandbox was then smoothed in preparation for the next pupil. Different pupils could use the same sandbox over and over again, all the year round.

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