The path to progress

The path to progress


Woke up at 3am this morning to a crescent moon hanging in the sky, and in his company, the small companion star hanging around at one of the tips of the sickle of the silver sliver of the goddess Luna’s luminescent body hanging in the sky; loyal like a Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza, faithfully following the master moon like it has always been since the day the cosmos was conceived.

The Muslim prophet Mohammed must have chosen this cosmogonic symbol for a given reason, that progress seeks faith, that it follows a given pattern, which, however tedious or routinish it may seem: there are some things that will never change, or, that their change will last a period of time that may seem an infinity if one were to compare its span with the brief and few years man is granted a place to love and to live on this earth.

The moon fades from time to time and repeats the waxing and the waning of the phases several times across the four seasons, but I am sure that star keeps on burning even in the absence of the moon; for though he may seem smaller, the star does not depend on the moon turning up to emit those brilliant diamond sparkles; the star is in actual fact the provider of the luminal brilliance the moon shines upon the earth on cloudless nights: the star is the provider of the light but prefers to stay in the background, he is content with the moon reflecting the light he emits from a million billion light years away.

Our human lives follow the pattern of the bodies in the universe; we cannot think we are different from them because all parts of our existence are governed by them. Thinking to the contrary is just foolish pride undisguised, for the seasons change and we are in turn forced to adapt to the weather changes; he or she that wears the seal or bear skin in the heat of the Sahara would surely perish from heat stroke, exhaustion, or, burn: only the wise know what to wear when, where, and how, and only a fool will don a pair of bikinis in the Arctic seas.

Time passes, progress comes, but the prudent mankind does not forget that there are constants in the life of humanity, and that these constants are to be revered if the process of progress is to be smooth. These constants that guide progress exist within the realm of the universe, where the earth is a member and man its inhabitant. One cannot hope to defend themselves by always referring to the outside, always blaming the other side, the misperceived ‘outside’; for there is in reality no outside: all we are is on the inside, it is the ‘inside’ we always have to focus on when there are problems in our lives, it is the inside we should wash before we use our dishes, it is the problem within and amongst ourselves we should focus on correcting before we shift the blame onto some poor scapegoat: it is more than just honourable to do this, it is the essence and core to solving problems related to our progress as the Roman Stoic writer Persius Flaccus once taught in his philosophy:

Ne te quaeseveris extra (Do not seek outside of yourself…)

A few days ago I came across squads, battalions, and entire armies of termites (cousins to ants that prefer to build mounds rather than migrate from place to place) crawling all over the sands and pavements of Maseru West, and this foraging spree reminded me of one ecclesiastical truth: we have to toil to get what we need. We can work to get what we want, but the prizes and the rewards of ‘working’ do not evoke the same level of contentment and joy as do the results of ‘toiling’. The truth is that sweat and toil have long-lasting results that can be beheld in the light of day, and their silhouettes can be seen against the background of the night sky.

Buying ice-cream and a cold beer are the rewards after a day of work, visible walls and houses on a previously empty landscape are the results of endless toil in the brazen heat of the summer sun and the chilly frosts of the winter: the latter however evokes a sense of pride in both the homeowner and the bricklayer that build such a house brick by brick, trowel of mortar by trowel of mortar.

The termites I saw build their metropolis (liōlo or termite mounds) by first going out of their comfortable nest in the ground, gathering dry blades of grass, then using their spit (or secretion if I have to be scientifically right) and the soil to create a muddy mix which they combine with the blades and stalks of grass to build the mound one sees dotting the landscapes of the world.

I have seen pictures of mounds in some countries, and the mounds in the photos are over 3 metres in height, and it leaves me filled with a sense of awe; awe that a creature so small could carry so much weight, crawl such a long distance to create such a huge superstructure whose infrastructure must have influenced the way we human beings plan our own metropolis. Our mekhoro (earthen houses) are copies of the liōlo, and from them (natural creatures) we have progressed into being a part of the universe considered ‘intelligent’.

I often wonder whether we really are intelligent, or that we are simply gifted copycats that emulate only part of what they see and then trash the rest that they do not understand. Methinks the endless wars are a sign that we have not progressed as beings in the world. We lack the patience, the diligence, the competence, effectiveness, the strategy, and the resilience of the termite, the ant, and the snake.

Progress demands one large measure of patience; for to progress, one must be very good at the practice of waiting, one must be wise enough to find something to do that is worthwhile whilst they wait. Waiting does not mean that one stands still, one should be doing ‘work’; that is, carrying some weight physically and mentally, going from here to there in legwork or mental calculation whilst in wait of the ultimate goal. The argument of the forward and the greedy is that, ‘life is too short’, but the truth of the matter is that those who rush make their short lives even shorter because they lack the patience to wait, and they have not the wisdom to realise that a house is built brick by brick and not wall by wall, that a meal is eaten spoonful by spoonful not plate by plate.

I am sure (that perhaps) the termite knows not the number of times he or she will venture out into the grassland to get a single blade of grass, but I am sure he or she enjoys the knowledge that those blades of grass are part of what constitutes to their basic security, their shelter, their welfare, their legacy to their posterity. The termite is diligent in the quest to build or to repair the mound because they seem to have an inbuilt sense of commitment to the task of keeping their homeland/mound in prime condition. One would not be wrong to assume that the diligence is begat of the patience of waiting to see all things through, to see the structure built.

Our lives in our individuality and our states should in a sense follow the same pattern if we are to truly progress to a level where we can claim to be progressive. Having an innate sense of patience and diligence leads to what I term as ‘competence’, which in turn defines effectiveness in life. Progress demands of one to understand the true and full meanings of the terms for it to be progress, and not just a series of fumblings that find certain individuals tasked with seeing to the occurrence of progress taking potshots in the dark, without first aiming or planning in the form of strategy.

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) in his Evolution and Ethics defines what progress is using the image of a plant’s growth as a background;

By insensible steps, the plant builds itself up into a large and various fabric of root, stem, leaves, flowers, and fruit, every one moulded within and without in accordance with an extremely complex but, at the same time, minutely defined pattern. In each of these complicated structures, as in their smallest constituents, there is an immanent energy which, in harmony with resident in all the others, incessantly works towards the maintenance of the whole and the efficient performance of the part which it has to play in the economy of nature.

Diligence constitutes to building, whether it be structures or relationships in human or earthly-scapes that can be seen, and correctly applied, diligence gets one the results; for constant and concentrated effort meant to achieve a goal leads to one being competent in their given pursuit.

Repetition begets effectiveness in whatever pursuit one is engaged in, and to progress, one should have a clear and virtuous path to follow, to attain whatever goal they envision or is envisioned by someone more experienced than themselves. However, one should have a clear sense of strategy lest they be routed from their original progress goal and they end up misplaced. It takes a single wrong turn for a whole journey to go sour unless one follows the itinerary to the tee. I have seen clear development goals end up as nothing or their effects go unseen because they were not patiently implemented, were not diligently executed, were run by a bunch of incompetent beings who were in all essence in the wrong place (that is, misplaced), were lacking in terms of strategy, and were in general ineffective.

Progress is like the arrow, it is a guided process on how we as the human race can be better human beings in the present and the future. We do not refer to the past to mark a change in progress, we focus on the now to map the way into the future, and for that we have to understand a large part of the tenets of progress. Fumbling without proper knowledge and understanding of the terms and the conditions within which we work soon leads complacency and retardation. Individuals sooner than later create comfort zones, and the fact of the matter is that comfort soon makes a man or woman heavy in the middle; and who can toil with a lead heavy belly? To progress we need a pack of wild dogs running in synchrony, knowing perfectly well that they will get their quarry because they have the patience and the diligence to run it down. These are the kind of individuals that know that the finish line is at the end of the chase, not in the middle.

I have seen a whole far-away country across the river of pines progress because the citizens were willing to shed the past as a snake sheds his slough. Back then, such a country was a model for reconciliation, and restoration, but it now has given rise to a breed of individuals that believe life is free; because they were taught that toil is wrong for the government will provide all. In the light of all the obvious signs of regress one sees in the country mentioned, one begins to wonder; what fool taught these fools that there is reward without work? Who lies to an entire generation by convincing them that freedom means things will come for free?

Nothing is for free, even the land we tread on has to pay the sky in the form of evaporation for the rain it receives for the citizens of the earth. Whoever thought that progress and freedom are free; they are just delusional: for what they teach does not agree even with itself. And the words of the stoic Persius agree that:

Omne verum vero consonat (every truth is consonant/ agrees with every other truth)

Progress is not free; you have to pay the pass: like we do all over the earth in all forms.

  1. S. Mothibi, Esq.
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