How the world is…. the beliefs we live by

By :

Dr Annah K Amani

My most vivid early childhood memory is of me looking up in the brilliant blue sky of my village home and telling God I want to live. I was about five years old at the time. My parents had left us with our grandmother in rural Uganda. We were hiding from the raging death and destruction of the Idi Amin era in the capital city of Kampala. While in hiding with my grandmother, I became very ill and was running a very high fever of the teeth chattering, body shaking, sweat pouring variety. I recall my grandmother coming into the semi-dark room I was laying in with various other adults to consult on my condition. First there was a doctor, who gave me some tablets. Then two village Jajjas (grandmothers) came and bathed me in cold water with pungent leaves and herbs. After that, the village priest, the two Jajjas and my own Jajja (grandmother) came and prayed over me for hours. Still the teeth chattering, body shaking, sweat pouring fever raged on.

At some point my grandmother came and sat by me on the bed. She told me, she had done everything she knew to break my fever. My grandmother also told me there was no way to communicate with my father to take me to the hospital, the roads were blocked with warring soldiers. Grandmother then turned my face to hers and said there is only one thing left to do…. you need to tell God you want to live; God needs to hear it from you. She then wrapped me in the blanket that was covering me and propped me outside by the doorway.  Having come from laying in a semi-dark room, I looked up to the blinding brightness of the tropical sun and boldly told God, I want to live. After this life declaration, as I sat soaking in the warmth of the sun, everything seemed more animated, birds were chirping, children laughing, I sensed everything happening in that village court yard, inhaled every smell. The next morning, my fever had subsided….my grandmother declared…you will live.

Many years later, while reading an article on worldviews for a course I was taking in my M.P.H. studies at University of California, Los Angeles. I reflected on some of my early experiences to determine the lasting “life beliefs” I have from those experiences. The idea of this particular reflection was to identify these formative beliefs that inform how I move through life. What I have come to understand is that we internalize these early experience and form beliefs that inform our future behavior as we live and learn “how the world is”. Upon reflection, I formed two beliefs from this particular experience of telling God, I want to live, one is…God is on my side…. the other one is…I am responsible for my life. From that point on, these were two beliefs that guided how I approached living. These formative beliefs have been guiding my life, even though, I only became consciously aware of it much later in life. We are all going through life with these beliefs of “how the world is”. As I discussed some of these ideas with others, I realized that people can have similar experiences but form totally different beliefs of how the world is. When I encounter challenges in interpersonal interactions, I always keep in mind that people are working with their own beliefs about “how the world is”. Always approach each person with the knowledge that they have their own unique set of beliefs about ‘how the world is’, their actions reflect those beliefs and may or may not “make sense’ based on your own set of beliefs about “how the world is’. These formative beliefs are primarily based on experiential learning. This is why as humans we may continually aspire to adhere to ideological/philosophical beliefs that we have been taught but we find ourselves not achieving those ideals. The way we have been taught people “ought” to behave, is not how they behave.

In my studies, I learned about “confirmation bias” …which is the human tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our pre-existing beliefs. The beliefs I formed from this early life experience are ones that I believe are positive and which I choose to retain. As I worked through some of my other formative beliefs, I found that some were a hindrance, that kept me from realizing certain things I wanted for my life. In my life evolution, I have learned to identify these formative beliefs and choose to retain or discard them in pursuit of realizing the vision I have for my life.

Dr. Annah K. Amani ( M.P.H., Ph.D.) is a regular contributor on Africa Tembelea. She is committed to advancing total well-being, progress and development.

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