Towards a Better Human: Steve Obuogo

This speech was delivered by Steve Obuogo at Mwandishi Boot Camp, a forum organized by Writers Guild Kenya to grow writers.


Sir Nicolas Winton was a UK humanitarian. During the eve of World war II, he developed a secret rescue mission which saved the lives of 669 citizens who were predominantly Jews. The world only knew about his efforts 50 years later. He was awarded the Sir by the queen of England and honored in Czech Republic with the Order of the White Lion. Question is where are people like Nicolas born?

Human beings are social animals. They have survived long enough, built bigger cities, and conquered not because they are the biggest, largest, smartest nor strongest but because they can survive, evolve and adapt. The secret to human survival in what controls their behavior and their ability to reason. Humans are predominantly controlled by emotions, which are influenced largely by hormones. 5 hormones stand out in explaining why we are humans. These hormones are trying to get us doing things, which are in our best interest;

  • Endorphins- Mask human pain (Selfish)
  • Dopamine- Get things done (Selfish)
  • Serotonin – Feelings associated with Relationships (Love, trust, pride, confidence)
  • Oxytocin – Feelings associated with elements of sacrifice and acts of human generosity
  • Cortisol- Stress/nervousness

The first two hormones enable survival. You get the first two but you would not have any feeling of fulfilment or love or trust. That is where the next two come in. The last two are the ones that made our society great. Life has always had dangers, worries, problems, situations and realities. We always want to feel safe that is what humans are about. Everyone is scared and everyone; rich, poor, disabled, normal, white, black, Christians, Buddhists, believers and non-believers want to feel safe. Everyone among us has a role to play in creating the safety net. We have, however, abused our capacity to do so sometimes because we have never understood the basics. There is a parable told about the 4 buffalos. They survived long enough in the jungled despite the presence of the lions. The idea was that they always grazed tail to tail; no matter what side the lions came they were always met by the horns. After some days of disagreements and in-fighting the separate and graze in different fields; the lion then picks them up one by one.

Amarylis Fox, a former undercover CIA officer who was working in counter terrorism and intelligence for 10 years, tells a true story. If you speak to any American if they believe that ISIS is a threat to global peace, they would tell you yes. You would get the same answer from civilians who are Syrians and Iraqis. Their understanding of why there is war in Syria and Iraq is however different. Americans believe that Islams hate them because they are free and Islams believe that America hates them because they want their oil. None of these are true though, she believes that these are manufactured stories to justify the war and guarantee its continuity.

Any American wants peace, every civilian in Syria wants peace. She has spoken to the Al-Qaida’s and the American soldiers alike. The resounding message she gets on why they fight is hopes for their children. These hormones can be influenced for the good or for the bad. Your body, your mind and your thoughts can be programmed. It is a matter of practice. I firmly hold the belief that you get to know who someone is by watching out for what they do on a daily basis. One of the basic principles of KAIZEN which one of the best management tools says that consistent inputs would give you consistent results. It also implies that nothing happens overnight, it provides room for continual improvement (step by step). I want to share with you what I deem as the daily, weekly practices that can enable us widen the safety net for the benefit of humanity. I must admit that I have seen and met a lot of humans but I see very little humanity.

Pointers Fierce Love/Care/Trust.

Be fierce in love trust and honesty. Give it more than you receive it. Never seek any of these. Trying to do so may leave you frustrated and disappointed. It is like seeking orgasm. The best way to achieve it is to try to satisfy your partner. In doing so, you may end up achieving yours as well. Be forthright when you need help, do not manipulate people. How does it feel when someone begins a good chat on Facebook or via text then ends up asking for a favor? Quick question, how many people here love chicken? Do you love chicken or love the taste of chicken in your mouth? To love is to give. You have All heard of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is a lake and not a sea. The name dead implies that there is no life at the lake. No marine, no vegetation. Then there is the Sea of Galilee. Both of them receive their water from River Jordan. The Sea of Galilee however has life, colorful vegetation and marine. The River Jordan flows into the Sea of Galilee and then flows out. The water simply passes through the Sea of Galilee, in and out – and that keeps the sea healthy and vibrant, teeming with so much marine life. But the Dead Sea is way below the mean sea level but it has no outlet. The water flows in from the River Jordan, but does not flow out. There are no outlet streams. It is estimated that over 7 million tons of water evaporate from the Dead Sea every day, leaving it salty, too full of minerals and unfit for any marine life. So, the Dead Sea takes water from the River Jordan, and holds it. It does not give out. The result? No life at all. Open the taps to give and you’ll open the floodgates to happiness. Make it a habit to share and to give and you will experience the richness and the fullness of life

Strength of the will, mind and body

The human body prefers easy comfort and convenience. At default setting, God set us up for just that. Live, eat, sleep & worship. After the ejection from the Garden of Eden, we have to work with the weak body in the new paradigm. Strengthen your will power by exposing yourself to tough, uncomfortable and inconvenient circumstances. Sometimes you do this by denying yourself the elements of comfort like taking sugarless tea when sugar is readily available on the table. As you do so, develop some basic life principles, which guide you and those that you can share with people. Human again – detox and understand people.

Think of yourself less, smile often, say hi and thank you, take a trip. Humans have become intoxicated and busy with trying to pay their bills that they have forgotten to live. A normal human being is a social being. The new intoxication is gargets of mass distraction NOT mass destruction. They come in all manner and forms. We are all humans until media blinded us, race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divided us and wealth classified us. Be human again Do not confuse moments of happiness with fulfilment. You are bound to slip into beast mode when you have no course. When your why is lightweight. It reveals itself in moments of difficulty. When you compress an empty life in 24 hours, you get whiners and bitter people. It is tough and messy at the beginning. It sometimes takes time but if you are going to do something, do it the right way (riding the bicycle). As you do it, remember that someone else is watching. You are inspiring someone else even without knowing. Do it well. It is okay to be afraid and not to see the clear picture. So long as you are doing the right thing, the right way, you will get the right results. Keep running, if you do not win, at least you will lose some weight.

My message to you is; there is no failure just lessons. If everyone knew how the results would look like, then the hustle would not be worth it. Face the unchartered waters for as long as you are young; risk when you are young so that you can tell the stories when you get of age.

Validation– All of us, no matter our societal stature, level of knowledge wisdom and strengths of character are vulnerable. We all seek validation of the things we say and the things we do. I have listened to my mentors deliver great speeches and in the end they ask me, “was that okay”. Just by telling them you did well, they breathe a sigh of relief; they feel validated by the person the trust. I want to remind you that it is okay and it is normal but I want you to fundamentally seek validation from God and yourself. As you do so, the third parties should be people you trust, people who are informed and people who are looking out for you, they may be rare but they surely exist. If you cannot get one then at least be one point of good validation for someone else. Have a firm belief in your own dignity, in your own worth and in your somebodiness.

 Love and appreciate your parents more– When I got to University until the day she died, my mother called me every single day of the week. Sometimes I felt it was a little too much. She would sometimes be so worried whenever I told her that I am not is the house way past 8pm. I never understood any of that until I became a father. Your parents have done so much for you. They have made sacrifices most of which you do not know about. Love and appreciate your parents. You may be busy growing up and paying bills without knowing that they are growing old. Visit them more often, write them letters, buy them gifts and let them know that you are doing your best. If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.

Be a fan or a coach not just a referee; while at it Help someone else- I have had the chance of having a bad boss, a great boss, a bad friend and great friend, a great business partner and a conniving one. In all the instances, the things I remember more are the moments when I did not know something and I was shown instead of being pointed at. It is easy to tell someone what they are not doing right, it is however very difficult to show them how and what they could have done right. Get it from me, referees are never remembered for anything besides running around and pointing at mistakes, coaches and teammates are remembered for helping the champions become who they are. Help someone else out whenever you can. The last stage for any successful rehabilitation of an addict is this, look out for addicts and walk the journey with them. Until you help someone out of an addiction, chances of slipping back into addiction are as high as 80%. Just remember to help people even if you know that they wouldn’t help you back. If you want to feed someone, do so; if you want to feed your ego, do not use people.

Learn to differentiate business and kindness. Look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself again, what you are up to in life. A decorates donkey does not amount to a horse. Never be economical with the truth no matter how tempting the circumstances may be. Even if you slip into deceit, try as hard not to believe the lie at a personal level. Keep in mind your “WHY”.

Stand for something not for someone. You will end up attracting people who believe what you believe. Stand by your ideas, defend them; People are fickle, complicated and not necessarily reliable. Even when you defend the ideas, interrogate them until they prove worthy. Find ways to improve the ideas. Defending ideas means that you can fight for justice even if the recipient does not deserve it. Defending people means that eventually you may be forced to defend idiocy. Set a rhythm/Habit/pattern/Order because life is full of enough distractions.

Be a master of your environment, know your personal contribution and learn the art of attributing to your personal net impact NOT Net worth. Remember the story of Bitange Ndemo; “The day I left office, my phone stopped ringing” See the world from other people’s perspective. Hang out with people of different social classes, age groups, languages, races and religions. Travel, visit places and talk to people. Many people listen Half, understand Quarter, think Zero and react Double.

 Be a just patriot- Love your country, be a great citizen, what for ideologies and fight for justice in every little way. Being a patriot does not imply that you love your government; just love your country and be just a citizen. In the matatu, at home, in church, in the village and at work.

My wishes for you “From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes” Justice John Roberts.

May your clothes be comfortable, your coffee be strong and your Monday Short…


The Speech was delivered by Steve Obuogo, Education Services Manager at Mwandishi Boot Camp on 7th April, 2018. Contact Steve through:

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