Special to CSMS Magazine
Whether we are aware or not, we are influenced by the initial culture of our environment that we are born into. The environment influences the core of who we are and our way of life. Edward (1989) stated that self-concepts are formed early in childhood and are then reevaluated throughout life whenever one enters a new social situation. We are indeed a product of our environment.
Born and raised I in large village called Mathakwa-ini, I was influenced in many important aspects of my life namely, social, educational, discipline and religious beliefs. These aspects have become my personality and continue to have a lasting effect on me.
Firstly, my social competence skills were developed, sharpened and horned early in life. I was born in a large crowded village where one persons’ business was the responsibility of the entire village. We were one large family. A child was raised by the entire village. I lived in close proximity of my relatives as it was the tradition for family to live within the same farm. A great deal of socialization took place in the families – some deliberate and conscious, intended to expose us to our norms and traditions and some casual and providing leisure and play. Social life and festivities were an important integral part of who we were.
This afforded me opportunities to interact with all age groups and learn from them. The village promoted peer integration so that we could learn from each other. Connell (1985) peer groups play a critical role in the process of socialization and social interaction and self concept is gradually acquired as a result of peer acceptance.
As we played and shared jokes and stories and events together, we learned to respect and value each other and others. Rubin & Krasnor, (1992) defined social competence as “the ability to achieve personal goals in social interaction while simultaneously maintaining positive relationships with others over time and across situations.” To date this is a skill that I have continued to nurture and pursue, hence maintaining quality social relationships that have continued to pay good dividends.
Secondly, discipline was meted out by any villager without any consultation with the culprit’s parents. As the saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child”. This was exceptionally true in Mathakwa-ini. If one was caught doing anything wrong, discipline was instant and painful. I therefore learnt very quickly that self discipline was a must.
Rules and expectations were spelt out and adhered to. Failure to follow instructions, disrespect to an elderly person of any kind – real, imagined or insinuated, was harshly punished and served as a horror warning sign to other children never to attempt it! Vandel (2000) “view the child as a blank slate on which parents are free to create.” Surely the villagers successfully instilled discipline in us.
The village was truly a boot camp where I learnt discipline in every aspect of life. We were taught to stay on task even when it was hard. Growing in the farm required a lot of discipline as there were chores that seemed unending. One thing after another. We literally had no time to sit around and get bored. There was always something to be done. This kind of life taught us to be hard working using mental, social and manual skills. We were taught that nothing good comes easy and we had to work to eat. While all this hard work seemed unfair and more of a punishment, the love of the villagers and family support was present. We learnt how to work hard and use our initiative.
The warmth, support and goodwill of the villagers kept us cheered up to continue. Rhodes et al (2000) found that encouragement, physical and emotional support, warmth, skill modeling and an environment in which children felt comfortable to test allowed them to be bold to step out of their boundaries and comfort zones and try new skills. The discipline I acquired in so doing has continued to come in hardy today as I pursue the American dream. The culture of hard work and discipline has helped me pursue education from General Education Development (GED) to Bachelors of Science in Nursing, a fete many people can only dream about. I find myself passing on these values to my own children and other kids who I have a chance to mentor. I challenge then to push themselves a step further. Those who have listened and done it have become successful.
Thirdly, education was an ongoing process. Every moment that a parent or villager spent with a child formed a ground for education. We did not have the luxury of computers, television, radios, libraries or magazines. Our history and other important aspects of life were transmitted by word of mouth. The material was educational, inspiring and sometimes words of warning or cautioning. These were important moments when parents passed on time tested skills, disciplines and wisdom that had served generations. Harris (1998) revealed the fact that children are usually members of the same culture through the influence of their parents.
Children learn culturally appropriate behavior and attitudes from their parents. We learnt to do things by watching the lives of our parents whom we were expected to imitate. Tokuno (1986) found that young adults learnt interpersonal skills and appropriate situational behavior by observing and imitating parents. These educational lessons have continued to be an integral part of me and are the core of my discipline. As an adult, in those pensive moments, I remember some things my parents used to grill me about. Their advice sounded old fashioned to me. Today I wish I had listened and embraced them. No doubt I would be in a much better position than I am today. However, now that I realize how important their advice was, I have decided that my children will not follow my steps but will listen to me and implement my advice in their lives and not live to regret.
Fourthly, religious beliefs were the core of our family and the village. The entire village went to a small Pentecostal church located 7 miles away from where we lived. Perfect attendance was expected as religion was believed to promote well being to individuals, families and the community. For my family, attending church was not an option. It was a must! Church was serious business. We were never to be late and it was taboo to make noise or any unwarranted vegetating during church. We had to be in our best behavior.
Of all the good things that I took from the village, religion had the greatest impact on me. The loud Pentecostal preacher did not mince his words, nor did he take short cuts when he explained the difference between heaven and hell, and the easiest ways to get to either. He went on to say, “The choice is yours! Choose today! Heaven or hell! Life or death!” That was the most difficult multiple choice question I had ever heard! The church was dead silent. No one blinked, breathed or moved a muscle. The silence was tangible. My heart was pounding. It was a divine moment. From fear more than anything else, I chose life. Since then I have continued to attend church with my family, regularly and with the same promptness and seriousness that I was taught.
Finally, while personality is dynamic and an ongoing process the basis of who we are is deeply rooted in the basic environment that we grew up in. As we grow up and out of the village and move on into new environments with different challenges, we fall back on what we have learned previously at home and apply it to the current circumstances. What you learnt and practiced in the first years of life will influence whom you can become later in life. I still remember the lessons I learnt from my father as a young teenage girl. Any time I had an opportunity to travel from the village to the city my father would say, “Muthoni, remember a person can come out of the village, but the village should never come out of him,”which was his way of saying, “Never depart from the things I have taught you.”
Edward, S. E. (1989) Personality development over life span, 11th ed., New York Oxford University press
Connell, H. M. 1985. Essentials of child psychiatry. 2nd ed. London. Blackwell scientific publications.
Rubin, K. H., Mills R.S.L. (1989) . Maternal beliefs and children’s competence.
Tokuno, K. A. (1986) The early adult transition and friendships. Mechanisms of support. Adolescence, 2(83):593-606
Note: Josephine Kapaka was born and raised in Kenya. She now lives and works in Jacksonville, Florida.