About old dogs and new tricks

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I am fortunate enough to be in a position to visit other countries every now and then. Sometimes I visit countries, which have more traffic problems than we have here, where crime rates are high, where the climate is oppressive, where people are not so hospitable or where the coffee is lousy. And so, it is always great to come back to the land of 13 months of sunshine, the land of original coffee, where the smile is at home, where there is more space and where you can drive around town late at night.
But visiting other countries also opens your eyes and confronts you with the fact that things do work differently out there, in ways we are not used to. And sometimes the confrontation is shocking. Let me give an example. In Europe I often use public transport when moving around abroad because it can be convenient, faster, especially in cities. For longer trips it often pays to rent a car though because the public transport is also expensive and doesn’t reach everywhere.
And so, occasionally I rent a car and actively join the traffic, feeling independent, mobile and relaxed, confident that I will reach my destiny in a short while. Not for long though as I realise that there is more to joining traffic than starting the engine and stepping on the gas. Instead I find myself overtaking on the wrong side, speeding, hooting at cyclists (not done at all!), cutting corners, almost running over non-suspecting pedestrians on the zebra crossings and finally parking the car in a sloppy way instead of reversing along the curb into the small space between two other cars. My behaviour in traffic was embarrassing and I knew it, while other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians stared at me in disbelieve. What had happened to me? I had not seriously taken into account the environment I was in and I had changed my habits, that is what happened. I got my driving license when I was 19 years old after being drilled by the driving school in the Netherlands to park, stay at the speed limit, give way, use my rear mirrors, glance over my shoulders before getting out of the car etc. Some of it was a bit exaggerated I thought but anyway, that was the way. My driving habits were formed, as I proudly collected my license.
Now, years later, my habits have changed. Changing habits is not easy but it happens as long as we continue to adapt to the different environment we are in. I never really noticed it while driving around here, after all you do in Rome as the Romans do. It must have been building up over the years but this time the realisation and subsequently the confrontation with myself, was dramatic. I was shocked to realise that my habits had changed so much, into bad habits that is.
Yes, when you are in Rome you do as the Romans do, but does that mean taking on all kind of bad habits too? Not as far as I am concerned. We better do the best we can and try to excel instead of being content with less.
Behaviour in traffic is only one example of course and admittedly an easy one to pick on for that matter. But we can draw parallels to the way we do business in Ethiopia as well. Much is done in a mediocre way, not consistent in quality, supply and service. Little is planned in a way to prevent problems. Much time and energy goes into crisis management and correcting errors.
When I ask why this is so, I often get an answer like: “Well, this is Ethiopia.” or “We are in Africa.” And my response is: “Yes, I know that, but why are we satisfied with only half the job done?” “Why do we accept such low standards?” Don’t we deserve more than this? If you are building your house for example, paying all that money, providing so much work to others, don’t you deserve the best construction work? Don’t you demand better services?
Why should mediocrity be good enough? I think we have to make a choice here. Either we accept that mediocrity or less than that is good enough for us. Or we don’t accept this and strive for the best possible results. People who choose the latter option will get great results, both from their own work as well as from the standards they set and the way they inspire other people. People who choose for mediocrity live the cultural software of ego, indulgence, scarcity, comparison, competitiveness and victimism. This is the quick-fix, short-cut approach to life. You see, as long as we go for the cheaper option and lower quality we will not get the results we want. And in the end, it will cost us more to repair the damages that are done on the way.
I know, it is difficult for old dogs to learn new tricks but if we really want we can do away with bad habits, we can. Ethiopian people are known to be proud of their identity, their culture, their history. But can we be proud of what we do today? Will our children be proud of what we have done? Will we continue to follow the road to mediocrity or will we change direction and go for a better destination? The choice is ours.

Ton Haverkort