Last year, I went into a voluntary programme to help a small group of Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examination candidates by giving them mathematics tutorials. I discovered that they did not quite like Mathematics, regarding the subject as an abstract one, bearing little resemblance to real life. They could not be more wrong!
Their problem was that they were not used to thinking mathematically. They went about life thinking and acting anything but mathematics. In other words, they simply had not embraced the Mathematics culture. As a result, they actually dreaded the beautiful subject.
It was hard enough to add or multiply a few figures, but when it came to dealing with negative numbers, some of them simply switched off. I had a really tough time explaining that you could subtract a number from a negative one. To them, negative numbers did not exist in the real world. They had no problem adding five to five because they could see five fingers on each of their hands, and they could put them together and count them.
Most people are limited to what they can see or feel. Galileo Galilei was prosecuted by the church when, after making observations through his telescope, he agreed with Copernicus that the sun, not the Earth, was at the centre of the solar system. Everybody saw the sun rise in the east, go across the sky and set in the west. The sun was moving, not the Earth. That was what was seen; to challenge that view was regarded as next to blasphemy, and Galileo suffered the consequences.
Science, like all branches of learning, requires that you move away from making conclusion based only on what is normally seen or felt. Most truths in the universe lie hidden from the five bodily senses. You need to begin to think differently from the ordinary thinking process in order to appreciate these truths. In so doing you embrace the scientific culture and begin to think scientifically. Similarly, an accountant needs to embrace the accounting culture and begin to think in accounting terms. It is naïve to think that somebody who has not developed an appropriate culture will suddenly become a scientist, a historian, a philosopher and so on.
It takes time and effort to get into the appropriate culture. Very often students play around, thinking that just before the examination; they will do serious reading and pass the examination. The probability of such a student doing well is very thin. You cannot become a mathematician overnight. Unless you develop the habit of doing mathematics, it simply will not be in your system.
Discipline is of the essence in developing the necessary habit that will make you proficient in any discipline. Motivation speaker and preacher, Creflo Dollar says our destiny is the maturation of an eight step process, starting with words, then thoughts, feelings/emotions, decisions, actions, habits, character and finally destiny. Each step influences and feeds into the next, so the whole process is a chain. The destiny can change by changing any one or more of these intermediary steps.
There is no space here to unpack the individual steps, but I must mention that the words you say about yourself are very important because they influence your thoughts and your feelings and the entire chain, eventually affecting your destiny.
Finally, we need to get into the habit of doing the work regularly. I am using mathematics here as an example of a branch of learning, but you can replace mathematics with any discipline of interest to you. To be a mathematician you need to do mathematics daily. You become rusty if you spend long periods without practising any.
One of the best Malawian lead guitarists I have known was William Malikula (deceased), who used to play for the MBC Band. Good as he was, Malikula used to get up early in the morning, go on the veranda of his Kanjedza house and practice his strumming and his fingering. This he did every day. That is the only way to become proficient in any discipline.
—The author is a printing service provider and a social commentator.