History is replete with individuals who have achieved great things but, almost without exception, with the help of others.
If anybody thinks they are so good that they will make great accomplishments on their own, they deceive themselves.
A great Chichewa proverb goes, Tiwiri tiwiri n’tianthu, kalikokha n’kanyama (You are somebody when you are surrounded, but vulnerable when you are alone). The Bible puts it this way: Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labour (Ecclesiastes 4: 9).
The biblical Abraham, the “father of many nations”, had Lot (and Sarah) with whom he journeyed. Together they achieved many exploits. True, the relationship between them was sometimes sour, but they accomplished whatever they accomplished by synergising their individual efforts.
The inventor of the motor car, Karl Benz, did not work in isolation. His first three-wheeled motor vehicle was only possible because he used technology developed by his contemporary inventor, Nikolas Otto, namely a four-stroke internal combustion engine, which Benz incorporated in his car. And, in fact, Benz relied on the business acumen of his wife to establish a thriving motorcar manufacturing industry in Germany.
Bertha Benz, Karl’s wife, got up early one morning and pulled her husband’s vehicle out of the workshop, which Karl had never done before and was not about to do as he believed he had not perfected it yet. Bertha drove her mother’s car kilometres away. This was the first long drive in history. It showed the world that a self-propelled vehicle was a practical means of transport.
One of my American heroes is Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on another world. His landing on the Moon in 1969 captivated the entire world. I was then a small boy living at Nkhoma Mission. Thanks to the efforts of Mr J H L Honde, the then principal of William Murray Teacher Training College, we managed to view the lunar landing on film at the teachers’ college, albeit several months after it had happened.
Even Armstrong did not work alone. His Apollo 11 mission comprised three astronauts—Edwin Aldrin (popularly known as Buzz Aldrin), Michael Collins and Neil himself. Besides, there were hordes of engineers, designers, mathematicians (and even politicians!) on the ground, whose collaboration made the lunar landing possible.
Then, we have Bob Marley. In popular music, few people can match Marley’s iconic status. In Africa, especially, hardly a day passes without seeing Bob Marley’s image or hearing his music. But Bob Marley did not develop reggae alone. As a youth, he teamed up with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. The three formed a group known as the Wailing Wailers, which became one of the greatest reggae groups.
The most outspoken of this lot was Peter Tosh, who would claim later that he had taught Bob Marley how to play the guitar, much to the chagrin of Marley’s fanatics. Recent discoveries indicate that this claim was not hollow, for Tosh was, indeed, an amazing artiste when it came to playing instruments. British author, John Masouri, wrote a biography on Peter Tosh, titled ‘The Life of Peter Tosh: Steppin’ Razor’, which explains, among other things, the ex-Wailer’s mammoth contribution to reggae music.
Closer home, we have our own hero, William Kamkwamba, the boy that built a windmill from junk at his home in Masitala Village, T/A Wimbe, Kasungu. While Kamkwamba is a virtually an unknown entity in Malawi, he is a huge star abroad. He has a book and at least three documentary films to his name. His earliest film titled ‘Moving Windmills’ debuted in 2008. Another is titled ‘William and the Windmill’, but the best known film is the latest, titled ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’. It was based on Kamkwamba’s book by the same title. Did Kamkwamba work in isolation to produce his windmill? Not at all! In fact, he was so financially challenged that he was unable to buy a dynamo for his windmill and was only rescued by a friend, Gilbert, Chief Wimbe’s son. When it became apparent that the project needed some long bluegum poles for the construction of the tower, another friend, Geoffrey, provided the poles from his father’s woodlot.
Human nature is such that what one person lacks, another will have in abundance and if the two work together, great results can follow. There is not one individual who is so endowed with abilities as to claim to have achieved greatness entirely on his or her own. It is folly to think that you can ascend to lofty heights in any field of endeavour without the assistance of others.