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Focus | The three greatest lessons of my childhood

I was born in Nassau but I grew up in Freeport. I went to public schools and lived in middle-income neighborhoods all through my childhood, courtesy of a strong woman who earned her living, for the most part, making straw craft.

I attended the Anglican church for most of my days growing up, going from St. Barnabas in Nassau to Christ the King in Freeport. Father Gilbert Thompson, now Reverend Bishop Thompson, was my priest up to age six or seven, and Fathers Foster Pestina, now deceased, and Keith Cartwright, now Archdeacon Keith Cartwright, were my priests up to my confirmation by the late bishop, Reverend Michael Eldon at age 11 or 12.

My childhood was filled with wonderment and excitement. I combed the canals, forests and beaches of the Caravel Beach neighborhood for years. I played football and basketball and ran track with some of the most dynamic young people I have ever met in my life at Lewis Yard Primary and Hawksbill High Schools. I competed and won academic and leadership competitions in a number of areas. I achieved academic awards and became the so-called “head boy” of my high school. I even became the first male Bahamian to represent my country at the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership International Leadership Conference. From my mother’s unmatched peas soup and dumpling to the most glorious summers in the outdoors that any child could imagine, to the mystique of the once world-famous International Bazaar, I had a truly magnificent childhood.

Things were not always good though. I watched my mother struggle at times, as the tourist seasons ebbed and flowed. I saw family and friends fall victim to the plagues of poor choices. I schooled and played at times in the midst of great trouble. But as a child, my eyes were bright and my mind was clear. I had a huge appetite to learn, and learn I did.

As I reflect now, three lessons above all stand out to me. First, I learned that knowledge was power. As I excelled and noticed the response of my family, friends and community, it became quite clear to me that educating myself brought value. My mother, above all others, was leading me to this, as she would eagerly and patiently sit and listen to me repeat all the science, geography and math I learned. Her excited responses to my learning made me want to learn all the more. In time I would discover that display of intelligence and knowledge opened doors of opportunity that would give me life experiences beyond my wildest dreams. I learned that learning was a great virtue.

Second, I learned that dreaming big sets you apart in the world. As a boy, I dreamed first of becoming a world famous scientist. I sought to develop an invisible formula and practiced my formulae on lizards and frogs and roaches. I was not successful, but I managed to persuade a few gullible friends that I was close and soon would achieve it. My ambition to become a world-famous scientist would soon give way to becoming prime minister one day. I even had an opportunity to share this dream with the first prime minister of The Bahamas, Lynden Oscar Pindling. I was only 13 or 14 at the time. I no longer dream that big dream, but I learned that dreaming such dreams made people take note and offer you opportunities to dialogue and participate in ways that could only strengthen your capacity to succeed.

Third, I learned that succeeding would only be truly meaningful if it included being a decent person. I could not articulate this lesson this way in my childhood, but it was clear to me that being a kind and respectful person would make your journey through the world much more satisfying. I never found meanness and hatefulness pleasant or rewarding. It was in courtesy to elders and helpfulness to friends that I felt most accomplished as a person. So, I went on to practice them as much as I could, and when I failed at these virtues I judged myself harshly.

They say the lessons of our childhood shape the adults we become. I hope so. I still love to learn; I still dream big, even if differently; and I still believe in decency as a great virtue. I only pray that these still manifest in my life; and I do pray that if they do not now, that they will someday. Most certainly, my desire is that these will be present in the lives of my children and community more and more. “So let it be written; so let it be done.”

• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.

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