What triggered my thoughts toward writing this article was a book that I picked randomly months ago when I decided to go out of my bookish comfort zone. It was a graphical autobiography about the American Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. Thanks to the Dukkan Sudan service, ordering it from Amazon was not a difficult thing. I was intimidated by not having the physics background to understand his philosophy in life, but I ended up enjoying each and every minute of reading it. Feynman is regarded as the greatest physicist after Einstein, and I have always been fascinated and surprised by his ability to simplify complicated scientific ideas, his emphasis on how things like imagination and art are crucial in science, and how he lived his life to the fullest.
My favorite thing about the story-telling style of this graphic novel was how I was exposed to something that I would not have possibly known about just by reading his papers or scientific journal articles or his video-lectures on Youtube. I was introduced to the non-scientific parts of his life that engaged me more, and humanized the image that I have for my role model.
For role models, famous scientists or your favorite researchers, you would have wanted to hear more on their drained-out stages of life, not just how they started working on the technical details of the theory that granted them the Nobel Prize. Of course the latter part is important, but more humane questions arise when you’re gripped by someone so successful. You wonder if their loved ones broke their heart? Has that contributed to their dedication to science? Or was it the other way around? Did they experience failure tremendously and profoundly the way normal and fragile people do? How did they overcome their failure? Of course no one is perfect, and we all go through ups and downs, but usually the polished shiny ups are the ones we hear about, and the downs are what we don’t usually hear about.
In Sudan the examples are many. People who have made it big get the famous #SudaneseExcellence title, they’re leaders in both local and international settings and we recognize them because they’re inspiring. Sudanese people reached places and achieved many things; there are the movies directors, scientists, professors, authors, musicians, cartoonists, you name it – we made it. They made us proud, and there will continue doing so in the future. The efforts undertaken to document the incredible people and their achievements are continuous and mark our contemporary history.
In my position as someone who is young, a total geek about books and computer science, living in Sudan, I was hit with real life a few times. I went through many cross-roads, and thought of dumping the cool tech stuff that I love because of my limited chances because of where I live, or because I was not sure of my chances in the first place. Reading the inspiring #SudaneseExcellence stories did not work its magic on me. It’s not pessimism or a cynical view of life, but the point that I want to make instead is that reading those stories always feels like there is an element missing, a component or a factor that is not in its right place. There is always only one side of that presentation: a list of achievements.
For someone who is quite sensitive about small details and more curious about the other unmentioned sides of the story, I want to see and hear more than a list of achievements. I want to see more failure so I can 1) feel less alone, and 2) relate more, and maybe get inspired to act or do something on my side!
I believe that I enjoyed each and every minute reading Feynman comics because it was not just a book about achievements. I mean achievements are great and everything, and naturally, different things affect different people in different ways, but the Feynman book triggered those thoughts in me and made me realize how I wanted more of the rock-bottoms, the failure of successful people, and how those intense experiences shifted their views in life and how they observe their work.
To conclude by how in her perfect illustration of the danger of a single story, Chimamanda Adichie explains in a TED talk that we usually consume a single side. Yes, her context was different. She meant to point to when only the stereotype and negative side is exchanged, and then people fail to see the other bright sides. I think this can also apply to our context as well when stories of #SudaneseExcellence are presented. A human experience is flawed and imperfect after all, and we may want more failure and burnt-out stories to humanize and engage more with the successes that follow through after, before and perhaps because of some of these failures.