Monday, February 24, 2014

February 24th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

When we look around us, not just in Ghana but across the world, we see demands for 'tradition, tradition, tradition'. We see tradition used as a control word for individuals and the masses. Yet, we quickly forget that we all have what we have today because tradition is not static; it is not fixed, it is not a law; it is not a requirement - and it can develop, change, be forgotten or be broken with. In fact, it is essential that we all break with tradition, at least at some point, if we want to grow into what we can truly and magnificently become.

Traditionally, women could not do certain jobs - even fly! Even though that has changed in most parts of the world, less than 7% of all pilots are women, even today. I remember meeting a physically small woman in the USA - she looked like a character out of 'The little house on the Prairie'. He grey hair, small size and pleasant smile was a trap into thinking this was a bread baking, house cleaning 'ma' out with her patent handbag for a stroll. How far from the truth was that! She was a retired Boeing 747 Captain! Once she spoke, her physical size was further dwarfed by her giant character. She was punchy - her manner would have knocked ZoomZoom Nelson back to the ropes! I sat there enthralled at her tales of breaking tradition - the struggle she went through so that others might not have to. She was very good at challenging perceptions and misconceptions! She would take multiple cushions to work with her to be able to adjust the seat to her frame - and then flew those magnificent giants of the sky around. It was not easy, and she overcame many challenges and negative attitudes. This lady had broken more traditions and blasted away more gender and size stereotypes than I could imagine. She has inspired me, and many others. She has given us all, should we wish to take it, an inspiration to change our stand - not just in words, but also in deeds and thoughts, towards what women can achieve as well as what those of 'smaller than average stature' can step up to.

This week a friend posted a fascinating 'idea challenging article' which I read, and admit that I was ashamed to realise how arrogant I may have been in making some 'well intentioned tradition statements' over the years.

The post was meant to challenge our thoughts about 'tradition' and what we say, as well as how we treat others who may not have the same 'social framework as ourselves'. Sometimes we forget how barbaric our traditions have been across the ages. Yet, we hear the word 'tradition' banded about as if it were as mighty as Thor's Hammer! Tradition is too often used as an excuse to control, limit and manipulate people - often by those in authority - from husbands to bosses and... well, you can complete the list!

Our past experiences and methods are clearly essential components of our development into what we are today. However, our non-reasoned adherence and clinginess to tradition is preventing our positive developments towards tomorrow. We must stop believing in, or following, what we now know is no longer relevant nor correct.

Our approaches to relationships, marriage, women's rights, working on certain days of the week and more have to change - regardless of our 'religious', 'ethnic', 'gender-concept', 'tribal' or even 'political' traditional positions . The fact is, we all live on a planet that is in change. Right now that change is happening faster than ever before. It is fuelled by an ever growing information engine that has shrunk the planet and its entire population to be able to sit in the palm of my hand - thanks especially to Apple and Samsung! Sometimes it scares me - most often it awes me. Nonetheless, we must all accept that we are caught up on a big spinning ball with several billion people, with a variety of beliefs and approaches. Some of these beliefs and approaches may affect our family life, others scientific development, and of course our opportunities. Sadly, there are still some people out there who fail to recognise that each and every human being should be able to choose for themselves their future, and that each person has a free spirit, a free mind - and that any physical constraints or limiting of opportunities can only feed the desire of mind and spirit to break tradition. Nobody should be able to 'force a tradition' on another person, provided that in being free nobody is harmed physically, as part of that choice.

The 'tradition' of stoning people to death has pretty much died out and we have replaced such punishments with more 'humane' solutions - and even no-action for many of the so called 'crimes of our traditions'. There are times when each of us, whether we are ready to admit it or not, still feel a primeval flinch from our barbarian days - fortunately the vast majority of us know how to control that feeling - and that is the basis on which our species has been able to develop to the levels we enjoy today. 

I am pleased to say that I work in an environment where religion, ethnicity, skin-colour, physical size, disability, ability and gender have no constraints on what can be achieved. I enjoy working where the management do not allow promotion of religious or political beliefs. I enjoy the spirit of equality that is ever-present at my workplace. Each person is able to reach their own potential - if they work at it - not because of who they are, or where they come from - but simply because they have worked to achieve it.  

Before you say to somebody 'you can't do that because you are ......' or 'you must do that because you are....', think again! Are you using a tradition or stereotype to control and prevent others from reaching their full potential? We have ALL had this done to us at some point in our lives - we must now make the effort to break that chain of past developmental-constraint in order to permit positive development and growth of those with whom we work and live with.

Let us show more compassion, let us enable more of those we know and work with to be what they can be - and then we will all know what freedom from tradition really means.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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