Examinations and Explanations

Presented with an unlabeled globe or map of the world, what percentage of Americans would be able to correctly pinpoint more than fifty percent of the following locations: Somalia; Cameroon; Burkina Faso; Sudan; Chad; Democratic Republic of Congo; Gabon; Rwanda; Djibouti; Malawi; Liberia? Though I consider myself modestly knowledgeable about world geography and world events, I doubt I would be able to correctly place any of them. I might correctly point to the general area where several of them are located…but, then again, I might not.

Television and newspaper reports about Kinshasa are not rare, but I am not sure I could point to it on a map. Could I identify the country of which it is the capital? Could I recite any information about it? Until I saw the information online this morning, would I have had even an inkling that the city—the capital of the DRC—is the third largest city in Africa, behind Cairo and Lagos? Would I have been able to correctly guess the city’s population is between 13 and 15 million? I am embarrassed to say my knowledge of world geography and world affairs is sorely lacking. And I doubt I am in the minority. Whether I am conscious of it or not, I suspect my attitude toward most of the world is one of only mild curiosity, rather than intense interest. Unless I sense an immediate and significant impact on my interests or on the interests of governments that might have an impact on my interests, I probably pay scant attention to the world around me. Though I am troubled by Americans’ ignorance of world affairs and even world geography, I tend to identify “Americans” in that context as those others who do not measure up to my high standards. But if I look in the mirror, I see myself buried in the middle of that enormous, ignorant mass. If I am going to be hard on my fellow citizens for their inexcusable ignorance, I must be at least as hard on myself. My next question to myself: will I do anything to correct that embarrassing failing?


One’s deficiencies change during the course of one’s maturation. Some respond well to curative efforts. Some solidify into a permanent state of modest imperfection. Still others worsen, blooming into extraordinary flaws, as if propagated from long-dormant seeds suddenly exposed to water, super-nutrients, and sunlight. Regardless of their origins or their evolutions, and no matter how we try, we cannot eliminate all of our faults. Some will die natural deaths, but many more will take root, defining who we are. Those that linger tend to establish themselves like tattoos…or scars burned into our personalities like brands on cattle.


Who reads the blather I produce every day? I know a few friends and family members have trained themselves to wade through my voluminous ramblings—out of love, I suspect, rather than real interest. Rarely do I know their true reactions to my unnecessary outpourings, though. Perhaps it is best I do not know. And perhaps it’s best I do not know who follows what I write. And how few do. I have always said people should avoid unnecessary immersion in vats of hydrochloric acid. Yes, I’ve always said that. Over and over and over again. It’s a mantra. But, still, I keep fiddling with the plugs on those vats, trying to pry them open with screwdrivers or crowbars or to puncture them with sharpened metal stakes. This recurrent theme of fearful curiosity is tiresome.


Finally, after delaying twice or three times my regular routine of getting my teeth cleaned, I have an appointment today just before noon. A new hygienist will perform the work because the one I’ve gone to for years either retired or quit or otherwise left her position. I’ll miss her pitter-patter, with which she revealed all sorts of things about her family, her likes and dislikes, her history, her health, and her relationship with her husband and college-aged son.


Somehow, the clock tells me it is nearing 7:30, more than two hours since I got up this morning. I’ve had only one cup of coffee thus far. The rest of the time has been spent reading and writing. Those two activities make time seem like it is passing at supersonic speed. Onward to the remainder of the day.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Examinations and Explanations

  1. Meg, I learn by the day how little I know. It’s frightening.

  2. kozimeg says:

    I am also astonished by my ignorance. I don’t know that I had even heard of Kinshasa, which is astounding given its size. But I do know what DRC stands for. During Covid fatalities were being reported from around the world, and I used that list to learn the location of a lot of countries in Europe – Montenegro for example – but Africa not as thoroughly.

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