Look Alive, Son

Zig Ziglar was my friend and I miss him. He died last year on November 28, at the age of 86. Over the years, I had vociferously devoured his books and was especially fond of his motivational book, See You at the Top. I didn’t really become personal friends with Zig until about 1989, but his inspiration will go on influencing my life forever. He had become a top sales person in several organizations, and then turned his energies and efforts to becoming one of the greatest motivational speakers and trainers this culture has known.

Here I offer to you some of his best-known quotes. Each has the potential of changing your life: 
      · “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”
      · “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”
      · “A goal properly set is halfway reached.” 
      · “If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re scarce. If you go out to be a            friend, you’ll find them everywhere.” 
      · “Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.” 
      · “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.” 
      · “There has never been a statue erected to honor a critic.” 
     · “People often say motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing-that’s why we recommend it daily.”    
      · “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”   
      · “Remember that failure is an event, not a person.” 

One of the last things Zig Ziglar told me when we were together in Arizona was, “I’m not walking old, and I’m not talking old, and I’m not practicing up being dead.” I liked that, and latched on to it as one of my own personal attitudes of life. His emphasis was always on being fully alert and positive, and allowing the enthusiasm of life to be evident in every move he made and every attitude portrayed. “Let the whole world know that you are alive and happy to be there!”

Several months after that memorable meeting with Zig, I was in the African country of Cameroon, in a city called Mbingo. When I witnessed what was taking place in Mbingo, my mind went back to my last conversation with Zig. My humorous propensity toward life made me turn my head and chortle aloud, in spite of the solemnity of the setting.

After working in Africa for nearly thirty years I have come to honor and respect the cultural and behavioral differences throughout Africa. Many differences surround the occasion of death and the funerary traditions. Because of the animist influence on the African culture, many funerals are protracted over a week or more. The bereaved will take days off work to travel and to mourn. The African families are typically large, and the individuals customarily live on about a dollar a day.

The funerals and memorials often become extremely expensive for the involved family, because cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry may be purchased for the occasion and then consumed by the mourners. It takes a lot of time and money to prepare large amounts of food for the occasion. Usually, the endless stream of those paying their last respects pay for nothing else . . . they just pay their respects. But the mourners all expect to be fed and housed. That tends to make a bad financial situation even worse.

For family members, there is typically a funeral celebration with singing and dancing to honor the life of the deceased. Afterward, they hold a somber funeral procession and burial with intense displays of sorrow.

Almost no bodies are embalmed in West Africa. And, in contrast to India, rituals do not include the mandatory burning funeral pyres, known as the final samskar. In India, the five major elements of fire, water, earth, air, and space need to be satisfied by returning the body to the elements with minimal physical contact. So, after the cremation the ashes are poured into the sacred Ganges River.

While I was assessing the main hospital in Mbingo, Cameroon, the people began telling me about how unsafe and inconvenient the burial process could become, especially where they had no way to keep the corpse embalmed, cooled, or refrigerated in their morgues. It was mandatory that they move the body to the family home just as quickly as possible. Since there were no such things as ambulances or hearses, taxis were the only means of transporting the corpse. But taxi drivers charged three times as much to haul a dead body as a live passenger. Usually, as soon as the doctor at the hospital pronounced that there was no hope for the patient to live, the patient’s family would gather up his belongings and rush him out to a taxi and get him home before he gasped his last breath, thus saving two thirds of the cost of the taxi ride.

About the time my new friends were explaining all this to me, four men walked out the front entrance of the hospital. Two of the men had a third man between them with one arm draped over the shoulder and around the neck of each of the outside men. The fourth man was following behind carrying some personal belongings, and was trying to keep the hat from falling off the head of the middle man. Once outside, the fourth man darted ahead of the trio and hailed a taxi and was paying him to help get their “sick” friend home from the hospital. It was actually important to get their friend, who had already died, to his home without paying an amount three times higher than the fare charged for transporting a live passenger.

I’m sorry, and I don’t know why, but inside my head I could hear the articulate, southern voice of my dear friend Zig, still giving instructions, “I’m not walking old, and I’m not talking old, and I’m not practicing up being dead. Look alive, son, be fully alert and portray enthusiasm. Your very appearance will pay you great dividends and save you and your friends a lot of money! ”

I was able to stifle the laughter exploding inside me, but was unable to squelch the chortle. Zig Ziglar, we all knew you to be the greatest motivational speaker in our lifetime. But after my episode in Cameroon, Africa, I am ready to nominate you to the Cultural Economist’s Hall of Fame!