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Uzodinma (Uzo) Iweala is the author of Beasts of No Nation. The novel, his debut, came out of his undergraduate thesis work at Harvard and was conducted under the supervision[…]

Iweala talks about living by the principles of equality and striving to be the best.

Question: Do you have a personal philosophy?

Uzodinma Iweala: There are two things. One is I wanna make sure that I’m treating everybody as I would like to be treated. I wanna make sure that I’m, in that sense, doing the right thing. I’ll tell you right now like I grew up in . . . We grew up going to church, and I believe in God. I don’t know that I have the ability to define what, or who, or how God is. You know I think that religion kind of messes people up in that regard. That’s just my own personal philosophy. But you know I grew up going to church, and I think one of the beautiful things that you pick up from that or from any religion is that like, look, you have to treat people as people, right? People as everybody has an equal right to life. Everybody has an equal right to be on this earth, and to be happy on this earth, and to achieve on this earth. That’s kind of the way that I would like to try and go about living. I mean I think that when you grow up in societies where inequality is so prevalent, you obviously end up with a sort of . . . a skewed version of . . . You know it’s . . . that’s an ideal that you have to strive to achieve every single day because you’re constantly told, “No, no, no, no, no. You have to look at you first. You have to look at what you can do for yourself first.” And everybody is selfish, but I think that sort of, you know, looking at that idea . . . That’s the thing that drives me, I guess, is trying to get to that level where you can look at everybody and say, “Look, we all have a right to be here. We all have a right to try and do something. Like let’s help each other do that.” So the second thing . . . That’s the first one, is like look, living by principles of equality. The second thing is . . . I mean sort of which goes into that, you know what I mean? Because it’s hard. It’s like can you strive for that at all times? Can you strive to push yourself to be the best so you can guarantee that that does happen for you and for others? And whether that’s in the work that you do, or in the interactions you have with people, that’s . . . you know that’s the sort of the . . . that goes hand-in-hand with the first part of the philosophy which is . . . like, you know, you’ve only got so much time, right? So in that time, like, you should make sure you excel and try to excel; but not excel as in, “What can I accumulate, or what can I do, or how can I . . .” but excel in that, like, let’s see what we can all do. How can you push everybody towards sort of a better . . . a better existence, I guess? You know I’m not . . . I’m not really articulating it very well, because it’s not . . . You know a lot of the things I think . . . A lot of these kinds of things – personal philosophies – are more emotional than they are, “Let me write it down on a piece of paper.” And you know it’s the sort of thing where you react to certain situations. Or your initial reactions to certain situations, whether it’s disgust, or anger, or happiness is based on this emotional understanding of what you want for yourself and those around you, right? So but I mean I think to sum it up, I think I was doing . . . In working on this next book that I’m writing, I interviewed a politician in Nigeria around the times of the . . . around the time of the . . . the presidential election that just happened. And I asked him, you know . . . because he was spouting off all these philosophies and awesome ideas, like, for improvement of society as a whole. And I was like, you know, “These are incredible. Why aren’t you running for office yourself?” And he said, you know, “A great man is one who makes others great.” You know and that’s the way that I try to live, is I wanna make sure that I’m trying to make others achieve their full potential. You know like he sort of crystallized everything that I was trying to like . . . trying to put together. You know and so that’s ideally . . . Of course in daily life I don’t think I live up to that. But I don’t think that . . . I mean I think the idea is to work to living up to that. I don’t think that one should beat himself or herself over the head if immediately you’re not like Jesus Christ or, you know, Gandhi or whoever. But I think the idea is to . . . to look at those examples and try to . . . try to operate in a way that every day you live, or every interaction you have pushes you further along to operating with that mindset.

Recorded on: 10/7/07


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