1994 saw the release of a classic by Walt Disney Pictures: The Lion King. The world rejoiced!
The Lion King is a tale inspired by a fusion of most African cultures and traditions, including Swahili names (Simba - lion, Nala - gift, Mufasa - king, Rafiki - friend, Pumbaa - foolish, Sarabi - mirage) and inspirational Swahili sayings such as “Hakuna Matata”– no problems, and a Zulu song dubbed Circle of Life.
Even though the latest CGI technologies are being employed to make this animated classic as realistic as possible, at the core of The Lion King lies important life lessons capable of shaping the stories of our lives. You will view the old and new releases from a meaningful perspective after reading Ubuntu Courtyard’s take on life lessons from The Lion King.
Grab a snack and let’s begin!
1. Greatness is marked at birth.
Every human being has the potential to be great, only if they follow their true self. As The Circle of Life plays in the background, we see herds of Pride Land inhabitants eagerly awaiting news of the birth of a new king. King Mufasa majestically sits on his throne at Pride Rock in anticipation. Goodness surrounds them, for the promise is about to be revealed. They know what to expect, and Simba is anointed to be king soon after his birth. Maybe you were born in the ghetto and there were no crowds rejoicing when you were born, but the fact remains: you being here on earth is enough to be marked for greater things from birth. It’s just that our environments, and what we endure often make us believe otherwise.
2. Where there’s a blessing, there’s a stumbling block.
Where there’s a promise, there will be a hindrance of some sort. Just because one is chosen, gifted or anointed doesn’t automatically guarantee that it will happen. Sometimes, you have to fight for what’s rightfully yours, but before you do that, you have to know and believe that you've got something worth fighting for. We shall look at this point later on because Simba will lose his crown, belief and faith that he was born to be a king. A lot of promising individuals have led dull or painful lives because their paths were redirected or destroyed, thanks to a string of unfortunate events. “Life is not fair, is it?” bemoans Scar upon the news of Simba’s birth. “I shall never be king, and you shall never see the light of the day!” Not only does he express his utter contempt regarding Simba’s birth, but he also refuses to attend the anointing ceremony, and calls the future king a hairball. He aims to diminish Simba’s importance from the word go and doesn't hide his disappointment to his brother and others. Remember too that sometimes, the biggest threats to your destiny are closer to home than you realise.
3. Good parenting prepares for the future ahead.
Roald Dahl once said, “A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men.” Mufasa is widely respected by citizens of Pride Land for his strength, courage and wisdom. However, he doesn’t let the king in him forget the fact that his son – the future king -needs him. He knows that he is his son’s best teacher. He laughs with Zazu and plays games with Simba while teaching him the art of hunting. He starts preparing Simba for kingship by showing him the extent of the kingdom, even though Simba is only a mere child. He tells him stories, not merely sitting on the throne and watching others raise little Simba.
“A king’s rule rises and falls like the sun, and all things come to an end.” He teaches his son about the circle of life, explaining that, "when we die, our bodies feed the grass, and the antelope eat the grass." He probably should have said "and then the antelope feed us!" but hey, I choose to ignore that part, lest we stem the flow! Most people who were lucky enough to spend quality time with their parents will always treasure such moments, for they will be ingrained in their memory. It’s not about what you buy them, it’s about catching them while they’re still young, and making a lasting impression. Let us give our children the gift of memories to cherish. One day, those memories will sustain them as they face the future on their own.
A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men.
4. Be careful who you share your secrets with.
It might sound as if I’m refuting lesson 3, but children can be so impressionable, and a lot of praise can quickly go to their heads. Their little mouths often land parents (or even themselves) in trouble. Remember how Simba sings I’m Gonna Be a Mighty King as he plays with Zazu? It’s not exactly a secret, but Scar uses this to keep track of the little one’s progress so that he can devise a plan to make sure that Simba won’t rise to the throne.
Have you ever come across someone who wants to know everything about your plans, but doesn’t say much about what they're up to? You can tell by the way they react to the news, though they might hide their jealousy or bitterness. Watch out for sarcastic comments and lukewarm reactions to news about your promotion, falling in love, breakthroughs or anything capable of changing the trajectory of your life.
In the Bible, Herod instructed the Wise Men to come back with information about the well-being of the new-born King Jesus, not because he wanted to worship, but because he wanted to destroy the future King before he grew up to be a man. A person with bad intentions could be a step ahead, tapping you or others so that they can use that information against you. I’ve learnt that sharing visions and dreams with someone with bad intentions can be dangerous. Scar utilises information gathered from carefree and curious Simba to lure him towards the elephant’s graveyard.
Be wary about who you share your dreams with, for they can easily be sabotaged before they manifest.
5. Your enemy's wickedness can be a catalyst for your destiny.
It can be easy to spend our lives worrying about the ‘bad people’ and their wicked schemes, and see them as if they always have the upper hand. We might choose to play it safe and not rock the boat out of fear of possible retaliation from the Scars in our lives. This often leads to a mediocre existence, and anguish because you know you are not fulfilling your potential. Remember that evil has its day. Do good anyway, even when they set traps to bring you down. Be good anyway when they devise plans to facilitate your downfall. One of my favourite Bible verses is Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (KJV) Scar thinks and behaves as if he has the situation under control, including Simba’s destiny. For a while, it seems as if his plan against Simba has worked. He even maintains his lies when Simba one day returns to Pride Rock. However, Scar inadvertently sets up his own downfall and manages to turn the hyenas against him. So many people have destroyed themselves while trying to bring others down. Light overpowers darkness, so keep shining!
6. Evil people often use others to carry out their dirty deeds.
We see Scar as a chief-whip when it comes to using other animals to do the dirty work for him. A few years back, I found myself researching why certain people behave the way they do and came across a term which is not often talked about. That word is an enabler. Usually utilised by emotional abusers, people are recruited to enable the attacks, often without realising that they’re being used. The abuser will often pick on the enabler's weaknesses to further isolate a victim, for example, by spreading rumours. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and that’s true. However, it can also take a community to enable abuse, with or without its knowledge. Most abused people are suffering at the hands of highly organised individuals, and the perpetrator has a way of tricking people around the victim, usually by acting like an innocent party or even by pretending to be the victim. That’s how most abuse thrives, even in tightly knit communities. Some know what’s happening, but choose to turn a blind eye.
Think about it next time you hear a terrible story about someone, usually someone you don’t know much about, but nevertheless feel a high degree of contempt towards after hearing about the things that ‘they did’. You might have been lied to and used as an instrument to make someone suffer. Most victims learn to keep quiet because it's their word against someone like Scar. Scar plans events in a way that won’t implicate him directly. He also utilises the predatory tendencies of hyenas, and the fact that they are despised by many, to put his plans into action. Watch out for people of questionable morals (whichever way you choose to define it) and who they surround themselves with. It’s often people who don't challenge them and are just happy to be included in the inner circle. The truth is, the perpetrator doesn’t care about their needs or welfare, and will quickly dispose of them when he sees fit. He doesn’t regard enablers as friends but facilitators.
Notice how the hyenas who used to roam freely in their territory without a leader suddenly start listening to Scar’s instructions, although they clearly don’t see him as king. They even mock, “you’re one of us!” but still, they go ahead and follow Scar’s instructions. Everyone needs a leader, and Scar sees an opportunity. “Stick with me, and you’ll never go hungry again!” he says. Wicked leaders often choose their followers carefully. Scar uses fear, not hope, to pursue his agenda. We see a shift in the way Scar carries out his deeds; clandestine activity is the order of the day. He orchestrates a wildebeest stampede and makes it look like a natural phenomenon. I’ve worked with children long enough to learn the power of ring-leaders, and how they can influence followers to inflict pain on others, especially those who threaten the ring-leader’s authority. Followers don’t ask questions; whatever the leader says, it goes. We see this manifest in adult lives too. When Scar’s lies are finally exposed, he is quick to blame the hyenas, and disown them, a factor that works against him in the end. Be careful, just because you didn’t plan it, doesn’t mean that you can’t be used to inflict further hurt against others.
7. Wise people choose their battles carefully.
When Simba's curiosity gets the better of him and he strays onto the dark side of Pride Land, where hyenas prowl, Mufasa saves the day, although he doesn’t hide the fact that he’s disappointed with his son’s error of judgement. Still, the wise king forgives his son and takes that moment as a teaching lesson. “I was trying to be brave like you,” Simba says. I love how the film makers zoom in on Simba's footprints, and how he realises that his paws don't fit in his father's footprints. Talk about filling a respected person's shoes, it takes a while! Mufasa is initially angry with his son for straying onto dangerous ground but later responds to his son with gentleness while showing his vulnerable side. “I’m only brave when I have to be. Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble.”
He tells his son that even kings get scared because they've got so much to lose. These, in my book, are virtues of a good king: stern, yet gentle, he’s got immeasurable strength against his subjects and yet restrains himself, and is still willing to be playful under the stars. He knows that he’s got so much to lose against the enemies. Attackers often have a way of inciting wars, because they’ve got nothing much to lose anyway. When that happens, the worst thing you could do is take the bait and clap back. Some battles aren't worth your reaction, or even an ounce of your ammunition. It’s not that you can’t fight, it’s because the opponent is not worth it.
In his book called Manual of the Warrior of Light, Paulo Coelho writes one of my favourite passages of all time:
“According to a poet: ‘The Warrior of the Light chooses his enemies’.
Refrain from unnecessary battles, for they can surely cost you more even if you ‘win’. However, you don’t have to take everything lying down; sometimes, you have to rise to the occasion and defend your pride against bullies, the way Mufasa rescued Simba in the first instance.
8. Some delays can work for your own good.
Scar believes that he’s managed to get rid of Simba, and those who matter believe his lies that Simba has been tragically killed. However, we see the future king hidden in the middle of nowhere, living amongst ‘citizens’ who are clueless about his royalty. Timon and Pumbaa see something in him and, although they can’t quite put their finger on who Simba is, they sense something about him, before deciding to give him a place to stay. Timon especially thinks that young Simba might be useful someday.
Simba now has to live on bugs and vegetation, a far cry from steaks! It doesn't look like an ideal place to be, but remember what I said about all things working for your good. I believe the diet does wonders to Simba who grows up to be handsome and a very fit animal. That and the fact that he's encouraged to leave a worry-free life and embrace what's in front of him. "Hakuna Matata!" is an affirmation that seems to pull him through the most challenging times. Sometimes adopting a carefree attitude helps, especially if there's nothing much you can do about an uncomfortable situation.
9. Destiny follows you, even when you’ve lost the way.
People often stray from their calling in this journey of life, for several reasons. Although Simba found a temporary home and indeed thrived thanks to loving friends, there was something inside of him to remind him of who he was. Some people may, on the outside, seem as if they've got everything together, but deep inside, there will be a gentle reminder, which often shows up as a yearning for change or a desire to do something, usually while they're on their own. If that happens to you, don't ignore or fight it, for it will gently help you find your way. Simba remembers what Mufasa once said about the stars in his moment of loneliness. Destiny has a way of making events unfold in your favour; I believe it’s another meaning of God’s grace.
No matter how far we lose our way, grace finds us. When the time is right, Rafiki has what I’d like to call a prophetic moment back in Pride Land, and sees Simba in his vision. Pumbaa somehow strays into Pride Land, straight into Nala’s pathway. Simba comes to Pumbaa’s rescue, and Timon even quips, “see, I told you he’d come in handy!” But something even more magical has just happened, a moment that no one could have planned: Simba and Nala find each other. Not only are they overjoyed, possibly reigniting the love they always had for one another, Nala plays a vital role to bring Simba back to his throne. But before we get to the Nalas in our lives, let’s first take a look at Simba’s reaction when he comes to terms with who he really is.
10. Fear often holds you hostage when your destiny is within reach.
Most of us have learnt to fight, or worked hard towards dreams. That can be the easy part, for the most dangerous enemy has a tendency of showing up when we’ve conquered other external challenges. His name is Fear. Fear often presents itself at the most critical point, that place where a decision can transform your life. Although Simba is practically free to roam with Pumbaa and Timon, singing Hakuna Matata while living on a diet of bugs and all sorts of greenery, his soul is caged, just like Zazu in a ribcage back home! Nestled in the land of safety but nevertheless, false security, Simba finds himself being challenged to go back to his people, and save them from the darkness now engulfing his kingdom. Even the hyenas now yearn for order, and maybe a bit of light, for the circle of life has been disrupted.
I believe there are so many Simbas out there running away from their calling. “No-one needs me, I’m not a king!” He repeats the mantra hakuna matata, an attitude that sees him through turbulent times, but not enough to carry him to be the king he was created to be. How many of us have said, “I don’t care, I’m good, it is what it is, I’m okay,” when the opposite is true. The words of your doubters and those who wish you ill often get louder just before your breakthrough, and that’s when most people doubt themselves. The power of fear. Simba goes into self-sabotage mode. In all fairness, he believes he has caused the death of his father, thanks to Scar's lies. The very myths that reinforce his doubts, holding him hostage at a time when the kingdom needs him. I wonder how many Simbas are out there, burying their heads in the sand, because of fear and guilt. Fear of retaliation for doing the right thing, fear of success, fear of failure, fear of the past, the present, or the future.
In his introduction notes of the book: The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho eloquently describes the power of fear, and how crippling it can be even to the seasoned warrior:
“Oscar Wilde said, ‘Each man kills the thing he loves.’ And it’s true. The mere possibility of getting what we want fills the soul of the ordinary person with guilt. We look around at all those who have failed to get what they want and feel that we do not deserve to get what we want either. We forget about all the obstacles we overcame, all the suffering we endured, all the things we had to give up in order to get this far. I have known a lot of people who, when their personal calling was within their grasp, went on to commit a series of stupid mistakes, and never reached their goal when it was only a step away. This is the most dangerous of the obstacles because it has a kind of saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest. But if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God, you help the soul of the world, and you understand why you are here.”
If you're a Simba out there, I encourage you to stop self-sabotaging your dreams. Let go of the lies, guilt, and fears and arise and shine. Your people and others need you - your talents, skills, experience and vision - to shine a light on kingdoms plunged into misery and darkness, thanks to those who are like Scar.
11 .Kings need kingmakers: Nala, it’s your time to shine!
I stand amazed at the sheer number of potential leaders out there who bury their heads in the sand when they could be doing more significant things. Sometimes life has a way of destroying destinies and creating doubt. However, if we all stopped jostling for position by trying to outdo one another, we’d recognise that each and every person has a role to play in the circle of life. Even kings need happy subjects to sit on their thrones. However, the darker and miserable it became under Scar’s rule, the more he wanted to remind everyone that he was king.
That part is depicted so very well in The Lion King. However, the rightful king who is potentially capable of turning things around is in hiding and denying the fact that he is the anointed king. Remember what I said in the beginning about having to fight for what’s rightfully yours, even if you’ve been chosen? Not only does Simba have to fight inner battles to embrace who he indeed is, but he also needs support and a cheerleader. We see Nala rise to the occasion. The world could do with Nalas who believe in the ability of others and will do whatever they can to uphold and strengthen leaders, fighters and kings because they know that it will benefit everyone.
Many kings and queens are languishing because of lack of support, discouragement, and competition from the very people who should otherwise be supportive of them. This often plunges families, companies, countries, and many kingdoms into darkness, just like what happens at the height of Scar’s rule. We need people who can awaken kings (and queens) from their slumber, lest we ALL starve. We need people who don't give up quickly and will knock on caves, and doors, until something happens. They say sometimes you have to let sleeping dogs lie, but in this instance, we're referring to good people who've somehow lost their way, or are too afraid to shine, and dim their light as a survival mechanism. We might have to enter those man-caves and drag kings and queens out of darkness. Uphold them, encourage them, believe in them, pray for them, and never give up. The truth is, if men, women, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives and lovers are battling all sorts without our support, we too can fail to reach our destinies.
Some people will never reach their full potential because they failed to appreciate the power of supporting others. Nala knows that things can get better with Simba being king, and doesn’t give up in the face of Simba’s resistance. She never loses patience with Simba even when he sulks. “You are our only hope!” Nala tells Simba. He fights back, “you think you can show up and tell me how to live my life…” There's a difference between being pushy, and encouraging someone to see the best in themselves, so they can find their real potential and rescue others from darkness. May we all learn to inspire others, and be the light of the world.
12. Know who you are.
Without realising, acknowledging and remembering who he is, Simba is at risk of being a danger to himself and others. Upon going through a moment of reflection, Simba asks, “Who are you?” Rafiki wisely flips that statement back at Simba, “The question is, who are you?” If you and I could answer this question sincerely, we’d turn this world into a better place. It starts with us. When you can define who you are, you’ll begin to do things differently. You’ll leave that abusive relationship, or gather enough strength and courage to pursue what you were created to do. You will move mountains. Take a moment to stop, and think about who you are.
Most people, like Simba, would start focusing on what other people said they were. Rafiki didn’t even tell Simba that he was king, although he’d anointed him as a baby. True to his name, he uses wisdom to help Simba find the answer, for it is now buried somewhere deep in his soul. Nala’s love isn’t enough to fuel what Simba had lost, although it surely ignited something within. A Nala can support, encourage, and even remind you that there’s something special about you. However, until YOU know who you are, it’s impossible to be the light, and reflect it back to others. Rafiki reminds Simba that he is Mufasa’s son “…you see, he lives in you!”
The winds of change have blown to bring hope to the now desolate kingdom. Everyone is now waking up to the fact that the king isn’t dead after all. Pumbaa and Timon have even come to the realisation that Simba is no ordinary person. “You think you know a guy!” Timon says.
Simba does the most fantastic thing that we can all learn from. He eventually finds himself and heads back to Pride Land without announcing it to any of his friends. Not even Nala. They play their roles, but without Simba’s willingness to go back to the throne, all efforts would have amounted to nothing.
Remember, remember, remember who you are!
Knowing who you are will help you find the courage to overcome fears, and confront anything or anyone who has been taking you hostage. After all, misery loves company, which brings us to our next point.
13. Know when someone’s season is over.
I believe in the power of stable relationships to get far in life. But sometimes, you have to realise that some of your colleagues might be happier to see you play in the same league, and won’t clap for you when you go to the next level in pursuit of your dreams. Without Timon and Pumbaa, Simba could have perished in the strange lands. They pay a critical part and nurture Simba to be more resilient. He adapts to their way of existence to survive. But, is he thriving? On the outside, yes. The diet and hakuna matata attitude keep him going for a very long time. With the benefit of hindsight, it does him well. However, don’t forget that Timon and Pumbaa also give him a place to stay because they initially see Simba’s potential. Timon even says that he’d be useful at some point, and is initially more concerned about their survival, not Simba’s well-being. The jungle can be all about survival of the fittest, I understand. However, it is differences that create teamwork and foster lasting relationships we were designed to serve one another in the first place. Upon realising that Simba has a calling to sit on the throne, his new besties don’t celebrate such news. Timon mourns that the trio will be reduced to two and doesn’t care about the bigger picture.
How many Timons are slowly sabotaging your future because of their own fears? Some people would do anything to discourage their friends from falling in love because it would disrupt the status quo. Others would stand in the way of someone’s relocation, only because they fear that they’ll be lonely. The longer you allow scaffolding to remain in place, after a building has been completely restored, the more damage it will create. How can a grand design stand in its full glory when the poles that supported it during construction and restoration remain in place? The same message goes if you are a mentor, teacher or friend being a “scaffolder”. There will come a time when you have to let someone find their own way, and be themselves because you hovering over them will lead to frustrations on both sides. Let them find you again if they need you, but do not restrict further growth of those you once looked after. Recognise when your time is over, so you don’t destroy what you helped to build in the first place.
I’m not saying get rid of friends, and some of them will remain in your life no matter what. You need to assess your supporter’s perspectives, otherwise, you'll potentially remain in a place that was only meant to be a point of rest, not a destination. Still, just because some of your friends and family don’t want to be high fliers like you doesn’t mean that they should be discarded. Most people go on to achieve more, not because of new relationships, but because they are firmly rooted in the right kind of relationships that can support them no matter how far they go in life.
14. Love will always win!
Having touched on Timon and Pumbaa as possible ‘scaffolders’, may I take this opportunity to quickly celebrate their contribution, for they go above and beyond the call of duty to support Simba. Although I’ve mentioned that we need to be aware of such kinds of people, I love how they immediately sign up to help Simba upon realising that he could be in trouble. Their love for Simba speaks volumes. I believe it is Simba’s determination that encourages them to see beyond the horizon.
The power of love.
We see love play a part between Nala and Simba when they find each other again. Love revives what they thought they'd lost, or never knew they had. Mufasa’s love for his son will help Simba find who he is when it really matters, long after his death. Simba is a good king because of his mother’s love. She’d raised her son well. The whole village played a part too because had they not embraced Simba as a baby, he probably wouldn't have bothered to return.
There are so many people busy bringing down potential kings, queens and leaders, without realising that they are imprisoning their own potential in the process. Rafiki works on Simba until he believes in himself again, and never stops loving Simba. The same is true for Zazu, even when he endures many days and nights in bondage. He remains loyal to Mufasa and Simba. Love finally makes Scar a defeated villain who is told to run away and never return. “It is time, long live the king!” Simba proudly takes his throne, and we see another circle of life emerge: the birth of his new son with Nala.
Although it is a Disney classic, The Lion King remains a life story about overcoming darkness with light if we are all to experience fulfilling lives. It is a tale that touches on finding hope in the most unlikely places, and how love always wins against many of life's most significant challenges. The Lion King takes viewers young and old on highs and lows and is packed with funny lines and imagery that will keep you hooked until the very end. As you revisit The Lion King 2019, I hope you’ll appreciate the story from a different perspective so you can find real-life inspiration from this highly acclaimed animation.
From books we love to the box office, there is always an intriguing tale that captures hearts and minds.