Bringing Back Society’s Lost Ones

The Apathy pill: take one a day, sit back and watch the world burn!

The Apathy pill: take one a day, sit back and watch the world burn!

During the Christmas season 2003, in the city of Kaduna in northern Nigeria, I had a spiritual epiphany on a public bus: I had become part of a society that had given up on some of those who needed society the most. It happened within 60 seconds that it took for a disabled person to board the bus. Those 60 seconds remain vividly engraved in my mind which recorded them as lasting more than 5 minutes.

After putting his crutches on the bus, he started to drag his body on his stomach along the floor of the bus. The same floor on which everyone else walked with their dirty shoes. Naturally, he soiled his clothes before his feet had even cleared the ground.

I sat in a corner of the bus, the ultra introvert, headphones plugging out the world but acutely aware of my surroundings. Suddenly, my mind settled and focused on the scene in front of me. As this disabled man tried to board, not a soul attempted to help him. Not the passengers within arm’s length on the bus, not the bus attendant (“Bus conductor” in Nigeria), and not any of the people who were at the bus stop with him.

What I found most disturbing was that the man wasn’t expecting anyone to help him. From the look on his face, it was evident that he had given up that people could be kind and offer a helping hand. My attention shifted to the role I was playing in this ‘movie’, another apathetic and unhelpful bystander. That realization jolted me out of my reverie. Standing from my seat, I anchored myself, took the man by his shoulders and pulled him into the bus and onto a seat. As I did this, I had my second aha moment: when I reached out, he first looked at me with bewilderment, then smiled as he let me assist him. My action seemed to jolt nearby passengers who shifted to make room so the he could sit comfortably. I vaguely remember another person helped him arrange his crutches.

When he alighted, others did help him. I spent the next two hours on my way to Zaria pondering how a person gets to that dark place where he gives up on society to be helpful. It’s been over ten years since, the experience remains a key moment of self-awareness and awakening for me. Whether I’d learnt anything from this experience, only time would tell.

Seven years later (2010) a similar incident happened – Madrid, Spain. Another bus stop, another group of people waiting to board and another disabled person waiting. When the bus finally stopped, it did so a bit far from the curb, leaving a gap between the curb so the man couldn’t simply roll his wheelchair in. That memory from 2003 came playing back in my mind, priming me to help. It turns out my French colleague had the same intention to help. As the man tried to maneuver his wheelchair onto the bus, my colleague and I lifted him and his wheelchair across the gap onto the wheelchair ramp in the bus (God bless politicians and city officials who think of the disabled). It wasn’t lost on me that the man’s first instinct was to do it himself, without asking for help.

I know that not all disabled people want to be ‘helped’ because it seems disempowering. I respect that. It doesn’t absolve us of our human responsibility to care for and be of service to the disabled whenever the need arises. There’s common sense, there’s also common good manners of human behaviour and helping, I believe that being of service is one of those.

I don’t think people wake up in the morning deciding not to care. It’s rather that we get so engrossed in our own worlds that we just stop noticing and lose awareness. Slowly but surely that builds into apathy. And as surely as there are un-served people in our society, that apathy will recursively feed on itself and explode to cover the vast lot of human social interactions in ways that will our undoing as a race.

Rev. John Watson (pseudonym name Ian MacLaren) famously wrote: “Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle”. Rendering service, engaging in common good manners make those battle less daunting. Be it getting on a bus as a disabled person or dreading a day in a dysfunctional office with a bad boss. In the end, we won’t remember the apathy of the masses, but we will remember the inaction of those who noticed, looked us in the eye in the moment of our need, then gave in to apathy. Choose not to be that person at the giving end of apathy today.

Image credits: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/girl-justice-crowdfunding-that-empowers-women

Keep God Out of This!

He’s given you power over some things! Use it

“May God save us” – that’s a statement I have often heard from people who have given up in the face challenges that seem insurmountable. From violent crime through bad governance to corruption and all other societal vices. In one of the largest countries in Africa, paradoxically I’ve heard this same statement in the face of some ills that very personal and not whole societal.

I am a believer, in God, His power and His grace. I also believe that with the gift of free will comes consequences for both the things we do and things we fail to do. As human beings, we cannot both want this free will without facing the consequences that come with it. With the gift of free will, God has given us power of certain things, to ask him to take responsibility for them is being spiritually lazy. Sure we need God, to understand evil, fight it on realms we are incapable of understanding but as a system, part of the battle is ours, every day, every minute we live.

It is not up to God and cannot be left to him

  • to stop us from reaping where we did not sow. God already teaches us INTEGRITY
  • to raise great children in not only strong spiritual but also moral principles. God’s own son and the Bible provides enough principles.
  • to reach out in love and service, not only to our neighbour, but to the stranger we meet on the street. God already teaches us CHARITY.
  • to behave ourselves with dignity and responsibility in private and public and by so doing be an example unto others.

“God will help <insert country here>” ( e.g God will help Nigeria, Cameroon) is a phrase that makes me cringe when it is the response to societal ills that man is fully responsible for. Ok, what really would we want God to do if he showed up? raise responsible children? elect good leaders and hold them accountable? change our culture from the ostentatious money-worshiping fest it is to one that is values-based? make us conscientious at work? hold out religious leaders accountable?

And while we are at it, maybe He can throw in genies to put the food in our mouths, clean us up when we go to toilet and say good morning to our neighbours. The things that make for a good society are not always up to God, they are often up to man. For as important as social justice is, so are clean streets, concientious workers, caring neighbours and principled children. In fact when we have the later list of qualities, social justice is one of the fruits we will get. And those things are not up to God – they are up to human beings.

When humans take up that responsibility of doing the things (often seemingly small and inconsequential) that are in their power, the things that promote strong families, caring societies and great countries, those acts are themselves acts of worship that inspire God to do his bit – protect our families, societies and nations from vices that humans cannot by themselves comprehend.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” – said Gandhi, because that change you are being is the prayer that makes God to shower the world with more abundant blessings.

The Magic of Loving Yourself

Love Thyself ...as you are!

Love Thyself …as you are!

As I began to love myself I found that anguish and emotional suffering are only warning signs that I was living against my own truth. Today, I know, this is AUTHENTICITY.

As I began to love myself I understood how much it can offend somebody as I try to force my desires on this person, even though I knew the time was not right and the person was not ready for it, and even though this person was me. Today I call it RESPECT.

As I began to love myself I stopped craving for a different life, and I could see that everything that surrounded me was inviting me to grow. Today I call it MATURITY.

As I began to love myself I understood that at any circumstance, I am in the right place at the right time, and everything happens at the exactly right moment, so I could be calm. Today I call it SELF-CONFIDENCE.

As I began to love myself I quit steeling my own time, and I stopped designing huge projects for the future. Today, I only do what brings me joy and happiness, things I love to do and that make my heart cheer, and I do them in my own way and in my own rhythm. Today I call it SIMPLICITY.

As I began to love myself I freed myself of anything that is not good for my health – food, people, things, situations, and everything that drew me down and away from myself. At first I called this attitude a healthy egoism.Today I know it is LOVE OF ONESELF.

As I began to love myself I quit trying to always be right, and ever since I was wrong less of the time. Today I discovered that is MODESTY.

As I began to love myself I refused to go on living in the past and worry about the future. Now, I only live for the moment, where everything is happening. Today I live each day, day by day, and I call it FULFILLMENT.

As I began to love myself I recognized that my mind can disturb me and it can make me sick. But As I connected it to my heart, my mind became a valuable ally. Today I call this connection WISDOM OF THE HEART.

We no longer need to fear arguments, confrontations or any kind of problems with ourselves or others. Even stars collide, and out of their crashing new worlds are born. Today I know THAT IS LIFE!

——————-
This post originally attributed the text to famed comedian Charlie Chaplin. There is, however, no evidence it is indeed Chaplin’s work. Online hoaxbusters attribute it rather to a retranslation of “When I Loved Myself Enough” by Kim McMillen.

YOU have the POWER! It is INSIDE

State Of Mind
We may not completely control our careers, but we are in full control over
  • Which skills we choose to acquire, refine and master.
  • Which talents we nurture and refine into our Perfexcellence toolbox.
  • Which passions we pursue and what problems we deploy our skills and talents at.
  • What impressions we make on the people we meet.
  • Whether we respond, or react to the curveballs that our careers throw us.
These are the things that largely determine our career success. The rest is mostly luck and as someone once said “Good luck is opportunity meets preparation”. So how are we preparing?
We may not have full control over every aspect of our health, but we do largely have control over
  • Those little habits that make up our personal hygiene.
  • What we eat, how much of it and how often.
  • How physical exercise we put in regularly.
  • How long we let each feeling and emotion (good or bad) live in our hearts.
  • How we choose to perceive the ‘injustices’ in the world.
And these largely determine how healthy we are – physically, emotionally and spiritually. There are no sustainably fulfilling careers in unhealthy bodies. So how are we ensuring that our health won’t sabotage our careers and dreams?
We cannot dictate people’s actions but we can chose and do control
  • How we perceive people and consequently treat them.
  • How we serve, help and appreciate those whose paths we cross.
  • Whether by our deeds and words, we leave people better off than we met them.
  • Whether our actions paint a consistent picture of our character.
  • Whether we leave each encounter better in some way than we got into it.
  • How well and often we make and keep our promises.
And these things touch people’s hearts and minds and is the stuff of influence.  When that influence makes their minds dance to that song we put in their heart, they reward us by letting us lead them.
Ultimately, we all create our futures and destinies, by the very thoughts we choose to dwell on,  the acts we choose to do in the present and what stories we choose to tell ourselves when things don’t go as planned.
The dirty office politics, the dubious colleagues, the bad boss, the unfair compensation schemes are only part of the story but they can also be tests and launchpads to true greatness, if only we can find the power within to overcome them, as often as they rear their head up in different forms.
Yes, there is tremendous power within us but we must be willing to pay the price to wield it.
  • Can we muster the strength to sacrifice the mundane for the significant … or vice versa if the mundane is what enriches another life?
  • Will we have the courage to deny our senses pleasure now that in order to gratify our spiritual yearnings?
  • Will we be able to say no to eating the fruit today and rather plant a tree of whose fruit neither we nor ours may eat but that will feed a small nation tomorrow?
The path to perfexcellence is riddled with such choices and we must find that courage, that willpower, that love and that vision to make the right calls and do it consistently no matter how many times we fail.

How the Divine Withers

"Corda Strappata" by Idea go. Image courtesy of  / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Corda Strappata” by Idea go. Image courtesy of / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Without warning it dawns on us one day, this person with whom we once shared something beautiful and heart-warming is now at best lukewarm and at worst doesn’t even register in our consciousness as we plough through our daily grind. A chasm now exists between us and what used to be a great friend, colleague or lover. That chasm is filled with a dark, innocuous poison that has seeped into destroy the relationship, and it will be the grave in which what was once coaxed the embers of our hearts to glow will be buried silently, and not even without the dubious honour of a break-up event.

In a moment of enlightenment, we will ask ourselves, “How did we get to this ugly place?”. It seemed like it were only yesterday that this person meant the world to us, their words, touch, advice, and time shared were gifts we cherished like mythical treasures come to life.

Well, it happened, and we let it happen. Slowly like the morning mist rising amongst the woods, we gave that which is holy to the dogs, we took our dear ones for granted and we stopped …

  • We stopped saying ‘Thank You’ for the sacrifices – big and small they did for us.
  • We stopped re-affirming them for whom they are and for being there.
  • We stopped whispering to them those beautiful words that are the lifeblood of relationships of the heart, the mind and spirit.
  • We stopped remembering and affirming those shared moments that defined us at a single soul living in two bodies.

And so, like every living, without the nourishment of gratitude, reaffirmation, communication, the crop became malnourished, then withered and could bear fruit not more. What is left of the crop is now headed towards a mass grave of silence and neglect …. unless we can give it new blood and life.

It starts with us, picking the phone, calling and telling them: “It’s been a long time, I am guilty of not nourishing this relationship as it deserves. I know now what will happen if we don’t stem this decay and that is a place I don’t want to go to, because I value you too much for you not to be a living, breathing active part of my life …and hopefully me a part of yours. Good morning”

Birthday Wish: Begin and End Everyday on my Knees in Gratitude

to start and end everyday like this … in Gratitude

To begin and end every day on my knees

In gratitude for all that has been, is and will be

For the gift of friendship and family

In times of sorrow and in times of joy

In times of plenty and times of need

In times of pleasure and in times of pain

For the glory of God’s name,

For the enligntenment of the earth and the common good of man

Guide me ask neither for riches nor fame for myself

But peace for my enemies and friends

But a spirit of service towards my neighbour

That I may walk in humility and courage and love

On the straight path of truth, dignity and hard work

That’s what I ask of you today lord

To remind me, and help me see in every moment and everyone

Even when it is hidden by the thorns of life’s circumstances

That, “that which causes the rose to bloom, is also within me and them

Amen/So-Say-We-All

Gifting Dignity to the Invisible and Downtrodden

Janitor … yes but that’s not ALL he is.

You step into a lift (airport, hotel, office complex) and there’s only one person in it, but they recoil into a corner of the lift, instinctively making themselves smaller as if wishing themselves to become invisible or that of the walls of the lift could open up and swallow them. The typical body language is drooped shoulders, eyes cast down and unable to make and keep eye contact.

I have seen some variation of this in more than 30 different countries, they are those who our society’s materialistic value system puts into the caste of the “untouchables” – those people whom the court of public opinion has judged as unsuccessful because they typically are not making enough money that they can’t afford not to work menial jobs like cleaning toilets, public places or wait on tables. Quite often, we act as mindless agents of the public mirror by not acknowledging these people, giving them the same attention we’d give an ordinary piece of furniture in a very familiar room.

The tragedy is that too many of them (there are always exceptions and interacting with these exceptional ones is always a lesson in enlightenment) have bought the judgement and so live desperately tiny lives, resenting that which they do and instinctively making themselves invisible in the presence of those they judge more ‘successful’. Don’t be fooled, sometimes the racist arrogance of a white cleaner or waiter comes from exactly the same place as that which makes the black janitor recoil (or becomes irritatingly ebullient) when you enter the lift – a sense of inferiority beaten into them by a society whose major metric of success is financial/material wealth.

While we may not be able to do anything to make them ‘rich’ overnight, we can start by giving them the gift of DIGNITY! How? here are some of the practices I engage in when I encounter such people:

(a) GREET them with RESPECT: It means you look them in the eyes when you say “good morning” and smile! I am usually an unsmiling person but because this is important to me, I make the effort to smile. While not something I prescribe to everyone, I also bow because its a sign of respect in my tradition. While vacationing at a resort recently, one of the waitresses asked me “Why is someone like you bowing to the lowly people like us?” (tells you a lot about how she she is usually treated and has come to expect to be treated by guests at such places). We had a short, genuine, light-hearted chat which essentially came to “it’s something I was raised to do. You can imagine how my already great stay at the establishment became (but that’s NOT the point).

(b) TIP them APPROPRIATELY: It is not so much how much you give, it is the attitude with which you do so. Again, when tipping, look them in the eye, and without using words, thank them for the service they just rendered. There’s this norm that you always tip 10% — I totally abhor it it and refuse to live by it. If the service is bad, I absolutely will not tip. If the service is great, I will tip and 10% is not the limit.

Appropriate tipping is important because it usually involves the exchange of money – the very thing that is used to define ‘them’ as inferior to you. So if your attitude as you give re-enforces that dynamic that “I am better than you because I can afford to tip you” or that “this money is a big deal to you but nothing to me” – it is akin to insulting them. Giving your customary 10% tip or even a 100% tip dismissively or with a frown is just as useless when it comes to raising the spiritual energy of the encounter.

(c) TREAT them with DIGNITY: It is the simple things that all well-brought up, enlightened and dignified people do. Thinks like saying “Please”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”, calling people by their names, turning to face and look at them when they come to your table to take your order, smiling, apologizing when you realize you’ve been rude to them and so on. There are a thousand small behaviours that show you are treating someone with dignity. If in doubt, treat them somehow like you would when your mother/wife/girlfriend or father/husband/boyfriend serves you. (I am Cameroonian and when am home, my mother serves me – and of course I adore her). Of course they are not your mother/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend but that should give you an indication of appropriateness – when your mum brings you food, you don’t continue chatting on the phone and not say “Thank you mum” now do you? (ok, if you there’s a special place in hell, run by nazis just for you.)

(d) SHOW GRATITUDE in your SPEECH: aka say “Thank You” and mean it. Your attitude (smile) and your behavior (turn and face them when addressing them, hold the door for the ladies – yes even the cleaning lady, buy some good chocolate for no one in particular and give it as a surprise to that cleaning lady that is looking gloomy) should be consistent with your words for your gratitude to be genuine.

Just remember that “janitor”, “waiter” , “cleaner” etc or whatever lowly title they may bear at that point is NOT their entire story. They are also a father’s daughter, a mother’s son, somebody’s mother, father, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, and even mentor but more importantly at that moment, they are offering a service that makes your life more comfortable.

So you thank them, in word and deed for the clean sheets and fresh towels you use thanks to their hard work. Thank them for the clean rooms and bathrooms, the clean toilets at airports and the assistance with heavy bags at checkin. If you want to get an idea of just how much thanks you should give them, take good notice when you go to a hotel with poor service, dirty toilets and bathrooms etc.

Bear this in mind …these are also “Ladies and gentlemen SERVING ladies and gentlemen. So will you please act like a LADY or GENTLEMAN by acknowledging that?

That’s how people of perfexcellence, that’s how warriors of light behave and these light up am ember in their hearts and spirit and also builds humility in us. Humility is never a bad thing! and only the truly enlightened are capable of showing and living it instinctively.