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

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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.

Teaching/Imparting Knowledge Effortlessly

Sunday, 21 May 2006

I teach part time at Kaduna Business School (www.kbs-edu.net) and since November 2005, I usually have this experience while I am teaching that can best be described as the experience known in emotional intelligence circles as FLOW. I can practically walk into a class and loose myself in it, have lots of fun and by the time I leave, have the class enjoying themselves. Yesterday, I had this lecture on Creativity & Innovation that lasted for 6 hours! and I had fun all the way – I know the class also had fun. This experience is what I call teaching effortlessly; the objective is to help my class learn effortlessly.

It is a well known fact from the field of neuro-linguistic programming that the more effort you put in memorising something, the harder it is to memorise. Well how do I do it? First and foremost, at some point in the past, I have paid the price to know my stuff (read different books, articles and listened to some blogs), I have reflected deeply on my own moments of creativity (what went through my mind, the environment, the role of my current emotional state etc) so in one word – I have earned the right to stand in front of them and talk on the subject at hand (I’ve done so with emotional intelligence, personal effectiveness, managerial psychology and leadership). Next, I anticipate eagerly to meet the class and share my own perspective – this last bit is very important: I don’t consider my lecture THE perspective. Thirdly, I make the class a discussion rather than a lecture – this way I engage other knowledgeable people within the class and align them to my objectives. I also keep an open mind about the interrelatedness of knowledge – I see my main role in the class as ensuring that whatever branch of knowledge my class delves into, I can extract the lesson that is relevant to our current objectives and also make the whole class see this. Now, even if as a participant you doubt by competence, you are almost always infected by my passion and my intellectual humility (am not so sure about the last one – but I am working on it). By respecting the right of everyone in the class to contribute to the subject matter, I stifle emotional resistance to me.

In my classes, I always try to use many metaphors and games – these send the message to the right brain where it really sticks. It is more active learning because when I finally explain the concept behind the metaphor or game, the immediately grasp it. From beginning to end, I always remain detached from the results of the class – I don’t worry if they will praise or criticize me. I believe this is the only way to teach for six hours straight (2pm to 8 pm) and not die of physical exhaustion at the end. In a class of about twenty people who have already spent the entire morning (8 am to 1 pm) in lectures, I think it was amazing that only two people dozed for a few minutes during my stint – It really takes two to have fun teaching! Shalom!

Tamon