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.

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And God Spoke …Self Mastery Test #X

self master classroom

Bivouac camp in Sahara desert / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“So my son ..you want to learn self mastery?

I see how much you’ve been writing about it and trying

Ok, I’ll give you a helping hand

I’ll get you into a classroom

I’ll take you on a 20 hour flight from a city with sub-zero temperatures

Then land you in a city with an average temperature of 40 degrees centigrade in the evening

I’ll put you in a hotel with standards beneath other hotels you usually complain about

Oh and since you are always complaining about bad food,

I’ll make sure your choices in food for once justify your whining

Class duration is nine days, and you can’t get out of class

And did I mention that you can’t count on the Internet or phones

Let’s see ….

If you can still maintain your calm in that heat

If you can bring mindfulness to help you deal with a room in which the window faces an drab high wall

If under these circumstances, you can still be courteous to people you think you don’t need anything from

If you can still find something to be grateful for in each one of these days

If you can do these, then you will have learnt something about self mastery!

So, do you still want to continue on this path?”

Day 1: I screamed, kicked and was foul all day – I reaped lost of misery. I called someone special, spoke for a while and returned to my self pity.

Day 2: I kicked, screamed and made an emotional cocktail of anger and resentment, all brewed in blazing hot desert sun.

And so it went, anger, sorrow, disappointment, anguish and then when I had experienced all that was negative, on Day 6 I felt calm (I’d just taught a class of 40+ network engineers in a steaming hot room and their eagerness to learn was so great I forgot about the inconveniences). I became self aware and then the magic started and continued till Day 9

People went out of their way to make me happy. They did not have the traditional goodies to give but what they gave, they gave with all of their hearts, they gave me with love and I felt it. I connected and felt really good insides (God must have smiled … ‘you are not so thick-headed after all’. The best part was left for last … I beheld a sight I had thought I needed to travel to the United States and some big museum to see –  a full skeleton of two kinds of dinosaur!! (yes I am a geek …that stuff amazes me). Imagine a crocodile whose skeleton is taller than a truck and that is more as long as a tanker!

Dinosaur skeletons in Niamey - Niger

Final lesson? – once you put your ego in its place (take attention away from yourself) and be in the moment, the world usually presents you a amazing bouquet of breath-taking gifts … of beauty, of simplicity, of elegance.

Self Mastery-What it Means to Me


In my personal mission statement, my first priority in life is self mastery which I briefly define as ‘an endless journey in completely refining my character‘. Almost everyone I come close to comes to know that I have a huge desire to achieve self mastery even more than the desire for professional mastery. Of recent, due to interactions with some people very close to my heart, it has become necessary to define expansively for myself what self mastery is. This necessity stems from the fact that these dear ones think it is selfish to desire and seek self mastery the way I do. It really hurt me to hear that but it could mean one of two things – they either don’t understand what self mastery is – from my perspective, which means that maybe I haven’t taken the time to communicate clearly to them (and perhaps to myself?) what it is and what it entails or it could be that from the way they see me living my life in pursuit of self mastery – the means are wrong so they question the end.
First, what is self mastery? Self mastery for me is the ability to live a full, wholesome life in every single moment. When my responses are spontaneous but not reckless, when I make the right decisions effortlessly, when I can love unconditionally and when my decisions are guided by a well developed and continuously developing conscience instead of my ego, I consider that ‘living in the moment’ or as is better rendered in French ‘la vie dans chaque soufle’ i.e. ‘life in every breath’. Self mastery means that I have learnt to be driven by my emotions under the guidance of my conscience and this happens transparently through my intellectual/rational mind.

Why self mastery?
Right now, I believe that my purpose in life is to live the full potential of all the unique characteristics that God gave me and in doing so, contribute to the realization of a world governed by virtue. I want to know the Truth and I want to know God because these two are one to me, I desire to be excellent in everything I choose to do and achieve such excellence naturally and effortlessly. The problem is this –

  1. What are those unique characteristics that God has given me?

  2. What are my talents? How many of them have I identified?

  3. What is the vision or visions that align with this purpose? What does wanting to live ‘the full potential of all unique characteristics given to me by God …’ translate to from day to day, from relationship to relationship, from home to work?

  4. How can I be sure that I have chosen the right professional track to follow and I am not being driven within by greed or some version of the social mirror?
These issues essentially stand in my way to living the life I desire – the life of effortless perfection, of selfless service to other human beings, of loving unconditionally – one woman romantically or on an unromantic level, the people I come in contact with. I have come to accept that as long as I am driven by my ego, I will always be too selfish to give myself to anyone else – either in love or in service to humanity, I will never know Truth and God because my ego will keep me focused on ME – not even the divinity within me but on the pettiness, on satisfying the short term needs of my body, on my vanity etc. In a nutshell, to the extent that all my resources have been freed from under the grip of my ego and its petty wants and desires, to that extent can I give of myself to serve selflessly, to love unconditionally and to seek Truth. To that extent can I see myself not as THE centre of reality but as A centre or node in the mesh of reality, to that extent will I not fear uncertainty and to that extent will I really succeed as a being created in the image of God. I believe that the little of myself I can give now is that part that I have torn off from the grip of my ego. So self mastery is that journey – never a goal or objective that will liberate more and more of ME from the vicious grip of my ego and its petty needs so I can focus on listening to the voice of my conscience, of empathizing and listening to others within their own frame of reference, of seeing myself as a player on a team and in so doing be more accessible to SEEING reality [that part of truth that I can and have experienced or am experiencing] – that which is a fusion of my perspective and other people’s perspectives.

What does self mastery entail?
In practice it starts with continuously refining my vision and defining my reality – the disparity between these two offers creative tension which I must overcome in making the vision my reality and as I approach that vision, to refine and set another one according to the feedback that I get on my quest. First, I want to take full responsibility for my life, my actions, I want to choose and refine my own value system, one that I can live with but that as much as I can understand is aligned with right principles. This value system will be the framework by which I deal with the world and reality, in essence the code that can be said to some extent to dictate what I will do in every single circumstance. Self mastery entails unravelling layer upon layer of my ego and replacing those layers with my conscience. It entails learning to be humble, to respect other people and give them the right to be – to accept them as they are now in this moment. Self mastery also entails mastery of whatever it is I love to do in life – teaching executives in Kaduna Business School, developing new modules for executive education programmes, analysing and designing computer networks, cultivating a garden or even making love. I dream of making every act I do a creative one that gives me utmost satisfaction and in which I can lose myself.

To ensure that my quest for self mastery does not become some vain pursuit of a mere dream that is ultimately doomed because of its narrow perspective, I maintain self-awareness – being here in this moment at all times, I also proactively seek feedback by really listening to other people, to the circumstances around me and trying to put them in perspective with what I already know. Humility guarantees that when I come across Truth, I will bow to it and abandon all the values I used to have a strong conviction of.

Now the big question:

What will I sacrifice on this quest for self mastery?
well at a personal level, I have and continue to sacrifice my ego and right now, I have no regrets about my quest. I will sacrifice everything and everyone in this quest because it is the only thing I know now that I must do. I won’t be so arrogant as to say this quest, this journey is THE right quest/journey – I can’t say that because of how little I can know or understand but I can say here and now with total confidence that given what I do know and understand, it is what I must do. Even if it is wrong, I believe that it is a lesson I am meant to learn and learn it I will. Perhaps those dear ones, those values that I will sacrifice along the way – the pain that will result when I do may well bring a new perspective of life that will make me change the journey but until then – I am happy to make this journey. I must make this journey because I and the journey, like the dream or goal are one. To dream is an expression of my divinity – it means I can create in my mind the world I want – without the dream, there’s no journey from my reality towards it. I chose my journey after a deep reflection and I keep refining it every moment I get new understanding – my journey reflects my values, my principles and in essence my journey is more an authentic representation of me than what I do which is a snapshot in time and space. I and my journey are one and so without a dream, without a journey leading to that dream, there’s no functional me. Right here, right now, I believe this with all my heart, mind, body and spirit – that is why I am willing to sacrifice everything for it. May God’s grace be upon me.