First times are fascinating – I can remember my first day in primary school, first time in secondary school, first time in the University, my first job, our first born son…. These and other firsts leave that indelible mark. Fortunately for me these marks are accompanied by pleasant memories which may not have been apparent at the time.
The memories are accompanied by so many people who have urged me on, admonished me for my silliness, opened my eyes to see, and held my hand along the way.
Writing here is another first. I pray that God’s wisdom continues to sustain me that I may be an inspiration to others. That I will build and not destroy; that I will give hope and not despair; that I will bring smiles and not tears; that I will find out more about people I will interact with.
For those who will read the posts here I welcome you to travel this journey. I urge you to do more than urging, admonishing, and holding my hand – let us travel the world together. The time God has given us on this earth will come to an end and hopefully we can say we did well as we walked his earth.
Every thought I will type will be because I want to leave the world a better place than I found it – Is that not why we are here?
“What does the world need with just another good musician? We have plenty, what the world needs are good people.” – Victor Wooten, 2016 Commencement speech at the University of Vermont Rubenstein School
This past week I had the pleasure of hosting my mother, who this year turns 83 years. As we visited her doctors, she ambled along at her slow pace. She still maintains her queenly manner in the way she conducts herself and especially in the way she walks. This gait kind of masks the pain she feels as she battles the debilitating effects of old age-related ailments. So, like the queen she is, she projects an image of a seven-foot giant from her slightly stooped five-foot frame.
The slow majestic pace at which we walked and the abundance of time waiting on her afforded me happy reflections of some of her random acts of kindness. My mum is a treasure trove of benevolent acts. As I walked by her side, I reminded her of some of the things she had done.
One stood out for me.
Many times, when a neighbour in the village lost a loved one, the custom where we come from is that the village got into mourning and condoling with the bereaved. My mother always went the extra step.
Immediately, she received such news we would be sent off with axes to chop firewood. Then she would busy herself looking for food to cook – invariably it would be maize and beans. She would load a debe full of dry food on her head and tag along with a selected carrier whose cargo was the firewood.
The two would set up camp at the homestead of the bereaved family. My mother would prepare food at the funeral venue for the day, serve the guests and then clean her cooking equipment and head back home. This sequence of events was repeated over the duration of the mourning period, which was several days in many instances.
We never understood why she would go to such lengths. Even now, I still struggle to understand how the people who would fall into “the people to hate” category received such love. I mean, the village champions of cruelty, drunkenness, gossip, slander, hostility, suffice it to say all kinds of evil, all were treated as close friends by the old lady.
So, during one of the slow walks to the doctor’s clinic, I asked her why she did it.
“I do not have a reason for it”, she said. Then she added, “As I long as I have, I will keep giving”.
Her words resonated well with Victor Wooten‘s speech at the University. Indeed, the world needs good people.
Sadly, evil excites humanity more than good to the extent of dominating newspaper headlines, social media pages, street talk and family dinner tables. The political, economic, economic and social platforms are alive with buzzing when somebody has done something wrong. Politicians caught with their hands in the cookie jar, robbers escaping with money from a bank or pop stars having marital problems with their partners have more airtime than a successful discovery in the field of medicine or the construction of a school in a rural area to support less able populations.
Whereas it is within our power to do what is good, the common stance we take is to ignore such acts. “In any case, no one seems to notice them, so why bother?”, we say. Alternately, we are scared that we would attract “less deserving” individuals coming to seek similar support. Worse still, we would rather not give for fear that we will end up with less in this uncertain world where the next tragedy is right outside our doors. So, we end up hoarding as much as we can even to our graves when our wealth is bequeathed to relatives who proceed squander it.
Good outlasts bad every time. Is this not what drives strangers to rush to a disaster scene to assist a fellow human being, and this, not expecting anything in return? Just think about the scenes after any tragedy, and you would find that this is true. You see it repeated over and over again. It could be at a site of a car accident, a collapsed building, a flood that has carried away a village, or even at a hospital bedside. People always come out to help, giving of themselves and demanding nothing in return.
So, like Victor’s I ask, what does the world need with just another doctor, teacher, nurse, engineer, accountant, manager, student, child, lawyer, actor, designer, musician, journalist, president, surgeon? We have got many of these; maybe you are one of them. The world needs good people.
While you do what you trained to do and follow your passion, go beyond that which you would be known for and do what is not expected of you. Reach out when you can and even more. The small ripples that are caused by one good act positively impact humanity in ways we cannot imagine. When we express kindness to strangers, these small ripples gather momentum to form waves that make the world a better place.
The world needs good people, so go out there and be one of them one action at a time.
So, you want out. You want out so much that everybody knows. If you are not speaking about it with a colleague at the coffee break out area, then you will be posting subtle disparaging messages using a false name on your social media channels. Otherwise, it will be your body language which spells “I am out of here, already” as you move around the offices. Internally you are dying and there is no energy to wake up and go to work.
Your colleagues notice your demeanour changes and ask, “what’s up my guy?”.
“Nothing”, you respond. “I cannot explain it, but I do not feel like I want to work here any longer”.
The plan to get another job is in full swing, you have updated your LinkedIn profile, talked to the best headhunting team available, then to top it off, you have upped your networking game to include the places that the “who-is-who” frequent. While you are mingling, you have a pack of business cards ready at hand to dish out to those who may have them.
To supplement your external search, you still aim to remain relevant internally by commenting on senior managers’ posts on the intranet to boost your “visibility”.
Eventually, your boss realises that your performance is not meeting the stretch targets you were given. You are called in for a face-to-face morning meeting “to explore some corrective action”. The outcome of your discussion is that you are to commence a Performance Improvement Plan immediately. The intention is noble but deep down, you know, “this is not good at all”. The odds are stacked heavily against you as history is replete with dismissals following such performance interventions.
You leave the bosses office and stop by a few desks of your buddies. Your brief detours allow you to whisper to your ‘inner circle’, “Can we have lunch? I have something to discuss”.
The message at lunchtime is brief and to the point, “My boss does not like me anymore. This is the straw that has broken my already frail backbone. I WANT OUT OF HERE!”. You are now very sure that it is time to go.
Sadly, your next search online and the detailed review of market trends do not give an encouraging picture. You read a paragraph which captures the precise situation:
“Four companies have announced nearly 1,700 job cuts in just about three weeks, shining a spotlight on the worsening unemployment crisis in the country” Business Daily MONDAY, AUGUST 12, 2019 10:00
The words in the newspapers only serve to dim your hopes further. Soon, you develop a sharp pain that tends to concentrate on the crown of your head. It presses down on you, your body gets so heavy, your vision is blurry and your shoulders slump. The world seems to be coming down on you.
I have a few ideas for you to consider when you are at this level of your reality check:
Unless you are sure of your next role and have signed an employment contract, my advice is that you do not bite the hand that feeds you. For many of us, it is true that apart from yourself, your family, core and extended, needs you to keep that job for survival. Have this in mind when making your decisions.
Don’t engage in acts that would make your boss know that you are looking for a job elsewhere. Stay loyal to your current employer like when you were first employed. Remember your boss needs his career and minds it so much, especially when he considers the attendant perks that come with the job. If you stand in the way of the boss and their next bonus cheque, you will soon be out of a job.
Your career is in your own hands. If you have not prepared yourself to be employable in the future, start doing it now. Register for that course, get your cross-functional experience, or on-the-job training. Find out what is stopping you from growing and work on it.
The grass on the other side may be brown or orange. Do not assume that the next job will be better than the one you have. Shareholders are demanding more from management teams across the industry. The pressure applied at the top tends to trickle down faster than ever in the current economy. Your next employer may yet have a similar or increased workload, which will only serve to heighten your stress levels.
Never burn bridges. Your future employer will, often, seek to get feedback about your performance from your current employer, especially during the reference checking. Woe unto you if your HR department asks your previous line manager, whom you have recently called the wrong names, to fill in the document. Aim to have a clean and amicable break. Stay professional and objective through the exit stages in an organization.
Above all, your health is more important than the job that is making you lose your mind. It is not a must to stay in employment. If it is that bad, find another thing to do. It is futile trying to fight your employer to the extent of getting admitted in the ICU. You are of no use to yourself when you are unwell; in fact, you are a burden to yourself and others. Avoid situations that would cause your friends and family to raise money to pay your ICU bill which has risen above the in-patient limit set by your insurer.
Be happy where you work, it makes the whole experience worthwhile no matter the stress levels you are experiencing.
Some years back, I had the unfortunate responsibility of calculating the redundancy dues of several of my colleagues. The company had decided to rationalize our extension services while at the same time bring in younger, more technology-savvy staff. This task, coming only three years into my employed life, was most traumatizing. My concern for what would happen to my former colleagues was not made any better by the tension that surrounded me in the lead up to the announcement.
On the one hand, I was sworn to secrecy by my business leaders with dire consequences spelt out for any non-compliance. On the other hand, one of my colleagues found it fit to whisper to me, “Hey, I understand that you may be involved in this restructuring plan. Just in case you are, always remember that no one does this and escapes the fate of the others who are leaving”.
As a result of the latter advise, I separately calculated my dues just in case I ended up on the dreaded list. I passed on the news to a few members of my family and tried to make peace with the impending action, assuming that that telling them would make me feel better. The very opposite came true, I left some of my relatives anxious and, maybe, worried.
For sure, I did not have any post-redundancy plans whatsoever. I felt so ill-prepared and confused. Fortunately for me, the dire prophecy from my colleague did not come to pass.
If the trends we have seen over the last few months sustain, there may be many employees grappling with similar emotions. Several organizations, including Telkom, Stanbic, East Africa Portland Cement, and Diageo, have announced or are planning re-organizations. The list of companies considering similar action is bound to increase given the current business, technological and economic trends.
It is true that on average,
people costs take up more than 50% of the overheads of profit and not-for-profit organizations.
As a result, efficiency and productivity initiatives signed-off in many board rooms will inevitably affect
what many organizations deem the most critical resource – the people.
As companies take these actions, the resultant effect is an increase in
cases of mental illness, depression, bankruptcy, divorce, familial tension or
even death in the immediate years following termination from employment. Employees
are not prepared to reckon with the post-redundancy world.
While compliance with legal requirements is essential for organisations as
they execute their changes, any responsible company should go beyond basics in
ensuring that their former employees do not collapse upon being declared
redundant. Support should go beyond the narrow financial perspective; instead, it
needs to take a holistic approach encompassing employee psychological and
For the employee who has been declared redundant what next for them?
Many current or former employees will reckon with this question. At least it did occupy my mind for a better
part of my employment. A big trigger for me was the death of a former colleague
two years after the arduous task I mentioned earlier.
Being relatively senior in the organization, and a close acquaintance
too, he approached me and asked if I could do him a favour. He requested that I
disclose to him whether his name was on the list of those affected. Bound by
the non-disclosure pact, or was it fear of the repercussions, I could not fulfil
his request. I lost a friend in the process as I adhered to corporate rules.
I asked myself, not once, “could he have prepared himself better if I
had disclosed that he was on the list?”; “Maybe even planned better?”, or “Stayed
alive for longer than he did?”.
Those questions I will never answer. I can do something different,
though, in honour of my late friend. For
those of us contemplating life after redundancy, it is good to prepare for
tomorrow. I have a few ideas gained from
working on similar redundancy assignments over the years. I hope they will be
helpful to you or somebody staring at an uncertain future upon leaving his
From the day you start a job save more than you spend. You will thank yourself for putting away some money and investing it, especially if you are blessed with many years after you leave employment.
Be aware of your organization. Find out whether it is meeting the goals it was set up to undertake. Is it performing well enough to sustain its existence – whether it is for profit or not? If it is not, is it giving signals of the viability of maintaining its employees?
Plan your expenditure and live within your means. Cut off any extravagance and focus on the basics; as a reminder, these basics are food, shelter and clothing. Ensure at any one time you have the basics covered. Pay off that mortgage as soon as you can. Think through your purchases of clothes – expensive is not necessarily apt.
For those with two houses (rural and urban) determine which will be your home. Consider making some money from the one that is not your primary residence by letting or sub-letting it.
Ensure that you are performing well in the business and adding value to the achievement of the goals.
Read your HR policies document and understand what the redundancy process is and the related entitlement.
Engage a career coach to guide you on career growth and opportunities within or outside your organisation.
Let people know that you have been declared redundant or are facing the prospect. Be true to yourself. Do not pretend to be who you are not, even if it will mean a loss of the prestige that comes with the office. It saves you a lot when people know you, especially those who would come for financial support.
Ensure that you have a medical policy for yourself and your family.
Stay alive. Take on those things that you have always pushed aside over the years. Play the guitar, sing, learn a new skill, travel, listen more and so on.
Get somebody or a group of people to walk with you – one who has walked the same road on which you are embarking. It is to this group that you can pour your heart – those who you can be naked with and not feel ashamed; those who you can discuss the intimate things you have on your heart.
Eat those things that your mother cooked for you even if the vegetables tasted bitter, beans made you exhale, or the ugali tasted flat. Avoid the food that makes you gain weight – sugar and fried food, are distinct culprits.
Avoid the tipple or, if you have to, moderate it to suit your health and your pocket.
Exercise– jog, walk, play a game, jump, do anything that keeps your body moving. Again, I say exercise
Family and Friends
Re-engage with your family and friends whom you may have lost contact with over the years as you pushed to complete organization tasks. It is hard to make friends as you get older. Let me assure you that you will need them as you navigate the straits that life lays out for you. Remember: Bad company ruins good morals.
Engage in activities to build your local community. Contributing to your community is investing in yourself and your future. Unlock the grassroot contacts you had and find out how you can make a difference in each other’s lives. For some, inspiration could be as simple as telling your story. For others, it would be mentoring children or training adults. Empty your brain as you fill up others – by the way, the mind never quite gets empty.
Ask yourself if it is a suitable time to change the schools for your children to more affordable options. Talk to them as you do so.
Above all, be present in the lives of your loved ones. It means a lot to them. Call them, listen to them, laugh with them, walk with them – be there.
The list can go on, and I am sure you
will have your ideas too. Remember, not every person will have a similar path
to scale. Choose the route that suits
you best and know that life does not end with one particular employer.
I recently reviewed my
wardrobe. Yes, I can afford to do this after creating margin in my previously
hectic life and lifestyle.
Creating margin means pushing boundaries to prioritise things that matter to you. For many people, such would be family, friends, religion, health, in essence, all those things we tend to ignore in life yet matter to us so much.
The in-depth audit of my closet revealed very telling statistics. Out of the many self-introspecting findings, I will share the one that hit me most – ninety per cent of my trousers were of one dark shade or the other.
There were no more than three colours for my trousers – black, blue, and grey. What a shame that in this God-given universe, with its plethora of beauty, my choice of colours is so narrow, shallow, even dull.
I turned my focus to
the shirts, and I did not do any better.
Here there was a predominant colour – blue. Ok, there were small variations, sky blue,
navy blue, baby blue, royal blue,
Suffice it to say there was one colour that rules in this neck of the
Now, it is a fact that
I have made very concerted efforts to build variety into my fashion range. How it happens that I end up with the dark
trousers and blue shirts I am yet to understand.
The next bit of my
analytical effort was the more worrying one though. I realised that over the past year I had only
worn less than half the clothes in the wardrobe. So there is this go-to combination of
trousers and shirts I seem to have on my favourites list. The chances are high
that if the balance of clothes had a say in my choices, they would rally to
form a union to protest the unfair treatment, favouritism, colour blindness
I determined that I
would deal with the first statistic. I
passed my first wardrobe rule – “I will give away all clothes that I have not worn
in over 12 months to those who need them more than I do”.
Through our lifetime,
we spend time amassing different things.
The marketers have unleashed the most colourful advertisements to
attract us to their latest offerings – energy efficient, driverless cars;
summer, winter, spring, clothes collections; latest technology handsfree
gadgets, and so on.
We walk into a shop or
mall, and if we are lucky to make it past the salesperson putting in a pitch
for his product or service, the displayed items reach out to us – “come and try
me, please, please, please do”.
We give in, casting
away any objectivity, any better sense of judgement, sigh with relief and murmur
under our breath, “this is the last time I will do this. I will try only this one and then stop. Wekulo, can you behave yourself and stick to
And so yet another grey trouser and baby blue shirt combination joins the already big family.
The bigger question,
however, is, “when is much too much?”
We spend long hours in
the office working to achieve our personal or organisation’s goals. All these we do so that we get that bonus,
have that fat bank account, own yet another tasty piece of real estate, travel
and visit yet another continent and tick it off our bucket list.
After we have done all
these the question lingers, “when is much too much?”.
It is true that
without a clear purpose, we cannot determine how much is enough. We could blame our behaviour on all manner of
things – peer pressure, the need to align with cultural sensitivities of the
day, capitalistic tendencies that economists would summon to their defence or
No matter the reason
for our desire to have more, we can only harness or temper our thirst with a deeper-lying
motivation. In the absence of such a goal, our acquisitions fail to have a meaning,
a reason for our being. Ownership in itself is not wrong, but we should not be
the proverbial dog that returns to its vomit only for it to poison us.
As we strive to own
more, it is safe to ask, for what purpose is this? I hope that it will not be for vanity. Then, maybe,
you could join me in creating margin and focus on those things that matter to
Society rates your parenting skills on the output, which is your children and what they become in life. For many, parenting is an art and not a science. Some succeed while others fail in their attempt to nurture their children.
Once two people, knowingly or unknowingly, decide to engage in
certain biological acts of the procreation kind and succeed in their endeavour,
they fall into the parental evaluation class. Society will have a say right
from the time when the stomach begins to bulge, and it is evident that there is
a child to be born.
So pieces of advice start pouring in – “eat well; eat this;
don’t eat this”, “exercise every day,” “don’t bend this way,” “don’t hold the
kid that way”, – and parenting starts right there in the womb. For the
first-timer, this is overwhelming, but just as they begin getting comfortable
with the initial barrage of tips, there are tons and tons more to follow. Parents
are lifelong recipients of the “wise” words.
While psychologists have taken a stab at it and come up with
categories of parenting, I consider this such a Herculean task given the
various nuances that lend themselves to this skill set (yes, it is a skill
These subtle shades in definitions and my close to half a
century experience on earth led me to this piece. One day future generations
may come across this blog, and I may join those who have taken on the Herculean
In my view, there is the first
group of those I will call Hands-on parents. You would know them from the onset
from by their comments, “this will be a noisy one; it cannot keep quiet” (said
while rubbing the stomach so that everybody can see). Over the child’s lifetime,
the Hand-on posse will fuss over the baby, the toddler, the teenager, the
libitum in aeternum.
For pre-teens, it would be checking for a fever every evening,
tucking the child in when they go to bed; making sure they know exactly where
the child is every minute of the day. The parents would also be donors of
lashes or slaps equivalent to their children’s age.
The process of punishment proceeds as follows. Say, John,
11 years old, and Mary, six years old, were caught in a misdemeanour, as so
often they are. There would be a brief hearing where the parent establishes
that they performed the deed.
After the presentation of mitigating circumstances, The Stick
(if you know, you know) is used to pass on the requisite lesson. John will count
to eleven and Mary to 6, and both will proceed to the corner to nurse their
wounds in silence.
For the adult, even those who are married, the parent will be
heard asking, “Umekula?”. This question is the source of many “domez” – “why is
she asking as if I don’t provide for you in this house”, or “kwani your mum
doubts my cooking skills?”.
I know you know this parent, if not just look around, and you
will see one. So, let us leave the adult children with their domez and move on
to my next category.
Modified hands-on should not be confused with the latter group
above. These parents would pretend to be ignoring the child while applying the “corner-of-the-eye”
or “eyes-behind-my-back technique” to ensure that each child toes the line.
This group does not follow every stride, but they will be one
step ahead of their progeny. More often than not, the punishments will not
follow the order described above. Instead, a child busy in their nuisances will
receive a pinch or slap from where or whom they will hardly establish until
after the lightning had struck.
Every child knows that the Modified Hands-On parent is present. My
advice is that you don’t bother looking around to identify persons in this
category. Just be satisfied that they are will appear when they need to.
The third category of parents is those I chose to call the Hands-off
(aka Laissez-Faire) group. These do not care what is happening around them.
They are the proper adherents to the saying “children are not to be seen or
Scenes from a house with such parents are from silent movies
only. When parents walk in, or just before they do, there is a flurry of
activity as every item arranged, floors swept, dishes washed and such related
tasks. You all know what I mean. Then the children will disappear into
whichever hole they know best and maintain silence, studious silence.
Usually, in such a home, there will be somebody to report on the
activities of the day. Such a report would include a list of actions in
compliance with the rules of the house and those that were afoul. Then at the
end of each description would be those responsible for the actions.
I need not repeat that the sanctions for non-compliance here will
follow a similar approach as those of group #TeamHandsOn above.
The fourth lucky entrants on my list are the Telephone Parents.
These group hardly have time for face-to-face contact. All interaction
between parent and child is through one electronic medium or the other.
We all know that any electronic process has to have a manual.
For these parents, they adopt a detailed list of instructions to remember at
1) For what to feed the kids refer to the message I sent you on
the 26th January 2017.”
2) “You shall call me in case any of these things happen a…., b….,
3) “should I be unavailable, call the following numbers 07…….
4) be available for a skype call at 7 pm every evening. Martin
will show you how to log into the computer.
Such are the instructions. Notice that all of them have technological
enablement. In addition to the above, will be a list of service numbers –
hospitals; food delivery; police station and all other essential numbers.
Is it not easy to find such a parent? If you are still unsure
here is a clue – ONLINE. Check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, everywhere else electronic.
Last but not least (this is the way most speeches conclude, and
so I oblige) are the Delegating Parents.
This group work through proxies perpetually. So there is the domestic
help who takes up the parent role. To this extent, it is common to hear the
child call her “Mummy” in Mummy’s absence or even presence (I hope you understand
The trusted domestic help has earned her stripes having lived
with the family from the time she left school. Eight years on, she has been
present when the kids were born, present when the parents travelled; present
when there was the need to go out on Friday night; present almost all the time.
The other proxy support is the “Auntie”. She could be a blood
relation or a close friend who earns the title. (I am not sure why there are
not many “Uncles”; are there any?). These would also claim the title Daddy or
Mummy in many cases.
Proxies are bound to adopt any of the above styles as they
exercise the powers bestowed upon them by the parents. Often the style they
adopt allows them to continue with their lives while accommodating “Delegating
Parent’s” child. The success of this relationship depends on the proxy’s heart
(Moyo wa huruma in Kiswahili).
Interestingly, and with the varied assessments of the different
parenting styles, the jury is still out on which is the best.
Current research offers that children who have stable
relationships with parents or other adults who take on the parenting role, have
a higher chance of success in this tough world we live.
My take on this is to encourage those on the journey and those
who intend to join the parenting journey. While you may face the constant
criticism and rare praise, parenting is fun.
Stay close to your child; love your child; hold your child’s hand as
they learn to take on the journey of life.“Good parent” rating or not, you will
have done your part.
This week we were expected to drop our children in school early to allow them to catch the train. The teachers were kind enough to send out reminders to parents with a detailed itinerary of the trip three days to the date.
True to form parents turned up in school five, ten, 15 minutes late. They arrived in various styles: there was the one who sauntered in and noticing that the buses had not left, proceeded to do a complete check of the packing; the other was found zooming on the stretch to school while overtaking dangerously and flashing lights; yet another spent the last few minutes of her frantic ride hooting at the guard who was doing his best to direct the smooth flow of traffic; let us not forget the parent who sent a message asking when buses are leaving 20 minutes past the departure time and that one who drove all the way to the train station to catch up with the traveling party.
Ishuddered when I thought of what went through the children’s minds on that trip to school. When the child in that car sees his father or mother drive on the wrong side of the road, abuse other drivers, not keep time, is he not likely to do the same?
Over time our Kenyan society seems to accept lateness with its accompanying explanations, “it was the traffic jam”, “I had to pass my child’s school”, “my car had a problem”. These are the excuses for lateness. The actual reason for lateness should be, “I woke up late”.
Fast forward to the next twenty years and the children are now adults. The first child would walk into the meeting and mumble an apology which blames traffic for his lateness; the other one misses the business appointment which was critical in her company striking a multimillion deal because she overslept; the other accomplished his task but ended up with “dead bodies” all over after using the most foul language in expressing their frustrations.
The phrase goes, and many a parent would express it eloquently, “Do as I say, not as I do?”. What such parents do not realize is that children listen to what their parents tell them and also watch what they do. It is not a surprise then that the values we set or hold dear as parents, and our actions, are manifest in our children’s manner as they grow up.
We can take the first step in encouraging positive behaviors when we model them in each and every sphere of our lives. These are those interactions in our homes, our workplaces, in social settings, in our politics, in our churches and generally in all areas of our lives. We can make the positive behaviors and actions acceptable as they become the norms and accepted practices.
Let us be the change we desire through our daily actions. Let those actions be in our words and actions which our children will pick up to influence future generations.
He must have served his employer diligently for some time. I
assume this given his blue uniform, which proudly displays the two red stripes
on his shoulder. The seniority pasted on the well-ironed clothes complements
the shiny shoes. Then there is the swagger stick that he proudly swings around
as he walks the beat.
He salutes as I approach and swings the gate open to let me pass
through. Just enough not to bang the guardhouse wall. Words rarely
accompany the salute, and so I wonder what the action means to him, is it
“hello, how are you today?”; Or “I am doing this just because the boss told me
so”; or “oh no these guys have come home again, and I have to open the gate for
their lousy car.
When he is not at the guardhouse or doing his rounds, he will be
washing the car of a tenant or helping with carting the shopping up the
staircase. Suffice it to say he is always busy.
“What is exciting about the job you do?” I ask one afternoon.
“Nothing really, it is boring”, he responds with a face covered
I am aware that he is not in the mood for a chat, but somehow, I
do not want the moment to pass. It has taken time to gather the courage
to engage him. Opening up this conversation was on my bucket list, and
finally, the day had come.
“If you were given a chance and had the resources, what would
you rather be doing?”. This time he takes time to look at me.
Suddenly he is awake. There is a slight smile forming on his face.
“I would be on my farm back at home”, he says, “it is a
five-acre piece that my father left me. It is not much, but I need some
money to invest in a zero-grazing unit. Once I get this in place, I will
keep the dairy animals I have always dreamt of. Then I will sell the milk and
take my children to school”.
Then it struck me – most of us wake up every day to deliver on
the vision of our employers to the exclusion of our dreams
Take the CEO of a big conglomerate. He wakes up every morning
and reports to his workplace. He spends his time opening and closing the
“gates” of his employers. The entrances and exits take many forms – it
could be reviewing the strategic plan, analysing the last quarter sales,
announcing the dividend to the shareholder, chairing a management meeting or
setting targets for the year. He has to deliver on the mandate entrusted
to him by the owner.
In short, he ends up enabling the dreams of his employers.
His success at work ends up in the success of his employer. He, like our
guard, is an enabler.
However, deep down in every heart is a desire for something
more. Many of us wish we could do something of our own. We dream of
running an enterprise, owning a fleet of transport trucks, operating a hotel, exporting
horticultural products, running a consultancy, on and on the ideas go.
These are the thoughts that consume our everyday conversation in
bars, on dining tables, in workplaces, on our WhatsApp group, on the phone,
basically in all our discussions.
What stops us from moving on from being enablers to creators is
fear of the unknown.
World trends indicate a growing focus on managing costs of
organisations. While this is true, organisations still have a
considerable proportion of their overheads driven by staff costs. Many
employers seek the easy way out to solve this problem. They need to
enhance their efficiency and productivity in response to owner/shareholder
Inevitably with their effort to satisfy shareholder appetites,
there comes the reorganisation, realignment, redundancies, mergers,
acquisitions and the like. The effect is that the staff base suffers.
Numbers reduce. Fewer people will now be doing more work — machines and
automation replace human beings.
The enablers are then forced to wake up to the challenge and
move on to be creators. So the CEO, the guard at our gate, indeed every
single one of us has to take on the task at hand; to turn their dream into
action. Not taking a step implies the lack of means to make a future
We have to join those who are taking the bold first step.
We have to move into a more creative phase earlier and in turn, allow our
children to learn the new normal – innovate or die. The world is moving
on fast, and we have to keep pace, or we will be left playing catch up as the
fast-movers catch and fly away with their dreams.
About seven years ago my daughter came home with a pink card. On it was her home work, “Dad, we have been asked to memorize these words. The teacher said every time she hears somebody say any of the words they would get a star, and whoever has the most stars at the end of the term will get an award”.
After this elaborate detail I was curious to find out what the words were. Right at the top of the card in bold golden letters sandwiched by twinkling stars was written – MAGIC WORDS. Then lower down they were listed – PLEASE; SORRY; THANK YOU; EXCUSE ME; and PARDON ME.
My grandmother Anna Belia, God rest her soul in peace, was an expert in application of these words. She took the whole interaction with the words to the next level. When I look back, I think she must have been on the panel that crafted them and imbued them with the magic.
Every time we would go visiting my grandmother, our parents would ensure that there was a pick-up load of foodstuff to deliver. So there would be maize, bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, millet, sugar, salt, tea leaves and similar culinary fare filled with lots of love. In addition, my Dad would fold up some cash and detail one of us to give it to my grandmother. Upon her seeing what we had brought, she would spend the next 10, 15, 20 or more minutes saying thank you to each of us in the visiting party. This accompanied with song, ululations, dance and hugs.
After the visit and just before we left the homestead, the workers in the homestead would surreptitiously stock the truck with foodstuff. Each and every gift we brought would be matched or bettered. Anna Belia would then call the youngest of us and whisper in their ear…. “keep this cash and when you get home give it to your Dad. Tell him its for your school fees. Don’t give it to him before you get home”. You guessed right, when we got home it would be the same wad of notes my Dad had given with an extra coin or note added.
This week the leader of a not-for-profit organization I do pro-bono work for gave us an assignment. We were to thank a number of sponsors and supporters for a particular project on his behalf. The request came with specific instructions on how we would do it.
From the onset, we were supposed to introduce ourselves and the organization we work for. Then we would confirm that the individual we had called is indeed the one we were asked to speak to. Thirdly, we were to confirm if the time we were calling was a good time for us to have the conversation.
The forth instruction was to thank them with very specific words from our team leader which went beyond just saying “Thank you”. We were to give the exact reason why we were thanking them. Lastly, we were asked to ask the sponsors if there was anything they needed the organization’s support on.
I undertook the task with a smile on my face. Apart from the joy it brought me to be the bearer of this message, hearing the happiness on the other side of the line when I delivered it was even more gratifying. That aside, the task made me pick up a number of lessons.
I have heard it said that human beings (that is you and me) are so thankless. It is a generalization which is accompanied by a similarly harsh – “the world is so unfair”. It’s true that with technological advancement things happen much faster. This has had an effect of our relationships. We rarely get time to appreciate or be appreciated, time to wait, time to laugh, time to seek each other out; in a nutshell we do not have time for one another.
So the lessons I picked from the assignment:
set aside the moments to say the words that matter to those who need to hear them.
get to know other people and what they are going through. Go beyond the name, where they stay, and what they do
Be deliberate, honest and truthful when you speak to others.
Do not withhold words and acts of appreciation, praise, thankfulness, and empathy when it is in your power to express them.
Be available for others and especially those who responded when you reached out.
It doesn’t hurt to spare a few minutes and have someone really know that you mean the words you speak – Please, Thank you, Excuse me, I am sorry, Pardon me… The hearer feels appreciated, loved, respected or even comforted. On the other hand once the words have been spoken it brings happiness, joy, relief, forgiveness or even closure to you.
Is this not what the makes the world go round? So whether you get the award my daughter’s teacher promised or the ululation and hugs like those of Anna Belia, you leave the world a better place for having uttered the MAGIC WORDS.
I came in this afternoon to find our house help drenched in tears. My entry followed her receiving the news of the passing on of her mother. Having stayed with her as part of our household for a number of years now, we feel the loss as much as she does.
Every death robs humankind of one of their own. John Donne in his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, “Meditation XVII” says “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main….. any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Many eulogies would tell the tale of the that person who no longer is. The words may be those of a bitter relative with all the negativity, or the sweet words and memories of one who is pained at the loss of a loved one. Regardless of the words, one, maybe two, three people or more lose a part of themselves – “ding!!” – the bell has tolled yet again. Time is up and we have to deal with the aftermath as the of the storm, pick up our pieces and face another day.
“Is this it?” we ask, “will we never see her again?”, “will we meet him?” – more questions than answers all driven by the memories within us.
Our Christian faith provides the answer to some of the questions. Paul in his letter says “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting. For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ”
And there we derive our hope which can never be taken away. The hope that soothes the pain. The hope that raises us up to face another day even as bell tolls are heard all around us.