Posts in Scribbling Sage Posts

Extend Kindness

Living in a busy city like Lagos you may have noticed how hard it is for drivers to give way to pedestrians trying to cross the road or other drivers trying to join a major road. It didn’t take long after I moved to Accra to realize that the attitude on the roads was quite different here. In Accra, giving way to pedestrians is such a strong culture that pedestrians consider it a right. Giving way to other drivers when they need your help is considered civil. It is simply all  a way of life that has been cultivated.

Have you ever been on the road in your car and someone gives you way by allowing you come in from an adjoining road to the main road. There is a sense of responsibility that act of kindness gives you. It makes you feel obliged to give way to the next driver who needs such a gesture. This is the same case for most other acts of kindness, the recipient of the act becomes a giver automatically. In societies where such acts of kindness have become the natural course, I believe It has become so because of the ripple effect of such acts of kindness.

The next consideration in view of the above is then how does it all start? How can one change a society that is more inclined to hedonistic behavior than otherwise. I think it can be achived by consistent acts of kindness whether they are reciprocated or not. Kindness can have a ripple effect and it may be even more powerful in environments where such acts of kindess are not considered normal behaviour.

Most acts of kindness take hardly anything away from us. For example letting someone in front of you on the highway cannot stop you from reaching your destination. Letting a disadvantaged person in front of you on an ATM queue will not stop you from getting your money out. Besides, you actually feel better after doing such things! How about starting a ripple of kindness today?

Work Attitude

More than once, twice or thrice in my work place I have had situations where management wanted something and I insisted that it was either not possible or too difficult to invest energy in. There were other times where I or a colleague in the same team insisted that a particular problem was not within the scope of my team. More than once or twice we would later find new ways of delivering what management wanted or in the case of incidents found that the root cause was actually traceable to our area.

Attitude is a very critical component of problem solving in any discipline. We must search ourselves and ask whether we really want to solve a problem or we simple don’t want to be found culpable. Some work environments contribute to an attitude which says “It’s not my problem so why bother?” but whether the cause is a flawed workplace culture or otherwise, we can solve more problems if we are more open, and  more willing to try harder, learn more and work as a team.

Having the right attitude tends to open up our minds and help us think outside the box. Thinking more broadly produces new ideas. A defensive posture blocks our minds and the minds of those we are defending ourselves against. When everybody is playing “defensive midfielder”, nobody really attacks the problem to the point of delivering a solutions. We should also be aware that there is a world of difference between explaining why we think the problem is not ours and real, productive brainstorming with other teams. When we focus on explaining why the problem is not ours, we are leveraging on what we already know and forget that there are many things we do not yet know.

Let me conclude by recalling a story from my previous workplace. We had a certain issue with licensing on BMC Remedy AR System which indicated that the MAC Address on a blade servers Network Interface Card had changed. A number of “IT Professionals” laughed me to scorn when I sent emails indicating that the server’s MAC Address had changed because “everybody knows that MAC Addresses don’t change. After thorough investigation it turned out that when certain options are setup, pulling a blade out of its slot and pushing it back in actually changes the MAC address. We had to go all the way to the OEM to learn this. And it took someone with an open mind to go that far and teach us all something new.

Please forgive the excessive jargon in the last paragraph. It’s just buttressing the thought earlier communicated. Have an open mind when given new tasks or when you need to solve new problems. You are likely to solve the problem faster and learn something new in the course of it.

I Killed an Ant Today

I killed an ant today at the back of my house today while getting some water in cans. It was a large ant and it could have hurt me if I let it. This means I can argue that I killed the ant in self-defense! I killed the ant because I could. I am bigger, I was wearing footwear and the ant was different from me. The ant could not have called for help or called the police or brought out a gun. I could, so I did. And I have a valid excuse.

A few weeks ago in Ghana, certain unscrupulous Nigerians kidnapped young ladies and apparently wanted to use them in ritual murder. I am not sure whether those girls have been found as at the time of this writing. The case is so serious that the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana is involved and other innocent Nigerians may be paying for this crime in some parts of Ghana. Some Nigerians in Nigeria have become quite concerned about their relatives in Ghana this period because of rumours that Nigerians are being asked to leave Ghana or being attacked.

Over the weekend during the Nigerian Elections, certain unscrupulous fellows sympathetic to a certain political party in Lagos were nabbed in Okota, Lagos trying to snatch ballot boxes. Reports have it that one person was killed or seriously hurt. The response from the Odua People’s Congress, a well-known Pro-Yoruba group is that there will be retaliatory attacks on the Igbos who killed their brother.

The last two incidents I cited are similar to my killing of the ant in certain ways. One side or the other, a killing was executed because one party thought they had the power to kill and the reason to kill. The third common factor is the key issue in this post – difference. Nigerians are different from Ghanaians, Yorubas are different from Igbos, blacks are different from whites, Hutus are different from Tutsis, Moslems are different from Christians and so forth. Depending on the level of granularity we decide to descend to, we will always find that we are different from each other in one way or the other.

We are justifying our intent to kill one another on the basis of our differences but I think while doing that we ignore our real problems. Is the problem with kidnapping in Ghana cause by the presence of Nigerians or by the presence of kidnappers? Is the killing of an OPC member in Lagos cause by Igbos or by those who want to flaw elections? Are xenophobic attacks the solution to South Africa’s employment problems?

We can always make up excuses for our inherent hatred for our fellow man but that doesn’t really solve our problems. We need to sit back and really contemplate who the enemy really and what the solutions to our problems really are. If we do not do this, particularly in Africa, we will pass our problems over to our children and teach them the same hate we practice.

What is Your Work Worth?

A few years ago I worked under a very meticulous and committed boss who taught me a number of important things about how to take work seriously. He told me a story once about the impact of a simple ATM to real life. I will repeat the story here but I will extend the thought for the purposes of this article. A fellow we shall call Kwaku rushes his wife to a hospital somewhere in Africa on a  Sunday evening and the nurses refuse to attend to her emergency until he makes a deposit of let’s say GHS250.00 (about fifty dollars). The woman is dying and after arguing with the nurses, the callously insist that he must pay something before his wife can be given a bed. They point to him an ATM machine about four blocks from the hospital and he rushes out to try the ATM paying he still has enough money in his account. The ATM delays for several minutes when he enters his PIN and finally responds with the familiar message “Your Financial Institution is currently unavailable“. He gasps and looks around while pulling out his ATM card.

Kwaku rushes over to a Mobile Money operator by the road side attempts to withdraw the GHS100 had left on his phone. Maybe the nurses would listen to him if he had part of the money. The Mobile Money Operator looks away and insists that she had closed for the day. He begs her stating he had an emergency at the hospital and she replies “Please, don’t make your problem my problem! I have closed! Go to the ATM over there!“. She hurriedly closes her kiosk and Kwaku sights the second ATM belonging to another bank. He tries the ATM but is disappointed with another message: “… temporarily unavailable to dispense cash”. He calls al taxi who takes him to another ATM about five hundred meters from the hospital and returns with the money but by that time his wife is no longer breathing. AT the sight of GH250.00, the nurses rush his wife to a free bed and begin trying to attend to her. She is confirmed dead twelve hours later.

Who should be blamed for the death of Kwaku’s wife? There are many responses which the various players in this story can give to this question:

Nurses: “This is hospital policy. We cannot attend to anyone without assurance that the person can pay. Do you want me to lose my job?”

Server Admin: “I have worked all week and you also want me to be bothered that the Core Banking System is down on a Sunday evening? Please we will look at it tomorrow. Today is Sabbath!”

Mobile Money Operator: “How is that my problem? Am I the only Mobile Money Operate in Accra? Let him use the ATM na”

ATM Custodian: “How many people live in that area by the way? How can they be exhausting the money in the ATM every few hours? Please I am tired! Let them come back tomorrow? What are they buying this evening. Don’t they rest?”

This reminds me of another example given my Dr. Mensa Otabil regarding the building of a cathedral. Three masons are asked the same question: “What are you doing?”. One answers, “I am laying bricks!” another, “I am building a wall” and the third, “We are building a cathedral. It will seat 10000 worshippers. The structure is designed to last one hundred years”. You see all three were masons but one had much deeper understanding of what the team was doing and what his role was. That understanding did not come from his pay cheese, it must have come more from his attitude. And I can tell you, one way or the order, attitudes can change pay cheques but pay cheques are not guaranteed to change attitudes. You know it’s easy to turn this on another person but take a step back and think like a customer waiting thirty minutes on the queue at a bank because the system was slow. You start yelling at the teller forgetting you just advised your brother who works at the Tech Company that supports that same bank that he needed to slow down and not work so hard!

How do you understand your role at work? Do you understand the full impact of your day job, whether you work for yourself or for a large company? Do you understand how your skills affect the lives of others? Are you just earning a living or are you actually making a contribution to life? It’s simply a way of thinking. I hope you can embrace it.

Sharing the Gospel

Often when working in the office at night I find myself irritated by colleagues playing “Shaka Zulu”, P Squared, Stonebwoy, Sarkodie and the like in the office without using earphones. I would typically ask the person politely to use earphones if I couldn’t stand it anymore. Conversely, I realize that if I play any sound in the office, I am bound by my own rules to also use earphones because the person sitting next to me may not like my kind of music or whatever it is I am listening to. As I write this, I am watching Church online and it also follows that I must use earphones and not assume that I am sharing the gospel with colleagues by letting my computer play the service to the hearing of everyone!

Any genuine effort to share the Gospel with another person must come with the person’s consent and we must be ready to also demonstrate that what we are peddling is superior to what the person already has. This may imply learning about what the person already has and being ready to discuss beyond dogma. For example, If I invite a friend to church and he attends as an inquirer, I must be ready to also attend when he invites me to a Mosque, a séance, the singing of the HU, a Pongal festival, a voodoo ritual and so on. If I give him a copy of the New Testament to read and he reads it, then he may expect me to also ready when he offers me the Quran, Vedas, excerpts of the Bhagavad Gita or even Lonsang Rampa’s books. My willingness and confidence to expose myself to such ceremonies and materials while my potential convert exposes himself to the Gospel will show my authenticity and absolute assurance that what I am sharing is superior if I really believe that it is.

Modern Christians are often afraid of being contaminated by demons or sinful practices of exposed to certain ceremonies  or materials but I think this is the case because of the institutionalization of Christianity. When Christianity was not an institutional religion, Paul would get to a city and preach by the beach where all sorts of people came to pray to whoever, or he would be found at Mars Hill where the Greek Philosophers gathered, or in a Jewish Synagogue. The power of the Gospel had no restrictions and could not be intimidated by anyone or anything. Moses, Joseph and Daniel all had their confidence in the one true God tested in the courts of Egypt and Babylon, some of the most advance religious systems of their time. And they prevailed.

I think that our authenticity and absolute confidence in what we believe as Christians must make use willing not only to share the simplicity and power of it without offence to any man but to also have our beliefs scrutinized and verified to be true. A convert who has challenged the claims of Christ genuinely and thoroughly is often the most powerful kind of convert.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” I Peter 3:15

Leaders Listen, Rulers Talk

I recently listened in passing to a commentary about leadership that struck me. While not just referring to those in leadership positions, the speaker stated that real leaders have a habit of listening to those they are leading. Listening is a valuable character trait of natural leaders. Change is inevitable in government whatever the reasons for such changes could be. We should expect changes and often when such changes come from leadership, it is indeed possible that they are necessary considering the fact that leaders see a much bigger picture than followers or at least they are expected to see a much bigger picture.

In recent years there have been a few changes in our beloved Nigeria that people generally question. Late last year there was a whole lot of clamour about the fuel subsidy removal up until the bold announcement on its implementation in early January 2012. The reaction to the announcement was as expected generally not favourable. In Lagos state in particular there was also the long debate about toll gates built along Lekki-Epe express. Interest groups protests were met with counter-protests, alleged arrests and finally, the toll gates now stand declaring victory for the state government on the matter.

Recently there has also been talk of introduction of new naira denominations that could make it easier to handle cash in banks (as well as in drug cartels, armed robbery gangs, smuggling gangs and so on). A lot of people are of the opinion that this could lead to inflation and further devaluation of our currency. The possible introduction of ‘coins of large value’ also brings in a certain degree of complexity to the situation.

While one side or the other may never be completely correct since the full effects of some of these decisions only unfold in the long run, what we want to point out here is the fact that leadership in Nigeria has to show very clearly that the opinions of the people, the masses not just the elite, matter in government’s decisions. Without that, the average citizen’s sense of belonging and commitment to the development of Nigeria will keep tunnelling downwards. Each person needs to know that his opinion matters.

Listening to people who have a different viewpoint, people who are not sitting in the same aloof-from-reality towers as you are often helps you review your thoughts as a leader if you are sincere about sustainable development. We do appreciate the depth of experience and intellectual prowess exhibited by the young, dynamic and adept officials in government but I do think that we still need to move from ruling to leading in our practice of governance. Listening is key to leading.

This post was originally published in September, 2012

Intimacy

Intimacy is an intrusion into your lonely lifestyle, a bold invasion of your privacy often with your consent. It just happens to be a very pleasant invasion … most of the time. Intimacy happens when you cross paths with another species of being and find that your numerous plugs fit into their numerous sockets… at least most of them. Intimacy happens when you open up your sockets and extend you plugs to exchange soul by giving and receiving.

Intimacy is an invasion. There are no more gates with this significant other. There are no more barriers. There is so much discomfort in tearing down these barriers and when they are down… they are down. The army raids your inward parts and nothing is hidden anymore. Whatever was in the dark is completely exposed. The fragile emotions, the unseemly habits, the lousy flaws covered in cosmetics in public places. Everything is exposed!

Intimacy is an intrusion. At the beginning it is unpleasant to give in. But when the bombardment becomes unbearable, the walls begin to fall. They crack at first, it hurts yet is thrilling. Why does the thrill hurt so much? Because stone walls are crumbling under heavy fire. The women of the city are on rampage. There is chaos in the inward parts. The boundaries are no longer relevant.

Intimacy is an invasion. Looting is lawful because everything is shared. Nothing is private anymore when two become one. The concept of private property has no meaning in this realm. The other one becomes a disturbance that you cannot live without, a massive cedar tree growing in the centre of your bedroom. Things get missing, personal effects are moved, and permissions are granted without being requested. Everything is shared.

Intimacy is liberation when two become one; that is how we are designed. Intimacy is a relief because that is what we long for. Intimacy is a pedestal which we all reach for so long as we have the capacity to feel. Intimacy is a challenge we find fulfilling to surmount.  Intimacy is a trap we would gladly walk into over and over again because we would rather be bound by love than be lost in loneliness.

Intimacy is a seed that can grow for a lifetime. Intimacy is a weed that can become beautiful when nurtured or else entangled to the point of choking itself when left untendered. Intimacy is an experience so sacred and priceless, so profound and engaging, so complex and intricate that it can only be shared with one other at any point in time during a lifetime.

Intimacy is a treasure often so hard to find and so easy to lose that we must depend on neither logic nor appearance to grasp its deepest meaning. A concept so deep that we must spend a lifetime discovering is infinite layers and facets. It is a maze so intricate that we must pay attention to the tiniest detail to preserve it in its finest form. Intimacy … we could go on and on forever and we will.

This article was originally published in July 2012

Angels and Demons

I met a forty-something year old man on my way from work yesterday. I was just a few blocks from my office. He greeted and I responded as nicely as I could, I mean, this is Ghana not Nigeria isn’t it? Well he then asked me where I was going. What?!!! Excuse, me? As in? You know! But why? I repeated his question, adding a second question mark in my tone so he would know I was actually asking “Why are you asking where I am going?” He then mentioned that I work at my workplace and I acknowledged and asked whether he worked there too but he said he just sees me around. Oooopsss! This is a security issue.

After a few seconds I kept moving and I began to recall that he looked quite like a certain man I had given one cedi a week or two previously.  Ouch! I began wondering whether I had exposed myself. Well, he had asked for small money for water and I took pity wondering what would make a full grown man lie down on a pavement and ask for water from passers-by. Suspicious!

A few thoughts on this: this able-bodied man recognizes me, knows where I work and wanted to know where I was going. He also knew I was capable of sparing one cedi for a stranger at least. Hmmm. He may have even been trying to find out when I close from work. Of course, he would have failed woefully at that one. He would need several algebraic equations, (simultaneous at that) to find out.

The short experiences raises questions about how a little help offered can seem to backfire so hard that rather than entertaining angels in our attempt to help, some people end up encountering demon-like entities. There are stories of those who got hypnotized and kidnapped in their attempt to respond to someone asking for directions; swindled by those they lent money to, or pick-pocketed while trying to stop a fight! . Sad experience for such people.

Well, I guess we all have to act  wisely in our dealings so we don’t expose ourselves to demon-like strangers not forgetting that ‘angels’ are still out there who really need help. Sure, we cannot let these impostors rob us of the joy of meeting angels, can we?

This post was originally published in November 2012

10 Strategies for Keeping Your Wife’s Mind on You

When I wrote on marriage in the book Till Death I learnt a few new things about cars, medicine, writing itself and of course relationships. Back then, my Senior Partner and I came up with a few tips that could help married men resonate constantly in their wife’s minds.

After going through these tips, I would be glad if you provide feedback on the results of practising just two out of the ten tips over a period of time. Also, you could add tips from your own experience as comments. So here we go:

1. Send a very special SMS or IM everyday whenever you are away. Sample:

‘Someone got me really upset today then he wondered why I just smiled. I smiled ‘cos at that very moment, I thought about u’

2. Spend thirty minutes every day talking to her exclusively. Turn off the TV, your phones, your computer and just talk with her.

3. Have her pose and take pictures of her every weekend. Take pictures of her when she is asleep and surprise her with them.  

4. Do the cooking, house chores or take care of the baby all by yourself and let her do whatever she wants every two weeks.

5. Take her out to dinner, a park, the beach, the movies or wherever at least once a month.

6. Buy her a small gift every month. On special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas – buy her a big gift.

7. Visit her at her office once in a while unannounced. Let her colleagues know you.

8. Take her on a trip out of town at least once a year. Depending on where you are going, vary the modes of transport.

9. Describe a part of her body in detail to her once in a while. You can recite it like a poem, write it and send it in the mail or capture it on a camcorder.

10. Confess your commitment to her in a spiritual atmosphere and let her reciprocate. Sample:

‘You belong to me and I belong to you. You are pleasing to me and sufficient for me. I will never desire another. Our souls are bound by a blood covenant in God the Father. Till Death do us part’.

This post was first published in July, 2011

If I Were to Live Again

I was born in a village andthe first language I spoke was Igbo. I faintly remember the encounter I hadwith a fellow two or three-year-old in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. We were examininga little pond. I guess I was fascinated with the fact that I could see myreflection in the water, and his too. I made certain comment about the water inIgbo which I am not sure whether he understood, one thing I was very sure ofwas that I did not understand whatever it was he said in English when heresponded. I do not even remember what he said today but I remember I felt outof place when I could not understand him. I remember another incident in myearly life. I am sure I could have been about four years old when I heard thefirst song I remember hearing: Madonna’s LaIsta Bonita (The Beautiful Island). Till date every time I hear that somesomewhere, I remember the blue lights that lit up the hall in that remote villageof the then Imo State called AmaiyiIgbere. My father was well known, generous and used to host a lot ofparties replete with food and drinks. Incidentally, it was at one of thoseparties in 1986 where I had my first taste of beer at age seven: a mix ofleft-overs from several bottles of Gulder, Star and the likes.

A child’s earliest experiences have a huge impact on the outcome of his or her life even if he doesn’t consciously remember those experiences. I believe that some experiences of our childhood stick with us so deep that even if we do not remember them consciously, they lie hidden deep in our subconscious and subtly contribute to our patterns of thinking. While it is safe to say that most of us have these scripts written in our subconscious inadvertently, as parent, we can take advantage of these realities and attempt to deliberately shape the thinking of our children right from childhood by regulating the things they are exposed to.

I once saw a picture of my childhood when I was about two years old. I was fiddling with the record player looking very serious. My Mom told me I tended to find some electronic device to play around with at every opportunity. She also told me I always found a way to open our bedroom window from the first floor of our house in the village until my Dad secured it with binding wire. That is the nature of every new born: always exploring.

(Excerpts from my next book)