Great expectations of change should come at a price

21 November 2007 at 06:05 | 629 views

We are by nature unique as well as having many characteristics, some of which are worthy of emulation and others despicable to mention.

According to the law of nature, we think about ourselves and survival first, and then others last.This has made us to wrongly believe that we are by nature selfish and want everything for ourselves. However, the reality tells the opposite; all living things from the moment of life face an uphill task of replicating or reproducing themselves and in so doing, they exert power and influence over others to achieve that end.

Though life has always been seen as a struggle for survival, it does not mean that life itself is brutish, nasty and short. There is no gainsaying of the latter. However, to the contrary, life in all its different forms is about exchange; some organisms benefit greatly from others while others mutually benefit. This is just an adumbration of what I want us to consider in the light of the President’s inaugural address to the nation. Good things will come to those who believe in it only if they themselves are willing to pay the price. The question then is what is this price?

From experience, everybody in this world wants everything free; something they do not need to suffer or pay for. We are all lovers of gifts and most of us do not want to share and even when we do, the grass underneath our feet hears and moans. Strangely though, the latter has become the maxim and through this lens of ours we see the world and make sense of what, why and how we should satisfy our ever insatiable wants.

But if so, why do we grouch or perceive as odious when others do not give what or do what we believe would make the difference in our society and lives? In the present world politics, there is the race of nations trying to outdo each other in many areas. As mentioned inter alia, the first law of nature is itself not a bad idea; i.e. to provide for and protect oneself.

But what can be ignominious is when we do it at the expense and toil of others even without a slight dint of altruism. The annals of time have shown us that the race among nations as well as individuals is ever getting tougher as the stakes are getting higher. We have now been awash with the philosophy, the norm or the creed of ‘getting it at all costs’. This is our post-modern Machiavelli construction, that the end justifies the means.

To attempt a definition of what is meant by price may make it difficult to reach our intended goal, and any explanation could only be useful as a conceptual scaffolding to understand what we want to construct here. As curious adventurers, we all know if one wants to embark on a journey certain prerequisites must be met; purpose, fare, food, destination,etc. Thus, in this great troubadour life of ours, the first port of call is self-denial. This is not easy as it seems but it starts with what most of us abhor.

I guess I am neither a preacher nor a theologian but there is an undeniable concept which is the cornerstone of all religions or faiths- sacrificial love. When I talk about sacrifice, I do not mean those fearful rituals with red cloth, needles, red/white kola, and pieces of food we see scattered on our way to work in the morning in Sierra Leone.

Without doubt, the essence of sacrifice could be seen in our creator when he created the world and all its resources for man. God showed his love to humanity by giving us all the beauty and resources to consume. Later this love was demonstrated when God sent his son to die for man and redeem him from his sins.

The latter might be mind boggling depending on our frequency on the religious radar; however, one thing is certain on this radar: the belief in a God. Significantly, God, we believe, gives without condition but He has set out conditions through which man can enjoy His blessings, and that is to love Him with all our heart, soul and body and to love our fellow human beings as ourselves.

Philosophically, this tells us that nothing in this world is free or without strings attached and interestingly, the golden rule of life is to sacrifice: give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over shall men give unto you.

Reinhold Niebuhr said: ‘evil is not to be traced back to the individual but to the collective behaviour of humanity’. This collective behaviour of humanity is the dubious and nefarious acts we often devise just to achieve our goals; however, the check against it is love. Loving one another is the incense of a sweet and blissful life; love does not grab anything for itself; is not selfish; is not proud; is not evil and is not corrupt.

Another area we see about sacrifice and should learn from is nature. A seed has to die or rot (give up itself) before it could sprout and start bearing fruits. If what the President said is to become a reality, then that desire which we call ‘sana benefit’ must be uprooted in our lives.

If we want to enjoy the benefit, peace and prosperity of this country(Sierra Leone), then this is one area where our axe of good morality needs to heavily and painfully hit. Many a cynic may say this is just gibberish but if we look back, all the misery and pain we now suffer has stemmed from this negative root of self.

In this country, it is a widely held belief that money is the ‘be all and end all’ of everything. This notion or avarice has washed all of us like the great flood of Noah. In some institutions like the judiciary, lack of money has often led to perversion of justice; in other social institutions like dating or marriage, if one partner does not come from a so-called successful background, one often suffers the painful experience of being dumped like waste; in some religious circles those with the fat offerings or tithes are given the best seats and positions. We are not trying to be cynical here but merely presenting what some things are.

One aspect of nature that is somehow incomprehensible is its act of generating or producing the life giving force to our universe. In this case, let’s take the sea, whose character we should imbibe. True, the sea has received a widely held axiom that it is never satisfied.

To the contrary, the sea is much more important than just receiving. Even when it receives, it gives back some of the excess water it holds within its vast and boundless abyss to the different parts of the world, making them experience high and low tide. The oceanic currents determine the climatic conditions that affect many forms of life. The didactic point here is that if the sea holds back, life as we know it will not exist in many parts of the world, where people need its ebb and flow as their source of living, transportation and drainage.

In other words, all we have in us should be geared toward the development of our country than fraudulently converting the state and other people’s private resources to our own use. Others in the recent past had placed themselves in what is now known as ‘Bobor Belleh City’; a place that will one day become the pantheon of those who fleeced this land.

The price to realise our great expectation is not only about economic resources as some greedy, selfish and parochial folks would want us to believe or hold us in ransom. It is more than this. A better illustration could be seen when we look at the lives of many soldiers. Since we make our world a deceitful and evil place to live, this wicked nature of ours has made our most wonderful planet a dangerous place. It is no surprise that all nations do put in place the apparatus to maintain the national interest and state security.

To make matters worse, some go far beyond their national borders to pursue and defend their national interests abroad. Thus, some of these nations have put together armies and have harnessed a significant part of their resources to procure and secure the deadliest and most cruel arsenals for both offensive and defensive purposes in case of war. When these soldiers are sent into the midst of a war’s fog, there is that labyrinth of unimaginable, destructive forces from which there are no safety pins; the ultimate end for many is sometimes irreparable injury or death. Though the latter is certain, they are ready to die for the love of their countries. Interestingly, we expect them to protect or defend us but it is a sad reality that in most nations of the world, especially in Africa, the Army is not well catered for, instead the Napoleons and Mr. Joneses in today’s ‘Animal Farms’ enjoy everything.

There are some lessons we can learn from living a sacrificial life. It was Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish American ‘Steel King’ of the 20th century who once said: ‘he who dies rich dies poor’. Such a paradox was manifested in this millionaire’s life; a man from a humble beginning, he gave 400 million dollars of his wealth to charities and also offered over 40,000 pianos to churches right across the United States and his native Scotland.

To crown it all, Carnegie left only 10 million dollars of his fortune to his wife and children. What an amazing philanthropist he was and to this day his legacy, the Carnegie Foundation, is still funding research and scholars throughout the world. The wit and brevity of his saying could be seen under the microscope of our life at death.

It is a fact that with all our achievements in this world when we die we take nothing with us. Take for example, those who fought and killed others during our violent conflict, what came out of their bravado? Nothing but painful, shameful and deserved death, although some are still with us, for whom only time will decide their fate. Ironically, this is the poverty of wealth; having everything but losing all in the end.

Accounting tells us of a Profit and Loss Account, which also shows us a truth of life that one does not always win or lose, in other words, winning and losing are certain but the outcome of one affecting us is a probability. This is why William Penn wrote: ‘seek not to be rich but happy. The one lies in bags; the other in content, which wealth can never give’. In other words, our lives consist not in the abundance of what we own or store in bank deposits. However, this is not a carte blanche to tolerate laziness but rather as an air bag against the shock effects of our insatiable quest and thirst for self aggrandizement.

On the international scene of politics, the art of sacrifice in foreign aid has been the cornerstone of creating sustainable development and security. Had states not done so or had not given their yearly contributions, the United Nations and other key international institutions including NGO’s would have collapsed.

In a somewhat controversial way, the G8 industrial powers, with all their break neck technological speed in production and self sufficiency are talking of reducing global warming emission by 2025. Only time will tell if they are so committed but what this shows is their concern and sacrifice to save our planet from further calamity. Many of these donor nations which share some of their resources with the world’s poorer majority have enjoyed ascendancy and clout in global politics.

This is not to say that there are no snags to the story, where the rewards and effects of this aid are sometimes obnoxious and painful, leaving much to be desired. A case in point is the United States, which many hate and love, but what makes this country unique is her spirit of sacrifice. People like Bill Gates, Ted Turner CNN, Warren Buffet and others are sharing a good sum of their fortune to help the poor and vulnerable of this world.

In contrast, there are some who debunk this as fantasy. A case in point was the former Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahatir Mohamed, who controversially said that one has to become mean if one is to become rich. Was he different from Shylock or the Jew of Malta? This coterie of ‘go getters’ has a casuistic reasoning of their own, ‘that it is better to receive than to give’.

For them, the witty philosophy, ‘it is better to give than to receive is a shibboleth that should be buried in the cemetery of the saints. Sadly, as Lord Acton said, ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, I guess its fair to say that ‘greed corrupts and absolute greed corrupts and destroys absolutely’.

If we deserve better treatment in this great country, then this notion of wanting all for ourselves should be discarded. What is the benefit of having all for ourselves without the conducive atmosphere to enjoy what we have wrongfully, blatantly, surreptitiously or scrumptiously stolen from others? Martin Luther King Jnr said: ‘Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality’.

In other words, we are each other’s keeper as we depend on each other for our sustenance. Thus, if you want to be happy try to make others happy or they will make you unhappy. For example, the double standards of our super powers in the Middle East have made the world insecure because of terrorism.

It is also important for us to know that this price is not all about resource sharing. In our daily social nexus in our homes, work places, both husbands and wives or children; employers and employees do not want to give their all either in the form of punctuality, obedience, salary, competence and reliability but they want the best from each other. How could this be?

In this country, the our socio-economic anthem has been changed for the better and in these days of scarcity, where people are expecting their lives and welfare to be protected and provided for by governments, there has been an insatiable quest for more and many of these governments are said and seen to be failing to achieve that end. Is it really so? But as the President said the way forward has to come from the family unit. The family unit has been the most neglected sphere of control in our country. However, it is true to say that it is hard to maintain a firm control in a family where the parents are incapable of meeting their needs.

It is the same with the ship of state, where when a government fails to meet the needs of its citizens it loses its rudder of control to the uncompromising waves of the sea. In other words the state loses its legitimacy (respect and support) when it cannot provide its people with their basic needs and I think this should be a salient point for the President and his government.

The importance of the family unit must be given back its rightful place by improving the working conditions of existing workers and also by providing sustainable livelihood for future family members.I mean the present crop of our growing population.

It is better for a man to learn and forget nothing than a man to learn and forget everything. Most people, including the international community, were positive about the President’s toughness on corruption. We only hope this is true or we will face the quagmire, which Martin Luther King Jnr nicely put: ‘A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan’.

For those of us who like to complain and point fingers at others as we have been doing in the past, it is important to digest this excerpt given by the former U.S. president, Franklin Roosevelt on his 2nd inaugural address, 1936:

"Governments can err, presidents can and do make mistakes. But the great poets tell us that divine justice judges the sins of the cold-blooded and the warm-hearted differently. Better the occasional fault and error of the government that lives with good intentions than the consistent omission of a government that is frozen in the ice of its own indifference. There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generation much is given, of others much is expected."

In conclusion, our life is much more important and meaningful than what we possess or are striving towards. No matter the circumstance, let us make the best of the least we can do to help our nation in need. We need each other and nobody is an island.

Paul Tillich once said: ‘He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being’. We need to try and change for the best. To those who know mathematics, an angle has two sides but philosophically, life is much more than that. Much is expected from all of us, regardless of our status. We should live a new life of change by doing the things we know can make this nation happy, peaceful and prosperous.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools. For those in authority, it is high time those roots of greed, corruption, bad governance be cut off so that we help save our country from its present pain, misery and poverty. Every one of us has the unique power and ability to do well and this should be our dream; that no matter what, we can take a look at ourselves and make a positive change for our country.

Photo: The Reverend Martin Luther King.