by Kevin Andego
The story narrated below is fictional; it was only relied upon to advance the topic of this article.
It was a fine morning with a gentle breeze. The sun was still far in the east but the day had unequivocally taken dominion over my part of the world from the night. I was seated on one of the benches in town along the illustrious Omwanda Street and I had lost count of the number of times I had glanced at the city clock.
It was the day I was anxiously waiting for since I received a phone call from someone in Opuk, Rateng, Ochuodho and Company Advocates, inviting me for an interview two weeks before. As I sat there, I continuously replayed in my weary mind the questions and answers to the questions that I hoped would be thrown at me during the interview.
I had come across them on the internet. Apparently the internet can be very resourceful to those who know what they are looking for. When I chanced another glance at the clock, it was eight thirty. My interview had been scheduled for eleven o’clock that morning.
Soon, a man decked in a well-fitting navy blue suit and an exotic perfume joined me. In his right hand he clutched the day’s newspaper in which he immediately he immediately buried himself. In my pocket I only had enough money to get me back home so, aware that this could be the only opportunity I had to find out what paper contained, I asked, “Sir, what is the paper saying about the ongoing strike of our teachers?”
He glanced at me disgustfully, slowly scanning my apparels. I was donned in a green polyester shirt neatly tucked in a black and white checked trouser. On my waist was a black leather belt that I had inherited from my father. My brown lace ups had years written all over them.
“You see young lad,” he began, “Over the years I have come to learn that if you want to be a foe unto poverty, keep away from poor people, for the only thing they do well is spreading it like a plague. Therefore, I beg of you to find it in your heart to be considerate and face the other direction. Let us pretend that you had not taken a sudden interest on the teacher’s strike.” He then promptly reverted to his newspaper.
“Who is this man?” I asked myself in utter disbelief.
Who is this man who thinks that there are only two kinds of people in this world, those who are poor and those who are rich? That the rich have the right to more riches and to swim in bliss while the poor are entitled to nothing but to languish in poverty, sadness and misery.
His manner was one that befits only animals. There are some five cats that usually visit our home whenever the irresistible aroma from my mother’s kitchen beckons them. They usually move together but as soon as you place food before them, the stronger ones always chase away the weak ones and hog the food. Cats are not supposed to share. In fact they do well by not sharing.
This I say because cats were not created capable of knowing the value of sharing and thus it is not required of them. Seated on that bench I kept asking myself, “Who is this man? Could he be a cat?” No, his features, save for what he wore which, then again, couldn’t strictly be described as his features, thoroughly resembled mine.
He only lacked the knowledge of who he really was; that we are first humans, before we become anything else.
We have forgotten who we really are, thus we have drastically failed in attaining our destined heights and this is the main cause of all our problems. We think accumulation of wealth, power or influence in temporal matters is our greatest achievement.
Man has greatly advanced in technology and medicine and research, in almost all temporal matters, but he has become weak. And the weakness is manifested in the way we relate with each other. We have become selfish, greedy, proud, corrupt, indifferent etc. This is only natural, for anyone who thinks that being very rich is his greatest achievement, will not tolerate anyone – for example the poor – or anything – for example justice – that will only slow him down.
And if our greatest goal was virtue, also it would only be natural that we do not tolerate anyone – for example he who discourages us from this goal – and anything – for example corruption – that will only slow us down. The problem is us. We must change our tactics.
There is a lot of beauty in virtuous living. It is not easy but neither is it unattainable. It is worth it. Like in an excursion, climbing a steep mountain is not easy. But the one who eventually gets the best view of the landscape is the one who makes it to the summit.
The family will always provide the best starting point for developing virtue. At times our dear parents do not engrave this indisputable reality into our minds from the time when we are young and ignorant and careless.
They don’t they tell us about the characteristics of the human heart. That the human heart loves, and desires the best for everyone. That the human heart is merciful and only desires the happiness of everyone else. That there is nothing that pleases the heart as putting a smile on the faces of other people.
Though they love us, they don’t lead us to see these things about ourselves when we are young. What instead they tell us children is how they want us to be doctors and engineers and businessmen. “I want you to be a doctor like uncle X. You see how happy he is with his big mansion?” “Have you seen Auntie Y’s car? I want you to drive a bigger car than hers when you grow up.”
And this is how a child grows; only desiring this height, which for him is the greatest, to be doctor or an engineer, because no one ever taught him of another height, one that is higher than the former, that he should become a virtuous doctor, an honest lawyer.
He grows up not knowing his greatest capability, what he really is, his greatest strength, virtue! Don’t conclude that I’m discouraging this, it is very beautiful that our parents should want us to achieve these things, we are all suppose to work hard so that among other things, we may be financially independent and happy.
Now, going back to my story. After he was satisfied that he had read enough, he got onto his feet, and off he went. “I don’t agree with him that the person who has little is poor,” I said to myself.
Then I remembered those sweet words which the wise Soneca wrote to Lucilius in the first volume of Seneca Epistles, “Contented poverty is an honorable state. Indeed if it be contented it is not poverty at all. It is not a man who has little, but a man who craves more that is poor.” I looked at him, the poor man, as he walked away. “What a pity, what a pity,” I thought to myself. “If only he knew who he really is!”
Before we become businessmen, before we become doctors and lawyers and accountants and teachers and politicians and millionaires, spend your time seeking your true self, because that is who you really are! You are human. And you can be just that without paying anything.
The writer is a Law graduate of the University of Nairobi.