We all know that nice person in our lives. That inviting person who you’d trust with your newborn baby.That person you’re willing to leave with your half eaten sandwich and know you’ll find with the same fraction of sandwich you left them with. And if anyone asked you, you’d just say you trust that person. You know they wouldn’t harm a fly. Because they mean well. And if they did do wrong, it wasn’t their intention. Something must have made them make that mistake, because that is so unlike them.
Any of that ring a bell?
Welcome to my world.
Now, before I continue, I think it’s only fair to justify myself here. I don’t mean to say that I am such a nice guy though I am 🙂 . I’m not saying that I’m an angel walking among heathens. I’m not even in the top 10 nicest people I know in my own life. But the truth is no one ever thinks they are a monster. Everyone, yes everyone…including Hitler, loves themselves to a degree. And not only do they love themselves, they adore themselves. And they think they are right about most things. I’m not any different. I look at myself in the mirror and tell myself that I’m a really good guy. Many of us do that too. It’s how we live with ourselves without wanting to kill ourselves.
I know you may have heard of the phrase, “We judge ourselves by our intentions, and others by their deeds.” It has taken me my whole life till now to appreciate what that truly means. And I have my dad to thank for helping me appreciate that lesson and apply it to my life.
When I was a bit younger, in my high school days, I thought my father was a heartless monster who didn’t “get me”, and didn’t have a drop of empathy in him. I would wonder if he was born an old man, because I couldn’t see how someone who had once been a young guy could fail to completely understand things from my point of view.
Case in point: Dad used to have a phrase he’d employ almost on a daily basis. He doesn’t use it on me much anymore, but I recently heard it being employed on my younger brother. (Hehe, all the best small bro. Utatoboa) Whenever I’d fail to do something he’d asked me to do, he wouldn’t hear any of my ‘reasons’ why. In fact they weren’t called ‘reasons’, they were ‘excuses’. And his go-to phrase was, “Excuses are just another name for failure.”
I loved that line the way a politician treasures integrity.
At first, I didn’t even know what it meant. I thought my father just didn’t value what I had to say. Or at times, I’d think he was afraid if I gave my reasons…excuses, I would ‘win’. But now I know better. What he simply meant, was that if a certain thing was expected of me, anything short of that was not justifiable. If I was meant to wake up early for school, my not hearing my alarm was not a reason to be late or skip class. If I was to sweep the compound, ‘forgetting’ was not a valid reason. You catch my drift? If something was expected of me, I either did it or not. Excuses could be told to the birds.
Sounds harsh, yeah? But it’s the truth. How many of us daily justify our failures and shortcomings in the hope it will erase what we did? How many of us give excuses even to our selves about how we can’t begin working out today, because it’s Wednesday. So we better wait for next week, to start on a fresh week? Or even better still, next month, from the 1st…yeah, right. So, just like me when it comes to reading we feel that telling an excuse to ourselves is enough of a substitute for not doing the thing we’re meant to do. So you see, having meant to do the right thing and not doing it because of *insert reason* doesn’t justify you in the least bit.
IT ACCOMPLISHES NOTHING
Catching a matatu home is always an interesting experience for me. I especially like the thrill of getting into a matatu before others and waiting to see who’ll come to sit next to me. Sadly, it’s never really the people I’d want to sit with me who take the empty seat next to me. For some reason, the elderly have an affinity for picking the seat next to me. It’s like I have a middle-age person magnet on me somewhere. Meanwhile, the pretty 20 somethings usually only seat with me as a last resort for some unknown reason.
Maybe it’s my smile. I think I smile at them too much and they think I’m some kind of creepy needy guy. But then when I put on a stern face, I scare them off. And if I appear neutral, they think I don’t want anything to do with them. Hell…I don’t know what to do with my face. I think I’ll try winking at them and see how that goes.
Anyway, the one day fortune smiled on me and a pretty thing sat next to me on my one hour bus ride, I was not prepared. I knew I wanted to chat with her, about the weather…life, school…whatever. Small talk, you know. Now, the problem is I’ve been so out of the game, I was like a Kenyan rugby team that had found itself at the Olympics. I searched for a way to start the conversation, a way to break the ice. Nothing. Then it hit me! Have a conversation with her in your head, then transfer that to reality.
God, I am a genius. So I started talking to her, and she was answering me. I even cracked a few jokes which she found hilarious. We conversed with her the entire way home, and it was actually really nice. Of course, in reality, the only thing I told her was, “Songa nishuke.” But hey, I enjoyed what we had – it was good while it lasted.
I hope you see my point though, my earnest desire to converse with that lady in that matatu meant next to nothing to her. She couldn’t read my mind and take part in my conversation. It was as good as if it never happened. And in the same way, good intentions with no subsequent action are like faith without action – dead.
Or better yet, a more recent example. A bit over a week ago, I was on my way to work in the morning. The road leading to the office is on a steep incline. So, on that day, there was a young guy pushing a laden mkokoteni up the ridiculous slope. As much as I was walking fast, he was somehow pushing his heavy fare up the hill at the same pace I was walking with.
But about halfway up the hill, I realised he was slowing down. I looked back and I could see him straining against gravity as traffic weaved dangerously around him. My heart instantly went out to him. I started thinking of the thousands of people like him who had to struggle like so just to stay alive. I began wondering how I could help him -if I could even assist him in any meaningful way. As my head swirled with all these impassioned feelings of empathy, I noticed my mkokoteni guy accelerating up the slope as if given a new lease of strength.
I was confused for a moment till I saw behind the cart a man pushing and helping the first man with his heavy load. What intrigued me was that the second man was dressed up, presumably going to work…not much different from my self. He hadn’t stopped at having good intentions. He didn’t just feel woiye and stop there. I humbly took in the lesson. No matter how touched we may be by another’s circumstances, kind thoughts alone don’t cut it. Not if we are in a position to actually do something for them.
So what now?
Don’t ask me. Take time by yourself. How many castles have you been dreaming up in the air, and you haven’t even a mud hut to your name? I perhaps shared this because I was busy living my life in my head, concocting such fantasies in my head as to make a mad man proud of me.
Try not to be like me. That song you have inside you, don’t be too selfish with it. Sing it. That person near you needing love, don’t send them vibes telepathically, show them. That thing God told you to do two years back? You lived it out so much in your mind, you forgot the difference between reality and fantasy. Obey, make it happen.
And maybe then, you’ll realize being a good person isn’t about convincing yourself that you are one. The things you do will be a testimony for you.