In the Spirit of the Season, Something to Reflect On …

Men like Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived by this rule, and counselled oppressed people not to repay violence with violence, but not to be compliant and obedient to their oppressors either.@RealAfesoAkanbi

We are in that time of year again when we celebrate the birth of, perhaps the greatest figure in all of human history.

There hasn’t been a shortage of opinions expressed over the years, regarding the propriety or impropriety of celebrating Christmas on December 25, and articles seeking to detract from its essence, because of the ‘level of licentiousness that we see these days in the name of celebrating Christmas’, or what correlation it has to the life of the man we celebrate.

However, there are a few incontrovertible facts about Jesus. For example, he was indeed born, and he was an exceptional figure; and for the over 3 billion people who believe in him today, he is Lord and saviour, and the significance of his birth cannot be overemphasized.

For me, Christmas is not a day; it is, in fact, a season. Therefore, in the spirit of the season, I’d like to urge everyone who reads this article, especially Christians, to reflect on the life, example, and teachings of Jesus, and allow the same to influence the way we deal with one another, going forward.

Mahatma Gandhi was quoted saying, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ”. It is ironic that as far back as the 1940s, Gandhi already understood the fact that our world would be a better place if we allow Jesus’ teachings to guide us, or if we strive to be like him.

But how come many of us in Nigeria today don’t? Why do we claim to love Jesus so much, to the extent that we celebrate his birth yearly, and yet the aggregate of our attitude and society does not reflect a people who have absorbed his teachings, even though the religion he founded has more followers here than in any black nation on earth?

Using everyday experience, Jesus taught his listeners deep spiritual truths and admonished on the best moral codes to guide the society. Now, the question of morality has been with man for as long as civilization has existed. Like Jesus, many men have appeared and told us how to live, and what is morally right or wrong. But why does it appear as though being good, or doing what is right is so difficult? Why, for example, does a child learn to be selfish, to insult or to lie by default? Why do people choose to be evil when they can also choose to be good?

The late American Scientist Dr. Carl Sagan wrote about an experience in 1039, that radically transformed his thinking. As a little boy, he had gone to watch the New York Fair with his father one evening. Safely perched on his father’s shoulders, with his mother reassuringly at his side, he generally enjoyed the event, oblivious of the huge crowd around him, among which was a pencil hawker.

As the pencil hawker paused to rearrange his ware, the little Sagan’s father brought out an apple from the crumpled brown paper bag that held leftovers from their lunch and handed it to him. Although the young Sagan disliked apples, and had in fact previously refused the same fruit, he nevertheless immediately wailed in protest as his father gave the apple to the clearly disadvantaged stranger because, in his words, “it was my apple, and my father had just given it away to a funny-looking stranger who, to compound my anguish, was now glaring unsympathetically in my direction”.

His father, a man of great patience and tenderness, hugged him tight to his chest, despite his misbehaviour. “He’s a poor stiff, out of work,” he whispered to little Carl. “He hasn’t eaten all day. We have enough. We can give him an apple.” He added. Young Carl reconsidered, stifled his sobs and soon fell asleep in his father’s arms.

How many times have we seen this sort of attitude in many kids and even adults around us today? How often do we exhibit such insensitive and selfish attitude towards others?

What does it mean to do what is right? Is it right to help a needy stranger? How does one relate with an enemy? Should we ever take advantage of someone, who trusts and treats us kindly? If hurt by a friend, or helped by an enemy, should we reciprocate in kind? If a colleague makes you look bad in front of your boss, should you try to get even? Should the totality of past behavior outweigh any recent departures from the norm etc.?

Moral codes that seek to regulate human behavior began with pre-civilized but highly social, hunter-gathering societies that existed before us. In some fortunate ancient societies, an inspired lawgiver would arise and lay down a set of rules for people to live by. Innumerable codes emanated from this. For example, tgemoral codes of historical figures like Ashoka in India, Hammurabi in Babylon, Lycurgus in Sparta and Solon in Athens, just to name a few.

These moral codes, though largely defunct today, were popular in their times; and everyone was expected abide by them, and those who defaulted were severely punished.

In a country like Nigeria, today, with a high percentage of pious and religious people, yet lacking in spirituality, it is hard to find a person who does not subscribe to one form of religious code of conduct or the other. Yet, the country has feature prominently in everything bad that comes up around the world lately. Even within our shores, the news is not encouraging.

What does it mean to do what is right? Is it right to help a needy stranger? How does one relate with an enemy? Should we ever take advantage of someone, who trusts and treats us kindly? If hurt by a friend, or helped by an enemy, should we reciprocate in kind? If a colleague makes you look bad in front of your boss, should you try to get even? Should the totality of past behavior outweigh any recent departures from the norm etc.?

I know to some, the answers to these questions are easy and straight forward, but these and similar questions formed the basis of Carl Sagan’s reflections after his experience with the pencil man; and such were the questions that shaped him into one of the most consistent moral voices in the American history, even though he died an atheist. These are the same questions that have produced great moral teachers throughout history.

Men like Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived by this rule, and counselled oppressed people not to repay violence with violence, but not to be compliant and obedient to their oppressors either.

I know this would sound like a tall dream, but I dream of a Nigeria where everyone, leader or follower, Christian or non-Christian, when faced with the challenge to make decisions, especially far reaching ones, would always let the ‘if I was in his shoes’ mantra guide them.
I understand the complexity of human behavior, but do we have to wait until our churches and mosques say so before we choose to do good? Should our actions always be determined by our perceived self-interest? For example, does an old woman who offers a cup of cold water to a thirsty stranger, offer an act of kindness only because she is shoring up her rewards in heaven, or is she trying to avoid hell fire?

Among the major codes of moral behavior, the most popular is this Golden Rule which is attributed to Jesus Christ: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. But how many people abide by it, even though almost everyone admires and chants it, especially when the discuss is about someone who committed a heinous crime? There are those who think this rule is not workable; they fall back on the response of Chinese philosopher Kung-Tzu, also known in the West as Confucius, when in the fifth century B.C. his opinion of repaying evil with kindness, as advocated by Jesus was sought and he replied, “Then with what will you repay kindness?”. How could one turn the other cheek when slapped after his first cheek has been slapped, especially by heartless adversary whose sole intention is to liquidate him? Is that not a guarantee for total liquidation?

Another code of moral conduct is the Silver Rule, which was popular, especially among the generation before Jesus, and made even more popular with the writings of the Jewish Rabbi, Hillel, who lived 50 years before him, ‘Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you’. Men like Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived by this rule, and counselled oppressed people not to repay violence with violence, but not to be compliant and obedient to their oppressors either.

The Brass or Brazen Rule, which advocates the ‘Do unto others as they do unto you’ code of moral conduct can also be defined as the ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’ principle, which was proposed by the Prophet Moses in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible. I am sure many of us would have seen this rule play out in our daily lives, especially when we feel this inner yearning to show kindness to people who are kind to us, or seek vengeance when people greatly wrong us. In such situations, it is fairly natural to say, “one good turn deserves another”, or to say, “an offender is worthy of his own desert”.

Apart from the fact that it would require much discipline and self determination to live by the first two rules, the reality of the situation in Nigeria today makes it even more difficult. The truth is, despite our religiosity, like elsewhere in the world, especially among the elite class in business, politics etc., what we see at work is the ‘suck up to those above you, and abuse those below you’ principle. Like the norm in many primitive societies, we have seen men argue that the Golden
Rule is not doable. They advocate (at least by their actions) instead, for what they call the Iron Rule, i.e. the ‘Do it to them before they do it to you’ principle. This rule promotes the advantage of a ruthless and powerful few against the interests of everybody else, and many people in power are guilty of it in Nigeria today.

No matter how hard it might seem, one of my new year resolutions is to do everything within my power to let the example of Jesus guide the way I relate with others going forward. If you have not already decided on that, do so now. If you have, keep the faith.

Merry Christmas in advance.

How does one relate with an enemy?… If hurt by a friend, or helped by an enemy, should we reciprocate in kind? If a colleague makes you look bad in front of your boss, should you try to get even? @RealAfesoAkanbi


IMG_20170728_162851Albert Afeso Akanbi is a writer, documentary filmmaker and humanitarian. He writes from Abuja, FCT, Nigeria.
He can be reached on Twitter: @RealAfesoAkanbi IG: @RealAfesoAkanbi and Blog: akanbiafeso.wordpress.com