As another year draws to a close, many of us will be sitting down to reflect on the months that passed, and those to come. Kenya is fifty years old now, and we should use this milestone to engage in deep introspection, not just frenzied celebration. It is not the number of years that matter, after all; it is what they contained, and what they portend for the next fifty.
I would like us to think deeply about three commonplace words: PLEASE, SORRY and THANKS. No, don’t turn away thinking this is another vapid feel-good Christmas message. Those words may seem banal, but they reflect some truths about human society that we seem to all be in danger of forgetting.
Let’s start with PLEASE. Life, and its enjoyments and accomplishments, are not an automatic entitlement. No matter how princely your standing, a good life must be requested and worked for, not grabbed with impunity. This applies to many, many things: votes, pay-rises, promotions, favours, kindnesses. You have no hold on any other living person that compels them to give you what you want without question.
You are just one of the seven billion, no more and no less. So have the humility to ask for things, not expect them to be given to you. It doesn’t matter if the person before you is your subordinate, your friend or your kith and kin. Ask, don’t demand.
Let’s move on to SORRY. Again, no one is above the expressing of remorse. We all have a huge pile of things to be sorry for. By simply living this life, we cause pain and sorrow to others. We let down our family members; we fail to deliver our promises; we make errors of judgement; we act selfishly. All these actions have consequences. They may cause gain to us, but often at a cost to others. That cost must always be borne in mind. Even the most elevated beings have much to be sorry for. No one is exempt from contrition. So say sorry often, and mean it.
And the final word is THANKS. There is nothing you have achieved that you should not be thankful for. Nothing can be done without the help of others. No success is possible without heavy doses of good fortune. If you have much to be proud of, you also have much to be grateful for. At the very least, we have to be grateful for the roof over our heads and the ability to wake up in reasonable health – for those too can be denied to us. Certainly, if you’re able to read these words then much abundance is still with you: an education, some purchasing power, perhaps an internet connection. Don’t take those things for granted.
We forget how precious even the gift of life is. Cavett Robert put it well: “If you don’t think every day is a good day, just try missing one.”
This is not to denigrate the pain and sorrow of life; nor is it a recommendation to be satisfied with mediocrity. Many, many times we are going to feel bitter and dejected, even hopeless. Many, many times we will have to bounce back. It pays to remember that just being here may be the only gift we have, and that to place one foot after the other and keep going is the only strategy available to us.
In fifty-year-old Kenya, I fear we are in danger of forgetting the necessity of saying (and meaning) Please, Sorry and Thanks. There are too many of us strutting around like demigods, belittling all around us and feeling entitled to cut in, grab, snatch or demean.
Our lives would be infinitely more bountiful if these three words, felt acutely and meant sincerely, became a daily part of them. May they enrich yours in 2014.