Sunday, 7 March 2010

Tolerance, Respect And Accommodation: My Birthday Reflections!

Today is my birthday and incidentally the birthday of the Republic of Ghana. I think it would be a good idea for Ghana to make me an Honorary Citizen, a Goodwill Ambassador, an Ambassador-at-Large or even an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. What do you think about that? Am sure it is a good idea! You can stop laughing now. I am so thrilled and excited to be celebrating my birthday today. The fact that I am alive today to celebrate yet another birthday is interesting in itself. But then, when I realise that the meaning of birthday is getting old I become agitated because I do not want to get old; I want to be eternally young, maybe like Benjamin Button and do things young people do including youthful pranks. My birthday in particular brings a lot of anxiety to me. The brutality of coming to terms with the fact that my birthday is a reminder that I am getting old could be horrendous. Culturally, amongst the Igbos of the Southeast of Nigeria, old age is a blessing. To live long is what everybody prays for and the Igbos in particular considers it a bad omen to die at a tender age. Every Igbo man or woman is expected to live well beyond his parents and bury them and not the other way round. It is a taboo for parents to bury their children in Igboland. Am sure this is also applicable to many cultures in the world.

But the fact that birthday is a reminder that we are gradually moving into that phase of life where we would be depending more on people, makes the whole idea of birthday so scary; just like scary movies. Getting old comes with anxiety. The fear of not knowing the condition we would find ourselves in is the main source of the anxiety. The fear that our kids might not be there is another source and the fact that old age comes with a lot of incapacitations is the primary source of anxiety related to old age. I am not immuned to these anxieties; in fact today am scared even though it is supposed to be a day of merriment. But the fact is that this day would always come up yearly to remind me rudely of that fact; the fact of aging. Aging as I noted at the outset is one thing people are always afraid of at all times, probably due to anxiety and insecurity of what tomorrow would bring. People get shivers about their age and to make things easier for themselves, they shroud their age with utmost secrecy. This is exactly why people would not want to discuss it openly or let others know their age. We prefer keeping it as a top secret probably because not making our age known or keeping it a secret makes us feel younger. But, does age really matter? People should be allowed to claim to be as young as they would want to be and I mean it.

I am strongly in favour of this opinion and identify myself staunchly with this school of thought. As far as am concerned age is just a number. Age is usually not written on one’s face and if that is true why then should we be bothered with the aging process. You cannot look at one’s face and predict accurately their age. While some may look younger than their age, others look older than their age: I think I prefer the former. There are even some who look ageless. To most people age is a thing of the mind and actually in the eyes of the beholder. I might choose to be as young or as old as I would want to be and that should be my business. It becomes a public business when it is legally required of me to give my age and in deference to the law it must be given without any form of deception.

It is therefore, with a heart filled with anxiety and an air of mixed feeling, that I am sharing this birthday reflections with you. Yes, today is my birthday anniversary. As I noted at the outset, I am so excited and at same time have some reservations about it. Am excited because it is one of those days you are remembered in a very special way and sent not only good wishes and good health but also gifts. As am writing this reflection, my facebook page is already filled up with birthday wishes from men and women of goodwill. By this time last year I had same birthday in a very quiet and solemn mood to reflect on my life. Nobody was invited. It was a nice opportunity for me to reflect on the life I have been living and what lies ahead of me. I celebrated the day in Birmingham in the Midlands of the United Kingdom. This year I am in my house in London to celebrate it; do not get me wrong, there is no fanfare just me alone in a very quiet and calm mood. I think I like that way.

A lot has happened since my last reflection about a year ago. New friends were made while others rejected me probably because of my belief, views or ideology which they are yet to come to terms with. I have a very deep respect for them but bearing in mind that friendship has got more to do with what Latin scholars called ‘Ejus Dem Generis’ which in English could be translated as birds of same feathers flock together, I really need to move on. If friends do not share anything in common, it is cool if they come to agreement to accommodate each other otherwise the best solution would be for them to fall apart and follow with passion their different opinions, views and ideologies in life.

I value my friends especially those who do not share the same views about life with me. We must not belong to the same school of thought and that is one good thing about life. Everyman is free to obey his conscience and stick to his opinion so far it is not cynical and antithetical to the right of other men to pursue happiness. The greatest thing that has ever happened to mankind is the ‘discovery’ of democracy. Democracy warrants that we respect and accommodate other people’s view and opinion and that is why even though I do not accept their opinion and understanding of what life is all about, I still respect them and value their friendship. Often, we tend to reject our friends when they come up with extreme views but the fact is that we owe them an explanation on the reason why their views are not only outdated but also completely unacceptable under the present system. I have met friends who not knowing where I come from said to me that they have a deep-seated hatred and animosity towards Nigerians. But come to think of it, how can one person hate about 145 million people. What are the reasons for that hatred and animosity and if you really want to go into it the person who hates deserves help because it is a clear manifestation of insecurity and ignorance at the highest level. People like this are obviously not those we should ignore. We owe them a thorough lesson on what life is all about. War has its foundation on hatred and if hatred is allowed to grow, the consequence could be calamitous.

Forcing others to believe, follow our own way of life or behave the way we do is a mark of ignorance and the highest form of stupidity. Dialogue and not compulsion is the highest virtue. Compulsion is evil and if it is not checked it is likely to lead to tyranny, murder and wickedness. We have a duty to suffocate it by speaking against it instead of maintaining neutrality and silence. Every human being is unique in his or her own way and that is why no two human beings have exactly the same finger prints, not even identical twins. This is a principle I cherish a lot and it is because of this love for this principle that I have dedicated these couple of years to disseminating the gospel of moderation, acceptance, dialogue, tolerance, respect and accommodation. Moderation is a virtue, a sign of wisdom and intelligence while extremism is a manifestation of the highest form of ignorance, insecurity, blind faith and doubt in whatever the person guilty of it believes in. Extremist views are very dangerous and could have a negative social impact. One man’s cynical view is likely to have a negative implication on the whole population. People like Hitler and Osama Bin Laden and many like them began this way. They nurtured their hatred for other people from day one and waited for an opportunity to unleash their venom of hatred on their victims. Hitler’s hatred for the Jews was not an evil plotted in one day. It was an idea he nurtured probably from a very young age and grew up with it. It was always in his mind. What he needed was to wait for the right time to unleash it and the time came when he became the German leader and he killed nearly 6 million Jews as well as gypsies, homosexuals and the handicapped. War, animosity, bigotry and hatred begin from the heart.

I have in the past couple of years met many people especially through the Facebook who openly told me of their hatred for a certain way of life. A friend told me of his hatred for gays, lesbians and bisexuals and his willingness and readiness to be the first to stone them to death. Another told me of his intention to legalise abortion if he becomes the Prime Minister of his country. Another told me of his intention to introduce the Sharia legal system in the United Kingdom while another told me of his heart desire to ensure that Islam is banned in the United Kingdom. All these are views coming from human beings like you and me. Whenever am confronted with situations like these, the first step becomes the art of persuasion to convince them to drop such views. This I do by pointing out the negative impact such obnoxious views could have on them and on the people if they happen to become leaders. Sometimes I have to undergo a very thorough academic research and lucubration to convince them into dropping these views. Some would eventually drop them while others out of ego would continue holding tenaciously on to it like an ignorant mule or a silly ewe. Those holding on tenaciously to negative views like this without any hope of being reformed are not worthy to be called friends. Friends are people you share many things in common with.

Therefore, as am celebrating my birthday again, it is important to revisit this issue once more. The fundamental human right to opinion is one of the rights I personally cherish a lot. To me this right is not only inalienable, it also sacred. Man is a thinking being whose existence is made meaningful due to his ability to think. ‘Cogito ergo sum’, a Latin phrase popularised by RenĂ© Descartes summarised the whole concept aptly. Man exists because he thinks and he thinks because he exists. The right to opinion should be protected and guaranteed and any attempt to stifle this right should be seriously fought against. Democracy is democracy simply because people’s right to air their opinion is not only guaranteed but also respected. The right to opinion is one of the main foundations of democracy. It is a freedom that goes in pari passu with the right to the freedom of conscience and speech. In fact the right to the freedom of conscience and speech are parented by the right to the freedom of opinion. The freedom of press in democratic countries is as a result of their deep understanding and respect for the sacredness of the freedoms of conscience, speech and opinion.

Consequent on this argument, the people’s right to hold and express their own opinion should be respected as a sacred right. Accommodation and respect demand that we respect their views and opinions about life. We cannot and should not impose our opinion on others; no matter how strong we think they are. Imposition of an opinion on others by compulsion is a sign of immaturity, naivety, bigotry and pride. We are only allowed to use the two instruments of dialogue and persuasion to effect opinion change especially when the opinion that needs to be changed does not conform to common sense, democracy, the common good and the welfare of the people. The arts of persuasion and dialogue are virtues worthy of emulation; however we should not hesitate to call in the law enforcement officers if the negative views in question are getting out of hand. Failure to do so could lead to something more dangerous, one of them being production of another Hitler or Osama Bin Laden. Meanwhile, the right to hold and air our opinion does not give us the right or the freedom to disrespect others. A person who holds a view that gays, lesbians and bisexuals should be murdered, should be reminded that in as much as his right to hold and air his opinion is guaranteed under the law, he is not allowed to promote hatred against other people as a result of their way of life which is also guaranteed under the law. That same right does not give a white man the right to call a black model a golliwog or address blacks as nigger neither does it give a licence to a black man to call an Asian a Paki, Sooty or chinco or even call a white man, a whitey or any other derogatory terms.

It is therefore pertinent for me to use this occasion to remind my friends what I believe in. I am a product of a new generation and a new school of thought and would never ever condone any form of intolerance. I value my friends so much, but inasmuch as I do value them so much, am very willing and ready to drop my friends who do not passionately share this way of understanding life with me. The essence of life is hinged upon respect, tolerance and accommodation of other people’s views. I would be a liar to still have friends who do not share these views with me especially those I have made every effort to convert to the kingdom of moderation. Respect, tolerance and accommodation are virtues that are next to godliness. With them we could achieve an everlasting peace in the world.

People kill because they hate and people hate because they refused to tolerate, accommodate or respect others. Bearing this in mind then, what good are we doing to ourselves if we continue to support those friends who do not want to share these golden principles of existence with us? We are simply not doing ourselves any good because our friends are among those who kill people, who stone people to death, who hang people, who hate people, who do not accommodate, respect or tolerate other people and their views. What a disaster that despite all the lessons we have learnt from the story of slavery, apartheid, wars and invasions, we still find it difficult to say no to evil and be on the side of peace and goodness. Pacem et Bonum!

As a result of what I have said above, I have decided never to keep silent or remain neutral when people are suffering. Keeping silent or remaining neutral does not help the victim. It actually empowers the oppressor. The mere fact that we keep silent in the face of the oppression adds energy to the wickedness of the oppressor. Speaking out is the only solution and that is the reason am begging you to join me as I celebrate my birthday to speak out against the evil of intolerance, disrespect and lack of accommodation.

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