I was watching the clip of the interview of a young lady who was responding to the unfortunate electrocution and subsequent death of 30 young men who had gone to see the Europa League Quarter Final match between Manchester United and Anderlecht at a viewing center in Calabar. A high tension electricity cable had fallen on the roof of the building, and sadly many of the football faithfuls lost their lost lives before they could be rushed to the hospital due to the lack of first aid treatment and equipment that could forestall or at least reduce such fatality. But that’s a topic for another day.
In obvious excitement that her brother, an avid football fan had not chosen that day to visit the viewing center, the lady expressed happiness that he was not a victim of the accident. She repeated this to the reporter, waving her hands a couple of times in a gesture of praise. While I understood that the she was extremely relieved that she had been spared the grief of having to mourn the death of her brother, especially in such gory circumstances, I couldn’t help but imagine how those who lost loved ones would feel seeing her express that kind of joy in the midst of their own fresh pain. The least she could have done was to acknowledge and commiserate with the bereaved in spite of her own luck, but she failed to do this.
There was a popular song by an equally popular Yoruba musician whose lyrics basically centered around appealing to God to stave off evil from him, but rather, steer any impending doom in someone else’s direction. I was a child when that song hit the airwaves, but as young as I was then, I knew there was something off about the song. I was confused as to why the singer couldn’t just pray away evil without wishing it upon somebody else. In plain language, it was a terrible song, a bad composition. And I could never bring myself to sing it let alone internalize it.
There’s this worrisome trend of using other people’s real or perceived lack to project our own privilege in these parts. It’s not only insensitive, it says a lot about our character. We do it all the time. In our songs of praise to God, in our conversations, and more recently on social media. We say prayers asking God to favour our child ahead of their peers, we ask that the creator blesses us to the envy of our contemporaries. We voice our thanksgiving about being married and having male and female kids compared to our mates who have only a particular gender, or those who are yet to be married. We say prayers steeped in pride, selfishness and self-centeredness.
I have been in a room where a group of women were talking about their kids and the kind of mischief they get up to. It was hilarious as stories about children and their antics often are, except that in the midst of these women was one who didn’t have a child yet after being married for many years. I felt they were being insensitive, even though they certainly didn’t set out to be. Here was someone who as we like to say was “trying to conceive,” a situation that bothered her. It wasn’t unusual to find her looking forlorn sometimes, and even voicing her worries about the issue on a couple of occasions, yet a group of mothers found it convenient to talk glowingly about their kids in her presence without stopping to consider how this person might feel about being left out.
I’d like to believe that most of us do it unconsciously. We are simply thankful for our good fortune and do not mean trigger any sort of unhappiness in others. It’s why I am doing this piece; to point us to the message we pass across when we express the kind of gratitude that appears like a subtle dig at a neighbour. Think about it; you have a close friend who has been unlucky in love. They have been in a string of bad relationships, and though they don’t show it, you can tell that it’s a sore point for them. Something they are hoping and praying becomes a thing of the past soon enough. Do you really think it’s best to gush about how wonderful your relationship when they are around you? Or to choose that time to flaunt the gifts your partner got you?
This is not to suggest that one should not be happy or pretend to be indifferent about an accomplishment or something that’s clearly a source of joy. But, when we say prayers that are all about how we are grateful that we are not physically or mentally challenged, or that we are not like others who cannot afford three-square meals a day, or that our children are doing better their peers in school or that our husband can afford the cost of a family vacation abroad, are we not insinuating that those who have fallen short or are somewhat deficient in one or more of the above are failures? You may protest, but that’s exactly what we imply when we voice those thoughts, especially in public.
One can never go wrong in displaying a little empathy and tact. Simple commonsense tells us not to flaunt our wealth or exhibit ostentation in certain places. Many would consider it foolish for a rich person to visit a slum where majority of the population eat from the dumpsite wearing their most expensive clothes and accessories, because it would only succeed in further intimidating an already underprivileged community of people. Why would anybody want to inflict psychological pain on the already downtrodden? Yet that’s what we demonstrate when we aren’t circumspect about our “blessings.”
You can pray that your children do well in school without necessarily comparing them to other kids. You can be thankful for your lot in life without taking a verbal swipe at people who don’t have what you have. You can be appreciative of good health without mentioning those who are languishing on some hospital bed. You can enjoy your wealth without making others feel inadequate.
You don’t go on and on about how elated you are about making a first class in school, when your colleague who barely made a third class is sitting right beside you.
It’s sensitivity, it’s empathy. It’s decency.