Integrity, Integrity, Integrity; now a rather scarce commodity in these climes.
I recall as if it was yesterday something that happened decades ago when I and my siblings were still studying and living in the United Kingdom. A girlfriend of one of my older brothers (who we, his siblings, fondly call Femo or bros Femo) phoned the house asking to speak to him. My younger brother Segun, who couldn’t have been more than eight years old at the time, answered the phone. After politely asking her to hold on, with the exuberance of a child he quickly ran up the stairs to inform bros Femo. What transpired during their brief conversation wasn’t something I was privy to as I was busy doing something in the kitchen. A few seconds later I heard Segun’s hurried footsteps as he ran down the staircase to return to the phone. Back then, there were only landlines. What I heard next still rings loud in my ears till today, almost 44 years later! To my total disbelief, I heard Segun tell bros Femo’s girlfriend that “he (bros Femo) says he’s sleeping!” Unbelievable! Such is the innocence of a child.
I’m reminded of yet another incident, though totally unrelated, that occurred in my childhood. Dupe, the baby of the family was less than two years old and had somehow managed to lock herself in the bathroom. Scared and completely devastated I wailed and cried uncontrollably. My world as far as I was concerned had come to an abrupt end. That was it! Without access to the key which was on the other side of the door and which my baby sister had no idea how to use, meant would never see her again. Worse still, we could see each other through the keyhole so we were close, yet so far. The key locked the door and the only thing in the world that could possibly unlock it was this same key. Short of my sister miraculously working it out, she would, according to my infant mind, forever remain behind that closed door. All efforts to calm me down failed. I sternly refused to be comforted. I was shattered. Little did I know at the age of six that there are several ways to open a door or break it, if necessary. In my innocence, there could only be one way to do a thing; only one way to unlock a door. Much like my younger brother Segun, who just a few years later only knew one way to say a thing, “He says he’s sleeping.” Worldly wisdom had not yet robbed either of us of our innocence. We were yet to learn that there are many different ways to skin a cat. We were yet to learn that some occasions required one to be flexible or more economical with the truth.
We need to catch the children at this stage of innocence. This stage where we can infuse profitable values in their minds before they get corrupted and polluted by what society yearns to teach them. Our hope should be that they will school society and not the other way round. An older person asked to tell this same “white lie” would execute it to perfection as he would know what’s up, as they say.
Bros Femo once told me how it took him a while to adjust when he first got to the UK. His mindset was just totally out of sync with that of a typical Brit. He said he would throw major tantrums whenever his team, the school’s 1st XI, lost a football match. His teammates would watch him in total bewilderment as they would head off to enjoy Tea (which incidentally is actually a full course meal) with the opposition after the match. The same opposition they had been tearing into on the pitch as bitter rivals, just thirty minutes or so earlier. The two teams would quite happily share a meal as buddies and respected adversaries. This was the norm.
I was sharing with my children the other day how it was normal practice after every match for the home team to form what we call a tunnel. This is where all the players of one team form two lines while facing each other. The space in the middle is the tunnel. The tunnel is always formed on the touchline so the opposition team walks off the pitch as they walk through it. This is accompanied by clapping by the home team who form the tunnel and the traditional hearty “three cheers’ for the opposition, led by the captain. As an unwritten rule the spectators would join in to appreciate both teams and as it’s customary, the home team would give their adversaries congratulatory pats on the back as they sauntered through the tunnel; not necessarily because the visiting won but just because they played a “good game”. Even if they did suffer a humiliating defeat. Still, in the spirit of good sportsmanship, we would do this and offer the traditional “good game” as they pass through. As soon as they pass through the tunnel they too would form their own tunnel and offer the same pleasantries to us. None of the sneering or jeering that you may experience in other cultures. No mocking for losing woefully. The victorious team didn’t rub the nose of the losing team in it. Everyone just acknowledged and appreciated that you did your best even if your best wasn’t good enough to win. This culture of good sportsmanship encourages Integrity. Accepting defeat and learning to be gracious even in victory. This marks a huge departure from the do or die and win at all cost attitude that’s often encouraged here. This is not an approach to life we should pass on to our children.
Life is not all about winning. In fact many a time, one gains more from defeat than from an easy victory as it presents a wonderful opportunity to learn. I leave you with this:
“The purpose of life is not to win. The purpose of life is to grow and to share. When you come back to look at all that you have done in life, you will get more satisfaction from the pleasure you have brought to other people’s lives than you will from the times that you outdid and defeated them”
– Harold Kushner