Opinion: Reflections on human frailty

by Albert Afeso Akanbi

Baba is a portly, jolly good middle-aged man with a protruding stomach that giggles any time he laughs, and a penchant for greeting and cracking jokes. In fact, his humorous jokes were one reason I liked giving him a tip anytime I drove into the estate. It would be hard to imagine this healthy looking security man, one of many stationed at the entrance of our estate, so full of energy, to be capable of falling sick.

Been a busy bird myself, it took sometime before I noticed I had not seen Baba in a while. So, I made a note to ask about his well-being at the next opportunity. I wind down and asked after him from another security man who called out to him. As he emerged from the gate house, the figure that greeted me was a shadow of the lively man I once knew. Suddenly, Baba was an emaciated old man who had gone totally grey with his eye balls receding into their sockets, leaving his pale face an ugly skeleton mask. Baba had been sick.

That spectacle left me thinking the rest of the day about human puniness; about the fact that no man born of a woman is immune to ill-health and death. Not even our mega pastors who are fond of chorusing the over flogged empty line ‘you cannot be sick’ today, many of whom have doctors at just a dial away by the way, are insusceptible to this reality of human existence. For me, this is a saddening fact.

The Bible tells us that man was made from dust. Even though we now know that those who coined this line may have had as their source ancient Mesopotamian writings, almost every other religion known to man echoes this same idea about man’s feebleness. That we are weak, vain, smoke, and can be alive and strong today and tomorrow disappear.

Christianity tells us that we fall sick, grow old and die because of the Original Sin of our first parent Adam and Eve. That it is through this that imperfection and all the other ills associated with it crept in on mankind. This however is not the crux of this article and I am not going to pretend to have answers to why we fall sick, grow old and die either. However, I believe that if there is anything that the reality of our frailty as humans should incite in us, it should be a deep reflection, on ourselves and on our duty to fellow man.

We are probably the first species on this planet to be aware of the inevitability of our own end. As if to prop this fact, recently Stephen Hawkins ‘set an expiry date’ on humanity. Despite what religious men tell us, I believe like the Neanderthal man, modern man would eventually vanish; with our religion, philosophy, achievements etc, we will disappear. Nigeria too will eventually expire.

Rather than feel depression in the face of this dingy reality, I think we should relax and while enjoying our brief moment under the sun, we should let this prospect of our frailty and ultimate demise serve as a constant reminder, especially to us as Nigerians, on how we should treat one another? Why treat your fellowman unjustly when you’re not promised tomorrow yourself?

Throughout history, countless men have risen and have set rules for living for the rest of mankind. The result is that we are today blessed with countless moral codes with varying degree of sophistication from which we can pick. These moral codes that seek to regulate human behaviour have been with us not only since the dawn of civilization but also among our pre-civilized hunter gatherers ancestors. ‘Inspired’ lawgivers who lay down these rules most times claimed God’s directive, without which I doubt if anyone would follow them.

We should, without any religious compulsion, be able to decide on which moral codes to subscribe to. I don’t think we really need a church, mosque or shrine to tell us how to handle certain moral questions like for example, if hurt by a friend or helped by an enemy, should we reciprocate in kind? Even though people like Carl Sagan think this sort of question could be a tricky moral dilemma, I believe answering it should come to us easily if we should always listen to the voice within. In other words, we should naturally see kindness to each other as something that would make us and the rest of society better.

Although sometimes it might be difficult, and our responses to people’s behaviour may be mostly determined by their own attitude and our self-interest, ideally doing good should not be a thing we do out of compulsion or self-centeredness.

Among all the moral codes available to man, there are four which I believe are typically at play in our society today.

The Golden Rule for example urges us to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. This rule is ascribed to Jesus Christ and almost everyone in this country today knows this rule almost by heart, yet none of us follows it. I am sure if we all adhere strictly to this rule, many of the man-made ills besetting our country today would be non-existent and our senators wouldn’t have the heart to take delivery of exotic cars running into billions of naira in the middle of a biting recession.

But it appears there is something in our very nature that is opposed to following this rule as Nigerians. Despite the fact that when asked in the 5th Century BC about paying evil with good Kung-Tzu answered; ‘then with what will you pay kindness’, he later admonished that both good and evil should be reciprocated with goodness. I wish despite what our religious men tell us, we can all just live by this rule.

The Silver Rule urges us to ‘do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you’. I believe this is the rule men like Ghandi and Luther (Jr) lived by, a rule Mandela tried to live by until he realized that the ruling class understood a different language.

The Brass Rule urges us to ‘do unto others as they do unto you’; the ‘an eye for an eye’ rule.  I know for many of us our instinct would dictate a subscription to this rule, but if you ask me, this rule holds the potential of decimating society, of an endless continuation of the cycle of wrongs.

The Iron Rule urges us to ‘do unto others as you like, before they do it to you’.  I believe this is the secret maxim of many a Nigerian powerful men and politicians today. They rationalize that, if they can get away with injustices and looting, and probably decimate the enemy before the enemy gets a chance to do same to them, why not do it. I believe in the long run, the attitude of these men who live by this rule-who are clearly in the majority- will destroy our country.

Moral codes seeking to regulate our lives will continue to evolve as man continues on this evolutionary trend until the day we finally vanish from earth. However, in approaching the issue of morals and how we should treat fellowman, I think we should always have the mindset that the good we do to others we do to ourselves, hence my one hundred subscription to the Golden Rule. It should always be about inner peace, with self and God, about the long term good of society and not necessarily because we are compelled to do good by some religion, or because we fear punishment in a hell or hope for some reward in a heaven…

God bless Nigeria…

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Albert Afeso Akanbi is a Researcher, Writer and Humanitarian. He is the author of three novels, a number of short stories and articles. He is a father and lives in Abuja, FCT, Nigeria. He tweets @a_feso and shares updates at BBM Channel PIN C00359311

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