I’ve often heard people say – be kind.
In a relationship, the one thing that will keep it going when all else fails is…kindness;
in life, the one thing that may determine how far up the ladder of success you go is…kindness to the people you meet on your way up, (they may either keep you from crashing or be the ones who pull the ladder from under you.)
I listened to my friend as he mentored some secondary school kids during their Valedictory service a few years back and his final tip for success outside the confines of school was…you guessed it? Kindness.
For a people as deeply religious as we are here in Nigeria, kindness is not common, in fact, when someone deigns to offer acts of kindness, you give them a “one kind look,” and inwardly ask yourself, –what does he want from me? Is he expecting a tip? And I might add here that many times, your gut feeling is usually correct because the person is only being kind because he expects something in return, that’s how bad it is, o.
But many times, it is, often, a pure act of kindness.
I have had people do things for me because they know, somehow I would repay them either in cash or kind and while I don’t begrudge that, I melt at acts of kindness that require no response, no reward beyond a smile of gratitude. That’s what you often get when you help people who may never have any means of repaying you just because someone else had been kind to you; that’s paying it forward and many believe the phrase was coined by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book, The Garden of Delight.
Paying acts of kindness forward has a way of coming back to you. I wonder at people who are unkind to people they consider less than themselves, particularly step kids, domestic helps like drivers, cooks, maids et al.
It’s almost commonplace to be confronted with adults meting out severe punishments and mental torture to their helps or people in their care. One recalls the nine-year-old boy chained like an animal for months in a room by his own father who is also a pastor. The boy was eventually rescued a few years back looking badly malnourished.
He often stole.
What did he often steal?
It doesn’t require rocket science to deduce that the boy stole because he WAS hungry. Hello! If not, why did the little lad concentrate all his efforts at stealing food- at one time a pot of soup, at another time food from a food vendor. Unfortunately, poverty and perhaps a mental condition has deprived the father of making a rational judgment, he believes his son is possessed by the devil itself, in his words, his son is possessed with ‘emi ole’ a thieving spirit! And the stepmother of the boy claimed she had often warned her husband to desist from maltreating the boy but he wouldn’t heed her warning.
Yet she did not raise any alarm for months. Hmnn!
How many times did she go out of her way to feed the boy even when his father gave her nothing?
I’m not one to judge but I wonder if she would have been so calm if the boy had been her son. Would she have sat idly by as the child was chained from January to July when he was rescued?
There is also the case of a woman who was taken into police custody for severely burning and mutilating her 12-year-old maid with hot iron, her defence? The maid is a witch. How? She’s always stealing food! Couldn’t she see that her maid was no witch but simply hungry? It’s funny how we are quick to see the speck in the other person’s eye and fail to see the log in ours. Who’s the witch here?
Being kind to people we consider less than us doesn’t require much. I’ll tell you a story. Years back, when I was raising my kids, of course, like every working mother in Lagos, I needed help and house helps were very scarce. They were even made scarcer by the requirements of a church I worshipped back in the day. If you were getting a house help, you had to bring the help for ‘deliverance’.
Now, who says it’s the help that needs deliverance and not the household she would be helping? Anyway, in those days, it was common, (I’m not sure a lot of people pay attention to things like this nowadays) particularly if the help was from Benin Republic. The church believed they were voodoo worshippers and must be cleansed before handling our kids. Don’t blame me o, no one wants the spirit of voodoo demonising their children, abi!
And so I would comply, take these girls to church and nothing much was done beyond a pastor laying hands on them and the rest of us wide-eyed onlookers watching them writhe like earthworms attacked with a pinch of salt while issuing screams strange to the ears. Thankfully, none of my maids ‘manifested’. I must have been choosing the ones with ‘quiet spirits’, though I must say, I didn’t really like the ritual of taking my maids to the church. How about a hospital? Why didn’t they say, “take her to the hospital for a checkup, make sure she isn’t pregnant or has any debilitating disease or infection?”
But my maids never stayed beyond a few weeks, they always left. Maid one, two, three, four, five…all left one week after another. It was one week-one maid and my agent grew weary of bringing them. Somebody in church should have suggested I go for deliverance, I must have been sending the wrong spiritual vibes to the maids that screamed, “Run! Run! Run!”
I would get one today and in two weeks she would be gone; she would either steal away with some of my belongings or wait for me to come home with news that her father died and she had to go back home for his burial and she wouldn’t give me peace until I reluctantly released her.
Then I got really tired of this cycle of maid today, church tomorrow, gone the following day. I connected the dots; perhaps these maids didn’t like me taking them to church; perhaps they had other malevolent agendas, I’ll never know but I do know that I stopped the ‘deliverance’ when I got the 6th maid or so. Instead, I took her to the hospital for a checkup, asked if she worshipped Ogun or the Supreme God (so I would at least know where her energy lay) and asked if she would go to church with me. She agreed and so we were done. No spiritual cleansing needed here.
That girl stayed with me for five years.
After the first few months of holding my breath and expecting her to leave like the others, I relaxed at about the sixth month and asked her what she wanted to do with her life. She wanted to own her own salon.
I enrolled her to apprentice at a big salon and treated her like a younger sister; to date, few people know she wasn’t my relative; they always called her my sister. She would travel home and bring foodstuff for me.
Was I being mother Teresa? Nah, I was simply returning an act of kindness. I saw her commitment as an act of kindness and though I still paid her salary till she left, I never stopped other things I thought necessary to do nor skimped on what she asked of me to do for her. I was able to build on my career and my children thrived.
So you think I got lucky with her?
Well, her replacement stayed with me for three years. I enrolled her at a school nearby, so she and my kids would arrive home at about the same time, I even got her a lesson teacher. The one after her stayed another three years… until she got pregnant and I had to let her go.
So if you ask me what have you gained from helping these girls? I’ve received unmerited favours on several occasions over the years. Many times I’m selected over more brilliant, more creative people simply because… I’ve never tried to imagine I qualify for most of the good that come my way.
I still get calls from one or two of these girls, they are women now, as they have kids of their own. God only knows when my kids will need that loaf of bread, that blanket against the cold, that roof over their heads or that cup of tea to hold their stomach, in paying forward this act of kindness, I hope they will show kindness to other people who may never be able to repay them.