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Do unto others ....

July 28, 2014

They say mentally disturbed people are found in mental hospitals but from what I’ve been seeing lately, it seems like most of them are on the roads openly displaying their level of madness. Yes, I am talking about the many insane drivers we encounter every day we are on these roads. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t matter whether you are in Dar Es Salaam, Arusha, Nairobi or Kampala. It seems like there is a particular mental illness that has affected drivers in the region causing them to behave in very peculiar ways. When I use the word peculiar I do not use it in a very positive way, I use it to mean that drivers in this region behave in ways that can only be described as weird, bizarre out of the ordinary, and for lack of another word, quite wacky. 

I remember when I was learning how to drive my instructor kept telling me to assume I’m the only sane driver on the road but at that time, I was too inexperienced in the ways of the road to realize he was being very serious and genuine in making that statement. At the time, I thought he was being very unfair to the drivers. First forward to twenty plus years down the line; I am so inclined to agree with what he told me. Yes, most of the insane people are not in any mental institute, they could be that driver who is besides you in traffic or the one who is right behind or ahead of you in that lane. Of course you won’t know it until they do something incredibly stupid, almost causing you to cause an accident.

What I have come to realize is that some of the accidents that happen today could very well have been avoided if only drivers (and all road users for that matter) acted with sanity on the roads. Sometimes you can be a very good driver, quite sane and very focused on obeying the traffic rules, but then another road user comes from nowhere and causes you to do the unthinkable. It has happened to me in the past where a very sleepy bajaji driver came and rammed into me while at a junction and surprisingly, I was faulted for that accident. Worse still, some loud, loose-mouth female whose car was also “injured” by the bajaji came from nowhere and started saying how I had caused the accident because I was on phone, where in the real sense, my phone was safely in my handbag, which was on the back seat and to make it even worse, the phone was in airport mode! These are the wacky road users I’m talking about.

Yes you could be a very good driver but other road users cause you to do the wrong thing. We see them every day, especially these bodabodas and bajajis that swam in front of you or on your side like bees and flies. Sometimes they pull such dangerous moves that I’m left wondering whether they went for lessons before they were unleashed on the roads. Worse still, they pull these moves right in front of the traffic cops but as is the norm, they just give the cops a few notes for the day and they are let loose with a “warning”. As a result, an hour or two later you get to hear that the same reckless bodaboda rider had an accident probably caused by the same mistake he had made earlier. Who is to blame for his death? Is it himself, or the cop who opted to take a bribe instead of disciplining him properly?

Then of course we have the other set of insane drivers who think it is their right to overlap, aka “kutanua”, a common habit here in Dar Es Salaam. Dude, if you were in such a hurry, why didn’t you leave home yesterday evening for you to make it to wherever you were going this morning on time? Aren’t the other road users also going somewhere or what makes you think where you are going is more important than where the rest are going? As a result, a few drivers end up causing some mammoth traffic jam just because of impatience and a whole load of bad attitude. So many cars get grazed during situations like this and sad to say, sometimes it is the good guys who get it rough while the mad ones get away with their madness.

Unfortunately this happens in almost every other area of our lives. Let’s look at an office set up for instance, where we each depend on each other to be able to perform our duties. However, we have other people who will not do what they are supposed to do, causing others to work extra in order to fulfil their duties. The lazy bones almost always get away with their laziness, especially a particular breed of women who report to an even worse breed of men. These are the types who have other ways of compensating for their laziness in the office. As a result, you who is straight forward and determined to do things the right way end up being frustrated because nothing you do is ever recognized. You know what, don’t give up doing things the right way because when the time is right, the truth will be known and you will be rewarded for all the time you put in. Besides, character is doing what is right even when no one is watching you.

Your reward may come in two ways; either finally someone within your organization recognizes the work you have been doing, or you get another opportunity outside your organization just because someone outside your organization recognizes that you have lots of experience (though they might not know its because you have been doing your work and other people’s work as well). Though it may not seem like the case, you never lose when you are doing the right thing. It might take long for someone to notice and acknowledge what you are doing but in the end, you will always be rewarded. Besides, whenever you do things the right way, you have no reason whatsoever to feel guilty of anything. Your conscious is clean before God and that’s all that matters. Like Oprah Winfrey says so many times, “real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody is going to know whether you did it or not”. Unfortunately there are too many people who think that the only thing that's right is to get by, and the only thing that's wrong is to get caught. That’s why we have so many mediocre performances and outputs in so many of our organizations.  I am reminded of a story about a retiring carpenter….

An elderly carpenter was due to retire. He told his employer of his plans to leave the business and start a life of leisure with his wife and extended family. He would miss the money, but the time was right and he was ready to hang up his hammer.

His boss was disappointed as the carpenter had been a loyal and diligent worker for many years, so he was sad to see him go. He asked for one last favour, requesting that the carpenter could build one last house before retiring.

The tradesman agreed, but it was soon clear that his heart wasn’t in it. He took shortcuts, used inferior materials and put in a half-hearted effort. In the end the final product was well short of his usual standards, a disappointing way to end his career. When the job was finished, the employer came to inspect the work.  After taking a look around, he handed the keys to the carpenter and said, “This is your house, it’s my gift to you.” 

The carpenter was shocked and embarrassed. If only he had known, he would have made sure that everything was perfect. If he had known the consequences, he would have demanded excellence from himself.

We’re not that different. We go about our business, working as we see fit, some with passion, others without caring, some with excellence, others with low standards, some with diligence, others without effort. It all starts with very simple things such as doing the right thing while in traffic or making the right choices when no one is looking at you.

In a nutshell, we are all in the process of building our own lives. My question to you this week is; are you happy with what you are building? If you are not, then perhaps you need to demolish what you’ve built and start afresh with the right materials, and with the right attitude. Apply integrity and excellence in all that you do and you will not be disappointed or embarrassed in the end.

In whatever you are doing this week, I encourage you to build wisely.

PS: Article originally published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 27th July, 2014, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words"

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