Recently, I visited a popular nightclub in Monrovia and witnessed a form of kindness that I will never forget. Ever.
A lady walked to the bartender drunk as hell, almost to the point of throwing up. She had some money and an expensive smartphone. She put the money in her bra but held onto to the phone. I suppose she couldn’t hide the phone in her bra like the money. As she walked around, oscillating between the different tables and chairs, deeply unconscious of her state, a random guy whom she had never met before showed up. While everybody else was busy on the dance floor, probably releasing the stress of the week, he took the phone from her and gave her some water to dilute the alcohol content in her body. He found her a place to sit and merged back into the crowd. After two hours, he showed back up. At this time, the effect of alcohol in the lady had now dropped to almost zero, but the search for her expensive phone was just getting started. She was now helplessly searching for her phone like the way a gold miner searches a mine after noticing a trace of gold. And when she couldn’t find the phone and was ready to give up the search, the guy, this ‘angel’ in a conspicuously ‘sinful’ place, appeared with the phone and told her how he got it. As I listened to him tell the story, I felt a shiver run down my spine, an odd feeling of deja vu. I was touched.
What a heartwarming display of kindness in such an unexpected place!
But that was not the first time I’ve experienced or heard about this sort of random, pure act of kindness in the streets of Monrovia.
A friend who sells at Waterside market told me they once locked their store door and unknowingly dropped the keys. Yes, unknowingly dropped the keys. As soon as they left, a sot who stays at one of the shacks in waterside found and kept them. In spite of the harassment and even threats to his life from his friends to give the keys so they could loot the store, he refused. In the morning, he handed the keys to the store owners, who, until then didn’t even know they had lost their keys. Unable to believe what had happened, they quickly opened the store and found everything intact. They were dumbfounded. How can this act of kindness be performed by a guy who is ‘beyond redemption’, an outcast they drive away from their business place for harassing customers for money, every day? While my friend was telling me, I found it difficult to believe, but it did happen.
These similar yet unrelated incidents have challenged me to thoroughly look at kindness, a buzzword loosely threw around in most religious and family circles in Liberia today.
So what is kindness? What does it mean to be kind? Is kindness something we are born with or a virtue we develop through personal experiences? Does someone need to be part of one’s family, a close friend or workmate, to be qualified for our kindness? What about people we meet every day but don’t have a relationship with? Don’t they deserve our kindness, too? Does one need to be a religious person expecting a reward in the hereafter to be kind to others? Why then do those people with no interest in this ‘cosmic drama’, aka afterlife, sometimes perform unspeakable acts of kindness while some of those tied to the mosques, churches, temples, etc. are some of the cruelest people on earth? Is religion then the prerequisite for kindness?
These are no easy questions. Hitherto, I have found myself wrestling with them and other existential questions as I work on the streets of Monrovia, trying to find peace and place to stand amid all the chaos: debates, demonstrations, petitions, politics, protests. But the harder I think, the more I realize that kindness is a human default setting, our instinctive biochemical response to others in times of need.
What I’m saying is that after so much soul searching, I have come to believe we are naturally created to be kind and that it takes conscious effort to be otherwise. I know this sounds more theoretical than empirical but let me explain:
I’m sure you’ve most likely witnessed a scene where a baby pampered another baby in discomfort and have been inspired by it. Often, we think of it as a miracle for we wonder over the impossibility of such an action given our understanding of the nature of a child. How is this possible we asked ourselves? For those interested in finding easy answers, we blame it on miracle and move on with our lives. But as for those interested in seeking solutions, we set out to ask more questions, questions that will perhaps lead us to reasonable explanations beyond miracles.
In the end, we realize kindness has to be a natural human response to a fellow human being. For if it is an act we think about consciously before performing, how then a baby knows that comforting, and not kicking or punching her crying mate is the right thing to do?
After enough brooding, most of us conclude that there has to be something more than conscious thoughts controlling the baby, a force he/she has no control over.
It was make Mark Twain who said that “kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” In other words, we are wired to be kind and performing acts of kindness comes to us naturally, whether it is risking your life to save a baby dangling on a balcony in Paris or helping an old woman cross the street in Monrovia.
To be mean then, one has to go against the natural human instinct, suppress his automatic response. He/She has to refuse to be humane and go against one natural disposition to kindness. This takes conscious efforts, perhaps a bruised ego.
Sadly, most of the people, especially the leaders I have come across in the streets of Monrovia, have opted for this position. They have switched off their default settings to become mean. Unlike the guy in the club and the drunk in Waterside whose kindness came with zero prizes, theirs come with a favor, a huge price to pay even though the very source of most of their power and money derived from the very people they are exploiting. They also now compel religious leaders, people who are supposed to be the moral compact of the society, to ‘praise sing’ so that they, the leaders, can benefit from donations, community supports and other forms of kindness
This you do me I do you attitude so conspicuously visible in a country led by mostly dishonest leaders and politicians, who have the economic and political power to make or break almost anyone, has compromised some of the most revered spiritual and moral leaders, and the result is devastating. These leaders have now resorted to doling out virtues like honor,respect, justice, truth and kindness to the highest bidders.
This is why I was so touched by the kindness of both the guy in the club and the drunk living in a shanty town in Waterside market, places we least expect it, and I thought:
Maybe it’s time to start listening to drunks and club dudes and shut doors on ‘religious’, ‘moral’ and political leaders, most of whom who dole out truth, justice, honor, kindness and compassion for the right price.
Authored by Ahmed Konneh
Featured Photo by Yoga Baires