The Herald (Harare)

22 September 2012

Zimbabwe: It's Possible to Be Responsible

opinion

These days we hear of so many absurd occurrences within our society that show that there has been an erosion of values. Judging from reported incidences in the media it can be said that there is an increase in social ills.

The moral fabric is slowly disappearing in this global village. At times I feel burdened and wonder whether sanity will ever prevail in the social arena. We hear of murders, fraud, suicides, corruption and robberies perpetrated by members of our society across all ages.

Things that we used to regard as taboo are becoming commonplace. There are also things that we regard as minor, but collectively have a negative impact on society. They creep in slowly unnoticed and then suddenly there is a big problem that seems insurmountable. How many times have you thrown litter on the street because it is littered already or there is a street sweeper to who will sweep anyway? Most of us want clean cities, but we do not put effort to bring that desired change.

Make that difference by doing the unthinkable, wipe that toilet seat after someone and clean that corner outside your gate. Think of the vandalism and the pilferage of assets that have been put up for the common good.

The things like the fences along highways, the shades at bus stops, the road signs and the palsied fences on bridges. You take one or two metres of fence out of the hundreds of metres for your little garden and it appears a drop in the ocean.

Then the next person comes along does the same and before you know it there is nothing left. How many times do you use all the plates on the shelf because someone will clean after you? Think of the times you have left the hotel room in a deplorable state because you have paid.

Often we justify our actions. I have heard people say littering helps to keep the job of the sweeper, the house maid or the attendant. Usually we do things against our conscience because others are doing it. It is not surprising to hear people generalise to justify their actions.

They paint all people with the same brush. If all people are doing the wrong thing then be the trend setter, stick out and do the right. Each one of us has a conscience that is a sense of right and wrong or principles or ethics. I think the conscience is fostered through the process of socialisation.

It has been said that we can never go wrong if we base our decisions on our conscience. Yet we have floundered many times because we ignore our conscience. We get people who have a conscience and these try to do the right things all the time.

Then there are those who conduct themselves in ways that show that their conscience is seared or they do not have it at all.

People like this tend to be selfish; they do not consider the other person or the consequences of their actions on others. The majority of people, I think, know what is supposed to be done or not done in a given situation. The problem is that people just do not do those things that they are supposed to do. Unfortunately they gravitate towards the wrong thing.

We see the biblical Paul expressing his struggles as he says he does those things that he does not want to do and does not do those things that he is supposed to do.

Principles that we live by are learnt in childhood. I recall my mother asking rhetorical questions like "uri kujamba plate iyo iri pasi unoti ine makumbo here?"(Why are you jumping over/leaving that plate on the floor does it have feet?). These simple teachings repeated contribute to the raising up of responsible citizens.

The simple lessons in the home should be reinforced on the playground. Have you noticed that these days we have police officers controlling traffic at intersections where the traffic lights are working? The many times I am caught up in a traffic jungle especially at intersections with a non-functioning traffic light I wish everyone was schooled in these simple lessons.

People rush into an intersection when it is obvious that they would block other motorists. It is so surprising to see some motorist follow suit against all reason. In the end cars are inter-locked in the intersection.

Times such as these just help to confirm that common sense is not that common, it is a rare sense. What would it cost to stop and give others a chance to clear from the intersection? Well back to my story on the simple lessons that were and are learnt in the home. In the traditional context people used to eat from the same plate. The parents ate together and this was the same for the boys and the girls.

This practice that might seem disgusting now had very subtle lessons on respect of society's pecking order and the cook, responsibility, patience as one had to wait for one's turn to take the first bite, being considerate and thankfulness.

Let me explain a bit for the benefit of those who cannot understand what I am talking about. If a family had five boys all of them would eat their food from common dishes.

They would all form a circle around and they took turns, according to their pecking order, to take that first portion. It was a given that the elder ones would leave the youngest to finish up the food. Apart from prayer, the cook was acknowledged at the beginning and thanked at the end.

There are many things that we have discarded, but have not come up with alternatives to nurture these good values. Let's think of ways that help us in today's world to foster those good values. Let's introspect and do those right things that make us good citizen.

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