There is something you need to know bout me :
I am a nice person. I mean, a very nice one. The reason why I know this is because I have heard it so many times over the past 27 years. Admittedly, I work very hard to be that person. And It is not always easy as I do not always succeed. Just like some people read lots of books to sound smart and others spend countless hours at the gym to achieve their ideal summer dream bods, I have been working on myself to be a nice human being. Not a people pleaser, but a genuinely sympathetic and empathetic human being who strives for what is fair and just and in all circumstances.
Thus, anybody I ever get a chance to interact with on a personal level thinks I am nice. Some mean it as a compliment which is something you do not always necessarily want to hear because of what it subsequently implies : you have officially made it into the friend zone. You are now realizing that all the hopes and dreams that you had nurtured about dating that girl or that guy have now simply vanished. That’s the story of my life ladies and gentlemen. (Can I get an Amen?)
Other think that I am extremely nice. Too nice even. Out of a sudden, what was once a compliment becomes a warning because let’s face it, it is commonly known and accepted that someone who is too nice is more likely to be taken advantage of. Right? And because those people want what they think is best for you they will do everything and anything in their power to help you be just a little bit less nice. When I was in college, I did an intership for a company whose name I will not mention. One day, my boss literally tried to teach me how to be meaner or should I say more « aggressive ». As I said, he tried.
He’s own boss had booked a flight ticket and wanted my boss to convince the airline to give him an extra luggage for free (although he could afford to pay for it) based solely on the fact that he had flown with that company for x amount of time. Unfortunately for him, and for me too, the person he had been trying to persuade on the phone for the past twenty minutes was standing their ground. After screaming and cursing on the phone to no avail, he decided that I should take over and enter the arena. I was about to make my grand debut. As he was handing me the phone, he gave me the look which was his way of saying « This is your chance to show me what you are really capable of. Don’t screw this up! » I suddenly realized that him handing me the phone was really marking the beginning of my own rite of passage. It was about time I became a man. I was in utter disbelief. I felt like freezing but I did not have that luxury. Not to mention the world would have kept spinning even without me in it. I could not bear that idea. Then I felt like flighting but I could not afford that either. My only option left was to fight.
Suddenly, I thought about my birth mother and my earth mothers, my grandmothers and my great grandmother, my baby sisters and sitters, my aunts, my uncles and even my dad. I thought about my friends, my neighbors from when I was still a child running care-freely in the streets of Douala, Cameroon, and some of my teachers too. An image of Maya Angelou rushed into my mind (she had just passed away). She had inspired me to rise still on countless occasions. Finally, I could see the smile and the air of pride invading my mother’s face every time someone would stop us and tell me in front of her « Leonel, you are a very nice and respectful boy. Do not ever change and you will go far in life. » In their own away and to a certain degree, these people had all tried to inspire me to be a kinder, loving and considerate human being. They too had worked very hard to make me the young man that I had become and that thirty-something-year-old-man, who barely even knew what it meant to bring a human being into this world, let alone raise them, was trying to raise me again and undo a part of their legacy. All that came into my mind at once like rain starts pouring unannounced on a hot and dry summer day.
I took the phone nonetheless. I knew nothing good would come out of that conservation but I took it anyway. I had to. He was my boss after all. But I despised him for wasting my time and energy only because he had the authority to do so. I despised him for not having the courage to stand up to his boss and tell him how he really felt about him (I had heard first say terrible things about the latter). Had I had it my way, I would have told them both that they were entitled and spoiled little white brats suffering from an acute case of superiority complex (I said I was nice not blind nor a saint). But how could I? I was just an intern.
While I was on the phone I could see from the corner of my eye that he was paying attention to every single words my mouth was uttering, ready to chime in at any given moment. Anytime I would stutter or talk in a way he deemed not tough enough, he would roll his eyes, raise his hands to the sky and shake his head at the same time, as if I was a lost cause. Or was he calling his angels on me? Certainly not. Needless to say I failed. Had I not been wise enough it would have been easy for me to give into the idea that I had failed because I had not been tough enough or persuasive enough or assertive enough or simply good enough. No. I had failed because the gentleman from the airline company had no reason to flatter both my bosses’ egos simply because one had flown with the company for x amount of time. At least that is what I chose to believe.
Yes I had failed my boss, who I am sure was not expecting anything less from me, otherwise, he would have not spent the first twenty minutes on the phone before finally handing it to me. But at least, I was still my mother’s son. I had not allowed myself to be diminished or tricked into thinking that I had to be a bully in order to get his approval and attention. Because I had made the conscious decision to treat another human being with the dignity and respect that we all deserve, myself included, I knew I would still be able to grasp my integrity with both hands when I wake up in the morning the next day. That I knew with certainty, just like the sun is bound to break out of its shell after the passage of a reckless storm, buoying us with new grace, new mercy, new promises and endless possibilities. It was comforting. I had lost a battle but I had not lost the war.
It is evident that one of the common denominators to all the tragedies, violences and frustrations we are witnessing in the world is the fraudulent fear of being stripped of our power, of feeling diminished if we do not get exactly what we want, when we want it and how we want it. If we are not tough enough, if we do not scream, if we do not curse, if we do not ridicule, if we do not despise, if we do not tap dance on other people’s misery, if we do not rape, if we do not retaliate, if we do not steal, if we do not lie, if we do not calumny, if we do not spit, if we do not spit back, if we do not hit, if we do not hit back, if we do not chase, if we do not shoot. And shoot again, and shoot again and shoot again until … when exactly?
Suppose we all humbled ourselves and dared to be kinder and nicer to one another, while also being unapologetic about it, not only when everybody is watching but especially when nobody is watching. It will create breaches of light that will guide us through the dark times we are currently facing, all the way to the changes I am sure many of us, so desperately, want to see in this world.
It is easy to forget that whatever is obtained out of and with the use of fear and oppression is never really acquired unless the fear and the oppression are constantly maintained. What happens when we start running out of options? What happens after we have exhausted all the resources and tools used in order to create that sense of fear? What happens when the oppressed is no longer afraid because he or she has nothing left to lose? I have read somewhere (don’t ask me where) that « if you starve a dog long enough, he will tear you to pieces ». Let’s pray it does not come down to that for our sake, for the sake of our children and for the sake of the human race.
My very best,