In my former life, I was an Estate Developer. I worked for a large company with offices across England.
My employers were really big on capacity building, and they sent us on all kinds of seminars and workshops to help us develop all kinds of skills, from problem-solving and people management to teamwork and crisis management.
Today, I want to share with you one of the life-changing lessons I learnt at one of these seminars.
The credit crunch was raging across the western world, and our company was going through some serious downsizing. People were being laid off at an alarming rate, and there was an air of mistrust across the organisation. Everyone was trying to secure their jobs, and people were stabbing each other in the back just to avoid the axe. Naturally, our customers were suffering as a result.
Myself and 49 other managers were sent to a capacity-building seminar in Hull. As an icebreaker, the instructor led us through a rather interesting exercise. She handed each of us a balloon and asked us to blow it.
Then she gave us all markers and told us to write our names on our balloons. All the balloons were collected and let loose in the next room. The instructor then asked us to all enter the next room and try to find our balloons.
You can imagine the chaos that ensued. For about fifteen minutes, each of us scrambled around, grabbing and tossing back balloons, each person trying to find the one with their name on it. Many balloons got burst in the process leaving a lot of people with nothing by the time the dust settled.
The instructor then brought us all back into the main room and made each of us blow up a new balloon and write our names on it. Again, the balloons were placed in the next room, and again, we were asked to retrieve ours, but this time, she added an instruction: each of us were to simply grab one balloon – any balloon – and if it didn’t have our name on it, just find the person it belonged to and give it to them.
This time, the entire process took four minutes, it was orderly and civilized, not a single balloon got burst and every single one of us got ours.
My friends, I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that this exercise changed my life. You see, it illustrated a very important fact about being human. We are all born to pursue happiness, but it’s the way we do it that causes conflict and famine and corruption and discrimination and all the ills that plague humanity.
That first chaotic attempt to individually find our own balloons was an illustration of how we often strive to secure our own happiness without any regard for the happiness of others. Very often in Ghana, we seem to think that (to paraphrase Kwame Nkrumah) our own happiness is incomplete unless it is linked with the sorrow, misery and absolute destruction of our fellow citizens.
It is this attitude that is behind all our land disputes, our office politics, our tribalism, our corruption and nepotism, our mismanagement of state assets, our criminal waste of human and material resources, and of course, our winner-takes-all partisan political structure.
We are a people with a communal culture, but our actions are radically individualistic. We are selfish in our pursuit of personal pleasure and gratification to the detriment of other people’s comfort and freedom, and even though this is not part of our national culture, it is somehow becoming a part of our national identity.
The thing about happiness is that we are designed to give it. Or let me put it this way. Our function as humans is to give happiness. Receiving happiness is nothing but a happy by-product of giving it. If all of us were performing our core function of making others happy, then as you give happiness to someone, others will give happiness to you.
Just like we did in the second balloon exercise, our development as a people will come only when we stop fighting only for ourselves and start fighting for each other.
My name is Kojo Yankson, and my Joy comes from giving. That explains why I’m always receiving.
GOOD MORNING GHANAFO!
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