“I will report you to your mother” was one statement I dreaded growing up, as I am certain most people also were. Whenever an opinion leader in the community uttered those words, I would stop whatever misdeeds I was engaged in and immediately beg profusely. In some instances, my apology fell on deaf ears and my mum, when told, would do the ‘needful’. I was also fortunate in other instances and would leave with the biblical “go and sin no more” dictum. But like the proverbial pig who returns to the mud, I also would be found the next day engaged in the same ‘misdeed’, and then another round of apologies followed. My mum almost never shirked her biblical responsibility of correcting the child, as failure to do so would certainly spoil the child.
It was for this reason that I froze in my tracks when Theophilus, my elder cousin’s friend saw me roaming with my friends in his neighbourhood which was quite some distance away from mine about 20 years ago. He was a frequent guest at our house and knew of my fear for the corporal punishments my mum meted out to whenever I went wrong. He beckoned me to come to where he was and I immediately fell on my knees and asked for forgiveness. When he burst into an uncontrollable bout of laughter, I knew I had found favour in his sight. I drew closer to him and he enquired whether my cousin had returned from a trip to which I responded in the affirmative. He asked me to deliver this message to him: “tell him he’s a big fool”, in our local parlance. I nodded and smiled. I went to join my friends who had finished laughing at me and we went our way.
I met my cousin later in the evening in the company of some friends outside our house and went to him and accurately delivered the message. He, together with his friends, laughed it off.
I heard my name being screamed from outside in a manner which make the lungs it emanates from sore, and I was wondering what I had done this time. I went out and my cousin, who was stationed outside the door, immediately grabbed my head and put in under his armpit and gave me 3 heavy knocks (the head then was not meant for ‘carrying load’, but receiving knocks). This time, I cried till my lungs hurt. When I was done sobbing, he summoned me to his presence again, and I was hesitant. He started out coming to me and I started heading for my mum’s door.
He swore he wasn’t going to beat me and I stayed, but at a distance that would afford me the opportunity to run faster than Usain Bolt before he tried anything ‘silly’. He, amongst other things, advised that I use that unpleasant occurrence as lesson on the need to quickly learn how to deliver such messages in a manner that brings no enmity amongst friends or associates. The calmness and wisdom with which he spoke soothed the pains he had caused early on. His advice, just like the heavy knocks to my head, unconsciously remains in my mind to this day. An incident happened in the office earlier in the week which brought these memories back.
In my young life, I have seen how sour otherwise beautiful friendships/relationships have turned – even marriages – because a [third] party to it failed to exercise discretion when he/she should have. I have seen how colleagues in the same office are at loggerheads because a third party failed to exercise discretion when he should have. Moments when one party boils with deep rage for the other’s wrong actions and flares up, leading to the disregard of discretion have ended successful business partnerships, I know.
A friend and a leading member in the Scripture Union back in Accra Academy, in an admonition to the entire class when he led the Wednesday class worship service said “mind whatever you say…else, you’ll say whatever that comes into your mind”. Those were his exact words that morning, and just like my cousin’s advice, have also stayed me although I occasionally veer off the road. I have had to use this quote a few times when I have been privileged to be the giver of sound advice to others when I think their speech has the potential to foment animosity, as they do me too. It is always possible to couch a potentially devastating comment in a manner where all interested parties leave the table with smiles.
In my not so pleasant saga with my cousin about 20 years ago, he advised I should have said: “Nathaniel, I met your friend Theophilus in town today and he extends his regards”, and I agree.
Enjoy the fruitfulness this new week promises.
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