Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Destination Happiness

(It is yet another evening in the Junction, and Zack, Nat and Max are brooding over their glasses of kunu.)

Nat (in an outburst): What kind of evil world do we live in anyway?

(The other two turn round quickly to stare at him.)

Nat: I mean, listen to this story I heard today. There was this street hawker who was hawking his goods on the main road the other day. Suddenly, a car that was trying to dodge a pothole bumped in to him and made the goods he was balancing on his head fall off and scatter on the road. As he was bending down to pick them up, another came and ran him over!

Zack (shocked): You're joking!

Nat: No-o – and that's not all. As he lay writhing in the road, nobody came to his assistance. They just let him lie there until he stopped twitching. (Pauses.) This is why I wonder – why is this world so wicked?

Max (wearily): I used to wonder about it when I was younger... these days, I have accepted that the words 'wickedness' and 'human beings' go together like white on rice. I think that we're all just born to suffer.

Nat: You mean you don't believe that human beings can ever achieve happiness?

Max (shaking his head vigorously): No – we are incapable of it.

Zack: I don't agree with you. The only things that are making Nigerians unhappy are things like high prices, lack of security, lack of infrastructure and blatant corruption. If we could fix all these problems, then most people in Nigeria would be happy.

Max (sceptically): You reckon? I don't think so.

Zack (nodding his head): Of course they would! Why not?

Nat: I agree with Max that fixing all these things is not sufficient to bring happiness. Look at many developed nations where all these things have been fixed. Are people happy there?

Zack: Ah, but that's different. You know how white people are – always complaining about this or that. Even if heaven came down to earth, they wouldn't be happy. We Nigerians are different.

Max: That is a load of utter rubbish. What about all the Nigerians in those countries – you think they are happy?

Zack (protesting): That's different – they've been caught up in the western way of living...

Nat: OK, what about the lives of people in Nigeria who are so rich that they need never worry about any material need for the rest of their lives. Why are they unhappy?

Zack: Who told you they're unhappy?

Max: What are you talking about? How can they be happy when they have hordes of people running after them begging them for this or that? How can they be happy when they are constantly on some armed robber or assassin's to-do list? Or when they see that their fellow rich people have bought the latest car or built a bigger house?

Zack: Well, if I had that amount of money, I wouldn't be unhappy.

(Max fixes Zack with a curious look. Then he responds.)

Max: No offence Zachariah, but you're talking from the point of view of a middle ranking civil servant whose needs and desires may be quite modest now. Trust me, I understand what you're saying - before I hit my first big deal...

(Zack snorts in derision)

Max (carrying on in a slightly raised voice): ...as I was saying, before I - hit - my – first – big – deal, I used to think like that myself. But you know what? Money has this straaaaaaange quality - the more of it you make, the more of it you spend. So even if you are coining it big time, you shouldn't be surprised to find that you are always wondering where all you money is disappearing to.

Nat: I think the point you're making here Max, is that happiness is measured not in absolute but relative terms. In other words, it doesn't matter how rich you are – if there are people who are richer or poorer than you, then there are going to be issues.

Max: Right on, Brother Nathaniel. Especially if they are richer than you.

Nat: But then, isn't it all about being content with what you have?

(Max bursts into loud laughter.)

Max: Content, ke? Even if you have a will of iron, will people let you be content? If it's not your wife asking for the latest this, it'll be your kids asking for the latest that. Then you face a barrage of advertising – explicit and covert – telling you that your life isn't worth squat until you buy the biggest this or the fattest that. And then there are the neighbours, relatives, office workers, church members... in fact, I think the only people who are content with their lot are the Children of the Government.

Nat: Hm... it can be difficult. But let's look ahead to the future. Supposing that technology develops to the extent where it cost a fraction of a kobo to mass produce the most expensive car so that even a pauper could afford one. Then surely this 'keeping up with the Joneses' phenomenon would disappear? I mean, there would be no point in buying an expensive car to outshine your neighbour if you knew it was no big deal for your neighbour to buy the same car?

Max: Hm... possibly, it might go some way to reducing it...

Zack: But you're not reckoning with the kind of show-offs we have in Nigeria. When they see that they cannot impress by owning a flash car, they'll try and impress by getting people to push the flash car. You can see that it will be difficult for other people to compete by getting other people to push their own car.

Nat: I don't get it. Why should I volunteer to push someone's car when I'm rich enough to afford my own?

Max (pityingly): Don't you get it? It's the same reason why pastors and imams can order their flock to hand over large sums of money; why warlords can command their ethnic group to lead an attack that will ultimately kill them; why an abused wife will put up with an abusive husband. People need people to love and adore – and it doesn't matter whether wealth is coming out of all their orifices, if they don't have that person to love, they might as well throw it all away.

And that's the gift possessed by your car owner who has people pushing his vehicle. He has succeeded somehow in convincing them that pushing his vehicle gives their life some special meaning.

Nat: Hmm... maybe in the future, there will be human-like robots that people can order to push their vehicles.

Max: It doesn't make any difference. The owner of the human-pushed vehicle can still pose, because his car is being pushed by real humans, whereas his neighbour's car is only being pushed by robots!

Zack: Kai! This your analysis makes for very depressing hearing.

Nat: In spite of what Max has said, I do really believe that a person can achieve a measure of happiness without needing to become a mind-control master.

Max: Oh? How?

Nat: I think it's all about discovering a meaning to your life that makes you happy and that keeps you at the centre.

Max: I don't still get you. What do you mean?

Nat: Look at the example you gave about the people pushing the car. They had discovered a meaning to their lives, which on the face of it is good. The danger is that the person who gives their life meaning could turn round and cast them off, sending them into a severe emotional trauma.

So a better approach is to find the thing that gives your life meaning – but ensure that it's something that keeps you primarily in control. Like a quest for knowledge... a mastery of an art... a mission to spread an idea.

Max: I have my doubts, but whatever works for you... (shrugs) As for me, as long as I'm relentlessly in pursuit of the next big deal, I have no time to consider whether I'm happy or unhappy.

Zack: I think that it is a bit dangerous to focus on the one thing. What if you finally achieve your goal? Then what? As for me, I prefer to just do the many things I already do to make me happy – love and be loved by my family and my God, be a good friend to my friends, help my fellow man when I can...

Max: Nonsense, Zack. I already know that you have found the one thing that makes you happy and that you would be completely lost without.

Zack: What's that?

Max: Abusing, insulting and completely shredding to pieces our incompetent, foolish, stupid, idiotic, senseless politicians!

Nat (laughing with the others): And we know that given the way they are, there's no danger of you running out of things to criticise them over!

1 Comments:

  • "they'll try and impress by getting people to push the flash car. You can see that it will be difficult for other people to compete by getting other people to push their own car."

    I was kind of lost there, but i finally found understood by the end of the post.

    Nice one!

    By Blogger Nilla, At January 10, 2007 9:16 pm  

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