Thoughts: An antidote to powerlessness

Boluwatife Mayode Sanda

Sometimes I put my thoughts down on paper just to see if I can hit the right notes. Other times I toss them in the air to see if anything sticks. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Most times, they are carried away with the wind like smoke. Laying alone in the dark with about a gazillion things racing through my mind, it almost feels like I have superpowers, one of a kind. But when it is time to distill these thoughts on paper, I realize that I don’t know enough words in the English Language for them to find expression. Should I learn a new language? Or maybe I should read more books. I could read the dictionary for 30 minutes every day to learn more words but would that help though? Well, I wouldn’t know if I don’t try. But this I’ve learned over time; I have everything I need in this moment to take the next step.

I am alone in the corner of a room filled with people having fun and I’m thinking, “this is crazy.”

“What is crazy?” You may ask.

Well, I don’t know. Sometimes I feel I’m the only sane person around. Other times I feel everyone else is normal and I’m not. But every time, the same question keeps popping up in my head, “Why are all these people content on just getting by?” It is a question I can’t quite figure out. Are they content or they only seem to be content? Looks like many have found an excuse not to be great. It is the easiest route. So, when I look around the room and think to myself “…this is crazy,” that is what is crazy. The excuses, the blame shifting, the avoidance of responsibility, the pointing of fingers, the insistence on looking back – it is all crazy.

It is a crazy world out there. A world where, sometimes, the only place you can find solace is in-between your ears, where all is as it should be; decent and normal. But then again I ask myself, “How many people know what normal is?” How many know how things should be? It is okay to fantasize about a normal, wonderful life; but even the fantasies are eerily distorted. I have my mind tricking me sometimes that I am a good writer only to jolt back to reality to see the bin filled with rumpled paper. Am I or am I not? That’s probably for the world to decide but in my own fantasy, I definitely am.

It is strange the kind of things that run through my mind sometimes with the doubts and fears on one hand and the incredulous expectations of the self on another, sometimes I think of what it would be like if I weren’t myself, if I had better living conditions, if I had better resources at my disposal.

What if I were taller?

What if I were darker?

What if I were a smooth talker?

What if I were a girl?

What if my parents were rich?

What if my voice had a wider reach?

What if I were Australian?

What if I were American?

What if I just wasn’t Nigerian.

So many “what ifs…” but the last one is the one I think about a lot. If I wasn’t Nigerian, would things be better or worse? Would I be living a better life? If I were American, I would have gone to Stanford where I’d get a certain level of exposure to bring about the inception of a revolutionary idea like Mark or Bill. But then I think of countries in the middle east where disaster is the order of the day, would I want to have come from there? Not really. Does that mean I have it better? Not really. We don’t get to choose how or where to be born, however, we get to choose how to live. It’s not like there aren’t any beautiful places in those countries too. There are many countries in the world that I could have been born in, but I was born a Nigerian. I can decide to sulk because of that or embrace that reality. You see, we talk about these “great” countries like they are paradise where everything is right and nothing is wrong, where everyone is just smiling at each other from sunrise to sunset each day, what we fail to acknowledge is that these places have their faults too. There’s the good, there’s the bad, and there’s the ugly – nowhere place is perfect.

This is why, as a Nigerian, I won’t deny the beauty of my nation. But I can’t ignore the rut it is in either… and it hurts. We feel differently and have differing opinions about the happenings in this country and the potential damage down the road. But these differences, though hard to describe, are linked in some way to powerlessness. Powerless to turnaround the fate of the nation. I don’t know about you but that’s how I feel sometimes. When I hear of a local government chairman who threatened a good citizen willing to repair a bad road for his community. I ask, what can I do about that? When I see a CEO whose management team couldn’t care less about its employees’ health or welfare all in the name of getting the job done, I think, how can I change that? What can I do about the human resources manager whose candidates are not worthy enough to get a feedback? How can I help the boss who rains curses on her subordinates, day after day, eroding every confidence that should instead be nurtured? How can I help a lecturer who feels threatened by the intelligence of his students? How do I change the husband who has turned his wife into a punching bag saying he’s only dealing with the issue head on? How do I help the woman who beats her two years old child to realize that she’s the one with a problem not the child?

These are only some instances that run through my mind when I lay awake at night and I’ve seen some firsthand. How much can I really change? How much can we really change? You can’t change the bus driver who drops you off on Eko bridge only to give you change that won’t get you to where you’re going. I’m not the one with the power here, he is. Can I speak to the bus conductor who pulled down a girl and her little brother from the bus because his bus isn’t one for lapping? I can give many more examples without mentioning governors or ministers. We don’t need to go that high up to find such people. These are everyday people, which is why it is crazy to me to think that this nation would get better.

Do you really think that is possible?

It is easy to ignore the feeling of powerlessness, but it is there nonetheless. That is why many of us go about our day without a care in the world thinking none of it affects us but it does, subtly. It is the same reason why many are content on just getting by because deep down, within the core of most, they feel nothing good can really come out this nation. It is even easier to ignore whatever is going on when you can insulate yourself with the resources at your disposal, like riding around in your Benz. Someone may read this one day and wonder, “what the heck is a bus conductor?” Then there are those who are totally unbothered, those ones have never heard the shout “up NEPA!”

Everyone seems to have an opinion about how things should or shouldn’t be done but you’ll realize from the examples above that the slightest bit of power is enough to turn the average person into an oppressor. Yet we complain about the government and all its shenanigans. We complained about the people who looted stores in the midst of chaos being ignorant of the fact that they are only putting people out of jobs. What we don’t realize is that these people are a product of the oppression by you and me. Remember the bike man you talked to like he was trash? Yeah, he had his chance that day and he took it. Or the yam seller that you ripped off all in the name of getting a bargain, she got her chance and she took it; she is a result of your oppression. Your laundry man that you hardly treat well got a chance to get a new pressing iron and he took it; he is a product of your oppression. They all are. All those people have felt oppressed at one point or the other by people who you least expect. It may seem like people hate oppression, but the truth is that people don’t really hate oppression, they just don’t feel as good when they are not the oppressors. Everyone wants a better government forgetting that we are the government that should be better. There’s no difference between who we are and who they are (whoever they are). We all have a hand in this mess.

I may have turned this into a rant stating the different ways how this country is messed up, but guess what, so is every other country. Because you don’t see it or experience it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Which brings me back to why I think all of it is crazy and why I sometimes feel powerless about it all. What can I actually do about it? How do I make a difference? I want to see things change but how do I make that happen? The truth is that it is tough. It is not impossible, but it is tough. One way to tackle these problems is by dealing with the simple ones first. Which one is the simplest one of all? Myself. If I want change, I’ll have to deal with myself first. The only change I’ll see is the one I instigate from where I am.

As a good citizen, I may decide to get my Personal Voter’s Card for the elections, but I am subconsciously thinking about a million things that could nullify my vote. I mean, my school could barely conduct a fair election, how much more my country. But I have to put that thought aside and vote anyway because change can only start with me. I can choose to complain about everything that is wrong, but what good would that do to anyone? I have found that the greatest complainers are the worst offenders of what they complain about and this country is filled with them. The follower who always complains about the deficiencies of the leader never has the required awareness to check his own deficiencies. That is how people very easily become the boss they once hated or the parent they swore to never be like. This is why you find oppressors in every nook and cranny of this nation, just as our leaders are.

Back to how we can tackle these; focus on the low hanging fruits. If you have the resources to impact the environment in any way, please do, instead of using those resources as an insulation from the chaos. Repair the damaged roads in your neighborhood if you can. Light up your streets or build drainages if you can. You can help with running water in the next street. Your family can help the children in need with back to school materials every new session. Instead of painting the city red every year on your birthday, take time out to help someone in need. Influence positively with whatever power is in your hands. There is so much to give.

And it may seem like change is only for the rich and powerful, that is not true. All you have is all you need to make a difference. You only have to look within to find what that is. Have you got a great smile? Brighten someone’s day. You may not be able to change your boss at work, but you can have a positive impact on your maid at home. You can’t reconfigure the heart of the bus driver who disrespects everyone in his bus, but you can cheer up the heart of that woman who calls you her customer every time you come around to buy beans. You can encourage that member of your team even after that dreadful error instead of hammering his head into a wall. Your night’s watch should be blessed by your presence every time you get home. The cleaner in your office should be happy to see you every morning when you resume at work. Your students should be able to talk to you outside of class about anything because they know you care. Your children should always look forward to coming home from school every single day. Your wife should thank God everyday she has you, not because of your money, but because of who you are. Your husband should never want to leave your side because you are his peace of mind. Next time you feel powerless, try any of these. Focus on what you can influence. You will be amazed by how big an impact such simple gestures have. It is not only the people with “money” that can change lives.

We want to advise people, change, and impact lives all around in a big way, but the greatest impact we can have is on ourselves by choosing to not abuse our power over others. What happens within has a domino effect on the environment. Lives are changed even without trying. As your love softens the heart of another, so also your torment hardens the heart of another. Every uproar is a result of someone’s oppression, do not be that person.

Nobody can make you a good person, that is up to you. Your father can only tell you, teach you, or show you how. And it doesn’t cost much to be a good human. Simply honor all men; honor up, honor down, honor everybody round. So when that time comes when you have the power to do as you please, you’ll live magnanimously. When you are CEO, you will have enough empathy to know that owing your staff salary is not an option because they are depending on that money to survive. When you are the president, you will try your best to bring peace to a nation on its knees crying out for help.

It is easy to talk about how far south the country is traveling, but as we talk, let us think of how we can make the situation better. You are not powerless to make a change. If you ever think you are, control your thoughts and ask yourself, “What is the easiest thing I can do to make a change?” This will lead you to take the right actions and you can take it further from there. If everyone were to think the right thoughts and take the right actions, imagine the cumulative effects. I know I will always think these thoughts because even though the roads are wack and the nights are dark; even if the president is slack and he consistently gets some flack; before pointing fingers, I looked in the mirror and saw that it was looking back. I am the change I see. These thoughts only take place in the corridors of my heart and mind, but I have put them down for the world to read. I hope it sticks.

Bolu is a Storyteller, a Speaker, and a Sales Professional. Whether creative writing, technical writing, or copywriting, Bolu writes with only one goal in mind—to help the reader.

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