Value : a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life. (Oxford Dictionary)
3 weeks ago, I began a Leadership Development course. There were at least 40 of us, most of us Nigerian. Our instructors were Nigerian (Funmi), Australian (Britta) and Dutch (Ocke).
I learnt a lot in that course; I might blog about my experience in the near future. Right now, though, I want to tell you about an incident that happened on Day 4 of the 5-Day course. But a little backtracking first. Day 1, and we all identified values that were most important to us. Ocke told us that his people, the Dutch, were very practical and blunt, and so he appreciated directness, respect for other people and punctuality. He laid quite a bit of emphasis on just how important punctuality was to him. How he always was punctual to his appointments out of respect for other people and their time, and expected them to return the courtesy. Long and short of the story, he extracted a promise from all of us that we would be punctual to our sessions.
Fast forward Day 4. It rained. Heavy. Medium. Heavy. Medium. Class was scheduled to start at 8 am. At 8.20 am, less than half the class was present. I was among this number, and so I got to watch Ocke redden with anger, tapping his foot impatiently while trying to keep up a pleasant demeanour. It didn’t last long. Eventually, he stood and reminded us, in a voice that barely contained his irritation, of our promise on Day 1. He pointed out that he, a foreigner, had brought an umbrella with him because he knew it rained a lot in June. He couldn’t understand why “But it’s raining” was a valid excuse for being late to an appointment. He didn’t understand why we hadn’t brought umbrellas, considering that we should know our weather better than he. Britta, another facilitator couldn’t understand why we couldn’t make the sacrifice of making the ten-minute walk in the rain, especially as it wasn’t that heavy.
We had our excuses. Rain could cause a cold. It was unsafe. We didn’t have umbrellas. And at the bottom of the entire matter was something none of us could voice. We had automatically assumed that class wouldn’t start at 8 because it rained. A silly assumption, baseless when you give it some serious thought, but an assumption we acted on all the same.
Ocke used some pretty harsh words on us. And he ended with a classic, “I’m sorry but this sort of attitude is why Nigeria will keep being the way it is, despite all the good things going for you.”
We were all professionals, mostly Engineers, some with an MSc. already. We were educated, articulate, young, vibrant, smart people from middle-class to upper-class backgrounds. But it didn’t occur to us to sacrifice our personal comfort to keep a promise we had made. And should we have had to “promise”? Punctuality is basic courtesy, it’s professional, it should be taken for granted.
Nigeria has many problems, “African Time” doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. My opinion is that our value system is inherently flawed, and so it cascades down to the other, more practical things. Like being on time for even the least important of appointments, out of respect for the other person and his/her time. Like making personal sacrifices to keep to a promise we’ve made that now seems unreasonable. Because we gave our word, see?
At this same course, I saw a poster that read, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”
I made some deductions from this quote. Our country is the sum of us all. We get the exact kind of country we deserve. Conversely, if we started to act like we ALREADY had the Nigeria of our dreams, we would DESERVE the Nigeria of our dreams. And that would be a first step to actually getting it. And so I made a personal commitment to be punctual to my appointments, no matter the cost. Honestly, most times it doesn’t require a “sacrifice” more difficult than getting up from bed fifteen minutes earlier, or logging off my computer earlier than I planned. But there are times when I’ve had to be heroic and ninja-like in my activities. Once, I actually ran to the amazement of the people I was whizzing past!
It might not seem like much, but I think that if we all adopted a value and tried to live it as heroically as we could, we would (pardon the cliché) make a difference. So what value would you like to work on? And do you have any tips/experiences on punctuality?