- Post 13 June 2008
- Last Updated on 13 June 2008
- By Churchill Okonkwo
According to the principle idea advanced by MeniMeng Tzu (c.372-c289) known under his Latin name Mencius; every human being is born good: hence if man maintains his original nature, he will remain good. In man’s original nature, there is a sense of shame, a sense or courtesy and a sense of right and wrong. If a man relies only on his sense of perception without subjecting them to the control of mind, he fails into evil ways and prevents his original nature.
The bane of moral decadence in our society today is the erosion of that sense of shame, courtesy and right and wrong in the past three decades. The cultural erosion and reorientation of our traditional core values of honesty, integrity, equity communal social responsibility and good behavior has left us in this dire state of social and cultural corrosion. By allowing the desire for personal gain and aggrandizement to overcome our righteousness and sense of social obligation, we have fallen into the evil ways and thus, perverted our original nature. By relying on our sense of perception without subjecting them to control of mind we have neglected out traditions and values without asking questions about our children and grand children’s future in a cultureless society.
Just two days ago, I watched teenagers as they stood and gossiped while an elder, a pregnant woman and I cleaned and swept the hall that we used for a social function. When asked to help with the cleaning in the presence of their parents, they ignored the plea for help from the pregnant mother, walked to the other end of the hall and waited for their parents to come take them home. All the parent could volunteer as they walked pass with her teens was that we should better go get a vacuum cleaner for the job. The mother practically trampled and voided our Cultural Rule 101 that youths should never stand and watch adults and elders do what they could and should do. The question on my mind then was; what kind of parents will these teenagers be? What kind of husbands and wives will they turn to? Our traditional vales are sinking and we are facing cultural death.
When I was young, I saw myself as a tribal elder in training. I learned about those ancient arts, culture and traditions. I observed the customs of my people, cultivated the habit of respect of the elders, and participated in communal social responsibility programs. That was before internet and globalization.
Technology has brought a global media influence to even the most isolated villages in Nigeria so that parents and custodians of our cultures and traditions have been caught up in the web of cultural erosion. Worried elders say young people and some adults suffer a disconnect that gets some of the blame for chronic problems in native society – alcoholism, cultism, domestic violence, ritual killings get-rich-quick syndrome, etc. But nobody is fighting back. Villages have watched cultural dances, festivals and stories of our fore fathers disappear, replaced by hip hop and movies characterized by violence and sex.
Prior to this present state of cultural erosion, parents that were held in high esteem in our society were those that were determined to cultivate their children’s moral ethics at the early stage that they took extreme caution with their speech and behavior in front of them. Once upon a time, parents never lied to their kids or tried to live extravagant lives beyond their income just to be seen as belonging to that cancerous strata of the society that have now thrown ethics and integrity to the winds. In those days, parents threaten not to buy Christmas clothes for kids that fail to excel in their studies. Just pause and search your memory for the last time you saw your nephews and nieces being denied of the things they value most for rude behavior, disrespect to parents/elders, improper dressing, lackadaisical attitude to studies, etc.
Those good old days are long gone. Nowadays, it is the parents that remind their kids of how rich their neighbors and peers are, warning that they should better do something to get rich quick or will forever remain poor. These days, parents are the ones soliciting and searching for “special centers” to register their wards for WEAC and JAMB for “guaranteed” success by all means possible. Parents are the ones raising huge sums of money to bribe admission officers and lectures for the children to gain admission and pass exams respectively at colleges. What a transformation!
What happened to the innate goodness and sense of social obligation we were born with? How could it have come to this? In Mencius own language, the original good human nature is the “heart of the child” or the untainted heart. If un-perverted, the original childlike heart will lead him towards good, just as “water naturally flows downwards”. If already perverted, man can only attain salvation by returning to his original nature.
The question is how do we return to the original nature of goodness before this cultural and social erosion? How do we return to the good old days before the quest for material wealth took control and led us to this present state of decadence? How do we save our valued cultures and traditions? How do we save our children form this looming cultural death?
The reverting to the original nature of sense of shame, courtesy, mercy, right and wrong, will constitute the four good beginnings of processes and actions that will halt this devastating cultural and moral erosion in our society and parents should see this as a clarion call to action. According to Mencius, the sense of mercy is the beginning of humanity. With this sense, pension officers will stop demanding “egunge” form retirees in order to process their gratuity and pensions.
The sense of shame should led man to righteousness. With this sense, we should know how to respect our elders, colleagues, our constitution and the rule of law. It is because of the absence of sense of shame that corrupt government officials, criminals, Yahoo Boys, ritual killers are hailed by our communities, given chieftaincy titles while the hard working and law abiding citizens are treated with outmost disrespect. It is because of the absence of shame that our president, members of the state and federal houses and governors were sworn into offices in the floored election of 2007.
The sense of courtesy, if allowed to develop, will give us sense of decorum. This will make our political office holders humble and to start acting within the confines of the laws as servants of the people. The sense of courtesy will lead us back to those valued traditional rites and customs that we have neglected - those cultures that had restrained our fore parents from taking the evil ways and perverting their original nature of goodness.
The sense of right and wrong is the foundation of wisdom. This will restore the right sense in parents and elders in their actions and inactions that sets the standards for the future generations. Was it not our people that say that; “A boy sent by his father to steal does not go stealthily but breaks the door with his feet.” What are we expecting from the next generation that is being nurtured with election rigging, disrespect to the rule of law, anarchy, corruption, ineffective school system, decay and erosion in traditional communal institutions like the churches, mosques, town unions, families and marriages?
It was our departure from our original nature to seek personal gains that brought about disorder and unhappiness in the society. Greed led to strife as men both in and outside public service went after profit and fight for personal benefits. So, as with our four limbs, these four senses must be allowed to develop once more to their proper health proportions if we cultivate them; otherwise, they wither away through misuse and desuetude as has been the case in our societies. The result of which has been the cultural erosion eating away the hearts and minds of our society just as physical erosion is devastating our arable lands, roads and family homes.