Feature Article of Sunday, 24 June 2012

Columnist: Dzandu, Sammy

Insults here, insults there…

….Let’s give tolerance a chance

By Sammy Dzandu

“A wise man is superior to any insults which can be put upon him, and the best reply to unseemly behaviour is patience and moderation”. ----- Moliere (1622-1673)

Last week, I ran into a friend with whom I did my national service some years ago. During the service, we lived happily together as brothers. Unfortunately, we have not set eyes on each other after the national service. It was therefore a happy moment when we met.

We recounted our past experiences and remembered an ordeal that we went through under a cantankerous kenkey seller in the village. The woman was nick-named “Marijata”. If you meet her for the first time, you would think she was an angel or the nicest person on earth. Her charming smiles and the way she talked were more than enough to get you close to her. But dare step on her toes; and you would regret being born into this wonderful world. The whole village would hear about any good thing that she ever did for you. In fact, she would shamelessly follow you to wherever you go and heap insults on you.

One evening, my friend gave “Madam Marijata” the opportunity to exhibit her insulting prowess to the amazement of those of us who were first time spectators of her “shows”. What exactly happened was that my friend wanted to buy kenkey from her; but on realizing that her kenkey was not only cold but the size was also too small, he decided not to buy it again. That was my friend’s “crime”. Marijata hit the table with her hand, and exclaimed “What! “You want to bring me by-luck?” Hey! Hey!” She took few steps forward and back, untied her cloth and re-tightened it, adjusted her headgear, and as if possessed, rained insults on my friend. Her colleague sellers in the market, who knew her too well made eye contacts with one another and giggled. They signaled us to leave the scene and we heeded to their advice. Surprisingly, the woman came to our house afterwards, stood behind our window and continued with her insults. Our landlady also had her share of the insults for advising her to go and sleep because it was late.

I teasingly asked my friend when he would visit the woman and give her some presents. He laughed and said he would not dare because, he believed the woman had become a full professor in insulting people since she was an associate professor as of the time we were doing the national service. We laughed together, exchanged phone numbers and parted company.

Marijata’s behavior is a classic example of the extent to which some people could provoke others. But through it all, I learnt one thing from my friend- Tolerance! I vividly remember that when the woman was insulting my friend, he never retorted or uttered a word. I believe my friend’s posture infuriated the woman more. She wished my friend would exchange words with her so that a scene or a platform could be created for her to display her professional skills in insulting people. Unfortunately, she never had that opportunity. This character trait is what many of us lack. - The ability to contain and withstand provocation and insults. Hence we religiously go by the principles of “a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye”, “you do me; I do you”, and “tit for tat”.

Of course, humans as we are, we could not pretend that we do not get offended when insulted, especially when the insult is not justified. Naturally, we are tempted to react and say worse and more “damaging” things than what the person said against us. But we should remember a Ghanaian proverb which says that “when you are bathing and a mad man comes for your cloth, you don’t come out naked; chasing him for your cloth”- If you do so, there would not be any difference between you and the mad man since both of you would be seen naked” But should that be a license for people to go on “insulting spree”, knowing that the peace-loving and the tolerant would neither respond nor react to whatever they say?

It is very worrying that insults are taking root in our society. Politicians insulting their opponents with impunity, motorists insulting one another, teachers insulting and embarrassing their students/pupils at the least mistake that they make, parents insulting their children, superiors insulting their subordinates, and sometimes religious leaders insulting their followers ( in a “polished” manner). Insults here, insults there, insults everywhere!

Who says we cannot disagree with one another on issues and make arguments without necessarily insulting? It is sad that very good, educative and intellectual debates have been reduced to attacks on people’s well built reputations and integrity.

I am a regular visitor to the website of a certain media house in the country. I believe the site is meant among other things to provide news and educate the public on health, education, politics, social issues, etc. Unfortunately, some people have turned it into a platform to insult and make unfounded allegations against others. Some people do not care about the topic or the subject under discussion. All they do is to post insulting comments, using pseudo names. It’s really shameful!

Some people also hide under the cover of “phone-ins” during radio discussion programmes to unjustifiably insult others.

As families, religious bodies, organizations, political parties, etc, there would surely be disagreements and conflicts. The best way to resolve such conflicts, however, is neither through insults nor name-calling but being tolerant and ready to respect others’ opinions and rights.

We should ensure that our (in) actions do not provoke people to insult us. Should somebody insult us unjustifiably, we should try as much as possible to restrain ourselves and let tolerance take the better part of us.

Much as it is being impressed on people to be tolerant when insulted, those who keep provoking others without any justification should also remember the proverb, which says that “when water is kept in the mouth for a very long time, it turns into saliva” A time may come when those provoked beyond their “ elastic limit” may also “explode”. Unfortunately, most times, we are more alarmed by the explosion than the provocation.

Although it is everybody’s responsibility not to go about insulting people, but to be tolerant, opinion leaders, including politicians, religious leaders, chiefs, parents, teachers etc should live above reproach in this regard, considering their influence in society.

I cannot agree more with the 1910 American writer; J. Russell Lynes when he said that “The only graceful way to accept an insult is to ignore it. If you can’t ignore it, top it. If you can not top it, laugh at it and if you can not laugh at it, it’s probably deserved.


The writer is an archivist