A Lesson in Humility
1979. The Big Five office was on the 2nd floor of a building on Kenyatta Avenue, and I had a complete glass door at the entrance to my personal workspace. It was midafternoon, and I was having lunch. A young Kenyan man on crutches and no older than twenty knocked on my door. I got up and opened the door, and asked how I can help as I had never met him before. To this day, I still don’t know his name as I never asked as I was focused instead on how to help.
The young man took out a piece of paper from the back of his pocket and asked if I could give him 10 Kenya Shillings ($1 at that time) because he wanted to pursue his studies. I asked how would 10 Shs. help? It was such a small amount for such a huge task. He answered, “I am asking other people too, so think I will get what I want”. In Kenya, asking for money by random people borders on begging and was sadly common in those days, just as it is in any metropolitan city today. Outside of organized efforts, I normally don’t give money to such people because they usually buy alcohol, drugs, or nicotine. I would be feeding the same vicious cycle. Yet something was different about this person, so I gave him the money he asked for. All these years later, I still don’t know why.
On one particular Friday, maybe around ten months later, I was having lunch in my office as usual. At the nearby Mosque, devoted Muslims prayed as they do every Friday. Normally there are quite a few homeless outside the Mosque asking those entering and leaving for money, so nearby residents almost get desensitized to it. Maybe that’s what happened to me. As is normally the case, we received many beggars knocking on our door as we were very close by. Usually, I bring in food in a bag and distribute that to the needy as they stop by; however, today, I wasn’t able to. A man on crutches knocked on the door, and when I didn’t recognize him, I gestured for the man to go away. He would not budge and kept on knocking. Frustrated, I finally I got up and opened the door. In a loud voice, I told the man, “Don’t you understand that I am telling you to go away! Get out of here!” He immediately interrupted me and said, “I don’t want money or food.” And I snapped at him and asked him bluntly what he wanted. He held both crutches in one hand and took out a paper and said, “I have just come to show you the certificate I got from my studies. You helped me, so I came to thank you.” I was completely stunned and speechless, I had no words and felt like an idiot for my behavior.
I went back into my office, and believe it or not, I cried. This man reminded me how to be humble and not to jump to conclusions. This still brings tears to my eyes, even now, when I was asked by Ashish to write about this and when I tell the story of this incident. I learned on that day and never forgot to never look down on poor or helpless people or anyone for that matter. I will never get to thank this gentleman for bringing me to my senses and reminding me where I came from, and teaching me humility.
I am teaching the same to my Grandkids!