By Douglas Anele
In my village, Ishi-Owerri, Imo State, there is a saying that ekelee onye akidi ya agwota ozo. Translated into English it approximates to “If gratitude is expressed to a benefactor, it motivateshim to do more.” As is usual every January, I acknowledge those that impacted positively on my life the previous year. But before I do that this time around, I want to fill a lacuna in the essay published last Sunday entitled “The question concerning the historicity of Jesus Christ (3).” In the concluding part of that article, I tried to explain the astonishing religious impact of Jesus of Nazareth through Christianity on human history.
Taking a cue from the British zoologist, Richard Dawkins, I argued that although religion does not confer direct survival advantage on believers, it is the by-product of something else that does. But the veteran editor of Sunday Vanguard, probably because of lack of space, omitted the “something else” which I claimed is essential for survival – and which also is necessary for understanding the crux of my explanation. The “something else” is the evolutionary advantage of possessing a brain that, beginning from early childhood, absorbs beliefs about reality and apply rules of behavior without question. More than any other biological organism, human beings survive by the accumulated experience of previous generations which needs to be transmitted to children for their protection and well-being.
Thus, after millions of years of evolution, natural selection has generated brains from early in life with a tendency to make children believe without question whatever they are told repeatedly and authoritatively by their parents, tribal elders and people in positions of authority generally. Inculcation of culturally approved rules of conduct into children, which engenders trusting obedience, is essential for adaptation and survival in a society, such that if children were to question critically and insist on hundred percent rational justification of every instruction from parents or other grown-ups around they might harm themselves, especially when they are aloneand faced with threatening circumstances.
Therefore, automatic obedience is important for survival at a certain stage of human development. However, that attitude can have deadly consequences in certain situations because it encourages the habit of believing without evidence and weakens the ability to differentiate between good ideas from bad. For instance, a childpropelled by trusting obedience will find it difficult to understand the fundamental difference between “Before crossing the road look sideways first” and “Before crossing the road pray first and dash across immediately because God answers prayers.” The first advice is reasonable because it could prevent an accident; the second is irrational and would likely have the opposite effect.
In this connection, we can interpret religious behavior as a misfiring, an unfortunate by-product of an underlying propensity which, under certain circumstances, has survival advantage or was once useful during the earliest stages of human evolution but also has the potential to engender completely irrational and deadly behavior. There is nothing mysterious, extraordinary or supernatural about the origin and spread of Christianity or any other religion for that matterbecause religion is largely the unintended cultural by-product of the human brain’s tendency to economise the use of higher cognitive faculties for problem-solving.
Now back to the theme of today’s discourse, which focuses on the attitude of gratitude. Some people are fond of taking kindness for granted, without realising that the attitude of gratitude even for the smallest of help or kindness received is one of the hallmarks of a civilised and enlightened mind. Accordingly, since the universe owes nobody anything, our world would have been a much better place than it is at the moment if every beneficiary of good deeds expressed gratitude to their benefactors and extended the same to others. Foolish pride, arrogance, ignorance and inattention prevent people from saying a simple “Thank you,” or showing genuine appreciation when someone is good to them. We tend to take the kindness of our partners, parents, relations, friends, colleagues and neighbours for granted. Most times human beings do not really value what they have until they lose it, which often results in pain and regret. As a result, I try my best to thank people that have helped me in one way or another.
My life in 2017 would have been like a hole in a black wall if not for these people. First, my special good wife, Ijeoma, and my rascally but beautiful daughters, Nwanyioma and Nwadiuoto, who recently joined their mother to call me Nwokocha. Ij dear, I commend your efforts to build our family – the companionship, commitment, care and delicious meals. Of course, marriage and family life is full of challenges, but we have been able to cope reasonably well for almost nineteen years. Since there are no guarantees in life and nobody gets everything he or she wants in a marriage, I can only hope that as we work together to improve our marital experience this year, our family will grow from strength to strength. My two girls, in spite of theirtemperamental differences, have been a source of exquisite affection in which love is blended with the desire to inculcate the right values in them. Watching them grow physically, intellectually, emotionally and morally has been a source of happiness to me. I consider myself very lucky to have you, Nwanyioma and Nwadiuto. My caring big sister, Ihuoma, and her husband, Dee Sam, have remained a strong pillar of support for me and my family and I thank them. Mekus and his wife, Chinwendu, I salute you for sustaining the home front in the village.
At the University of Lagos, there are gracious human beings who believe in me and have been of help in different ways. I am grateful to the new Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe; the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Management Services), Prof. Ben Oghojafor; Dean Student Affairs, Prof. Ademola Adeleke; Dean of Arts, Prof. Muyiwa Falaiye; Profs. Duro Oni, Ralph Akinfeleye, Ngozi Osarenren, P.K. Fogam, O. Obasoro-John, H.O.D. Longe, Iwu Ikwubuzo, Chimdi Maduagwu, Victor Ariole, Austin Nwagbara, Adeyemi Daramola, J.N. Mojekwu, Samuel Owualah, Iyoola Oni, Ropo Akinsoji, Joseph Abugu, Tunde Babawale, Friday Ndubuisi, Ndubuisi Nwokoma, and Ike Mowete. I dare not forget Drs. Isaac Nwogwugwu, David Aworawo, Solomon Azumarana, M.M. Fadakinte, Henry Ogunjewo, Charles Ibeziako, Sunday Ajala, Obi Iwuagwu, Ayo Yusuf, G.S.M. Okeke, Rotimi Omosulu, Philomena Ojomo, Dennis Otto, Rev. Joseph Ekong, and my doctoral students. Colleagues in the department have been nice to me. They include, but not limited to, Drs. Peter Osimiri, Tony Okeregbe, Chiedozie Okoro, Debo Gbadebo, Modestus Onyeaghalaji, Peter Oni, and Kayode Fayemi. Deji Medubi, Dan Ekere, Surajudeen Owosho, Pholomena Egbe, Nonso, Seun, and E.O. – I thank all of you. I mustacknowledge my people at the University of Ibadan who have demonstrated that out of sight is not out of mind. Profs. Isaac Ukpokolo, Chris Agulanna, O. Oyeshile, Amaechi Udefi and Francis Offor; I appreciate your interest in my academic endeavours.
My friends in auto spare parts and maintenance business – Debo, James, Lawflora, Ezechuks and Segun – I am grateful to you for keeping my vehicles on the road throughout last year. My great friends, Bede Egbufor, Chiefs Emmanuel Ofodile, Ralph Obiduba and Bashorun Innocent Egwim; Simon Tashie, Dele, Joe Otogbolu, Genetic Criminal, Dee Tony, Jude Obaro, Robert Obioha, Desico, Jake Epelle, Gabriel the attorney and Fred Udueme – my sincerest gratitude for your kindness to me. My favourite cobbler, Tunde, Mrs. Akanwo (who runs an eatery in Arts Block), Fruitee, Samanja, Lugard, and Matthew were helpful to me in several ways and I appreciate it. Uncle Sam Amuka, Gbenga Adefaye and Jide Ajani – I cannot thank you enough for providing me a stable and trustworthy platform for expressing my views every Sunday. I also want to put on record the assistance of Abel, Moses, Richard, and Madam Titilayo – thank you so much your help. The same goes to residents of C Block, Higrise, University of Lagos. My aquamarine, Queeneth, Nduka Iheanacho, NG girl, and Hajiyah – your love and care is hereby deeply appreciated. Dr. Ifeanyi Chionye, Uba and Mr. Aminigo – you helped me a lot in dealing with issues that arose following my sister’s death in 2016, for which I am truly grateful.
I thank all consistent readers of this column, especially those who, through their encouraging text messages and phone calls, motivated me to continue expressing my thoughts dispassionately. This year, I hope to do better in order to sustain your interest. Now, given the fallibility of human memory and the need for brevity, many names have been omitted. If you are among them, please just accept my sincerest appreciation for helping this struggling man called Douglas Anele. Without you, my life would be inconsequential.