Archive | August 2014

The man of the house

By Frederick Mordi

 

The boy whimpered behind the television set where he sought refuge. His bright innocent eyes are filled with terror at the sight of the cane. But he is more scared of his father’s harsh tone than the cane. He has never seen his father in this mood before. He did not know what to do.

“If I meet you there, Chike, you will see pepper,” his father warned, as he rolled up his white long sleeves shirt slowly, exposing his hairy arms.

He moved menacingly towards the boy, who had already pissed in his pants.

“Dad, I am sorry, I won’t do it again,” the five year-old boy pleaded.

Tears tumbled down from his checks like a torrential July rain. But his father was not moved.

“You said that the last time!” he reminded him tartly.

With that he sprang forward and caught hold of the boy as he tried to dash towards the door in one last desperate bid for freedom. When he counted six strokes of the cane, he stopped. There was a look of cruel satisfaction on his bearded face as he strolled back to the dining table, where he dropped the cane gently.

The shrill cries of the boy, which pierced the still morning air, assaulted the eardrums of sleeping neighbours. They did not take kindly to it. One of them summoned the Police at once.

But his mother arrived first. As soon as she took one look at the boy, she flew into a rage.

“Emeka!” she screamed at her husband, “What have you done to Junior?”

“I just flogged him,” he announced proudly.

“Well done!” She replied sarcastically. “Do you think this is Nigeria where you can abuse a poor innocent child?”

“I don’t care whether we are in London or not! I will raise up my child the way I jolly well please! Nobody is going to teach me how to train my own child! I have always told you that you are spoiling Chike. It is better to bend a fish when it is fresh; it becomes difficult to bend when it is dry.”

“You call child abuse, training?” she fired back peevishly.

“The trouble with you, Ego,” he tried to reason with his wife, an auxiliary nurse in a hospital in Peckham, “is that you have chosen to forget your roots. We are Africans for goodness sake! We bring up our children by the hand. It is the strict discipline we enforce on our children that still holds the moral fabric of our society tightly together, unlike the West where family values have since collapsed.”

Cane

“There you go again! Always sermonising!”

“Well, I don’t care what names I am called; what I know is that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. Simple.”

They were having a heated debate on the long-term effectiveness of spanking a child when the doorbell rang.

It was the Police.

His wife moved quickly. She dashed to the door, hesitated for a while before she opened it slowly. There were two of them.

“Police,” said the taller of the two. “We heard there’s been some trouble here…”

“Not really,” she replied hastily. “We were having a little argument over some personal matter…”

“Hmmm!” the stocky cop interjected, “I see. We are under the impression that someone has been crying blue murder. Would it happen to be that lad?”

He glanced at the direction of the boy, who had stopped sobbing.

“Oh! That’s our boy, he hurt himself…”

“Ah! No trouble then?”

“Absolutely not, officer.”

“Perhaps, some mistake, forgive our intrusion, ma’am, have a nice day.”

“And do take care of the kid,” the short cop added.

“Thank you, officer.”

“Emeka, see how you almost put us in trouble!” she exclaimed when the cops were out of earshot. “I have told you that their culture is quite different from ours. But you won’t listen! You just won’t listen! You have been threatening to flog Junior at the slightest opportunity, haven’t you? See what it has almost cost you! You should thank your stars! You would have been fined for child abuse or worst still, sentenced to jail! Last month, a Jamaican was jailed for beating up his children with a belt. Emeka, learn to do in Rome as the Romans do!”

The man was lost in thought. He felt he was losing his authority as the man of the house.

 

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Renowned authors who were once ridiculed

 

By Frederick Mordi

 

“Stick to teaching,” they told Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women. She did not heed their advice. She believed in her herself and her book, which would go on to become a best-seller.

Ernest Hemingway’s The Torrents of Spring, received cold reception when it got to a publisher’s desk: “It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.” If Ernest gave up, his popular novel, The Old Man and the Sea, which you may have read in secondary school, would not have seen the light of day. By the way, he also won a Nobel Prize in Literature.

“An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull,” was the verdict publishers gave to William Golding’s The Lord Of The Flies, also read in secondary schools in Nigeria.

“I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say,” was the terse reply a publisher dispatched to Joseph Heller, in rejecting his novel, Catch-22. Joseph ignored the sarcastic remark and persevered until he became successful.

“I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language,” Rudyard Kipling, an English short story writer, poet and novelist was told by a rather rude editor. Kipling became one of the most important literary figures of the 20th Century.

“You have no business being a writer and should give up,” was the terse reply Zane Grey, an American dentist turned writer of Western fiction received from a publisher. As of 2012, 112 films had been made from his works.

“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling,” a publisher said of Dr. Seuss, one of the future top 10 best-selling fiction author of all time, when he reviewed his manuscript.

“An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book,” said a publisher as he tore to pieces, The War Of The Worlds by H.G. Wells. Wells wrote The Time Machine, a classic piece that is still referenced today.

“He hasn’t got any future,” was the mordant reply of a publisher who reviewed The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, written by John le Carré. The book later became a success story.

“This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do not publish,” must surely be the unkindest cut of all. That was the harsh opinion of a publisher who rejected Crash by J.G. Ballard. The film adaptation of the work won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

It is doubtful if the world would have heard of George Orwell’s Animal Farm if Secker and Warburg had not published it, as other publishers including renowned author, T.S Elliot, then head of Faber and Faber, a publishing outfit, did not see the potential in the book at the time.

After spending three years writing A Time To Kill, John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 28 times, before he eventually struck a deal. What were the publishers thinking of when they rejected the book? Grisham is now a best-selling author with several films made out of his books!

J.K Rowling was advised to look for a job as there was no way one could make decent living in children’s books, after a dozen publishers rejected her work on Harry Potter. She was adamant. Today, she is the only billionaire writer on the Forbes’ list.

For eight years, Alex Haley got 200 rejections, until a publisher decided to take a closer look at his novel Roots. The rest is, as they say, history.

Even Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, one of the most popular books on modern African literature, which has been translated into many languages with a television version, did not receive much enthusiasm from publishers when he sent it to them, until Heinemann came to the rescue.

They all seem to have something in common: stubborn belief in their ability, determination to succeed and refusal to be intimidated.

These stories should serve as an inspiration for anyone facing rejection.

 

 

Organisational culture and first names

By Frederick Mordi

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen,” he addressed the staff on his maiden town hall meeting, “my name is Ansel Achara. I am your new MD. You can call me Ansel, or if you prefer my initials, A. A for short.”

But the staff could not bring themselves to call him ‘Ansel.’ They either called him ‘MD’ or Mr. Achara. The company does not have the culture of calling bosses by their first names. He is the first person that would attempt to break this unwritten tradition. Despite his repeated assurances that that was the way to go in the modern business world, the staff politely declined to call him by his first name. He gave up further attempts to change their mindset. Old habits, they say, die hard.

IK faced a different dilemma when he joined a leading bank in Lagos some time ago. Fresh from Harvard and coming from a culture where you called everyone by their first names, he assumed it was not only a universal way of relating with one’s superiors and subordinates, but also the right thing to do.

However, when he called the MD by his first name at a board meeting a few days after he assumed duty, he received a rude shock. He was told curtly that he should address the MD as ‘MD’ or by his last name preceded by a title. The top shots of the bank frowned at the imprudent young Harvard graduate, who failed to treat the dignified position of ‘MD’ with some respect. IK had never felt so embarrassed all his life. Not intending to be in the bad books of the MD or anyone for that matter, he quickly adapted to the company’s ‘way of life.’

Imoyi’s case is more pathetic. Even after receiving several stern verbal warnings and a strongly worded memo from a consulting company, which recently offered him a job, he still could not call his bosses by their first names, as was the company’s culture. He came from a culture that accords deep respect for elders. He carried this culture that was difficult to uproot, into the work place.

Heartily sick of Imoyi’s rigidity, his direct boss angrily summoned him into his office after some time to find out why he found it difficult to call his superiors by their first names. He said Imoyi was embarrassing the company and told him point blank that it was either he adapted fast to the firm’s way of life or he should start looking for another job. Such is the predicament many people who frequently switch jobs have found themselves in.

If you find yourself in this dilemma, you are not alone. It is an issue that affects employees, particularly new hires, who struggle to bridge the deep cultural divide they often encounter when they first assume duty.

What do you call your boss in the office? Ansel? Mr. Ansel? Mr. Achara? MD? A.A? Boss? Oga? Chief? Alhaji? Sir? What if you have a female boss? What do you call her?  Is there a standard way of addressing bosses? The answer is not as easy as it seems.

For instance, David (call him Dave) Morand, a professor of management at Pennsylvania State University, found in a study he released in 1994 that bosses and workers seem to get along quite well when they call each other by their first names.

“This is a very important device and a symbolic leveling of status,” Dave said. “Your relationship is supposed to be collegial, this sets the tone for that.”

Dave observed that a boss who establishes a first-name relationship on the first day of work, like Ansel did, would immediately set an immediate positive tone for employees. In the study where he conducted interviews with employees and officials, he noticed that mutual first-naming is common to big corporations regardless of position.

Whenever employees in such companies inadvertently called their CEO and other top officials by a title and last name, they were openly reprimanded but in a pleasant way. In fact in some organisations, Dave said there is an existing explicit policy on first names. Employees who are not comfortable calling the boss by a first name, unconsciously practice what he termed ‘name avoidance,’ where they are silent on the name of the boss when they are talking about him.

To address this problem, he advised bosses to let their subordinates know from the outset what they prefer to be called. Without direction from the boss, he added, many employees would consider it a perilous mission to call their bosses by their first names.

“Managers may need to listen for the silence of an employee not using any name,” he counseled. “It’s better having bosses make clear what they prefer to be called than having name avoidance fester in workplaces.”

Given the current dynamics of the global work environment that emphasises teamwork, Dave said it is not out of place for forward-looking organisations to also adopt the habit of using first names. This creates an atmosphere of conviviality that can in turn impact on productivity. But he admitted there are some bosses who cling tightly to traditional power and would take serious offence at any attempt to usurp their authority.

But Jill Bremer, an executive coach and trainer, who consults for Fortune 500 companies, disagrees with this view. In an article entitled: ‘Showing Deference in the Workplace,’ Jill argues that even though a casual work environment can foster closer bonding, too much informality is not good as it can lead to careless remarks that create ill feelings.

“There is a real need to create a work environment filled with courtesy, self-restraint, and respect,” Jill said. “A good way to start is with how you show deference to others. Deference is an act of high regard and respect owed an elder, superior or visitor. In business settings, deference is based upon rank.”

While noting that many American companies operate flat organisational structures that do not recognise hierarchy, she insists that there are still employees with titles and positions that deserve some respect in the workplace. One of the biggest blunders people make in the workplace, she added, is assuming they are on a first name basis with everyone else.

“Don’t make this mistake!” Jill warned. “Until you have an established business relationship with someone or have been invited to do otherwise, address others using an honorific (‘Mr.’, ‘Ms.,’ ‘Dr.’, etc.) with their last name. This holds true even if they call you by your first name. Using honorifics and last names displays class and sophistication. Exception: If you can quickly surmise that you are about the same age and rank as the other person, you may call them by their first name.”

But in institutions such as the academia, the military and political settings, formal naming patterns persist. For instance, in an ivory tower, it would be considered an unpardonable slight to address a ‘Prof’ or a ‘Doc’ by their first names! It just won’t do! As a rule of thumb, when you address a politician or a professor, use formal names, except you are their age mates or close friends. The same thing applies to superiors you are not too familiar with.

In the final analysis the old adage: when in Rome, do as the Romans do, may be quite instructive if you want to be on the safe side.

The other side of the coin

By Frederick Mordi

A certain banker strongly felt shortchanged by his greedy Lagos landlord, who announced an increment in his house rent without prior notice. He decided to pay the elderly man back in his own coin. He went to the landlord’s house with a bag full of coins. But the grumpy landlord did not find this funny.

He promptly rejected the bag of coins even before the banker started counting them. He demanded full payment in the more conventional nation’s currency—naira notes. The banker stuck to his coins—or to be more precise, his guns. When he completed his assignment, which took quite some time, he left the bag of coins on the irate landlord’s table and walked away. He ignored the landlord’s voluble threats to have him evicted from his house, within 24 hours, should he fail to replace the mountain of coins with paper money. The banker was certainly having his pound of flesh.

His next target was the landlord’s corpulent wife, who sells foodstuffs in one of the shops in front of the house. He made quite a large purchase that left the woman beaming with smiles. But her countenance changed when he proceeded to make payment in coins. He felt she and her husband are two sides of the same coin. She made a scene.

This humorous story is a reflection of the peculiar pecuniary situation in Nigeria today, where coins appear to have lost their appeal to the ordinary Nigerian, and even more disturbing, their status as legal tender. Coins are virtually extinct in the country. It is doubtful if any Nigerian born in the last five years or so, had used or even seen a coin. Apart from the vaults of the central bank and the 23 commercial banks in the country, perhaps the only other place you could find coins, is Shoprite. Who accepts them? Certainly not the market woman or the bus conductor! Would you blame the landlord and his wife?

But it appears Nigeria is not the only country in the world where coins are no longer in vogue. There are reportedly 10 other nations that do not use coins or if they do, on rare occasions. They all use paper money for financial transactions. In alphabetical order, these countries are: Belarus, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Guinea, Iraq, Laos, (Nigeria?) Somalia, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

While inflation has been the chief reason why these countries no longer use coins, in Nigeria’s case, there seems to be an added cultural dimension. For instance, it is common knowledge that Nigerians like to ‘spray’ crisp naira notes on celebrants at weddings and other social functions. Coins would hardly serve this purpose. A government’s policy that attempted to discourage this practice had failed in the past.

Again, the cheapest commodity you could buy these days in Nigeria is probably a candy that costs N5. Even a sachet of pure water now sells for N10! The low purchasing power of the existing N2, N1 and 50k coins in circulation, renders them largely useless, even though they are still officially recognised as legal tender in the country.

Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), drew the ire of many Nigerians a few years back, when he mooted the idea of converting the existing N5, N10, N20 and N50 notes into coins. All these have contributed to the paucity of coins in circulation.

The introduction of cashless economy in Nigeria, which discourages the use of excess cash in the system means that the use of coins will be further relegated to the background. The CBN’s plans to introduce a coin-based vending machine for some transactions, will only succeed if Nigerians accept N5, N10, N20 and N50 notes, as coins.

But until then, the next time the banker wants to pay his rent, he may have to use card instead of coins.