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Doing the right thing to make a difference


Dr. Tesfa G. Gebremedhin, West Virginia University

Doing the right thing involves a fundamental set of ethics and morals based on the conscience that all humans innately possess. Doing what we feel right based on emotions and sentiments is the start of many problems because other people may not agree with what we feel right. Doing the right thing based on logic and moral is usually the start of many blessings because it is difficult to disagree with people doing the right thing. Doing the right thing is usually the right thing to do relative to the influence of existing situations and conditions. The right thing to do is either negatively or positively affected by spiritual, socio-economic and political factors. It is not always easy to do the right thing. In fact, one of the hardest thing to do in life is to do the right thing. At times, it can be hard to know what the right thing even is. It is natural to react to life experiences by making the choice that avoids pains and seeks gains at any particular moment. In addition, it is evident that we all have different perspectives, perceptions, attitudes, intentions, and moral. It happens commonly that even if we do the right thing, our deeds may be intentionally misconstrued or interpreted wrongly by some wicked and evil people, or unintentionally misunderstood by some innocent and honest people. There are always despicable people who intentionally discourage those people who strive to do the right thing. But doing the right thing usually remains and prevails to be the right thing. According to the faith of Christianity and Islam, doing the right thing is the most blessed thing to do and the divine reward delivered from the Almighty God is great. As decent human beings, we need to look at what makes people happy, healthy and wealthy. We have the moral obligation to make a big difference in our Eritrean communities and religious institutions by doing the right thing.

Why should we do the right thing? Doing the right thing can gratify and mold us into the type of persons that we would like to be identified and recognized. By doing the right thing we tend to get the same thing in return directly or indirectly. If we give value to people, help them and in return they will often want to help us and give us value in some form or another. At the same time, doing the right thing to others is also the means to raise our self-esteem and enhance our dignity and respect. Feeling like we make a difference in our own society is a basic human desire. It fulfills the need to feel there is meaning to our own life a sense of significance and belongingness. While we were growing up, some of the lessons we learned from our parents, like doing the right thing, are often the ones that we do not appreciate until later in life. If we are committed to serving those in need, there is always the right time to do it and there are also the right people who really need help. For instance, our younger generation need all types and kinds of help from our Eritrean scholars and professionals together with the collaboration and cooperation of our Eritrean communities and religious institutions so that we can collectively mold calibrate and nurture them to be good people and support them to make their career dreams come true.

We, Eritreans in Diasporas, are people of diverse ethnicity, professional expertise, socio-political affiliation, and religious beliefs. Though we may have different perspectives, perceptions and attitudes towards our religious beliefs and political platforms, we are always one people by all accounts of human standards. We are all the same people from the same country, Eritrea, who have similar traditional and cultural values and virtues. We must realize that we are never alone, but together anywhere and at any time. The Cherokee Indian legend story (Author Unknown) is narrated below to help us relate ourselves to our rich Eritrean cultural heritage and traditional values.

A Cherokee Indian father (Native American) takes his son to the forest blindfolded and to leave him there alone. The youth is required to sit on a stump of a tree the whole night and he is not supposed to take off the blindfold until the ray of the sun shines through it on his face in the morning. He is told that he is in the forest all by himself. He is also told that he cannot cry out for help to anyone if something happens. Once he survives the dreadful night he is considered a MAN, according to the Cherokee culture. He cannot tell the other boys of his experience. Each boy must come into his own manhood test experience. The boy was terrified. He could hear all kinds of noise. Beasts were all around him; maybe even some unfriendly humans would hurt him. The wind blew the grass and earth and it shook his stump. But he sat stoically never removing the blindfold. It would be the only way he could be a man. Finally, after a horrific night, the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold. It was then that he saw his father sitting on the stump next to him at watch in complete silence as he had been the entire night. Thus, we need to realize that we are never truly alone at any time and place. Even when we do not know it, our family, friends and our own community are watching out for us sitting on the stumps beside us.

The moral lesson of the story is that it is the right thing to do what is best for the good of other people. The young man had to go through the ordeal so that he would be considered and approved to be a full-fledged man. The painful experience is really a powerful life lesson to learn and to make change. It is considered to be the right thing to do what is best for the good of the young man according to the Cherokee Indian culture. The process has two important purposes. First, it was designed to build the confidence .and strength of the young man. Second, it was meant to make the young man aware that family members, friends and the whole community are always around him to protect and support at any time and place. Nothing is better than having family and friends around us.

It has been closely observed that peace has become a rare and scarce commodity in the world over the years. The world seems to be filled with mistrust, xenophobia, fanaticism, and terror. There was a young man during the Second World War era who observed war taking place everywhere in many parts of the world. After observing the worst situation of the world, he became very much concerned and ambitious in his desire to change the world. However, he found out later that it was difficult to change the world. So, he decided to try to change his nation. When he found out that he could not change his nation, he began to focus on his home town. Since he could not change his home town and as an old man by that time, he tried to change his family. Then, as an old man, he realized that the only thing he could change was himself. Suddenly, he came to realize that if long ago he had changed himself, he could have made an impact on his family. Subsequently, he and his family could have made an impact on their home town. Their impact could have also changed the nation and as the result he could indeed have changed the world.

The moral lesson of the story is that there are indeed many different ways to make a difference in our lives as easily as changing something we already do every day. Contributing to a cause bigger than ourselves brings incredible meaning and fulfillment to our lives, because we would never be successful without others helping us along the way in the most critical times. Countless numbers of people have lent a helping hand to all of us in so many ways, some big, some so small they may not even have realized the profound impact they have made. If we know the right thing to do, we can overcome evil thing.

In a different situation a certain tourist was leisurely walking along the beach of a certain island. He saw from a distance a local man picking up starfish and throwing them back to the ocean. As the stranger approached near to the local man he asked him what he was doing. The local man told him that he was picking up the starfish and throwing them back to the ocean before they die. The starfish were exposed to danger on an open land when they got displaced ashore due to the powerful inward movement of the water of the ocean. The stranger said, “Are you out of your mind! There are thousands and thousands of starfish scattered along the stretched coast of the island, what difference you think you can make because you cannot save them all.” The local man was stunned by the response of the stranger. Pointing his finger at the starfish he picked it up and about to throw it back to the ocean, the local man replied to the stranger, “At least it makes a difference to that fish.” That was quite right, he could not save all the starfish because he could not alone return all the exposed starfish back to the ocean. However, he made a big difference to the very few starfish he was able to pick them up and throw them back to the ocean. The local man did know the right thing to do and he did it very well. So, it is a great blessing for him.

People often think that "making a difference" means we have to perform some grand gesture, a huge undertaking. Making a difference means making small changes to our lives and the lives of people around us that eventually snowball into big changes which results in a chain reaction within our community. This is a value that we should always treasure and try to be cognizant of, because no matter how big or small of a difference we think we have made, we can always do more and more. It is a never ending challenge and that is why it is an important value for all of us. To this effect, we need to provide proper guidance to our younger generation when they are desperate for help and vulnerable to various social evils around them. It is quite evident that an amazing Eritrean role model, he or she can help them reframe their own thinking and change their way of life.

If our Eritrean communities and religious institutions develop a positive attitude to advance a positive thinking to come together in unity to collaborate for positive action, it is highly possible to produce a positive outcome. In view of this fact, the right thing to do in our present critical time is to look what is best for the greater good of our younger generation. An important thing to do is establish a community center in every city where there is a significant size of Eritrean population. From our current and past experience we have learned that the community center cannot survive, if the center becomes the playground for political intervention and social alienation. Politics in our Eritrean communities and religious institutions cannot usually function in peace and harmony because we do not and cannot have a unified political climate of opinions. When we act ignorant and negligent as a community or religious institution about the current disturbing situations of our younger generation, we are not doing the right thing. It is a political insanity to try to mix politics with community activities and religious services because the situation can create political animosity, social calamity and spiritual disparity. We cannot substitute one for the other because they are distinctly different from each other in nature and character. It is not the right thing to do to blend politics with community activities and religious services because it usually encourages people to look for an alternative ground where they can hibernate or hide themselves in their own narrow regional (Awraja) functions or social circles, or they keep themselves in complete isolation from others. We can still do politics or community activities and religious services separately at different time period, but not together at the same time. However, if we learn to separate politics from community activities and religious affairs, the community center can serve as an appropriate meeting place for Eritrean scholars and professionals and Eritrean elders together with our youth. The Eritrean scholars and professionals can serve as role models in helping the younger generation in career development and in solving social problems. So far, the Eritrean scholars and professionals have failed to live up to the expectation of our younger generation because they have neglected their responsibilities and moral obligations to do the right thing. The Eritrean elders can help in transferring and sharing our traditional cultural values, indigenous knowledge and wisdom to our young generation. The community center can also be a convenient place for our young generation to create a conducive environment and a good opportunity among themselves to interact and help each other in sharing information about career development, employment opportunities, and college education. Their association with each other can create a suitable situation that can initiate and cultivate friendships and connections that can lead to marriage proposals between each other. Life must be about big picture thinking for our youth and we have to set a good example by being the kind of people who do the right thing. We must lay the foundation for our children that can last forever. In such collaborative work and collective efforts we must preserve and secure our cultural heritage and strengthen and honor our Eritrean identity. Our own unique cultural heritage and traditional values are essential building blocks and cornerstones of our Eritrean identity.

Historical facts of social studies teach us that unity is strength. When the powerful light of unity illuminate us, we can always achieve success. We are strong if we are united, but we are weak if we are divided. Even the weak ones become strong when they are united. As we know each finger of our hand separately is weak; together the fingers become one strong fist. The unity of faith and the unity of love can make miracles in our lives. As long as we do not have enemies within ourselves, the enemies from outside cannot hurt us much. The worst thing to do in life is to become the enemy of our own people. The most blessed thing to do in life is to look after the wellbeing of our younger generation. Adversely, when we are not united we are always vulnerable to danger and we cannot have unity without respecting our diversity. We, Eritreans in Diasporas need to adopt and secure unity, dignity and rspect among ourselves to attain strength like the united fingers. It is really the right thing to do to come all together and keep ourselves united with dignity and integrity so that we remain strong, and respected anywhere and at any time. Nobody respects us if we don’t respect ourselves with honor and pride.

It is really essential and the right thing to do to step up and make a difference in the lives of our younger generation. If we are waiting for someone else like a hero to come and fix the challenges we are facing in our dysfunctional communities and fractured religious institutions, there is a truth we may have overlooked. The truth is that we have all the qualities, skills and capabilities of a hero inside of all of us to make a social impact in our society. It is our choice whether or not we are going to step up and make a difference in our communities and religious institutions. We do not have to look very far for a good reason or excuse that can bring us together. Our children are our very good reasons that can bring us together and it is the right thing to do to make our younger generation strong enough to rise up and stand tall above their limitations to honor their potential strength. It is quite evident that each and every one of us can make a difference, if we have the positive attitude and respect our moral obligation. Subsequently, together we can make change in our society and that is the most blessed thing to do in our life. Thus, we must wake up and get up enthusiastically to do the right thing and to go far and beyond an extra mile to make a big difference in the lives of our Eritrean communities and religious institutions.

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