Handling Freebies – My observation at a hotel lobby

Whilst sitting at the entrance to a conference hall in a hotel recently, I looked at the reception area. The human traffic was interesting as all kinds of people went about their various business and activities. Some were staff of the hotel walking with fast strides to their next assignment and some were guests on holiday and in a completely relaxed mood. Some were couples holding hands and laughing, others, young parents carrying children to or from their rooms. It was beautiful to see how people relate to one another.

I watched with interest as people – young, middle age and old meandered around the front desk. People from all walks of life – the upwardly mobile, and the technician in overalls executing their business around the hotel, entire families dressed up and on their way out of the hotel to a function or a family day together.

This is not the first time that I would look over the lobby area and just watch what happens and how human beings behave. I would often take a few minutes to appreciate the interesting character of people – the good, the bad and the rather ugly. On a normal day, this would be the sort of thing that would interest me. I would sit and take in the beauty of love as each man emerged with their respective spouses – the elderly, the very young and the glamorous. I would be fascinated by how they walked or even the chemistry between the spouses.

On this occasion however, my primary focus had nothing to do with what people wore or how they walked, I was captivated by the reaction of various people to a bowl of sweets that was placed strategically in the centre of the reception desk. The hotel had been gracious to offer these sweets freely to anyone who walked pass the reception area. So gracious were they that the bowl was replenished every so often and there was hardly ever any moment when supply ran low.

So I watched as my fellow Nigerians approached the sweets. My first observation on this particular Saturday was of a couple with three children. The children approached the sweets and I saw the first child dip his hand into the bowl coming up with five or six sweets, this exercise was repeated by the other siblings whilst the mother looked on and waited for them to finish their display of utter greed. I watched and hoped to see this mother scold her children or insist that they drop some of the sweets but she appeared perfectly happy with her children’s ability to ‘fight for their rights’.

Sadly, as I continued to watch, many other parties manifested the same behaviour. Hardly did I see anyone who took just one sweet. The minimum taken by anyone was two whilst the majority of people took between three and six, perhaps up to 10 in some cases. I wondered why it is not in our behaviour to take only one of anything we are offered. It is not only the decent thing to do but also the noble and right thing to do.

Dipping your hand into a bowl left in a public and picking more than one sweet says you have no regards for anyone who may be coming behind you. You probably may think that you were there first and so the lion share belongs to you. You may also think that the hotel can afford to replenish the bowl. However, I am persuaded that it is more honourable to give due consideration to other people who are coming after you by only taking one. This shows that you are disciplined and not ruled by your desires. My belief is that no matter what the item in question may be, you probably would not die if you do not take any of it at all. In any event, if the sweets were not there, you will still live. If that is the case, then you can probably do without the sweet or cake or even food at a party. It only makes sense therefore to take what is honourable and what would not dent your image.

My point is that you may not have been expecting to be offered free sweets or free food, if you then get the opportunity to be offered what you did not expect, then the best behaviour to adopt is to be sensible and disciplined about what you take. Even when you are desperate for the sweets, a maximum of two is fine, if you need more, then cross the road to buy from the nearest vendor.

As I watched the children helped themselves to about six sweets each, struggling to pick up as many as their tiny hands could carry and almost tipping the glass bowl over in the process, I saw both their hands full of sweets and without a single rebuke from their parents. I wondered if children as young as seven could have this attitude to a privilege that was offered to them, how would these same children react to being placed in a position where the national purse is at their disposal? We all know that if a person can steal 10 Kobo out of 1 Naira, then they are probably capable of taking 100 million out of 1 billion naira if given the chance. After all, both thefts are 10%.

My suggestions are as follows:

· Parents must train young children to possess discipline, contentment and the ability to take their eyes off what is not theirs whether it is offered to them or not.

· Young adults are at a crucial point in life and they need to understand the above virtues. These are the attitudes that set people apart and make them stand out; a simple matter like taking only one sweet may decide the future of a person – whether you get a job or not as this may be part of the test by a prospective employer.

· For everyone else, a major part of discipline is learning to master your desires.

We all benefit when we do things right.