Noblesse oblige – Our social obligations

Freedom of choice may well be the right of every individual. However, freedom does not always confer the right to do whatever we want. This is because the very thing that you believe would make you happy may be a source of grief and stress to someone else.

For example a person who has just passed his examination after nine months of intense study may decide to express his exhilaration by pumping up the volume of his music speakers to celebrate. For him, this is rest and freedom from all his hard labour. However, to the neighbour who has just finished a rigorous eight-hour night shift and wants to sleep, playing your choice music at a high decibel is an absolute nuisance and probably his worst dream. In this case, the desire by one person to express his freedom could well become the nightmare of another. In other words, we need to give serious thoughts to actions we take as they impact, one way or the other, on families, work colleagues, friends, neighbours and people around us.

You may wonder therefore if it’s a free world after all. Of course it is, but also a world where everyone has a duty of care or responsibility towards other people and also to their community. In other words, freedom comes with responsibility, particularly the silent obligations we have to one another. Each person is responsible, to a certain extent, to the people around them without the need for any set of rules being enacted. Again, we must understand that what we do has a direct impact on other people for good or for bad. As the saying goes ‘no man is an island’.

Some people question the obligation issue, as they believe it impacts on their own freedom. The fact is that each morning you wake up and sit for breakfast with a big cup of hot chocolate, you are already indebted to someone. The man in the northern part of Nigeria is indebted to the farmers in the South who farmed and harvested the cocoa used in making his Milo. Likewise, the southern man who has tomatoes in his eggs and potato chips for breakfast is hugely indebted to a skilful northern farmer. Perhaps he owes his breakfast to a farmer far away in South America where the tea leaves and sugar were grown.

In every community, the general wellbeing of one person is, to some degree, linked to the behaviour of the next person on the street. We may not have a relationship with this person but certain choices they make affect us whether we like to believe it or not. In essence we owe one another a little part of our lives. This is our social obligation to one another.

Everything we do ranging from the way we behave towards our neighbours, our behaviour at the bank, on the school run, queuing to buy food at Mr Biggs or waiting your turn at the hospital – all our experiences in life – say something about us and how much regard we have for people around us. If you jump the queue for example, you will create a stir and angry expressions from people waiting patiently on the queue. We must recognise therefore, that we have obligations to one another.

Life is easier when I know I have an obligation to you and you also know that you have an obligation to me. This is the frame of mind with which responsible and noble people are made. Besides, life’s complications and stress are also greatly reduced when we take our simple responsibility to each other to mind.

We hope you will give a thought to the obligations you have towards others today. Perhaps, you may start by thinking about the following points:

1. Act with kindliness to other people
2. Do not take people for granted
3. Treat everyone you meet with dignity and respect
4. Do not take advantage of others
5. Make things and life easier for people
6. Everyone that comes across you will go with an image of you in their mind, let it be a good one all the time.

We all benefit when we do things right!