A few weeks ago, I had a particularly difficult time completing an assignment.
This job is all about telling people’s stories, therefore if people refused to tell their stories, I’d be out of a job.
I was putting together a feature to mark World Suicide Prevention Day and had decided to tell the stories of the families whose loved ones have committed suicide; how do they cope with the knowledge that their father, mother or child took their life, for instance?
Earlier this year, a female politician’s son committed suicide. In an action many thought was brave, considering the stigma attached to suicide, she publicly talked about the incident, observing that there was need for the government to set up centres across the country where youth could get counselling, or simply a shoulder to lean on in case life became overwhelming.
It was admirable of her to step outside her grief for a moment and think of other sons and daughters who were going through a challenging time and thought that suicide was the only way out.
I got her number from a colleague and called her. When she did not pick up, I texted her. I introduced myself and politely explained what I had in mind. She did not get back though, not even after another call and second text.
Perhaps the pain was still too raw, or maybe she had said all she wanted to say when she spoke following her son’s death.
I still had a story to hand in though, and the deadline was fast approaching, so I began to look for someone else to interview.
I eventually did get someone willing to share her story, but only after being turned down another four times by people who made it clear that I was intruding on their privacy.
I understood why they would react this way, after all, suicide is a difficult subject, a difficult conversation we still haven’t learnt to have.
For some reason, this particular assignment reminded me of how we sometimes, thoughtlessly, make other people’s jobs difficult.
In my case, the MP and the four others had every right to deny me an interview. After all, what I was asking of them was very personal, intrusive even, and it only made sense that they would shy away from telling their story.
What reason would one, however, have for rudely brushing off or shooing away that young man or woman handing out pamphlets in a mall?
Many of us consider them a nuisance, yet they like you and I do every day, are simply doing their job. The least we can do is politely decline the pamphlet or take it and dump it into the next dustbin we come across.
Or the bank agents who call wanting to know how you rate their employer’s service — I tend to rebuff them with an irritated, “call me later …” even though the tone of my voice sends a different message, “You’re wasting my time, don’t you ever call me again!”
What about the hawkers who sell sweets and handkerchiefs? How many times have you given them a mean look or pointedly ignored them when they approached you instead of simply saying, “siku ingine …” if you don’t need a handkerchief or gave up sweets?
With a majority of Kenyans struggling to earn a living, I think we owe it to one another to help buoy the spirit of hope we’re struggling to keep afloat by treating one another with kindness.
The writer is the Editor, Society and Magazines, Daily Nation. [email protected]