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When walking away from comfort is the necessary evil

Sunday January 26 2020

Prince Harry

Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan leave the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London after watching a military fly-past to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force. They no longer want to be part of the royal family. PHOTO | TOLGA AKMEN | AFP 

ELVIS ONDIEKI
By ELVIS ONDIEKI
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Long before Prince Harry and his wife Meghan came into the scene, many people world over have stepped back from situations that appeared ideal and comfortable to an onlooker. Why so?

Who wouldn’t want to be part of the royal family? In the United Kingdom, being born or married into the family means swimming in privilege and luxury for the rest of your life.

Being a prince, for instance, means you have personal assistants who choose what you wear, and in the case of Prince Charles, the next-in-line to be king, to press toothpaste into his brush and to even iron his shoelaces.

Such a life is worry-free in many other aspects, including money. Expenses are not a problem because there is the Sovereign Grant to bear any costs.

But in spite of all those trappings, regardless of the promise of becoming the king of the United Kingdom one day, the man who lies sixth in line to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II decided three weeks ago that he and his wife would step back as senior royals.

Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced that after many months of reflection, they had decided to abandon life in the palace “and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty the Queen”.

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PURSUING INTEGRITY

As a result of their announcement, Buckingham Palace has announced that the two will no longer be referred to as “his/ her royal highness”, and that they will not be receiving funds for royal duties.

Their action will offer a lesson to many in the art of walking away. A time comes when a person concludes that despite all the glamour his or her present situation promises, walking away to a different lifestyle is the better option.

Joseph Murumbi did it. He served as vice president for only seven months in 1966, and despite all the perks that came with being second-in-command to founding President Jomo Kenyatta, he decided to walk away.

“He couldn’t stomach the corruption,” his biographer Alan Donovan, who wrote the book A Path not Taken: The Story of Joseph Murumbi, told The EastAfrican in 2018.

Donovan added: “If Murumbi had continued on the path he was on and remained as vice president until Kenyatta’s death and become president, Kenya may have turned out as a completely different country — with less corruption and tribalism.”

Although Murumbi respected the president, he was disappointed by the brand of politics of the day, and the 1965 assassination of his mentor and freedom fighter Pio Gama Pinto disturbed him.

FRESH START

In his memoirs, Murumbi wrote about the “Kiambu Mafia” and politics becoming increasingly tribal. Those were reproduced by Donovan in the book that was launched two years ago.

Polycarp Igathe also did it. Just when the dust was settling after the 2017 General Election that saw presidential polls held twice, Igathe, who had left the corporate world to be the running mate of flashy politician Mike Sonko, walked away.

The pay package his position brought, like a guaranteed salary of at least Sh621,250 per month and a chance of becoming the Nairobi governor in case his boss left in ways anticipated by the Constitution, did little to convince Igathe to stay, even with the legal protection of a deputy governor in that he or she cannot be sacked by their boss.

“Without fear, favour, or ill-will, I step down to avoid abusing or betraying my oath of office to Kenyans, Nairobians and my family,” he said in a statement.

And thus, Igathe left the deputy governor’s seat just five months after being sworn in.

He is now the executive vice president in charge of sales and marketing at Vivo Energy, a position he took up in September 2019.

SILENT PROTEST

Colin Kaepernick also did it. The 32-year-old player of American football was one of the top-grossing quarterbacks in the National Football League (NFL) in the US.

But he chose a cause that would eventually see him locked out of America’s most watched sport.

It started in the 2016 season as he played for the San Francisco 49ers. Ahead of one match, he chose to sit down rather than stand as is tradition when the US anthem is played before kick-off.

He would later tell reporters that that was his way of protesting against the oppression of minorities in the US.

It soon became a trend where other top NFL players waged their silent protests during the playing of the national anthem, and it eventually cost Kaepernick his contract with the 49ers as the matter took a political spin.

No NFL team has signed him ever since, and it was partly because he could not commit to stop his silent protests.

And as such, he left the NFL, where the salary for the 2016 season in his contract with the 49ers was $11.9 million (Sh1.2 billion).

SWEATSHOP

The celebrities aside, a number of people have been walking away from personal struggles in cases far away from the public eye.

For instance on Monday, January 20, a worker at a call centre on Mombasa Road decided not to report to her workplace. And she will not be going back.

She told Lifestyle that the working environment had become very toxic with many arbitrary fines, blackmail and high-handedness being the order of the day.

“They called me but I did not pick the call. I am not returning,” she said on Wednesday.

This is despite the fact that she has bills to pay and no ready job waiting. But for her sanity, she said, she is better off away from that workplace.

There is also Felix Mbithi, who decided to walk away from alcoholism in 2013.

A teetotaller till late in life, Mbithi became addicted to alcohol through his workmates with whom he could go out for lunch.

They would sip alcohol as he downed fruit juice until one day when he tried out booze and was hooked. He became dependent on alcohol and it made him lose his job as a banker.

DITCHING ALCOHOL

He also lost his partner and had a disfigured face because he often slept outdoors, where all sorts of animals could gnaw at his skin.

“People who knew me before could hardly notice me,” he tells Lifestyle. Mbithi also sold a lot of household property to finance his drinking.

The turnaround came in June 2013 when his younger brother, concerned about how much ruin his senior had caused himself, took him to a faith-based discipleship programme.

“There, I was introduced to God and my life changed completely,” says Mbithi.

Seven years later, he no longer craves for alcohol. He shared tips on how to make that decision to walk away from a harmful habit.

“A bad habit is destructive and binding. There is an inner voice that tells us we ought to stop, but many may be the times either we are unable or unwilling to quit,” he says.

There are others who have walked away on religion for one reason or another, some moving towards other religions while others adopted atheism altogether.

An example is American Jerry DeWitt, who was an evangelical pastor for 25 years.

CHANGING RELIGION

Then in 2011, he publicly announced that he was embracing atheism after finding himself lacking answers for the many problems his congregants were sharing with him.

“At every atheist event I go to, there’s always someone who’s been hurt by religion, who wants me to tell him all preachers are charlatans,” DeWitt told The New York Times in 2012.

Closer home, the president of Atheists in Kenya, Harrison Muia, was also a man brought up in a religions family; he attended Bible studies and was even baptised.

He told a local publication in 2019 that the change came when he was in university.

He said that there was no single event that triggered the change, only that he had many questions in his mind on many issues, which he found science to answer more satisfactorily.

Are you planning to turn your back on your marriage or a certain grouping? Lifestyle had a chat with psychotherapist Hiram Chomba, who works at Befrienders Worldwide, on how to make it a step worth the while.

“Radical shifts or changes in one’s life are sometimes inevitable,” says Chomba, whose specialty is suicide studies.

“This longing often lingers long enough within us. We want to break free: from an addiction, a lifestyle or habit. Implementing these changes may be extremely tasking as they have pervasive ramifications,” he adds.

COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS

Before a person takes the drastic step, Chomba advised, it is prudent to analyse what has necessitated the decision.

“It is important to distinguish emotional decisions and rational decisions. Not all triggers need an overhaul change. Some may just need adjustment: is there enough evidence to prompt a serious overhaul radical shift? Enough history?” he poses.

In the case of the Sussexes, who left the UK monarchy, one inferred cause is the desire to keep away from the pressures that led to the death of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana.

There have also been rumours of a rift between Prince Harry and his brother, Prince William.

In Chomba’s perspective, if a person is convinced that walking away is the best alternative, the next step is to conduct a cost-benefit analysis.

“Highlight all the possible benefits to your new move. This could provide necessary motivation. Also, consider the cost to an overhaul, like losing friends, living on a budget or challenging a formidable adversary,” he says.

“Remember, this is not just a simple adjustment. It’s an entire change, a deconstruction which could mean cognitive, social and behavioural adjustment,” adds the mental expert.

DON'T BURN BRIDGES

For the Sussexes, who said they will be shuttling between the UK and Canada after stepping down from their royal duties, they are bound to make new friends along the way and lose some, given that they plan to start a charity, among other activities.

For Kaepernick, who became a hot potato for NFL teams due to his stance, it became difficult for him to be included in any team’s squad, so much so that he had to sue the NFL, accusing club owners of conspiring to leave him in the cold.

To deal with that challenge, Chomba calls for having an alternative. “Consider if a decision will leave you with less coping resources, more exposed. Then, smaller moves may be more ideal rather than grandiose moves,” he says.

He also advises against burning bridges. “Don’t cut all ties unless it’s absolutely necessary. It’s a bad move. You don’t give away all your pawns just because victory is nigh; you may need to come back to the same people. True freedom is not in isolation. Should you cut all ties, make certain that there are supportive alternatives,” says the psychotherapist.

He also cautions whoever wants to walk away from a situation to bear in mind that it does not always place one on the path to happiness.

“Happiness shouldn’t be the only end goal. The final destination ought to be a better, more flexible, more adaptable, more effective lifestyle,” she says.

TOXIC MARRIAGE

Which justifies the replication of a few tweets by women who had walked out on their marriages. They have been redacted for clarity.

Christine (October 2018): “Seventeen months ago I walked out on a toxic marriage. So much happened in that time, mostly bad. Today, I’m happy and my life has never been more in place and I can proudly say I don’t need to thank any man! I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be and have the best friends.”

Kenzie (January 2020): “I just realised it was 20 years ago today when I walked out of my sh**y marriage and started over with nothing but a single suitcase, with travel wear and a file of grad school application materials.”

Kopano (July 2018): “I’m chilling with a lady at work who just walked out of her marriage. She has been married for 17 years and today she decided that she was tired of being mistreated. I stand for her! A queen.”

A tone of defiance colours the above tweets, but according to Chomba, seeking advice should be part of the decision-making before making that move.

“Consider other people’s advice. The truth is that you are not the first to make that decision. Consult. You may oppose them, but it is your imperative to enlighten yourself with alternatives.”

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