Welcome

Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Give: The phenomenon of acts of benevolence and random acts of kindness

I knew that I should write a post of my latest experience with what I have termed "The Give". For many years, I have enjoyed the results of seemingly random acts of benevolence. I don't mean the kind of act like I have described in my post on "Brawta", but something that is much more substantial in its physical representation and therefore much more astounding in terms of its emotional significance. Some would see this as a take on the Good Samaritan story in The Bible. This phenomena is not isolated as you can see from a website dealing with "act of random kindness". My family has often witnessed or heard of similar experiences of mine. I will recount the latest example. However, I will try to retell this incident in a way that does not expose exactly who and what is involved, but the persons concerned and some close friends know more precisely what happened.

Last Thursday, an expensive piece of equipment, which I had bought three weeks ago, suffered a terrible fate: it got douced with water (let's say that it fell into the toilet), and as I joked soon aftger my device from RIM was now RIP. I took it back to the retailer, with little hope, and explained what had happened. "Sorry, sir. There's no warranty cover for water damage to this. You will have to buy a new one." was the clear and gently delivered message I received. I inhaled and asked how much the new one would be. "Well, you could get a 15 percent discount." Now this device retails at a very high price. After checking, however, we discovered that the model I had bought was out of stock on the island but a shipment was due in during the next week. So, I said that I would try to find a temporary solution, hoping that a friend could lend me a replacement. That happened and at least for a day I could function as I wanted.

The next day, Friday morning, I got a call from a manager at the store asking if her staff had found a solution for me. I said that I had been offered a loaner that was not able to do all that I needed and had decided to wait for a new shipment to come in before deciding how to proceed. "Well," she said, "I have a close substitute that I can give you." I paused and asked if the word "give" meant what I thought it meant. "Yes," she said. "Just come to the store today." I did that later in the morning, and lo and behold, we found that there was in fact an near perfect substitute that I could have. We went through some paper work to allow me to make an exchange for the damaged item, et voila, I walked out into the street a very happy customer. But again I was wondering how and why I had enjoyed such benevolence.

The manager concerned is someone whom I met in that same store in early January, who had shown me the face of customer service not seen enough in Barbados, and spent two hours resolving a problem created by her company, which had resulted in my being disconnected from the normal service. (At the same time she had resolved a problem for another customer, who had downloaded software which had stopped his two week old device from working. He was angry, but she dealt with him calmly, and eventually got him to understand that he had caused the problem. At which point an exchange of equipment was arranged.) She confimed that this concern with resolving customer problems was not just some flash in the pan, when a few weeks ago she helped resolve some different problems for newly arrived Jamaican friends of mine. They not only got the service that they they had been told would be available to them in Barbados but also saw for themselves this extraordinary level of customer care.

On the same Thursday I mentioned above, I had the opportunity to meet at the retail store senior managers of the company concerned, who were visiting from Britain, and I used that to praise this lady and her team. I commented on how she never stopped training her staff on how to give each customer the care and attention that he/she sought. I told the senior managers that if they were not careful, this lady would "brand" herself and go off into the sunset as one of the most gifted sales representatives on this island. Did that sway her in dealing with me? I doubt it. She was not there at the time, having had to leave due to a bout of gastric problems. I should say that I had offered her the solution of ginger and cerassee. Could that have swayed her? I doubt it and it would seem disproportionate.

What I have learned about this phenomenon is never to ask the question "Why?" but accept and in a sense move on.

Metaphors are very important to me. My Friday had started with the cancellation of tennis coaching due to rain in the early morning. The weather cleared later, but rain started again just as the sports day at my little girl's school was due to start, so that event was also cancelled, after all the children and parents had installed themselves by the sports field. I had managed to get my father and his wheel chair to the event without him getting too wet, but he got douced getting from the car to the sports field. However, brilliant sunshine bathed Bridgetown for most of the rest of the morning, and I breezed around doing my errands lamenting that my child had not had "her day in the sun". But then there was another heavy downpour of rain just as I was finishing my transactions described above and heading back to my car. I waited in the store for the rain to clear, but my benefactor left to collect her son, whose sports day was just going to be cancelled due to the sudden change of weather. The day had begun with dark clouds and heavy rain, then became bright again, and rain and sun had played with us all morning. Literally and metaphorically, I was hit by several heavy doses of rain, but finished off enjoying wonderful sunshine till the end of the day. A day of mixed weather? A day of mixed fortunes?

A newish Jamaican friend asked if I could sell her some of what I had or somehow let it wash off on her. I told her that it's not that simple otherwise I would have packaged this thing and "gone clear" a long time ago.

I have spent a lot of the past two weeks preaching an old message of mine: every apparent setback is really an opportunity.

My father (78) suffered a stroke 16 months ago and lost most of his movement on his left side. This is a man who had spent most of the past 20 years walking a lot every day and going to market, doing aerobics classes with a "bunch of old pretty gals" and practicing yoga. He started walking again several months after his attack but making progress is slow. He left Jamaica and came to spend a month with me here in Barbados. I'm trying to give him back a lot of his independence of movement and putting him through a kind of boot camp, where he's pushed to do as much as he can for himself. He complains bitterly, but has managed to get himself in and out of the car more easily and the walk around the outside of the house is less of a chore and more of an event now.

Jamaicans (not uniquely) are shaped a lot by how their state of "suffering" can be put into the lyrics of songs (this is a part of our slave heritage as often seen in chain gang songs). That way you can chant your way out of oppression and into enchantment. As I wrote this morning I recalled the words of the late Desmond Dekker in his song "The Israelites" (which is really saying that no matter what the adversity you see at the start of a day, there will be better times). The recollection was possibly prompted by a discussion at a party last night about his film "The Harder They Come". Who knows? The songs goes:

Get up in the morning slaving for bread, sir
So that every mouth can be fed
Oooh, oooh mi Israelites.

Mi wife an ma kids them a pack up an a leave me
Darling, she said, I was yours to be seen
Oooh, oooh mi Israelites

Who am I workin' for?

Cho! Shirt dem a tear-up trousers a go
I dont wan to end up like Bonny and Clyde
Oooh, oooh mi Israelites

After a storm there must be a calm
You catch me in your farm, you sound your alarm
Oooh, oooh mi Israelites

When I recount the incident of last Friday, I quickly recall (as I often do) "The Celestine Prophecy", which is a work of fiction that deals with some interesting spiritual phenomena. Some will regard this book and its theme as cooky. I don't but as always I will let you judge for yourself. I firmly believe that there are some spiritual and psychological connections between people that get sparked and lead to some extraordinary contacts between them, especially when there seems to be an adversity to deal with. A problem shared is a problem halved? Am I quietly praying inside and is someone really listening? I really have no way of explaining "The Give" but I know that it's "out there" and alive and kicking.

1 comment:

Esteban Agosto Reid said...

Wishing your dad the best in his recovery!RESPECT!!