I am recording this Lagos, Nigeria. I’m here to meet with private citizens and government officials to talk about bringing CHARACTER COUNTS! to Nigeria’s schools.
If you grunted a cynical “good luck” and thought about scam e-mails, street vendors selling counterfeit designer purses and sun glasses and the country’s reputation as one of the most corrupt in the world, you’ve proved the prevalence and perniciousness of stereotypes and the tendency of those of us who think we are immune from this form of prejudice to believe them.
A Nigerian poet and novelist, Chimamanda Adichie*points out that the problem with stereotypes is not that they are not true but that they are incomplete. And this is definitely the case with Nigeria. Of course, the stereotype is grounded in evidence. Despite recent efforts to reduce corruption, it’s still endemic and the e-mails keep coming and the vendors keep selling. This view of the dark side of this huge and diverse country of 140 million people is only part of the truth.
Few outsiders know that there are millions of articulate, well-educated, deeply decent people who are appalled by their country’s reputation and the portions of it that reflect reality.
But the people who invited me here are not only concerned with the criminal elements of their society; they are worried about the next generation. They are profoundly aware of the erosion of common values like honor and integrity and they believe CHARACTER COUNTS! can help schools do a better job of building character and instilling core ethical values. They believe this effort is a good in itself and that it is the best hope to reshape the culture of their country so it can achieve its moral and economic potential.
Nigeria is only in its tenth year of democracy after a repressive military dictatorship and they have made major progress in the fight against ingrained habits of kickbacks, bribes, appreciation payments and out and out embezzlement.
While there is much more to do, how can one not be hopeful after seeing the impossible happen in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya?
But it’s not just hope that fuels this effort; it is a matter of duty rooted in pride in their country and love of their children.
Everyone I’ve met is aware of the challenges and difficulties in trying to strengthen the moral fiber of a culture that has been adrift. They are certain, however, that doing nothing is unacceptable and that whatever they do will make things better.
Better is not necessarily good but the moral quality actions pursued for a noble cause is not determined by when or even whether they achieve every goal; the effort itself is a moral action.
The way of honor is to do all the good you can, when you can with what you have. And if it makes things better they are well on their way to good.
*Ms. Adichie delivered an absolutely wonderful talk at a TED conference. It’s well worth your time. www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg)