Iṣẹ́, Ìṣe, Ìṣẹ́ (Work, work, work)

Iṣẹ́, Ìṣe, Ìṣẹ́ (Work, work, work)

Sunday, November 20, 2022 4:00 pm

Simbo Olorunfemi

By Simbo Olorunfemi
For different related and unrelated reasons, I often find myself interrogating our concept or understanding of work (iṣẹ́), specifically from the Yoruba worldview, which I take the liberty to assume is, in part, representative of the contiguous cultural configurations around the Yorubas, especially in Nigeria.
How do we see work? What, for us, is the essence of work? Why work? Is it for money? Is it for service? Do we have a guiding philosophy around work? What is that philosophy? What is our cultural consensus on the place of work?
Culture, as Goert Hofstede tells us, is the software of the mind. It conditions how we see life, how we see people and the world, how we think, act and make decisions. Easy to tell what kind of culture is powering our mind from what we think, say and rationalise. Easy to tell the kind of culture powering our thoughts from our attitude to work.
Iṣẹ́ Ìjọba
How do we explain our attitude to public service? The most compelling interrogation I have found for our attitude towards Iṣẹ́ Ìjọba is that by the Philosopher, Prof Agbakoba. He argues that the idea of public service is, in fact, alien to our culture. It was brought to us by aliens, and that has defined our attitude even till date. Public service, to us, was iṣẹ́ Ìjọba – the ‘white-man’s work’. While the white man did physically leave, the white man never left our minds and our attitude towards that work never changed.
A kín ṣiṣẹ́ Ọba làágùn
It must be our cultural understanding of what public service represents that gave birth to the aphorism – A kín ṣiṣẹ́ Ọba làágùn. Public Service does not require of us to sweat it. It does not call on us into breaking sweat, putting in the hard work or extra effort. A kín ṣiṣẹ́ Ọba làágùn.
We find a way to rationalise our giving less or even nothing, in expectation of the best of compensation or service from others. We particularise wrongs, assuming wrongs towards distant others are not necessarily wrongs. That is the attitude some have towards the public treasury. Some see it as free fund, as it belongs to everyone and no-one in particular. It is the justification some offer for yahoo-yahoo or even the Bank. Robbing someone or an institution that is distant cannot possibly be crime. Can it be?
Iṣẹ́ Yahoo
Agbakoba argues that our ethics are not only materialistic, as I have shared here, but that they are particularistic, as explained above. By that, he argues that we have an ethical construct which states that so long as you have not done anything within your community, you have not done anything wrong.
So, there is no universal definition of wrong. When the wrong has been done by one of ours, we find a way to rationalise it. But when it is done by someone else, then it is patently wrong.
Iṣẹ̀ Kékeré, Owó ńlá
Prof. Agbakoba argues that our problem is to be found at the ontological level – that it has to do with our inability to conquer matter. That it has to do with the inability to conquer the material in our mind, hence we are so easily moved by everything, tossed to and fro by what should be primary.
Because we are unable to conquer matter in the mind, it easily conquers us. We become easily entangled in the web of corruption, reckless acquisition and obsession with the material. Our ìṣe has largely detached itself from a proper appreciation of the culture of iṣẹ́. Yet there was a time we were raised to believe that iṣẹ́ loògùn Ìṣẹ́.
We have redefined what success is. Success is no longer about innovation, creativity and meaningful contribution to knowledge. Success is not about impact on society. Success is no longer about acts of integrity. Success is no longer about standing on the side of positive values, it is now all about money.
We have become slaves to the material. Yet, if we do not die to it in our minds, we cannot conquer it physically.
Photograph here attached is that of a barricade of sandbags set up at a security post for Policemen in a corner of this Estate in Abuja.
I remember seeing it when it was being built sometime back. I put it as an initiative of either the Estate or the Police Formation there. It was only last week, as I took a walk around that I noticed that it was built by ASP Yakubu Yohanna.
I am told, he is not the DPO, just one of the Senior Officers there. Acting on his own initiative, he chose to build this post, making use of his personal resources.
This initiative of his (his ìṣe)eloquently speaks to his understanding of iṣẹ́. His ìṣe speaks to his attitude towards iṣẹ́.
I see, from my limited understanding of the Yoruba philosophy around work, that iṣẹ́ is seen through multiple lenses. Ise ẹni, Ìṣe àdáni, Ìṣe ìjọba. There appears not to be a universal agreement on what the attitude to work should be. Yet as long as we adopt a different mindset towards iṣẹ́ ìjọba as we have towards that which is ours, we will always fall short as a community. Our ìṣe towards iṣẹ́ does need to change.

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