People are like ants, we tend to think of ourselves of being able to carry a weight 10–50 times our size; but all it takes for one to crumble into nothing is a misstep in the wrong direction.
At the age of 18, I often travelled with my father on his journeys across the globe as his profession as a lawyer required him to do so. I was a few months away from departing from my place of birth and embarking upon a journey of my own to gain further education in a country I’d never visited before. We both thought that this time was one of great importance and I would grasp onto any opportunity I had of travelling along with my father.
At that age; I didn’t quite have complicated notions or ideals — I was simply a kid wanting to tag along with his father so that I could get a taste of what it was like to live in a lavish hotel room and dine with powerful people. I thought of myself as rather smart and so I’d dress up like the people I was hoping to meet; who always met me with great respect. At that point I probably didn’t realise that the only reason they respected me was because of my father — and not because of the fancy costumes I’d put on for them.
As our journeys together grew closer to my departure, I started to gain an insight into how the world functioned. Friendships formed upon the basis of Business Relationships, Name Dropping, Visit fancy restaurants where no reservations had to be made for these people. I grew accustomed to the idea that maybe one day I will too live such a lavish life. And whilst I indulged myself in all the world had to offer me at that time; I failed to notice an important factor that I realised much later in life.
A sentence my father often repeated when I would go on about how in awe I was of the life he enjoyed — “Your name is all you have- that is your only legacy.”
I noticed how my father, modest as he was, never raised his voice, never ordered things off the menu, never indulged himself; in the things that I as an 18 year old found so very fascinating. He’d much rather observe me as I would go on and on about how great these people were and the lives they lived.
As we drew closer to my departure, in what would be one of my remaining few visits in the world of the elite — something important happened and it changed my perspective forever. Of what “Your name is all you have”, had really meant all along.
I remember the day as vivid as it were somehow a video recording stored in my memory. We found ourselves, on this particular trip, in the acquaintance of a wealthy politician who was staying at the same hotel as we were. My dad held onto his priority check-in card but never used it, instead he stood there waiting for the politician to finish his rant at the reception.
A face so full of hatred, I’d never seen before. He shouted at the receptionist repeatedly how there had been a mistake, that his room was not allocated on the floor that he’d demanded. All rooms were fully occupied and the hotel staff tried their best to compose the politician in question. In the end, he got what he wanted — the staff taking the blame for the politician’s fault; allocated a room to him which was much more superior than the one he’d demanded and requested no extra payment for it.
As it would appear, we found ourselves in the presence of this politician once again. Except on this particular occasion, we weren’t dining with my father’s Business acquaintances but rather with each other — alone for once. We shared a quiet and modest dinner and talked about my plans for university. But it became rather difficult to continue the conversation over the of sound the politician boasting about his wealth to his fellow sycophants.
He was boasting about how he’d ordered the new Rolls Royce for his daughter, and how he was in talks with people for an infrastructure deal. His voice became louder as he chewed the food like a hungry animal who’d been starving for days. He lacked table manners, wasn’t quite dressed appropriately, his fake-hair seemingly about to slip off his head from the wind blowing through the air-conditioner near him. And the boasting would continue for several minutes; until he finally choked on a tiny bone of chicken he’d swallowed. He regained his voice shortly after, still mumbling; as he spat the bone onto the floor and ordered a waiter to his table.
The same anger I’d witnessed earlier at the reception would now repeat itself — I remember the opening sentence he used for the conversation, a sentence that would rather become my weapon for recognising the weakest of the weak.
“DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”
The waiter instantly apologised as he began to pick off the disgusting bone this animalistic human of a thing had spat on the floor. The waiter, once again — much like the hotel reception staff; took the blame to himself. Offered to bring out complementary deserts and apologised till the politician finally granted him mercy.
He sat back in his chair; an arse so big the chair could barely hold his weight.
He continued to rant now about how no one is capable of doing their job right at the hotel; bragging to his monkey pals about how the hotel had given him the Royal Suite out of respect.
My father’s eyes were fixated on me during this entire episode whilst I observed the politician.
My father said nothing, he simply smiled and asked me to continue about my plans at the university — directing my attention away from the politician to the importance of the dinner we shared.
The next day, we found ourselves at the airport — checking out of the lavish hotel and boarding the flight that would take us back home. He held onto my hand and asked “What do you think the politician was so angry about, why was he so frustrated?”. I stupidly answered, “Because he was a politician and he demanded power and respect.” My father, hoping to not make me sound stupid, repeated to me — “He DEMANDED respect, He didn’t earn it.”
I stared at my feet wondering what that meant. It would take me several years of hard work at the university to figure it out.
One cannot ‘demand’ respect — It was only be earned.
Whilst the hotel staff may have done everything within their power to keep the politician satisfied; it was never out of respect.
We do not know for sure for whether there is an afterlife, whether we pay the price for how we conduct ourselves. But there is one absolute truth that yet remains to be challenged; in the end we all die and all that’s left of us is our the name and the spirit through which we’re remembered — if we’re so lucky to be remembered at all.
The point my father had so eloquently made was this; using intimidation, name-dropping, staying in fancy hotels, owning fancy cars, announcing your job title, does not make you worthy of respect.
It’s a shield made of feathers made out to look like cast iron, which people much like the Politician and his Business acquaintances needed to maintain the stature they had grown so accustomed to; but had never earned it. And so just as easily, lay always a fear within them of just how simply they could lose it all.
Be crushed by the weight that they had come to believe they could carry. Years later I would witness the very politician end up jail for charges of corruption and money laundering and the business acquaintances turning into cold-hearted enemies.
What remains once the dust had settle, was a name made stronger than cast-iron — a legacy that was unshakeable. A name that I share with my father and his honourable legacy as an esteemed and brave lawyer.
For what really is true is that crooks always come undone. No matter how hard they try to hide their fear by pretending to be invincible. The forces all come crashing down. And once the house catches fire, acquaintances don’t run towards the burning house to save the people inside; but rather run away from it as far as they can — disassociate themselves.
My father never scolded me for bad grades or being performing poorly at school. He never shouted at me for my eccentric behaviour. He embraced me every chance he had and in exchange all he hoped for was that I would grow up to be a decent human being. To him, me becoming a good human being was more important than anything else. For he would accept me even if I worked as a plumber for the rest of my life cleaning toilets.
Because to him, what was more important was the legacy that would carry on through his children. That we would all grow up to be decent human beings. And it we were to be blessed with the same success that he had had during his career as an esteemed lawyer, we would remain grounded.
If there’s one things that never changes is that if one has worked hard enough — they need not raise their voice to gain respect. Our self-esteem could not be shattered whether we were to sleep on the floor instead of a lavish hotel suite. Knowing, full-well; that we grew up to be decent human beings. We could be comfortable within out skin and withstand whatever obstacle life offered us.
Because the absolute truth is our name, our legacy — is all we have.
All else is secondary.