The ancient philosopher Aristotle said, “A nation is not built by mountains and trees …… it is built by the character of its citizens.” Such wisdom applies today as it did at the time of this great thinker.
In the modern context, one can say that a nation endowed with hardworking people, rich natural resources, favorable climate and so on, but whose citizens lack character, is a nation built on a shaky foundation.
The concept of citizenship from the Aristotelian perspective is another discussion altogether. Suffice to say that being a citizen goes beyond the mere fact of belonging to a particular country or State. To Aristotle, the ‘good citizen’ is one who upholds the constitution and plays an active role in the country’s governance.
It, therefore, follows that the character of the State is largely determined by the character of its citizens. He writes: “A State is an association of men for the sake of the best moral life. The type of life that a group of men will live in common depends upon what kind of men they are ……”
Discipline is a core aspect of character. To Aristotle, discipline is essentially living a life of restraint in conformity with the norms of society. To him, a free society is built on a disciplined citizenry. “Through discipline, comes freedom.”
As the deadly coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic spreads, Kenyans had better heed the wise counsel of Aristotle. That unless we individually and collectively embrace discipline as the cornerstone of good citizenship, especially at this time, we risk being consumed by the pandemic.
Of great urgency is the need to embrace discipline as an imperative in our daily lives. Failure to which the new coronavirus will teach us a lesson we shall never forget as a nation.
Being a disciplined citizen is more than just obeying the law. It also means rising above parochial interests and putting the country first. It means demonstrating true fidelity to our compatriots by eschewing behavior that endangers the lives of others. Above all, it means sacrificing short-term comforts and pleasures for long-term security and progress.
A great army can only be built out of disciplined, selfless citizens who are ready to confront any threat to their country. Great soldiers don’t betray their country. They never show fear or panic but trudge on heroically to victory.
Discipline in the prevailing context means being imbued with a civic duty to enlist and fight in the war against COVID-19. It means adhering to prescribed measures to tame the virus and imploring fellow citizens to do the same. It is about putting selfish interests aside to save your country and your fellow men and women.
Indiscipline, on the other hand, is defying government directives on social distancing, disregarding quarantine, refusing to comply with curfew orders, neglecting personal and respiratory hygiene and other precautions, and any other conduct that puts the lives of fellow citizens at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Anyone guilty of such conduct is a traitor and belongs in the lowest circle of Hell with Judas Iscariot. This applies to those who thrive in disseminating falsehoods and false narratives about COVID-19 and those who neglect their duty to enforce public health directives as required by law or engaging in corruption or any malpractices that compromise public health and safety.
Kenya requires a disciplined and enlightened citizenry capable of rising above self-interest to fight and win the war against COVID-19.
We should in this regard emulate countries that have confronted and surmounted extremely challenging times through patriotism, tenacity, and discipline of their citizens.
A good example is Japan. At the end of World War 2, this small island nation in the Far East lay in ruins, vanquished militarily and economically, by catastrophic atomic bombing by the Americans. But within two decades, Japan had emerged out of the ashes of war as a global economic and industrial powerhouse.
This phenomenal turnaround is to a good part attributed to the hard work, innovativeness and discipline of the Japanese people. Ironically, Japan was to endure yet another nuclear-related calamity during peacetime, with the 2011 Fukushima tragedy.
The discipline ingrained in the Japanese people, however, prevailed in the ensuing humanitarian crisis. With food, water and other essential commodities in short supply, people queued patiently to receive their rations thus averting chaos and violence in the affected regions.
Kenyans are no doubt an enterprising and innovative people. However, the collective discipline needed to deal with extremely challenging moments such as COVID-19 is often lacking. A general disregard for law and authority appears to take root as basic primal instincts of self-preservation override reason.
Since news of the first case of COVID-19 in Kenya, such behavior has occasionally manifested itself. Although many have heeded the government directives aimed at taming the pandemic, a good number seems not to care thus exposing themselves and others to the deadly virus.
We cannot afford to sustain such indiscipline and hope to escape the debilitating consequences as a country.
In short, to conquer this insidious and terrifying enemy, we must all strive to be citizens of character and discipline. Hopefully, the pandemic will end but this is an opportunity to make discipline emblematic of our national culture and a distinct attribute of good citizenship.
Only then shall we triumph over challenges and threats like COVID-19 now and in the future.
Mr. Choto is a lawyer and public affairs consultant. [email protected]