Potential unrealised

My sister here in Kenya has the usual security paraphrenalia that you would expect in a place like this: 24 hour security guard, perimeter fencing, contracted security company and dedicated alarms. She is in fact more securely set up than we are in Kabul – though I daresay the security package comes with the house. I am not sure how much say she had in it.

Her guard, Caleb, reminds me of Ali, our watchman back in Kabul. They are both bright, sharp-eyed men. They both spend the vast majority of the day doing almost nothing. They are not lazy:  just horrifically underemployed. Sure, it is better than being unemployed, and their salaries keep them, their families and probably several other people alive and well. But I wonder how it would be to do exactly the same job, day after day, with so little variation or challenge.

I would hate it. I am not sure that Caleb or Ali like their jobs much. But probably the weight of responsibility they carry precludes them even contemplating the insecurity of job change. That, and the fact that they work six days a week, 12 hour days. That also precludes much time for job hunting, retraining or reskilling.

They have, I am sure, potential to be much more than guards. But it is not being realised. Something about that unsettles me deeply. I think people tend to be happiest when using ‘more’ or ‘most’ of their potential ( I don’t know how potential is measured). ‘To be fully human, to be fully alive’. Is that just Western psychobabble, or is it something to which we should strive, for all people?

 Most people I guess, are responsible for their own development. But I know many people like Ali, who are more or less structurally blocked from realising more of their potential. What is my role here?

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5 thoughts on “Potential unrealised

  1. “I think people tend to be happiest when using ‘more’ or ‘most’ of their potential…. But I know many people like Ali, who are more or less structurally blocked from realising more of their potential. ”

    Yes, no doubt … and in countries where this is true for men, it is usually doubly so for women. But I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you haven’t already seen.

  2. Might rotation provide something of a solution?

    Provided some kind of training or better employment opportunities are available, maybe Ali and Caleb could train a son or nephew to do their jobs and a little “bonus” money could be put into helping them find better opportunities, which aren’t likely to cost much (by Western standards) but could be too risky/costly by local standards.

    …I’m not sure what the possibilities are here, but it’s an important question to ponder.

  3. Not everybody wants to “realise” their “true potential”. A job is a job. There are plenty of people I know here in AU who stay in their jobs forever, not because it pays a lot, just because they’re happy with their place in life. Surely they could do better and go and learn something else. They just don’t want it. Your role is to treat them (Ali) well and not undermine the pride they may have by having this job. (Say Hi to Ali when you get back to KBL!).

  4. I don’t believe that it’s anybody’s role to change the world. Our role in this world is to change or affect lives of people around us. And each one of us chooses how, where and when to do it, or whether to do it at all.

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