Recent deaths a mark of our affinity to mediocrity

Two incidents of death have left the nation grieving – one of a collapsed school building in Nairobi and the other of a vehicle that rolled off a ferry in Mombasa.

As usual, there have been blame games and buck-passing. Yet, there is a sense in which we are all culpable. These incidents are the result of a culture pervasive in our society – a culture of greed and mediocrity.

In the heart of almost every Kenyan is this wicked desire to squeeze the most out of nothing. Thus, businessmen will cut every corner to maximise profits. Professionals take off with handsome fees for offering the most substandard service. Manufacturers peddle the lowest quality products at the price of superior products.

Lecturers roam several campuses delivering unresearched lectures, totally oblivious of new thinking in their field of study. Proprietors of schools invest the least they can in infrastructure, yet collect a pretty sum from desperate parents. Even we Pastors plagiarise sermons and fake out miracles, in exchange for hefty offerings from gullible crowds.

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Sadly, this list runs from here to the ocean where operators of a ferry apparently sacrificed the precious lives of a mother and child, in what appears to have been a vessel either in disrepair or mismanaged.

What we do not seem to have grasped as a society is that, in a race between mediocrity and excellence, there is no competition – excellence will easily outpace the rest.

Excellence is the quality of surpassing the good and the acceptable. It produces the unusual, the extraordinary and the absolutely superior. Individuals, corporates, institutions, nations, and yes, even churches, that commit to excellence readily stand out from the crowd.

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In the bad old days, “Made in China” was the mark of mediocrity – poor quality products. But things changed drastically when China chose to recalibrate.

Today, perhaps 90 per cent of world products proudly display “Made in China” – a mark of excellence. Yes, even the coveted Apple products carry the mark, albeit in small print. Not to mention that almost every good road in Africa is made in China. But it is not just China reaping from the spirit of excellence.

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Japan has dominated the vehicle market – where Toyota seems to reign supreme. India is the world headquarter for medical services.

President Paul Kagame deliberately chose to position his country as a centre of excellence, now this tiny landlocked country has attracted an inordinate share of foreign investments. Here at home, there are schools that charge as much as Sh300,000 per term in school fees, and yet have long waiting lists of parents seeking admission for their children. Safaricom has completely dislodged its parent Telkom, and Kericho Gold is drinking Ketepa’s market share.

Why are people attracted to excellence? Because excellence is an expression of God’s image in us. We have an inherent nature of excellence within us. Even those who produce mediocre products or offer poor services, themselves go for the excellent.

Excellence also speaks of who we are. Behind every quality work is a man or woman proud of him or herself. King Solomon put it well: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” A man or woman who values him or herself cannot allow their name to be associated with mediocrity.

Excellence is also a sign of respect for others – the value you attach to those you serve. It is a mark of integrity – giving people value for their money. It is simple: Shoddy work often has to be repeated. Shoddy goods do not last. Sloppy service does not satisfy. Mediocrity is a fraud. Shoddiness is robbery.

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And as we have seen, mediocrity can kill. A poorly done road; a shoddily constructed building, or a defective machine, all can kill. The only way out for us as a people is to cultivate a spirit of excellence in all that we do.

Of course, the pursuit of excellence is not easy. As John Ruskin observes, quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort. There must be the will to produce superior things.

The implication is that if we are going to avoid buildings burying our children; dams bursting out on villages; potholes tipping our vehicles, and if our graduates are going to compete in a global environment, we must choose the path of excellence. Otherwise we must prepare not just to die physically in preventable accidents, but also to be buried economically in the dumpsite of the mediocre.

- The writer is the presiding bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]

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