Since a 1960s experiment by Albert Mehrabian, it has been observed that spoken communication is 7% verbal. The remaining 93 out of 100 is assigned to non-verbal communication. It is easy to say one thing, while your body posture means the opposite.
I was reminded of this overly used communication reference this weekend when a seemingly overweight lady tripped and fell as she hurriedly walked past a traffic intersection. It was the turn for my lane to be stationary, and my right foot heavily rested on the brake pedal, although I had already engaged the parking gear. As she clutched at her knee, the doctor in me knew she must have suffered some grazes over her kneecap, already laid bare by the ripped jeans that she wore.
'I am fine,' she declared as her friend offered a hand of help.
Those were words. But they were delivered in a raised tone, communicating either pain, annoyance, or frustration. Her face had a grimace too.
Back to my car. My phone, strategically holstered on the dashboard for incoming emergency calls, beeped with a home screen notification. It was the breaking news on the arrest of Nairobi Senator for flouting the COVID-19 curfew. I caught up with this later when I got home.
The buzz around the arrest was more not on the substance of the offense but on its juxtaposition against the profile of a leader who chairs the adhoc committee on COVID-19. Kenyans were awash with comments extrapolated to how leaders preach water and drink wine (and whatever else the honourable senator must have been drinking at the time of the alleged incident). The following Sunday Nation Cartoon was more graphic!
Kenyans have been called out for peculiar habits. As a health worker, I have often wondered whether we could depend on citizen responsibility to contain the coronavirus pandemic's spread. You and I know someone who knows someone who might have escaped the barriers and visited rural areas during the Cessation of movement in Nairobi.
We have all witnessed respectable Kenyan leaders wrongly wearing masks, or not wearing them during televised events.
Despite there being a ban on big social gatherings, we have media reports of political leaders holding non-essential meetings that challenge the physical distancing directives.
These acts send the wrong signal to the Kenyans, who look up to such leaders for guidance and inspiration.
It is okay to argue that the peculiar Kenyan needs to style up and contribute towards curbing the spread of COVID-19, which has since established community transmission. This is the crux of former Nation Media editor Tom Mshindi's column on 19th July 2020.
Much as our leaders reflect who we are as a people, they must live up to a higher calling. As a doctor, I have a curfew pass that allows me to travel at night. Must this leaflet with a letterhead give me the wanton leeway of spending evenings mingling away at friends' and relatives' now that I can roam the streets and highways at night armed with my staff ID and Curfew pass? Where is the responsibility to use the pass when it is necessary?
'Our leaders are not angels, but a reflection of who we are as Kenyans' is a tired, comfortable fallback, and the best example of cynicism. No one should offer themselves up for leadership if they are unwilling to dream the impossible, stand for better, and challenge the status quo.
I aspire to see the impossible being imaginable when I observe the behaviour of a leader.
I aspire to feel inspired, not cheated when I look at the actions of a leader.
I aspire to imagine a better life, not the same despair when I listen to a leader's words.
Yet for any of these to obtain, my leader must on the bare minimum play by the same set of rules.
The war against COVID-19 will be worn through citizen responsibility, but the first battle must be waged through the critical leaders' body language and actions.
As Stephen Covey observes, 'What you do has far greater impact than what you say'.
Dr Stanley Aruyaru is a Surgeon and Healthcare Leader.