This Side of the Mara: Musings on Men, Women, Merit and Property

So it’s February again and love is in the air. Word has it that there has been brisk trade in red items of clothing across town. A very, very close friend of mine who works with a flower farm told me that their February sales account for a very significant percentage of annual sales. Be that as it may, I would want to look at some issues relating with the desired cause and end result of all the love that will be going around – that is marriage.

Now, the act of marrying or getting married in some ways has similarities with the crossing of the Mara. Please, do not take this as an insult. If offended, please accept my humble apologies. It’s just that the parallels between “The Crossing” and “The Decision” appear to be so many. It is irreversible, life changing, educative and hard-wired into our nature. Additionally the risks involved for both parties are so high that they can result in the loss of limb, life or both for either party. Besides, don’t Mara and marriage sound similar? No? Not even a little? Ok, let me explain my reasoning.

I mean, for the hapless wildebeest that chooses to cross and finds itself in the jaws of a crocodile that is the sad end of its story. For the croc, it’s just another well-prepared meal. Does not the Good Book say that by a whorish woman a man is turned into a piece of bread? The reverse is also sadly true in that a bad husband could very easily destroy a woman’s career, not to mention wrecking what could have been a happy stable family unit. Images of Magu and Timberlake haunt our collective memory as an example of this outcome.

Another parallel between the two situations is that, just because so many others are ‘taking the plunge’ does not necessarily mean that your time to do so has come. Just because Tom, Dick and Harriet have all crossed at Point X does not necessarily mean that oh gosh, you too must cross at Point X. Not necessarily. It is generally understood that men have an ideal time for settling down. It’s a ka-spot after the early days of #TheStruggle and before serious wealth and positions start checking in. Too early into #TheStruggle and the guy could easily get commitment hang-ups later on. He begins to feel that he sold himself short and deserves someone more up to his acquired status. Too late into wealth/responsibility and the twain will not be a match; the guy will be too set in his ways to change while the lady won’t connect with the guy upstairs and is likely to end up using the words “Tutauliza Baba Nani” too frequently. This is just not cool at all.

For the girl, I have always felt that a lady matures after having worked for a year or two. This helps her to understand the dynamics of workplaces, and she acquires a taste for her own money. Off course this sets the bar higher for the lad who decides to woo her. But this is for the better. Any earlier than this and there will be differences in understanding between the twain.

The main difference between the wildebeest ‘crossing’ and the human ‘crossing’ is that we (are supposed to) apply rationality to our crossing. God gave man free will and rationality. You can choose whether you want to cross ‘upstream’ or ‘downstream’. You can choose to turn back midstream. (Horror of horrors!) Most importantly, you choose who you want to lead across the river, or who you want to follow across the river. You can discuss the findings of others who have gone before you to see what works and what doesn’t. They may tell you that a given Point X has been found to be full of crocodiles! (We shall not name names or point fingers.) For we who subscribe to Christian ideals, the example of the Lord Jesus Christ and Proverbs 31 provide very high standards which can guide us in this all important choice. This choice has far reaching implications on your eternal destination, life expectancy, children’s success chances, career achievements, legacy, and general satisfaction in life.

But the main slant of this post has more to do with life after the crossing as opposed to the crossing itself.

Once upon a time I came across an article on HR compensation in India. The article said that compensation in India is pegged on the assumption of a double-income family. I believe that this applies in the US also where the legend of John Wayne, the traditional tough, independent man is slowly disappearing. Based on my brief corporate experience, Kenyan compensation assumptions do not vary too far from India and the US. This has direct domestic implications for anyone who desires to be an all-round family man.

African culture dictates that the man is the head of the home. However, this cultural premise no longer matches the realities of modern life, especially in service and marketing oriented industries. Kenyan women are ‘leaning in’ and earning as much if not more than Kenyan men. Additionally, population growth has subdivided patriarchal patrimonies in many localities into barely enough space to build or in some cases to bury. The traditional African man, who was originally backed by a culture which invests title in the male, has been caught flat footed. As a result, whereas he was once fully sure of his economic wherewithal, he may now fear his woman. The blend of these factors has caused the African man to hesitantly found his domestic authority on his financial capacity among other things. Unfortunately for him, the minute he premises his right to leadership on financial strength, he surrenders his masculinity to his boss/clients/donors should tectonic career changes occur.

The fact of the matter is that authority is God-given, whether domestic or elsewhere. Now, this is not to say that a man can be excused from providing excellently for his family. We shall graciously assume that your typical Kenyan man dearly loves his family and does his best to provide for them. By virtue of the fact that the man’s headship comes from the Bible, even when he does provide excellently, he should still listen to his wife, perhaps even moreso given the economic imbalance. Failure to observe this discipline is what causes men grief once their wives get more money than had originally been bargained for. Conversely, the good wife must likewise not be frivolous in her pecuniary requirements.

On the extreme flip side of this coin lies the situation in which a fellow happens to ‘marry up’. How does a man retain his dignity when he marries into money, himself having come from more modest circumstances? To answer this question, let us look at the last constitutional issue which Moses dealt with before climbing Mount Nebo. A certain man named Zelophehad, of the tribe of Mannaseh, had sired only daughters. The resultant question was of this sort, would Zelophehad’s name die out because he did not have sons, or how would this be resolved? Israel awaited the ruling on this matter with bated breath. God told Moses “You shall surely give them (Zelophehad’s daughters) an inheritance among their brethren.” It is interesting that whenever God uses the word ‘surely’, it would do one well to hearken to what follows.

In the generation immediately succeeding the occupation of the Promised Land, Caleb exercised his constitutional right and bequeathed his daughter, Achsah, some very large tracts of land. However, like a true son of Jacob, he left the best part to himself, namely the springs of water. Achsah, like any good daughter, tugged at her father’s heartstrings and got those too from him. Charles Spurgeon wrote a very interesting sermon on this text and commissioned us to ask our Father who art in heaven, for some springs of water too.

So how is this related to ‘marrying up’? Israel’s first judge after Joshua and Caleb’s generation ceded authority was none other than Othniel, Caleb’s son-in-law via Achsah. He ‘married up’ but he also ‘leveled up’ on merit, or more accurately, militarily. Othniel appears to have been a man with his head in the right place, and his heart neatly tucked away by Achsah. Assuming that it was under his leadership that Judah conquered Gaza, Askelon and Ekron (cities which were under Philistine rule in Eli’s time), then Othniel was no military lightweight. Imagine Othniel facing Caleb and telling him that he was interested in Achsah. There’s not much one can tell a grizzly old warrior like that. Words just wouldn’t cut it (pun intended) for him.

The seminal book ‘The Startup Nation’ outlines the possible effects had the Lord given a contrary ruling. It details how MENA has short-changed its womenfolk and has thereby deprived itself of half its intellectual firepower. Contemporary wisdom shows that societal development can be measured by the liberties which a society’s womenfolk have. MENA, by belittling its women, effectively reduced academic and corporate competition by half. But then again, when one owns thousands of oil wells, not much innovation is really required.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to basic anthropology. We are all made in the image of God. Every time we have affirmed this fact by law we have multiplied our society’s productivity. Research shows that corporate boards containing women consistently trounce strictly male-dominated boards. When slavery was eliminated, the productivity of society jumped. But that is another story for another day.

To all the men who read this article, I wish you headship, strength and wisdom!

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