A National Resolution: That we may respect our insanity.

A National Resolution: That we may respect our insanity.

This article has not given itself to me easily, it has been hard to find ‘time’ to write it although I completely agreed on how important it was to write it.

So let us cut straight to the chase, Tetteh Quarshie overhead. As though the name Tetteh Quarshie is not synonymous to some glory in Ghana, there is chaos breeding under his memorial just around Accra Mall.


A homeless man lives right under the bridge. It will appear, without professing to be the best judge of mental sanity (as I have a mirror), that, the man is Non-Compos Mentis; incapable of a coherent life. This article was inspired when I saw him eating one evening on my way from work. He was just putting food in his mouth, and I was the driver right in front of him, in the queue on the Spanner-Shiashe side of the traffic, as the traffic is almost every evening.

I reasoned, all we all want is perhaps, a good meal at the end of the day, some warmth and then, of course, a good sleep. Again, it appears he cooks under the bridge and feasts there, alone, in the cold. I have seen him a number of times after that day, but almost always feeling helpless and asking what can I do to help this man. Well as I write, I write about him.

I am not oblivious of the many who live on the street; children, mentally derailed, physically disabled persons as well as fully abled persons who have been driven to the street by poverty. Some I most certainly can guess, live not very different from this my friend under the bridge, let us call him John Doe for the purposes of this article.

I imagine how John sleeps at night. John perhaps dreams of a completely beautiful Ghana, where the troubled like himself can dream of a home where they can hope to be fully integrated into a regular life. Before John sleeps, he may pray and ask God to protect him so no one runs into his ‘shelter’ by accident. He may even say the Lord’s prayer and cry, “Let your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

I do not know what John wakes up to, let’s assume John goes about begging for coins, that at the end of the day, he may have a warm meal and a restful sleep. John sleeps under the relics of a glorious cocoa legacy; a busy road full of fantastic cars and people. And yes talking about amazing people, Christians and religious alike. Never forget VISION2020 is the year of National Cathedrals. So let’s start from the place of faith as I talk about my friend, John - The Good Samaritan Experiment.

In the early 1970s, on the campus of Princeton University, two behavioural scientists, John Darley and Daniel Batson, were interested in studying the psychology of prosocial behaviour. They asked the question; why do people do good things for others? To examine this question, they decided to study students at the Princeton Theological Seminary: students who were studying to be priests.

The researchers set up an epic study. Across three days in late Fall, they had a bunch of seminary students come to a building, meet with a researcher, and fill out a bunch of surveys. The surveys partly addressed if the students were religious primarily for intrinsic or for extrinsic reasons (with “intrinsic reasons” being like “I am motivated to do good in the world” and “extrinsic reasons” being like “I really want to get into Heaven.”). Then the participants were told that they needed to prepare a brief talk about the Good Samaritan from the Bible—which is a story about how a helpless victim on the side of the road was just passed by from a bunch of holy individuals — while a non-holy Samaritan took the time to stop and help the fellow out.

Participants of the research were all told that they needed to walk to a nearby building to meet up with another member of the team and then to give their sermon. Then comes the fun part. The situation was rigged — and all participants found a fallen ‘stranger’ in a narrow alleyway. The “stranger” was really a key part of the research — and his role was to seem sick on the ground and in need of help. The catch was that the alleyway was only four feet across… so to not help this guy, you had to step over him! I will tell you the results to conclude but let me lay down my hopes and aspiration for our nation and the continent as vision 2020 appears to have expired;

1. That we shall define for ourselves an identity which is enduring, progressive and one of leadership.

2. That we will treasure curiosity and learning above all things and remember for lack of knowledge my people indeed do perish.

3. That we will appreciate the value of human life and respect each other genuinely.

4. That we will not seek to bring each other down as our proverbial ‘PHD’ but seek to create a society that uplifts each other, firmly holding each other with chants of Ubuntu.

5. That our cultural default will be kindness and beneficence, truly treasuring little acts of kindness.

6. That we will protect the vulnerable, weak, defenceless as that is the highest form of worship

7. That we will understand religiosity does not guarantee a productive or progressive society but such things as law, social awareness, wisdom and a commitment to do our job as though we do it unto the Lord.

8. That we will believe in ourselves, dream of a beautiful world we can create out of diligence, vision and a clear strategy, seeking to be the difference daily and yes singing Uhuru.

9. That we may prosper and be in good health as our soul prospers

10. That we may think and do only that which is noble, right, pure, lovely, excellent and praiseworthy.

So back to the Princeton Theological Seminary, the conclusion of the study showed that dispositional factors had no bearing on helping behaviour. In other words, people who reported as religious for intrinsic reasons were no more likely than others were to stop to help. This study has such dramatic implications for what it means to be human. First off, the overall amount of “helping” was low - with MOST (60% of) participants being, actually, NOT willing to help the “victim.” This is, of course, ironic, because the participants were, Princeton students studying to be priests and about to give a talk on the lessons of the Good Samaritan from the Bible!


As it turns out, simple-seeming situational factors such as, whether one was in a hurry or not, played the dominant role in determining what that person would do in the research. The bottom line remains, no society can count on the good heart of citizen to fulfil John’s prayer to God. If God’s kingdom may come on earth and VISION2020 will not be a concert-party, then we have to remember and hold on fast.

So what I ask is not for some generosity for John but to simply ask someone to wake up (for all the un-Christian French, I can’t write in this article) and do their job. It takes the created institutions of state to fulfil prayers and dreams, people paid every month to intervene and implement social goods, so before someone reaches to be kind to John, which we should, by all means, someone should tell the head of whoever is responsible for the Ghana National Social Protection Policy to do their job.

So as I conclude, I dare ask yet again; who is the head of the social welfare structure and I hope he/she does not use that stretch of Accra and yes, there is a law in Ghana about the rights of children and mental health people. So during Christmas, let these families of the people paid to their jobs enjoy the Fanta and chicken, let us all eat Jollof and be busy about a Year of Return as John feasts on crumbs under a bridge lonely and completely forgotten; let us all enjoy the warmth of Christmas and by all means let not remember John, for, after all, he is but a poor John Doe.

My name is Yaw Sompa and I truly believe in Ghana and a learning revolution in Africa.


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