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Dan and me in front of his Land Rover in Malawi, 1989

Tomorrow it will be 30 years since my son Dan was killed in Somalia at the age of 22. Dan was a Reuters photojournalist there and he, along with Hos Maina, Anthony Macharia and Hansi Kraus, was attacked with sticks and stones by an angry mob infuriated by the bombing from an American helicopter of a house in Mogadishu where a number of Somali leaders were meeting.

Yes, we knew Dan was operating in dangerous territory, but just as he was confident of his ability to thrive there, we too were hopeful that he would come to no harm.

He was having the time of his life, not only seeing his photos featured prominently in leading global newspapers and magazines — including a double-page spread in Newsweek — but also enjoying selling his T-shirts and postcards, and later a whole book of his photos to diplomats, American soldiers and others.

Dan also ventured into parts of Mogadishu where no one else dared go, including having fun with children, earning the nickname “The Mayor of Mogadishu”.

Dan was one of the media people on the beach who witnessed the cautious landing of the American troops, which became a source of ridicule.

Then, suddenly, this wonderful young man was gone. Who knows how his life would have unfolded had he remained with us?

What would he be up to now in his early 50s? I sometimes idly speculate about that, but mainly I keep focused on how he had been living and hardly on the tragic circumstances of his death.

These days it is not uncommon for funerals to be the “celebration of life” of the person who passed away, and this is how we remembered Dan at his service – which we held at Corner Baridi behind the Ngong Hills, on the land of the Maasai family whom Dan had been helping.

From then I have continued celebrating my son’s life, and the great influence he has had on me — and others — through his vibrant and positive inspiration.

After Dan died, I sought a way to immortalise the essence of Dan by developing the character of young people — something both he and I were active in our own ways.

What emerged was The Dan Eldon Place Of Tomorrow, The DEPOT, which we launched in 1994 as a centre for outdoor experiential learning for youth and evolved into broader management consulting.

Our ethos at The DEPOT reflects how Dan expected his life to unfold and also how I live mine. It is to “have a good time doing good things”, and looking back on our years together I know we reinforced each other in this regard.

There are two thoughts I, therefore, wish to leave you with. The first is that when a close relative passes away, yes it is a time to grieve, to feel sad about the loss of a wonderful person whom you loved dearly.

After my son was killed in Mogadishu, my mind naturally brooded on what happened then — and not least on the American helicopter that I learned hovered above the scene where he was being beaten to death and only landed to pick up his body.

But it turned out that I found it possible to instruct myself to switch away from all that and to focus on his wonderful life rather than on his awful death: on his delightful sense of humour, his artistic talent, his great sense of curiosity and adventure, his spirit of helping others.

From time to time when I talk with someone who has recently lost a close relative, I encourage them to write about the person, perhaps including through poetry, to celebrate their life and the relationship they enjoyed with them.

But also so the memories of the person and what they shared with them can be preserved. And finally, to act as therapy.

My second thought is to encourage all to assume that having a good time is absolutely compatible with doing good things.

Too many believe that doing good things in one’s work, important things, cannot be with a light touch. Not true, as Dan and I have found.

On the contrary, if you are enjoying what you are doing, and helping others to do so, much better outcomes will prevail.

All of us lose loved ones, and at whatever age they pass away we grieve. But pause to also celebrate their lives, and to reflect on how they have uplifted you.

As in my last article, this one again focuses on customer engagement – or rather lack thereof.

The previous one found me in a hospital setting, coaching the man who had just managed me through enduring a CT scan – but without any accompanying human touch.

Happily, he reacted positively to my coaching, and I’d like to think he now delivers much less stressful customer experiences.

Today I want to tell you about a recent interaction with the lady in a printing and photocopying shop, whom I will not identify by her actual name but refer to as Gladys.

From the outset, as I entered she looked miserable and also behaved in a way that matched her gloomy expression. I greeted her with a smile to try and soften her grimness but to no avail.

“Why are you looking so miserable?” I asked her, not threateningly, just encouragingly, with a light touch. No change. On the contrary, the barrier between us was merely reinforced.

As Gladys worked on my printing I had another go at helping her into a more positive frame of mind, explaining that as a consultant I support firms to become more customer-focused.

Like it’s nice to give customers a smile,” I suggested. Forget it. Not a hint of one. Oh dear, an extreme case, with who knows what root cause. I felt really sorry for her, and it reinforced my desire to cheer her up.

As I was suggesting that smiling at customers is a good idea, another client was just leaving the shop, a lady from some European country by her accent, who overheard my comment.

“That’s totally unacceptable,” she fumed, obviously finding my suggestion to have been politically incorrect beyond redemption.

Was it a manifestation of the contemporary “woke” phenomenon, where one must be hypersensitive about anything one says?

Did she see it as none of my business to influence her mood? Was I harassing her?

Why was she so outraged, having merely caught that small element among our earlier interactions? I decided the best thing to do was to ignore her, which I did.

I’ve no idea what effect if any it had on Gladys, who now asked me why I had described her as looking miserable.

“Because that’s how you looked, and I was trying to cheer you up,” I replied. Sullen silence from her. This was clearly going nowhere, such an unusual encounter for me.

I paid, collected my papers and left, reflecting on this unhappy episode with the two women. What could I have done differently to release Gladys from her obstinate grumpiness?

Should I have been less ambitious – just let her be her uncommunicative and uncooperative self, as I had seen her with another customer too?

What a contrast to her predecessor, who couldn’t do enough to provide cheerful service to me and her other customers.

The consequence of this encounter was that I didn’t want to return, but rather find somewhere else to get my printing and copying done, however less convenient the location – somewhere I could enjoy my visit and my relationship with those serving me while getting my work done.

Later in the day, I met a nice quote from Mother Theresa, which made me feel better about my efforts to help Gladys: “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”

Then a couple of days later I made a call to a courier company where the agent who assisted me told me her name was Mona Lisa.

“How lovely,” I commented, telling her I assumed she knew about Da Vinci’s portrait of the Mona Lisa, world-famous down the ages for her tantalising smile.

She did, so then I quoted Mother Theresa’s lovely line about the good that a smile can do, and we enjoyed a great laugh together, as she wished me a good afternoon.

Sadly, I don’t think that either Gladys or her self-appointed defender would have been interested in any of this, and maybe all I can conclude is that we are in a world of diverse characters, some cheerful and some gloomy; some self-righteous wrist-slappers and others wondering how careful they need to be in these days of political correctness.

How did you react to this story? With whom did you align? What advice do you have for me, for Gladys and for the woke lady?

PS I decided to write to the head-office director of the printing firm about Gladys, saying she needed help.

He thanked me for doing so, saying he’d look into it. As a result, I’m delighted to confirm that Gladys is now transformed, so I look forward to returning to the outlet… and to exchanging smiles with Gladys.

When I was an undergraduate student in London in the mid-1960s I enjoyed extraordinary benefits from a number of summer vacation internships I undertook through AIESEC, the international association for students of economics and commerce.

One was with Quaker Oats, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the heart of the American Mid-West. There I mingled with staff in their factory and offices, during a fascinating three months exposure to blue- and white-collar workers who had not been exposed to life beyond their confined environments.

This was my first visit to America, and I was really looking forward to exploring the great affluence and sophistication that I had heard so much about. What surprised me as I interacted with the workers at Quaker Oats was their lack of curiosity about me, this young foreigner with his strange English accent – so unusual in this part of the country at the time.

One even told me I was hard to understand due to my accent. It was for me to open and develop conversations, as I had found with previous internships in France, and for me to have them feel relaxed and to welcome me rather than ignore my presence.

As I observed all these good people – for they were good people – I concluded that what they had in common was that they expected their tomorrows would be like their yesterdays, and like those of their parents before them.

They lived day-to-day, expecting to be doing the same job until they reached the age of retirement, and that their children too would be employed in a similar way and at a similar level.

Even then, as the pace of development of technology was already accelerating, as long-distance air travel was becoming more common, and as we were starting to learn about the “global village” phenomenon, I was concerned about how these people would cope in the years ahead.

I also look back to a few years ago when through our Rotary Club my wife and I were supporting a village empowerment programme in Kiambu County, where we were very concerned about the deep conservatism of the farmers.

With very fertile soil, and located less than half an hour’s drive from Nairobi, they are so well placed to both grow and distribute their products. But their lack of curiosity to try out new approaches held them back from generating the wealth their land could readily deliver.

I come to the present now, and find that as I facilitate my workshops the same lack of curiosity often manifests itself. At lunchtime I deliberately sit at a table that’s empty to see who will join me, knowing that other than the most senior in the group hardly anyone else would do so unless I invite them (which I proceed to do).

Is it shyness, I wonder? Do they feel overwhelmed by this mzungu elder, preferring the comfort of their regular buddies? Are they not curious to know more about those with whom they are unfamiliar?

Whatever the reason, I also always see this when the participants choose where to sit at the round tables I set up for my events. Women tend to sit with other women, technical staff with others like them, juniors with juniors, veterans with their agemates.

I must take the initiative to shuffle them around, so they can reach out to “the other” and get to know people different from themselves, ones of a different age or gender, function or seniority.

It is those who are bold and curious – thanks to being relaxed with themselves and with others – who will seek and be offered more responsibilities.

They are the ones who expect to learn and to grow, who have developed non-technical skills such as emotional intelligence to complement their technical expertise, and they possess higher levels of self-esteem and self-confidence.

So over the years, and in many different settings, I have seen that an absence of curiosity holds back far too many people.

My great hope for Kenya is that our new Competency Based Curriculum will go a long way to overcoming such inhibitions, transforming the present approach which on the contrary stifles curiosity – including at the university level. Both the curriculum and how it should be applied makes me very optimistic for our future generations.