Back in 2001 when I was still in college, had one pair of overworn jeans and was hustling this Nairobi for web design jobs I had the good fortune to be introduced to a senior executive of a leading Kenyan company who is now its very powerful CEO. Needless to say, I was intimidated, and not just because of 'Bob' my erstwhile pair of trousers (which with its worn denim looked more of an attempt at covering my nudity rather than a rebelious 'geek culture' fashion statement); but because I didn't have a clue what I'd say and this executive was widely travelled and widely knowledgeable.
Fortunately I realised that I really had nothing to lose and with that confidence I pitched my services as I walked with him (and his entourage of assistants) from his office to the basement car park. It wasn't easy; we met three different people (colleagues and building-mates) along the way each of whom wanted to 'seek his counsel' or just make pleasantaries. This meant that my pitch was broken more than once and I had to fight to keep on message. I guess I can't blame those individuals though, I think they were just pandering as they might have known he was next in line for appointment as the CEO. One comment from one of those fellows however has remained with me since that time. It went something like this:
PANDERER: Hi Mr. Soon-to-be-CEO, how is business?
MR. SOON-TO-BE-CEO. Well, you know... I can't complain.
Now lets put it in perspective, this was the year 2001. All everybody was doing was complaining.No jobs. No business. Bad politics. Thuggery. Poor infrastructure. It was also tough for me, I was just coming of age and had a desire to take off like a rocket, but business was really hard to come by. I used to be so broke, that I actually became anemic from a daily diet of chips (which was the most affordable meal).
With this mindset, I was amazed that there were people who 'can't complain'. Such was the significance of this short reply to the question "how is business?" that I decided it would become my own mantra. I started using it, every time impressed by its effectiveness. It sounded modest without sounding complacent, it deftly sidestepped without coming off as rude, it could be used both when doing well and when doing badly. I employed it every time I was faced with that question, and was always pleased with the effect which resulted.
Today that response is as relevant as it was in 2001. Times are tough right now, food is up, electricity, fuel, rent. People are hurting, businesses are hurting, employees are hurting, the unemployed are hurting. The glaring disparities that are resultant from capitalism can hide no longer. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. People are getting fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, having their electricity disconnected, leaving their cars at home, getting their property auctioned off. If we were to come up with a list of things we'd find that right now in Kenya (and probably in other places) there is plenty to complain about.
But should we complain? Should we complain if we know that as bad as things are, they could be much much worse? Should we complain when we know that at the end of the day, we still have the rejuvenating beauty of tomorrow? Well, I'll choose not to complain. So if you meet me today, and ask how business is, you know what I'm gonna say "I can't complain." Have a non-complaining day won't you?
Incidentally Mr. Soon-To-Be CEO did give me a contract to develop his website, and that allowed me to finally rest Bob in peace.