Don’t badmouth a dead man


​It’s a sombre Saturday as Kenya woke up to the sad news of the sudden demise of the Cabinet Secretary for Interior Security and Coordination of National Government, Major General (Rtd.) Joseph Kasaine Ole Nkaissery.

Before I go on, I take this opportunity from the very onset to pass my condolences to his family and friends. We have lost a great man. 

Having said that, permit me to give you a piece of  my mind and then, when I am done, leave you to continue chewing out the spirit of a dead man. If you still wish to.

I can’t remember at what point in my life I learnt the “conventional rule” that forbids us from chastizing the dead. I can’t also remember a burial I attended where the deceased was talked about in bad light. And I have attended the burial of very many evil people!

Wikipedia says that the phrase ‘mortuary respect’—which is respect for the dead—dates back to the 4th century and is often attributed to Diogenes Laërtius’ work ‘Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers’ (ca. AD 300) where a Greek aphorism, ‘Don’t badmouth a dead man’ was attributed to Chilon of Sparta, one of the Seven Sages of ancient Greece.

Even if you have a problem understanding dates and periods in history, this tells you that respect for the dead is a practice of antiquity.

There are a number of mythical and rational views surrounding the notion of mortuary respect. The mythical views differ from culture to culture, but they tend to agree that if you badmouth the dead, their spirits could come haunting you. 

Now, to believe that a spirit can haunt you for badmouthing a dead person might be as difficult as to believe in ryogenics: that if you preserve a dead body at extremely low temperatures, they could be revived back to life once a cause for whatever killed them is found. But it’s just a myth, and myths—by their very nature—are controvertible.

The rational, on the other hand, tends to be in the shoes of family and relations of the deceased. It takes into consideration the weird aura of pain and sadness that comes with losing a loved one. It feels. It cares enough not to rub salt into the wound by scolding the dead. It also argues that it is unfair to talk ill of people who cannot defend themselves. 

Simple. Logical.

That’s why no matter what Nkaissery did as Cabinet Secretary (and I believe he succeeded in restoring relative security across the country), those who speak or write about him should do so in adulation. 

The word “eulogy” is from eulogia, Classical Greek for “praise.” And praise is all a dead man deserves.

Filling the social media space with scornful posts and comments is not in the best interest of anyone: not the deceased, not his family, not the people celebrating, not either sides of the political divide and not the country.

Let’s for a moment be mindful of the pain his family is going through, allow them to mourn in peace, and give him a deserving burial. We can pick up the usual political bickering afterwards.

Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie) has said,“ Maybe death is the great equalizer, the one big thing that can finally make strangers shed a tear for one another.”

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5 thoughts on “Don’t badmouth a dead man

  1. That was a befitting piece of knowledge. Am glad “praise is all a dead man need”
    Thanks for the insight. The Nation is at crossroads partly sympathetic, partly celebrating, a clear proof of the double life the fallen hero lived.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read your article….. you wasted that space trying to tell Kenyans nothing. Those old scarecrows of kia don’t look at your brother while peeing…..ooh if you do your mother will die….is how your article sounds like..

    Liked by 1 person

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