Those Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones

By Matthew Ma
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Matthew Ma

“The harmful practices of casting stones, pointing fingers, assigning blame, belittling, mocking, and using insulting language have had detrimental effects on our country. It has caused divisions and eroded the fabric of our society. These actions have resulted in a loss of trust and respect between individuals, ultimately leading to the emergence of authoritarian governance. It is crucial that we learn from history and work toward harmony, empathy, and productive communication to create a solid and prosperous community. Thus, we urge our politicians to refrain from throwing stones at one another, as this will impede our advancement and stunt our development.”

Peter Tosh, an iconic artist, once shared a powerful message about refraining from criticizing others who may be vulnerable to criticism. His famous song "Glasshouse" encapsulates this notion with the lyrics, "If you live in a glasshouse, don't throw stones. And if you can't take blows, brother, don't throw blows." As a founding member of The Wailers reggae band and a successful solo artist, Tosh was known for his socially conscious lyrics and advocacy for the legalization of marijuana. His most thought-provoking composition, "The Glass House," appeared on his 1983 album "Mama Africa," delving into socio-political issues of its time that still resonate with audiences today. Tosh's lyrics convey a message of oppression, hypocrisy, and a yearning for freedom, motivated by the injustices he witnessed growing up in Jamaica and his experiences as a reggae musician. He used his music as a powerful tool to advocate for social change and shed light on the struggles faced by oppressed communities. "The Glass House" metaphor stood out for its powerful political message. Through the lyrics, Tosh challenges the oppressive nature of governments and advocates for transparency and accountability. The song sheds light on the injustices faced by marginalized communities and questions the moral authority of those in power. Tosh emphasizes the importance of unity and solidarity in fighting against these injustices and urges listeners to come together and break the figurative glass house, symbolizing the need to dismantle oppressive systems. However, due to his fearless approach to addressing contentious topics, Tosh faced censorship and was repeatedly labeled as a radical. Regardless, his unwavering commitment to advocating for social justice through his music remains an inspiration to many.

Although the origins of this proverb are unclear, it is believed to have appeared in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, a Middle English epic poem written in 1385. The poem tells the story of two tragic lovers amidst the Siege of Troy and is considered one of Chaucer's best works. The proverb, which reads, "Who that hath a head of verre, from the cast of stones lies him in the verre," is often attributed to this poem. Over time, the wording of the proverb evolved. In 1651, George Herbert used the more recognizable phrase, "Whose house is of glass must not throw stones at another." In 1736, Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Don't throw stones at your neighbors if your own windows are glass." This version of the proverb is the one most commonly used today. As with many idioms and proverbs, this phrase has changed over time alongside the evolution of the English language.

Recently, there has been a noticeable trend of politicians who live in glass houses throwing large stones at each other. For instance, the leadership conflict that arose between Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the national chairman of the All-Progressives Congress (APC), and Godwin Obaseki, the governor of Edo State. What started as a minor dispute within the Edo State chapter of the APC soon escalated into a significant crisis that threatened the party's leadership. Despite numerous attempts to resolve the issue through legal channels, the situation was interrupted, leading to multiple claims to the suspension of the national chairperson. To counteract these perceived power grabs, the National Executive Committee of the APC, working with the Progressive Governors, elected a special interim management committee, the National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (NCECPC), led by Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni, to manage the party's affairs. With the establishment of the Buni committee following Oshiomhole's suspension by his Etsako West Ward 1 executives, as well as Governor Obaseki's defection to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), tensions were high. Some party members believed that the NWC's dissolution was an attempt to demerit certain presidential aspirants, leading to a faction challenging the APC's actions in court. As a response, the NEC convened and dissolved all state and zonal structures while also expanding the NCECPC's responsibilities to include membership verification and registration. Interestingly, Obaseki, who once opposed Oshiomhole, is now in conflict with his deputy governor, Mr. Philip Shuaibu.

The unresolved matter of the falling out between Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode and the then national leader of the All-Progressives Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, almost overshadowed his presidential bid in February 2023. Mr. Ambode was denied a second term in office in 2019 after Tinubu and the Governance Advocacy Council (GAC), the highest supervisory body in the APC in Lagos State, withdrew their support for him. That support was given to Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who easily won the primary supervised by a panel led by former Cross River State governor, Mr. Clement Ebri. According to The Vanguard Newspaper, during Tinubu's presidential campaign, some APC governors expressed concern that Tinubu was not forgiving of Ambode despite appeals from several governors and emissaries of President Muhammadu Buhari for a change of heart. Some governors were worried that despite the personal efforts of the president and many other governors who came to lobby for Ambode, Asiwaju did not relent. The APC governors were concerned that Tinubu would hold grudges, even as the president and commander-in-chief. Today, as Mr. Bola Tinubu resides in a glass house as the president, he has been asking Nigerians for patience, particularly as he grapples with the removal of fuel subsidies. It's a world that is entirely unfair.

Several years ago, Benue State experienced a significant political upheaval due to the disagreement between Governor Samuel Ortom and Senator George Akume. The tension between these prominent figures caused a sudden shift in political alliances and loyalties throughout the state, which had implications for the 2023 elections. Governor Ortom's decision to remove Akume's supporters from his cabinet and retain only a select few commissioners and advisers not connected to the former Governor was a clear signal of his intentions. He also dismissed Mrs. Mimi Adzape-Orubibi, the Executive Chairman of the Benue Internal Revenue Service, and Richard Agwa, the Urban Development Board's counterpart, both known to be close associates of Senator Akume. While political analysts were closely monitoring the Governor's actions and maneuvers, there were reports from government sources that the administration had implemented significant changes to eliminate all supporters of Akume from the government. This was part of their strategy to secure their political dominance. Prior to his re-election, Governor Samuel Ortom confidently boasted that even if Akume attempted to impeach him a hundred times, he would never succeed. In an interview with Dayo Oketola and John Charles, Mr. Ortom discussed his defection to the People's Democratic Party, the challenges his administration faced with the herder's crisis, and his conflicts with other political figures in the State. It is worth noting that Akume publicly criticized Governor Ortom, with Akume accusing him of being a non-performer and questioning the authenticity of his doctoral degree. Akume also accused the Governor of treating the Social Investment Program as a family business and called for his removal from power. Today, Akume seems to be enjoying the situation, while Mr. Ortom finds himself in an unfamiliar position in Benue's political landscape.

Several months ago, three Nigerian States approached Nigeria's Supreme Court regarding the redesign of 200, 500, and 1000 denomination Naira notes. These States requested an extension of the transition period in which the old notes would no longer be considered legal tender. They presented their reasons to the Court, leading to an interim order being granted. Lawyers then began analyzing the situation, with some questioning the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and others praising the pioneer States' actions. This led to a divide amongst the legal community, with some aligning themselves with the Supreme Court and others distancing themselves. The debate became so intense that some lawyers even resorted to personal attacks on the Court. A series of challenges and replies ensued, each seeking to outdo the other in a full-blown array of legal battles. Lawyers went at each other with the weapons they thought were best fit for the 'legal destruction' they sought to inflict. Opinions flew here and there while an indifferent lawyer watched with amazement at the skill and talent with which lawyers sought to outdo one another. It was an exciting phase. However, the Association threatened to punish any lawyer that criticized the Supreme Court in the manner outlined above, which some people immediately responded to by attacking the Supreme Court afresh. As the exchanges continued, some lawyers took sides with the critics and others with the Supreme Court, resulting in a tug of war with both sides having formidable backing. While the battle between the members of the Bar and the Bench raged on, the average Nigerian looked with scorn at the legal house divided against itself. It is essential to maintain a positive relationship between the Bar and the Bench in the judicial system. When the Bar criticizes the Bench, it can lead to negative consequences and create an unpleasant atmosphere in the courtroom. Both sides must hold each other in high esteem and respect, as any disputes can be detrimental to the image of the legal system in the eyes of the public.

Recently, Senator Abba Moro, representing the Benue South Senatorial District and serving as Senate Minority Leader, delivered a motion regarding the erosion of democracy in Benue State due to actions taken by the State government. The motion was titled "Urgent Need To Halt The Erosion Of Democracy: The Dissolution of Elected Councils In Benue State" and expressed concern over the unlawful dissolution of the local government system by the APC-led government. Senator Moro urged the Senate to intervene and reverse the unconstitutional replacement of elected executive and legislative officials with caretaker committees. He also called on the federal government to withhold statutory allocations from the non-democratically elected local government councils in Benue State. The Senate unanimously approved all of Senator Moro's requests. However, in a swift response, the Benue State Governor, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, refuted Senator Abba Moro's claims about local government administration in the State. The Governor demanded that Sen. Abba Moro apologize unreservedly to the people of Benue State and Nigerians for leading the Senate to pass resolutions on a matter outside their constitutional powers. The Governor clarified that he did not dissolve the democratically elected Local Government leadership in the State and that the Benue State House of Assembly exercised its constitutional responsibility in line with sections 7 and 8 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. The governor questions the reasons behind Senator Moro's misleading motion that gained support from the Senate and the people of Nigeria. He highlights the fact that as a member of the parliament, Senator Moro should have been aware of the constitutional authority of the State Assemblies over the Local Government.

The following examples illustrate the importance of the saying, "Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." This cautionary phrase serves as a reminder to Nigerians to avoid criticizing others when they are open to criticism. Essentially, the proverb emphasizes that if we live in a transparent and easily porous structure like a glass house, we should avoid throwing stones as it would be both irresponsible and hypocritical. Instead, it encourages us to be mindful of our own imperfections before pointing out the flaws of others. In practice, this means refraining from criticizing others for something we also struggle with. Ultimately, the proverb reminds us to avoid acting hypocritically and to hold ourselves accountable before we judge others. The well-known saying, "Don't throw stones if you live in a glass house," serves as a cautionary reminder that if we criticize or attack others, we may receive similar treatment in return. The use of the symbolic "glass house" implies that the person throwing stones is in a precarious and vulnerable position, and thus, their own flaws and weaknesses are likely to be exposed in due time. This timeless phrase continues to hold significance, particularly in highlighting issues such as corruption, systemic injustices, and the importance of collective action. Its message of unity and resistance is especially relevant, as it inspires people to challenge oppressive systems and strive towards creating a more just society. By promoting constructive criticism and accountability, the phrase encourages individuals to act thoughtfully and with fairness, ultimately leading to a more equitable world.

The adage is a timeless reminder of the importance of self-awareness. It's fascinating to consider how this applies to our own lives. Nigeria can be likened to a glass house where we all dwell. Each of us possesses the key to our individual space, and there are particular regulations we all have to adhere to. However, living in such a distinctive environment can present its own set of challenges. By utilizing the analogy of a typical glass house, we can explore the advantages and disadvantages of residing in Nigeria. On the one hand, glass houses are visually stunning and offer an innovative approach to architecture. They feature a sleek and modern design, providing a forward-thinking and futuristic alternative to more conventional styles. The transparent structure promotes a seamless integration of indoor and outdoor spaces, fostering a sense of unity with the natural world. One of the most significant benefits of a glass house is the abundance of natural light it enables. This illumination lessens the need for artificial lighting and creates an impression of greater spaciousness and openness. On the other hand, glass houses have the potential to harness passive solar heating, converting sunlight into heat energy and providing significant savings on energy costs while reducing residents' carbon footprint. However, the transparent walls of glass house can pose a challenge to privacy. While the stunning views and abundant natural light of all-glass walls offer undeniable appeal, they can also leave residents feeling exposed. Furthermore, large glass panels may present security risks as they allow potential intruders to survey the home's contents quickly. Despite these challenges, it is possible to achieve a balance between the benefits and downsides of living in a glass house. Imagine a world where our homes are made of glass, where every move we make is on display for anyone passing by. It's a nightmare to think about, as privacy is something we all hold dear. We're sensitive to any compromise of our personal information, which is why outrage often erupts when we learn that companies like Google and Facebook are mining and curating our data. It's easy to feel violated. So, how do we think about someone having access to our life that not even the NSA, Google, or Facebook can get their hands on? How would we feel if someone knew every thought, emotion, and decision we've ever had? The idea of someone having access to every thought, emotion, and decision we've ever had can be pretty unsettling. It may lead to feelings of paranoia, as we worry that our secrets or private actions may be exposed. This can cause an increase in anxiety and a sense of vulnerability. In response, we may feel compelled to fight back and defend ourselves, using every resource at our disposal. Ultimately, the thought of someone knowing everything about us can be a source of great stress and discomfort.

Hence, it is imperative that we avoid passing judgment on others and instead strive to comprehend them better. Our unyielding conviction is that every person should be treated with respect. There is a tale about John's inclination to be somewhat critical of others, frequently pinpointing flaws in even the most minor details. He always expressed his opinions without hesitation and was fast to judge those in his vicinity. Despite considering himself superior, John failed to acknowledge his own fallibility. While he was prompt to highlight the imperfections of others, he neglected to reflect on his own conduct and recognize his own inadequacies. In many ways, he was guilty of the very same things he so harshly criticized in others. Despite frequent reminders from his loved ones about his judgmental tendencies, John remained stubbornly convinced of his own infallibility. However, one fateful day, John's perspective underwent a dramatic shift when he found himself engaging in harsh judgment towards someone who had it far worse than him. While out for a walk with his friend James, they passed a homeless person on the street. John immediately launched into a tirade, criticizing the person's apparent lack of motivation and drive. James, on the other hand, responded with empathy and curiosity, remarking that he didn't know why the person was in such a problematic situation and suggesting that there could be many reasons for his circumstances. When John's friend pointed out his essential nature, he was initially taken aback. However, he soon realized the truth in his friend's words and began to examine his own behavior. This newfound perspective led John to understand the importance of self-reflection and avoiding the judgment of others.

In recent times, it has become apparent that some politicians who have been entrusted with leadership positions have engaged in questionable activities. This trend is characterized by a phenomenon where these politicians, who may be guilty of some wrongdoing themselves, are quick to point fingers at others for similar or lesser offenses. This becomes particularly problematic due to the fact that these politicians are responsible for upholding public trust and are expected to maintain high standards of ethical conduct. The harmful practices of casting stones, pointing fingers, assigning blame, belittling, mocking, and using insulting language have had detrimental effects on our country. It has caused divisions and eroded the fabric of our society. These actions have resulted in a loss of trust and respect between individuals, ultimately leading to the emergence of authoritarian governance. It is crucial that we learn from history and work toward harmony, empathy, and productive communication to create a solid and prosperous community. Thus, we urge our politicians to refrain from throwing stones at one another, as this will impede our advancement and stunt our development.

Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and PhD candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.

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