• Kenyan leaders share several hand gestures. When they want to appear humble, then the palms are rotated straight up and fingers spread, a pleading position.
• Turn the open palms at an angle, with the arms and hands held away from the body, then it says ‘look how open I am?’
We politicians gesture a lot with our hands. So do leaders across all facets on life, even the preachers kwa ground.
The only groups that seem to limit their hand gestures are judges in their courts and doctors in their consulting rooms. It is said that body language forms the bulk of human communication.
The limited hand movement of doctors and judges tells you to keep to your space and cut out the theatrics and focus on the issue at hand. In the case of doctors, this is important. The patient before you could be highly infective and so social distance is important initially.
Any theatrics can obscure the real pain and so hide clues to what is really ailing the patient. But away from the courtroom and the consulting room, people can be dramatic. The spotlight is often on leaders but the challenge is for the followers to work out what is going on.
Kenyan leaders share several hand gestures. When they want to appear humble, then the palms are rotated straight up and fingers spread, a pleading position. Turn the open palms at an angle, with the arms and hands held away from the body, then it says ‘look how open I am?’
When the palms are held vertically, then things are getting serious. The leader is being categorical. From there, it is a small step to ‘I want to tell you’. The most arrogant is the straight index finger pointing. It says ‘I am the boss! I am here! You are there and what you are doing is not right!’.
The index finger extended in this manner says you are there and I am here, and you and I are not in the same camp. In all these hand gestures there is one constant, the leader is dividing the audience. There is a ‘them and us’ and the leader wants to identify with one group or the other. The challenge is whether in the communication you receive, you are convinced that the other group that you do not belong to, is a serious threat to your life. This same challenge faces our immune system all the time.
The human body is interacting with the environment all the time. Some interactions are obvious to the senses that they spell danger.
If you see an elephant, you should have the sense to move out of its way. But interactions at microscopic level, meeting a virus or bacteria calls for a different approach. The job of identifying what is not good for the body falls to the immune system. The problem is divided into two.
Within the body there are cells that are healthy and those that are unhealthy. Then there are cells that are not part of the body but are harmless and those that are harmful. Unhealthy body cells and harmful foreign cells are dangerous and have to be dealt with quickly and effectively. This is how the immune system works.
Suppose there is a change in the internal environment. A scratch to the body or an insect bite. White blood cells arrive. Their job is to quickly identify any foreign cells and also any damaged body cells. They can do this because every cell gives off an identifying signal. These white blood cells have enzymes that can digest proteins and carry chemicals that can kill the damaged cells.
If the foreign cells have moved beyond the immediate site, then the body signals that there is a bigger problem. If the site is within the respiratory tract, a cough develops. If within the alimentary canal either vomiting or diarrhoea. All these actions to expel the foreign cells. Problem is when the cells are not foreign but are unhealthy human cells . The equivalent of belonging to the party but behaving like a member of another party? The surface cell signal will say ‘I belong’, but the behaviour is different. What is the body to do?
The answer is that it depends. And it is mainly a question of timing and preventive care. The group of diseases where there is no foreign infection are called non-communicable diseases. They include hypertension, diabetes, cancer and mental illnesses. The cells causing the problem are your own. One major cause of non-communicable diseases are lifestyle choices.
Make the wrong choices initially about what you eat, breath and smoke and the consequences appear later. Early signs of things going wrong can be picked up through screening. The tailor adjusting the waist for a pair of trousers. A blood pressure check. Being unable to walk up three flights of stairs easily. A party vetting candidates properly. Without the proper screening, non-communicable diseases lead to frequent lifelong visits to the doctor, expensive medication and constant lab testing. Because the problem is that the unhealthy cells are your own body cells. The immune system cannot act.
Research suggests that when leaders are making a speech, dominant hand gestures are associated with good things, while the non-dominant hand is used to convey bad things.
So a right-handed leader will hold the microphone in the left hand and gesticulate using the right hand when they have something good to say and switch hands when the topic is not a good one. The ‘them versus us’ rhetoric of pointing fingers is often just theatre. What is harder to solve is when true behaviour change is required for future healthy living.
Director, Centre for Health Solutions - Kenya