I would consider myself a very respectful person. I know how to address my elders and I know how it’s expected for me to act in certain situations. However I think at times, our need for respect in our society can be a bit much.
We’re a country obsessed with hierarchy and authority. Everybody has to have a title, from the traditional ones, such as Dr. And Mrs to ones that I’ve seen emerge more recently, such as Architect and Engineer. Everybody has to make theirs known.
I’ve watched many times in different situations how the need for someone in a certain position to give the green light has delayed the progress of something. While in some situations it makes sense to have the acknowledgement of someone at a senior level, at other times it all just sounds a bit pointless and unnecessary. That’s how things progress slowly or not at all. There’s so much red tape to cut through in Nigeria that sometimes I worry if we’ll ever reach our true level of greatness because we’re waiting for Mr So and So. That’s how opportunities are missed.
I’ve had interactions where I’ve felt because of my age and gender I’ve been brushed off and what I’ve had to say disregarded. Some of my peers encounter the same thing daily in the workplace, where because of their junior level positions, their ability is put into question despite them having the experience.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t disagree with showing your elders some respect and acknowledging someone’s level of seniority. But shouldn’t the respect be mutual? Just because someone is older than you or because they’re the boss shouldn’t lead to some of the automatic privileges they currently possess.
Due to the associations we’ve placed on age and level of authority, I feel as though it’s led to this weird relationship with respect in our society. I think for a lot of people from my generation, we find it difficult to fully speak our minds in front of our elders. When our opinions or views can be so easily disregarded because of our age, it can lead to stilted relationships where we don’t feel free and open with those of an older generation. It takes that one special elder with an open mind who’s willing to listen to change things.
I will always be automatically respectful to those older than me, I recognise it’s an important part of our culture. I also appreciate the outward expression of respect where we call our elders Aunty or Uncle, but I feel as though the matter of age can put an instant barrier between us.
I think it’s important to remember that just because you’re younger, your opinions or views are not any less inferior. I’m the oldest of my siblings and if I didn’t listen to anything my younger sisters said, I’d never progress in my thinking. They may be several years younger, but I learn from them the same way they learn from me too. I’m also sometimes wrong and they are right, and I acknowledge that. Just because I’m older, I can’t walk around always thinking I’m right about everything. I also know that for me, my relationship with the adults in my life that will sit and listen to me, and will also show me mutual respect, has only benefited our relationship and communication.
Nigeria’s obsession with respect and authority could also be more damaging than beneficial. If we focus on only giving people recognition based on their gender, age, ethnic group, or any other social qualifier that they didn’t pick, we can’t actually progress the way we think we can. What about the people who actually have the talent and real accomplishments? Can we really not give them the time of day because they’re your junior?
This isn’t to attack our culture at all, but an aim to highlight an aspect of it that we could look at differently.