“A person should not, out of pride and etiquette, swallow his or her phlegm.” – African proverb
Two women in a beauty saloon are having a conversation about love with that special intensity that comes when the same subject can be approached from both ends. The older woman says: “Look, my love, love cannot be defined. It hits you like a fever irrespective of your will and drives you to make sacrifices that sound and look insane to bystanders.” The younger woman looks at the older woman, all puzzled and replies, “well that is why I will never fall in love with my heart. I cannot afford to look stupid to the world. Our generation has been taught to fall in love with our heads. We ensure we date people who are compatible with our life goals and aspirations. And so we love to talk about practical issues like money, religion, cultural values, etc before we get comfortable with them. Otherwise, we are just friends with benefits.”
The older lady rolls her eyes and says: “Then you are going to wait a long time before you get married.” To that the younger one shrugs her shoulders and burst out laughing: “I did rather wait all my life for Mr. Right-for-my-Goals, then to become the wife who has regrets about being married.” Sighing as if deflated, the older one blurted: “But living with another person is always challenging no matter the compatibility. We all have flaws and blind sides. And they come up when you least expect it. So your preparations and logical conclusions would not matter. You just need to accept people for who they are. It will make you a better person.” Smiling, the younger one replied, “Well, times have changed; it is all about ‘giving and taking,’ and not being a fool.”
Many individuals, upon hearing this conversation would want to make a claim that one woman’s interpretation is true and the other’s is false or bad. And it is alright for them to pass whatever judgement they have because the exact same concept can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s experiences and diverse belief guides and the two different ways of constructing meaning from their experiences. Sadly, too many amongst us would take sides. We do not prize tolerance and diversity of beliefs. We would rather interpret life as a one size fits all, and relate to people as if we all wear a size nine shoe and always eat ‘omo tuo and palm nut soup, made with cow leg.’
In our example conversation, while the young woman confused energy with certainty, the older one interpreted her confidence as factual. Such is the attitude floating around us. There are people who by virtue of their age and experience have become so arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, they behave as if they are the embodiment of wisdom; and that their counsel is divine and should be law. They have forgotten they once found themselves in positions similar to the people they try to counsel, and during those times, they held varying views. Now they are so full of themselves, over intellectualizing everything to the point where they sound more repulsive than the inexperienced folks who argue purely from bounding exuberance. We overlook the fact that in our drive to construct meaning for ourselves through our experiences, the monologues we have with ourselves in our heads can become a stumbling block during dialogues. Very often, it is difficult to appreciate how we are being intolerant of others, especially when they sound different from us.
Quite often diversity of opinions is the issue that is hardest to see and talk about. Our views blind us with certainty, and close our minds with a lock that is only comparable to a prison system, except in those instances we do not think ourselves prisoners. Our stories sound brilliant to ourselves, and not necessarily to others. How we choose to see life is not the same way the next person sees it. We think about life differently, and we even choose differently the things that we think about. It follows logically that we would always be on different sides of the same story called life. Thus instead of being puzzled and rolling our eyes about the views of others, we should stop the monologues in our heads and strive to appreciate a different side of the story.
There is a whole lot of rhetoric about being an individual, and about being educated. We talk about the niceties of these concepts without appreciating what goes into each. To be a individual entails a freedom to think about issues that interest a person based on their experiences and aspirations. The freedom given to us to do so, is the same one given to the next person. And so, just as our choices sound brilliant to us, so too do the choices made by others appear wonderful to them. Both individuals are right in their own worlds. That is why education comes into play. The fundamental objective of our education demands that we learn about the worlds of others, without being subject. The question you need to answer by yourself and for yourself is whether you are truly objective when you relate to worlds different from yours?
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