How many of us have at one point or the other in our lives found ourselves with a know-it-all attitude where we quickly and presumptuously put 1 and 2 together, without any data or facts, and got a big fat zero? I have and I’m almost certain you have too at some point in your life. How many have decided to be Captain Amebo? My question is why? Why do we do it, why do we assume or presume, where did we get the right? I’m going to use a few of my recent experiences to try and expand on this topic and paint a clear picture for you to understand.
I once had an encounter with a guy I’d never before met in my life and I’m probably never going to meet again. After a brief exchange of courteous pleasantries, he asked me what I do. I told him what I do for work and also that I’m within a few months of concluding my academic program. He then asked me if I will be going home after my program. Let us stop here for a minute and analyze the last question. Firstly, we are strangers who just crossed paths a few minutes ago, how did you get to asking me about my life plans? And secondly, how is it any of your business? I answered that I don’t know yet and that I haven’t planned on going home immediately. Judging by his next few questions I realized he had noticed the ring on my fourth finger and already assumed I was married and that I got married to get a stay in the country where we were having this conversation (we were both not in our home countries) before he even asked me if I was married. I told him I am and confirmed his assumption to which he must have felt proud. His next question was the most baffling, he asked why am I married? To which, true to my Nigerian root, I answered with another question why do people get married? He then went to his original thought, did you get married just to stay?
I was visibly annoyed at that point and I didn’t immediately know which answer I could give that wouldn’t be rude or offensive. I told him I’m married because I’m a grown man, I met a woman I love and want to spend the rest of my life with and committed to her because that’s what grown-ups do. He didn’t ask any more questions after that and an awkward silence ensued. To be sincere I preferred the silence to the conversation I just had with a total stranger. My question again is why? Why should we as strangers assume a position of authority over the lives of people we don’t even know? Why do we assume or presume? Where do we get the right to play Sherlock Holmes on other people’s lives?
I had another experience with a fellow Nigerian and this one is a little more baffling. I’ll have to create some context so as to make sense of our last conversation. I met this man when I was out proselyting with missionaries (bear in mind I’m not a missionary but I’m a member of a Church that sends missionaries to different countries of the world on a temporary term basis. As members we are encouraged to assist the missionaries as much as we can and I always try to do my best because I believe in what they say, do and believe). The next time I met this man was at a train station where I was waiting for my train to arrive. I had about a half hour wait for the train to arrive and for the entire period this man was lecturing me on some religious doctrines and principles that, although totally unprovoked, I could say I probably deserved because the previous time we met I was trying to do the same. I just had to politely nod along and give the occasional short responses because I was very tired, and not just of the conversation.
These two previous meetings set the tone for our next meeting. I briefly met this man again some time later and within a few minutes, he managed to amaze and annoy me at the same time. After exchanging handshakes and a few pleasantries he asked me how my Church ‘thing’ was going to which I gave some short generic answer. Somehow he started the same conversation we had at the train station for almost 30 mins. His next statement was the baffling one. He said and I quote ‘you know you’re just playing those people’ (referring to my Church and the missionaries). Another context, many of these missionaries are American. I asked him why he thought I was ‘playing them’ and he said maybe I just want to use them to go to America. I was amazed and annoyed at that statement and I could guess he saw my annoyance on my face.
I was disappointed at the attitude he had, and that he thought we shared. The attitude of exploitation, always and only thinking of what we can get from others but, unfortunately, he was not the first person to say that to me. His attitude is not the biggest of my concern but his assumption that I shared or should share the same attitude bothered me. Where have you gotten the right to judge or assume my character or personality? Why would you use yourself as a standard of comparison? I’ve learnt different valuable life lessons in my time at the Church but the most important lessons are those of love and service. I’ve always liked to help but now I’ve learnt that a life of service is the only way to be happy. I don’t ask people how they can help me, I offer a hand of help to as many people as I can, and not just ask them if they need help because many people will say NO. No one wants to be vulnerable. So to have someone presumptuously impose a despicable character and attitude on me was hurtful, which begs the question why? In this case, why should we ‘exploit every opportunity’ and why judge a book you don’t even know its title?
I’ll share one more of my experiences and this one will give you chills. A few people were opposed to me getting married when I did and these were people that didn’t even know the next thing about me. Before any decisions to get married was made I communicated my plans to my parents and we discussed it at length until we came to a conclusion and they gave me the go-ahead. Let’s say I had a friend called Rosco who probably thought he was looking out for me. When I told Rosco I was getting married he felt the need to tell Mr. Justice about my plans. And Mr. Justice assuming I didn’t inform my parents and assured I was making a mistake decided to contact my parents and their pastor in Nigeria. And Pastor being the ‘spiritual leader’ that he is called my parents, informed them I was getting married as if they didn’t already know and told them to call off the wedding. Imagine the chain of events. From Rosco – Mr. Justice – Pastor – my parents and not one person decided to speak to me first. I’ve only met Mr. Justice one or two times some years ago and as I later found out Rosco had to do a lot of explaining to him before Mr. Justice even remembered who I was. So where do you get to decide on what is right for me if you didn’t even know I existed.
The mail from Mr. Justice to my parents included words and phrases such as ‘demonic activities’, ‘is Seun spiritual enough to be led by God’ and ‘God help you to prevail over him’. My parents, I love them and God bless them, after consulting with me and some of their colleagues who told them to only listen to me decided stick to their initial decision and not ‘prevail over me’. I’ve been happily married for over 7 months and I’m very grateful to God for the happiness I have with my wife. This is probably an experience I shouldn’t be sharing as it might open up old wounds but I feel it can help one or two people to learn and that’s good enough for me. Many blessings and doors of opportunity have been opened to me since I got married, and many times I’ve wondered why I haven’t had those opportunities when I was single because it’s difficult to find a logical reason why not. How many times have we made assumptions and judged other people’s relationships while looking from an outside window where we cannot see any ground details? I’ve made such mistakes in the past. I look at couples and I wonder ‘what’s going on there’ or remark ‘I don’t see how that is going to work’. Many people must have had the same opinion about me.
I’m not saying I’m perfect, in fact, I’ve made some mistakes in my time. I have for no obvious reasons disliked some good people in the past only to regret that after I get to know them. I’ve also had people tell me they didn’t like me much before they got to know me. What I usually say is fair enough and no hard feelings, I didn’t fancy you much either. My question is wouldn’t it be easier and better for everyone if we just stayed out of people’s lives when we know nothing about them? Won’t it be better if we asked sincere, non-judgmental questions instead of making wrong assumptions? Will it hurt to actually get to know someone and see things from their perspective before we make conclusions? Is there ever anything to gain from judging others? I’ve learnt and I’m still learning to look before I leap and not judge a book by its cover, literarily and figuratively. I know I’m not perfect but I’m edging towards perfection because perfection is both the journey and the destination.
Image via Lagos Convo