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

Responses

  1. CeeCee
    Well, we Nigerians like to make other people’s business our business…I won’t restrict it to Nigerians though, it happens everywhere. What baffles me is when the person begins with, “I don’t mean to pry o”, or “I hope you won’t be offended if I ask you this question”, Then they ask a ridiculous personal question that’s entirely none of their business, trust me I always have the best answer…..you can ask me
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    1. Oluwaseun Post author
      Ask and it shall be given unto you, it says. Asking always trumps assuming. You’re less likely to get in trouble or make hasty and usually wrong conclusions when you ask
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  2. Iyanu
    Well when I want to ask personal questions, I inform you that the question might be personal. You can choose to hear me out or not. Meanwhile if we don’t ask questions we are going to assume (the very thing the writer is against).
    Also, how do we judge personal questions. What might be personal to one might be impersonal to another. Asking me if I can cook for example is very personal. Depends on my relationship with you. Some of the things I’ve told absolute random people, my close friends won’t know in a hundred years.
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    1. Oluwaseun Post author
      Asking questions is never a wrong thing to do . Like you rightly pointed out, that’s how we know people. Assumption or presumption, on the other hand, is why we always get in trouble. Many relationships suffer because people assume instead of asking while many grievances or mistakes can be avoided if we can learn to ask sincere questions.
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  3. bethelbrill
    Nice write up man, What you wrote about is a very serious matter and it happens everywhere and every time and that’s one of the reasons why i don’t interact much with people.

    Lemme share an example, there’s this man who happens to be an acquaintance of my mum, I had just been offered admission into the university at that time, so my mum was telling everybody who cared to listen that she needed money and stuffs for my accommodation and tuition, this man told my mum that my mum shouldn’t let me stay in school, that i should go from the house to school every morning because to him he feels that the school environment would corrupt, he went as far as collecting my number from my mother and this man called me advising me, it was later that my mum told me that the man had a son who was going to the same university and this boy was staying in school. I was devastated, people ehnn

    I had never met this man in my whole life and he wants to tell me how to live my own life

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    1. Oluwaseun Post author
      Oh the irony. We often try to use our past mistakes and experiences to not only advise others but also control them, often neglecting that every man has the right to chose for himself and make his own mistakes. Adults often make the mistake of interfering with the rights/freedom of young people not only because they don’t care but mostly because they care too much it becomes a burden and an infringement
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  4. Ngamsi
    Good God, no words can adequately capture the anger i feel when people just jump to wild conclusions based on tidbits of information and premises generated in their empty heads. I often wonder, is it boredom? maliciousness? plain insatiable curiosity or demon possession? Anytime someone asks deliberately intrusive questions in order to give unsolicited advice, i tell them very politely where to shove it. How is it okay to tell anybody how to live their lives?

    Nigerians are particularly guilty of this, they have no boundaries and consider it their right to interfere. I was walking down to a bus stop in computer village yesterday when i came across two well dressed ladies, obviously returning from work, wobbling in 6inch heels when a man who was walking past, slowed down, sneered, glared and hissed at them, taunting them about ‘breaking their legs bcos of shakara’ (amongst other insults). How rude! I had to ask him if he had tackled fuel scarcity and power issues before drinking panadol for women’s feet ache or if he was just plain stupid. Who makes these people judge and jury of other people’s business/lifestyle/dressing?

    Another aspect of this amebo thing is celebrity gossip. Speculation might be fun but when it becomes full blown hate attacks, it rankles. Till date, i can’t read comments on Linda Ikeji’s blog, the silliness there is on a whole new level. Strangers flinging vile, filthy, unprintable insults at people they do not personally know based on one random headline they read. You don’t have the full facts or know what goes down in their lives, being a mere mortal yourself and also susceptible to mistakes. How is it okay to cyber bully anybody?

    God will help us.

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    1. Oluwaseun Post author
      I try to look at myself first and ask how I can be better? Am I nosy? Am I phony? Is it any of my business? Sometimes we do need to offer a word advice to a friend or a warning to a stranger heading for danger but none of our actions should diminish or devaluate the freedom and rights of others. Pride sometimes tells us we know more than others even when reason says we don’t, wisdom is to learn not to listen to pride but consult with reason as often as we can. It’s the only way to grow and reach a higher level of enlightenment and tolerance
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    2. Og
      The one about heels is particularly funny. Sometimes I don’t just understand Nigerians. The moment you’re on heels, it’s definitely shakara. It never crossed their mind that they might be uncomfortable and the person is wearing them cause she has to. There’s this firm my friend interned in in Lagos, one summer internship programme. It was mandatory for all the females to wear heels, whether you like it or not every single day. Role reversed, what if those pedestrians on heels were staff in this firm? Hasty generalisation and presumption more often than not is wrong. We’ll do ourselves a world of good if we desist. It’s human nature to presume and this is fuelled by times those presumptions turn out right. Nowadays when I find myself judging, I have to make myself pause and think of other situations that could right, other than mine. As for the questions part, I hate to pry. Unless you’re a friend. Even then still, I hate to pry.
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  5. OGBO
    Seun after reading this article,you sound very melancholic(I’m not assuming sha). Anyways since you are a Nigerian I just thought you’ll know that we don’t mind our business. For example,when you beat your child and other women are pleading and some scolding you for beating YOUR child ‘too much’ like the child is theirs. Another example I’ll give is when a Rich young man is single,every dick and harry wound be scouting girls for you to marry. Finally,have you been so in a hurry you try to cross the road quick and strangers start insulting you about you not liking YOUR life..is it their life? But they scold you like you are related to them. I hope you get my point. We are all involved in each other’s life one way or the other
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  6. Oluwaseun Post author
    You just made me laugh this morning Thank you. Melancholic ko, mechanic ni )))). You’re right we’re all part of each other’s lives and I do get your point, sometimes we do need to respect boundaries and privacy, don’t you think? Allow people make their own mistakes and learn for themselves, allow them to exercise their freedom to choose
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  7. Emma Marie
    I read something on relationships from Pope Francis that said “to love is to not control…”
    Whether with parents or kids or strangers, the choice to choose and make mistakes is an individual’s. Everybody else that loves you can only talk and guide you.
    You were going to get married and the pastor was talking about demonic activities. What was the connection? Unless someone told him your fiancee (now wife. Congratulations btw) was an atheist…
    But still the truth is we’re all imperfect (plus the amebos) – in our interactions with each other.
    Talk when you have to, ignore when you have to.
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  8. Exclusive
    , I could so relate to your comment. The thing is most of us were brought up with a communal mindset where you have your mum and like three unrelated “big mummies”.

    There will always be the chaff in matters of living but some people do have good intentions when they make observations.

    I’ve had people assume I’m proud and then when we get all close and chummy, they’re like, “ehn ehn, so you’re nice like this”. I’ve learnt to take it in good faith and not be offended.

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  9. Mariann
    i believe that there are two issues here that should be separated.
    One is people’s opinion on a matter which they are entitled to and the other is the amebo where people poke their noses into things that are of no concern to them and then pass judgement on the object of their amebo.
    People will always have an opinion. people will always see things from their own perspective and give their own uneducated and unsolicited advice. the receiver on the other hand is entitled to ignore such opinions and advice. for this i don’t have a problem, because it is one thing for you to talk, its another thing for me to decide to listen or respond or do as you have said.

    But Amebo/gossip/ poke nosing, being judgemental is not acceptable. it is mostly a conclusion on a matter without seeking for an explanation and then you don’t even ask the person who is involved you just start spreading the gist and editing and garnishing with things you know nothing about. That is just so wrong and unacceptable.

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