‘African Respect’

A couple days ago, I was walking to the school gate to pick up my pizza and I passed an elderly South African lady. Awaiting the Pizza Perfect delivery man, I was shocked to hear an unfamiliar voice say,

“How are you?”

I turned around slowly, in the split second I saw the lady, I realised she was addressing me. Confusion written on my face, I replied,

“I’m fine thank you, how are-”

“I’m fine too,” she interrupted. “It’s just, in my days, we were brought up to respect our elders.”

In her head, she must have been elated. She had just put a wayward teen in his place. Her face told me that she was disappointed in me, the youth of today and ultimately, mankind. She was disappointed, I was angry.

Let me provide some context. It was about 10 minutes to one on a Saturday afternoon. I had ordered the pizza almost 45 minutes before. On a regular day I wouldn’t mind waiting around for my food, but it wasn’t a regular day. I had a full SAT practice test that begun exactly at one. I didn’t have a phone so I had spewed some rubbish when the pizza guy asked for my number. Therefore I had no way to know if the pizza was on its way. Apprehensive and nervous about my food and the four hour test I was about to dive in, I didn’t even notice the elderly woman who was on the wide right of my vision.

When the lady walked away, I was fuming. I went into a mini-rant in my mind about respect. That is what I will try to articulate in this blog. Beware, it will still seem ‘rant-y’.

The elderly lady had no idea what was going through my mind, didn’t know me from my village, wasn’t even sure I saw her. But because she saw me, she thought she deserved ‘respect’. First of all, greeting someone doesn’t equate respect. Also, no one ‘deserves’ a greeting. You don’t know the person’s story, you don’t know if they just lost their job or a home or a relative, you can’t expect anything from them. Respect is reciprocal. Because of my home training, I approach everyone with respect, but I should get the same back on the other side. (Another issue that bothers me greatly is, why do older Africans [sorry for the generalization, but you know what I mean] feel the need to correct everyone younger than them according to their personal values. It is embarassing. Stop that.)

Apart from greeting, the idea of respect from both sides extends to many aspects of life. Many times in Nigeria, when in an argument, the older one will say, “Am I your mate?” That is ridiculous. If I’m arguing with you, I will not be dismissed just because you were born before me. I will not accept your thoughts/theory/philosophy just because you are older than me. You are not better because you are older than me. And “because I have been there” isn’t a worthy explanation for why I must agree with you. It doesn’t work that way. You know why? NO TWO SCENARIOS ARE EVER THE SAME. Similar? Maybe, but not the same. So give concrete arguments.

If you do not respect yourself, I will not respect you. If you are at fault, accept it. Don’t believe that because the other person is younger than you, you can not concede. And to the older people, we know you used to ‘do things’ a certain way. We know you think it is the best way. You need to consider the possibility that maybe that’s not so. And adapt. That’s what we all need to do. Adapt. Adapt to the society we live in today. Accept that not everyone will greet you. Be willing to change and accomondate. Don’t be stuck in the thick mud of times past.

P.S I had to eat the pizza in the test room while listening to instructions from the instructor. Bacon, pepperoni, chili and extra cheese. Beautiful