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Sacre-Coeur Basilica, Paris

Balaraba John

My neighbour’s son who is in his finals at one of the universities in Nigeria once told me an interesting story about his friend. His friend, who also happens to be his course-mate, is in his late twenties. From every indication his friend did not gain admission early enough unlike most of the students in that class. One day his friend came to the library to read and decided to exchange pleasantries with another course mate (who might be his age mate) sitting some few seats away from him. There was a lady (also a course-mate) sitting beside the person he came to greet. Probably he did not notice her or he deliberately decided to ignore the lady . While he was leaving, the lady (she is about twenty-one years old and obviously very much younger than he) who felt she did not deserve that kind of treatment or wanted a better recognition quickly raised an observation. The following conversation ensued:

Lady: Look at you! Can’t you greet?

Guy: Really? (angry) Are you expecting me to greet you first?

Lady: (serious) Why won’t you?

Guy: I beg your pardon! Am I your mate that you expect me to greet you first?

Lady: Don’t you know where your mates are?

My neighbour’s son told me his friend at this point felt insulted, humiliated and angered. But he was able to contain himself. He quietly walked away. Of course, he knew where his mates are. Some of them are graduates, some working in oil companies and some might have been married with kids. Out of curiosity I asked why his friend was angry and if there was something wrong with the friend greeting the lady. He passionately explained that his friend is very much older than the lady and therefore it was very rude of the lady to speak to him that way or expect him to greet her first. It was un-African and uncouth.  The guy is not her mate and she ought to have known that!

Quite frankly, I am not versed in African jurisprudence or norms as pertain to protocol of exchange of pleasantries or salutation. Although I will not claim ignorance that in Africa it is expected that a young person should be the first to acknowledge or greet an older person. Waiting for an elderly person or someone older than you to greet you first is a sign of disrespect or improper home training. In fact, a lady usually bows either to a fellow lady or man that is older. Some customs that promote patriarchy even allow ladies to accord special respect and curtsies to menfolk whether they are older than they or not. This is in contradistinction to that of Western world. These days, such customs are gradually waning in Africa with increasing activities of Western-supported feminist movement.

What captured my interest in that story is the issue of “mate”. The term is used to denote a co-worker or someone we share something with. Often, we use it to describe our contemporaries or people in our age group. We can infer from the gentleman’s statement in that story that despite the fact that the lady is his course-mate, she is not his age mate. In other words, being his colleague or classmate is not tantamount to being his age mate. It is very true! But there is another side to that statement that deserves attention, the gentleman feels he is much older than the lady and as such he deserves to be respected, and age hierarchically supersedes any other credential, in this instance, the echelon of course-mate.

I pondered on the issue and came to the realization that “mate” is one serious factor that affects our young men and women rather adversely. Young men who, for instance, think they are lagging behind or are not doing well  in their academics, career or in life generally as their “mates” (their age mates, childhood friend, co-worker, etc) for certain reasons which may or may not be their own creation, are incensed, embarrassed, and easily develop inferiority complex and sometimes, despondency. Some individuals who have equally worked hard or harder than their perceived “successful mates” conclude in their mind or register it in their subconsciousness that life is unfair to them. They allow that ill-feeling to direct their action, guide their attitude, determine their words, and aid their life choices. Knowingly or unknowingly, they judge their own success and progress in life on that perimeter.

The truth is that in life you have only one competitor, which is yourself! In the race of life, there is no mate! You are your own mate. We might be born the same day, attended the same school or even worked at the same office on the same level but that is not a guarantee that we would end up the same way. In other words, the fact that we started the race of life together and at the same time does not in any way guarantee finishing together and at the same time and vice versa. We are all beautiful people uniquely created to run our race on our lane, to be successful and progress in our pace and on our chosen tracks.

Always see your friends, colleagues or partners as lovely people that can inspire you to reach your goals. See their success as a source of motivation. Be happy for them. Never you judge yourself or achievement based on their achievements. Identify who you truly are. Know your strength and what you can do better. That is the way to rule and stay above. Know your vision in life. Dream your own dream. Work hard to achieve your vision. Do what you need to do to achieve your dream. You can have mentors, coaches and advisers who can genuinely help you maintain focus, stay straight and keep to the right pace as you race in the track of life. Always remember, you are your own true competitor and the only true mate you have is you!