“You must be seen, but not heard’ – This is a common thing heard by Nigerian children who grew up before the turn of the Millennium. When adults are talking, children either disappear or remain quiet. Consciously or otherwise, children were stifled. Their opinion is neither sought, nor respected, as it is generally believed that the adult always knows best. Prima facie, this might not be such a big deal, but the ricochet effect of what it does to a person’s personality makes one consider why we started doing it, and whether we need to re-evaluate why we muzzle our young minds.
My friend, Moren, told me of how she was speaking to a 13 year old and trying to make conversation- the girl kept answering with monosyllables. According to Moren, the conversation may have gone in a completely opposite direction if the 13 year old was British. In that instance, the child would have probably gone on to give more elaborate answers, or even proffered her own opinion on the questions asked.
There’s no presupposition that the adult knows best at all times, and this gives room for bouncing of ideas across age brackets. The freedom of being able to express one’s self – rightly or wrongly is a fertile ground for growth and development.
The innate culture of ‘Be Seen & Not Heard’ goes on into the work place – so you find older colleagues being unnecessarily miffed that a young 24 year old on their team dared to speak up in front of the Managing Director. It’s particularly interesting in the work place where what you’re bringing to the table should be about your deliverables and not about your age. So you find that Nigerians sometimes get upset when there’s someone younger than them in a position of authority over them.
The doctrine of ‘be seen, but not heard’ also extends to women – you find that culturally women aren’t allowed to have opinions.
This weekend, I met a couple at small dinner gathering. Every time the wife tried to join the conversation at the table, her husband would hush her up and smile at the rest of us with a silly looking grin. After a while, the chic excused herself from the table and went to sit with the children who were soaking in the Disney animation, Frozen. Later that night, I was asking my people if I was the only one who found the entire thing a little weird. They had all noticed it, and someone confirmed that what I observed was the norm with that couple. In fact, it was more surprising that she had attempted to even join the conversation where her husband was in the first place. It was a general rule with them that the woman be seen and not heard.
I was a little bit thrown by the discovery, but I was cautioned that the dynamics of marriages differ from couple to couple. Still perplexed – this was a young couple. I asked if this particular guy was a lot older than the girl – perhaps it’s a question of ‘Big Bros and Younger Sis’. Almost akin to the way young children are told not to speak when adults are conversing – ‘Kobo shouldn’t be sounding where Naira is talking’.
It may be argued that there has to be a leader and a follower in every arrangement; however, one wonders if leadership automatically translates to the eradication of individuality.
There’s a lot to be said for nurturing potential in our children. It goes a long way to help their self-esteem. It helps them to know that they are people too, and their voices can be heard. While there is a place for order – and the mineralization of cacophony, we should not raise our children to think that their opinions are irrelevant. The child that says something inane today, will drop a pearl of knowledge tomorrow.
The long term effect of a damaged self-confidence takes longer to eradicate than if you just nurture the child properly.
As we set forth into the new year, let’s start on the right foot. Culture is dynamic – never static. If women don’t eat gizzard in your family, look deeper and find out why. It’s time to uproot deep-seated norms that are not helping us grow. When that 21 year old in your office is saying something, keep an open mind – listen, process and then decide. Don’t discard the information just because you’re 44 and the boy was not born when you were doing NYSC.
Have a great year ahead.
Peace, love & carrot sticks.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Spotmatik