Friday, March 16, 2007

My mother and I use Skype often. Despite the frequency of our communications, my mom sometimes complains that her headphones don't work. Whenever that happens, she calls the IT guy, Peter, to help her fix the problem.

Recently, I thanked Peter for constantly assisting her with the headphones. I then asked my mother if he was married and she informed me that he was single and would probably not marry soon. I, in turn, said that I hope he eventually finds a wonderful wife. I also wished that he have smart children who will someday help him with his technology issues when he becomes an older man.

My mother laughed and said, "Ah, you don't know that he is older than you?" Puzzled, I asked, "So, what?" She said, "You are praying for someone older than you, now." I took a breath and calmly responded, "Well, if he doesn't want me to pray for him, I can always take my prayer back. After all, God does not consider the age of the person praying, does he?"

This conversation about age brought to mind the fixation Nigerians have about age and the role it plays in our interactions. As a people, we value age. The older one is, the better he or she is, technically. I believe that is because we see age as an indicator of experience and wisdom. Therefore, we give respect to those that are older than us and look to them for advice and guidance.

That attitude towards age is a very good thing. Anyone would be blessed to live a long life, particularly if it is fulfilling and satisfactory. However, the preoccupation with age can also present a negative - ignoring the potentially beneficial skills and experiences of those that are younger.

Many Nigerians, my Aunty Amba being one of them, did not want Donald Duke to run for President. Why? Because he is "too young". In my book, his age is not an indicator of his experience nor is it an indication of his potential ability to be a good President. It is his ideas and the willingness to execute them that should be important to all of us.

One could argue that despite the age and supposed knowledge of our leaders, past and present, Nigeria is still in chaos. How has their 'wisdom' alleviated the poverty of the masses? Or has their experience made it easier for parents to provide for their children? As I noted before, there is absolutely nothing wrong with respecting our elders, after all, we can learn a lot from them. Despite this, I believe a blind and unquestioning respect of those we deem 'elders' is foolish and quite frankly has played a role in creating a lot of the problems Nigeria now faces. Especially when those 'elders' have consistently proven themselves to be ill-equipped and have frequently let us down.

Let me be honest, I have been very fortunate to be surrounded with elders that are wise and whose knowledge has proven extremely helpful. I do not think that I could have achieved half the things I have achieved without the sound counsel of my elders such as my late maternal grandmother ("Mama") and an uncle ("Wise Man") to name a few. Nevertheless, these elders have always allowed myself and others to be critical of their suggestions and in their wisdom have always proffered additional information to overcome any hesitation and suspicion we might have had about their advice.

These individuals encouraged conversation and dialogue, a much needed interaction between young and old. It is that discourse between old and new that I feel is lacking in the conversations that many of us have about Nigeria. I tend to feel that certain elements will not allow for a "young boy" or a "small girl" to participate and contribute to discussions about Nigeria. That attitude is definitely to our detriment because age does not signify wisdom in every case. Maturity is an important element and is not dependent on age. Many young people are very mature and display wisdom beyond their years.

It would be to our nations benefit to find a way to effectively take advantage of the wisdom and experience of our elders while also accessing the experience and skills of the young boys and small girls. Other nations and cultures practice such interaction and have benefited from this interaction exponentially. Think about YouTube. It was created by a couple of 'young boys'. Young people tend to spur innovation in a way that many of our elders cannot because they are sometimes set in their ways. We can all think of hundreds of examples where young people that have created something new that was advantageous to all - young and old.

Again, there is nothing wrong with age and this is not an attempt to criticize older people. Age, especially when accompanied by wisdom and knowledge, is an absolute and unquestionable blessing. We as Nigerians, however, must find a way to encourage an exchange between those of us that have wisdom and the intelligent "small girls" and "young girls". It will be to our nation's advantage to take advantage of the benefits of age and the benefits of youth. No nation will succeed without this formula.

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