Are you yourself or your title? In a world where social status and social privilege have been eroding what is really human in us, everyone needs to answer this very simple question.
We are born humans but along the line society loads us with titles, honours, positions and identities that tend to dilute the human person in us. We thus become a social robot programmed to act the role of that educated character, that wealthy fellow, that classy personality, that powerful superior, that competent professional and all such identities and placements society gives. Nothing actually is bad in all this except that, many a time, our humanity starts getting swallowed up in these social cosmetics.
A rich and powerful man must act according to his status hence will attend only the weddings and funerals of fellow aristocrats. Thus, weddings are now categorised into “society” weddings and “ordinary” weddings according to the class of guests that grace it – in all this the essence, which is human love and fraternity, is lost. Similarly, mourning can now assume two types – mourning the rich and mourning the poor and no longer simply mourning a human. It’s about status and identity and not about sorrow for the dead and empathy for the bereaved.
A professor, a banker, a lawyer and an engineer must act according to his educated and elitist status. Employers and office superiors must act according to the society-drafted rules of workplace status and so must not be seen chatting and sharing jokes with their employees or junior colleagues. Teachers and lecturers must walk straight-faced, reply to their students’ greetings with some bit of calculated indifference and must withhold any affective smile or geniality so as not to break the code of superiority conferred by their status.
All these social privileges are the reason the relationship between those of us that consider ourselves as elite – whatever that means – never relate with our gatekeepers, cleaners, shoemakers, househelps and other less privileged fellows in a way that’s truly human. Our status consciousness and the ego massaging that inevitably comes with it would always ensure we never loosen up to greet with real affection and affability these persons of humble status, embrace them, share jokes or exchange banters with them. Our fulfilment lies in how much we are able to act indifferent and emotionless towards them. But conversely, embracing and exchanging greetings with the high and mighty is what we crave for so much; we are so excited taking and enlarging photos of these cosmetic moments to keep the memory alive.
Now think about this: that boss that condescendingly speaks to a junior will become meek before a much younger girl to whom he’s a sugar daddy, he will joke and play with her and even take some censuring words from this lover kid. That teacher or lecturer that acts tough before students will become stupidly tolerant before a student lover. Inside those secluded rooms of mutual intimacy, the pretences of institutional life gives way to the real dispositions of our human nature.
There may be many reasons why we may have to live by the rules of our professional engagement and the expectations of our titles and honours. But must we let our humanity get lost in all this?
Since I started contemplating on the above reality of life, I have been intentional in guiding my conduct towards those placed under me. As a teacher I see it as a point of duty to respond with respect and affability to salutations from my students and other mentees, accept those handshakes, take those hugs, answer those phone calls and reply as promptly as possible to those text messages. None of these diminishes but makes one human and a real mentor, as your mentees truly respect as against fear you. Seeing you as a fellow human that is not beyond human frailties, they easily get intimately connected to you and are free to share their problems, fears and receive your advice.
The bottom line is this: at birth we’re all animals and at death we’re all corpses, in-between these two are illusions of inequality created by society. Whatever you are, whatever you have, you are first a human. Be yourself and not your title.
This is my meditation this midweek.
Henry Chigozie Duru, PhD, teaches journalism and mass communication at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria.