The public conversation ought to be that wide space which allows for reflections on general principles that are embedded in every particular situation, with the aim of improving the way we live. These are issues we must constantly engage, relearn, redefine, both individually and collectively, in hopes of finding a middle ground that reflects some balance. Life is about finding the right balance; and these below, reflect some of my scattered thoughts on the basics. They are short and not necessarily mine (if you consider the mind as a reflection of a collective/society and not an individual possession). Fair warning: I’ll wander off to issues of marriage, culture & religion, morality, respect and perhaps the double standards of extreme feminism.
Good food and good company, I dare you to name a better duo. It was iftaar and I broke bread, literally, with one of my favorite couples, Asmee and Jamil. They’ve come to represent a union blessed with a sense of mutual inclusiveness which was formed on a rock of understanding and a spirit of finding common ground. It works, they work at each other and it is just beautiful. So, I’ll start with the great institution of marriage: while there should be some level of compatibility with a potential spouse, there’s no such thing as an ideal candidate. No princes with flawless gait; no princesses that are perfectly made (well, maybe one or two, here and there). Marriage requires a lot of work; a constant conscious effort. It seems we were sold an illusion of ‘Happily ever after’ (by Disney? Or Romcoms?), that falsely equivocates grand weddings for happy marriages. It is dangerous to get into a marriage with that high expectation.
Another spill-off to this, is in considering marriage as a ‘clean slate’. There’s this air of having a ‘fresh start’ that surrounds marriage. While it is true, that a new chapter in your life is beginning, it doesn’t mean you fundamentally change as a person. Your habits don’t just magically disappear because you are married. The person you are beneath is still there. It is criminal to think marriage is the cure to bad habits. This is important, because when having that honest conversation where potential couples lay their cards on the table, we omit certain facts which we feel have control over; which we feel are not that big a deal and hope (delude ourselves into thinking?) that marriage will magically fix. Then it turns out after marriage that everything is not in order; a small issue turns into a big issue and the story is all too familiar from there. It is in the fairness of mentally preparing the other, that our potential significant others become aware of our little bad habits (which we constantly deceive ourselves into thinking we are over but find ourselves doing again, and again). Be open to communicate, work at yourself individually and work at each other to build a happy home. Lastly, find a balance of what works. I’ve learnt over years, the virtue that is in consistency. To translate, there is often a dramatic change of attitude between the courtship stage and when the marriage solidifies. This is especially the case for men; I am not oblivious to subtle changes that occur. As individuals, we are constantly changing/growing. But going from a 100 in courtship, to shouting at your wife is just a No-No. It’s almost the hunter-prey analogy: and the hunt is over. This is a call for friendship in marriages and substance to build on; falling in love / infatuation is not the same as being in love. The latter is like a seed of plant, that needs nurturing to grow and blossom, and with time, the fruits are reaped. Another dimension to this, is in terms of the dynamic nature of roles and the confusion it drives. The concepts of gender and gender roles continue to evolve. On one hand, there’s an established system of patriarchy that sort of works and those who wish to let it remain that way (both male and female). On the other hand, there’s a new wave of thinking in terms of shared responsibility. Then there are those stuck in the middle; and thus, the confusion. I have recently adjusted my view to accommodate all choices and the mentality is, whatever works for the couple. My only caveat is the need for open, honest discussions about these things. Everyone should know and fully digest what they are getting into. Both parties should be clear on the terms of the contract (yes, it is a contract). And as you all grow, you relearn these ideas together and even though they may change in form, the fundamental substance remains the same.
My mind now drifts towards our interaction in the society. Of little things like respect and how fixated the average Nigerian is with ‘being respected’. As a friend would often remark, “sho mo age mi ni” (A Yoruba phrase loosely translated to mean “do you know how old I am!”). I’ve come to appreciate that when you respect people, it will be returned. Adults dismiss ‘children’ in certain ways that is simply cruel. “Just because you are older, doesn’t mean you are right”, says it all. I feel respect and everything other thing (love, energy, etc.) should be given firstly before anything, and should not even be expected. In the end, when you reach out from a position of strength (the older one or some other context), you inspire more than respect. You command love. And perhaps if we could do that in our lives, our interactions would be a little more refined and considerate.
Of other biases, I’d like to point out one: In how children are brought up; boys should learn how to cook and do the dishes too.
Morality is very nuanced. The relativeness of good and bad; the expectations of the society and those who rebel. The influence of culture on the interpretation of everything. This is a very slippery slope that I shall avoid in general for now, because, length. So, I’ll take the Nigerian Muslim social space as context.
There’s this concept of Fitrah, that embodies an entire state of being. It is the soul that guides our dispositions and the engine that gives meaning to our actions. It is the reason you say salaam firstly when you speak or feel empathy for someone in pain. It is plainly, what is inside of us that tells the story of our nature. Culture doesn’t trump religion. Your Kaftan doesn’t give you the right to look down on me in my t-shirt. Just because she doesn’t wear your everyday penguin hijab, doesn’t mean she’s not wearing a hijab. It doesn’t mean she is not a good person/Muslim. We talk without gathering facts. We condemn without listening to the other. We shoot the messenger and forget about the message. We judge more times than we are aware of, and it is toxic. We must learn to see beyond the surface. To give more room for tolerance. To be sincerer with ourselves. To love a little more, give a little more and hopefully, live life a little better.
And for the final act:
*W2 looks down at the entrance of the building from her balcony on a Friday evening*
M1: *Holds door for a lady struggling with some load, like a gentleman* “My lady”
EFW: *barks *“Are you saying I don’t have a hand? I can do it myself. Nobody asked you in the first place”
*W2 looks down at the entrance of the building from her balcony on a Saturday evening, waiting for her friend W1*
M1: *Sees another lady struggling with load and walks away, not helping with the door*
W1: “Ah! There are no gentlemen anymore. He walked away without offering any help”
*W1 and W2 enjoy tea and a sunset view on W2’s balcony on the same Saturday evening*
W1: “The age of chivalry is dead. There are no gentlemen anymore.”
W2: “No, it is not. Women just don’t know what they want.”
W1: Woman 1
W2: Woman 2
M1: Man 1
EFW: Extreme Feminist Woman