By Hauwa Machunga

Older people, to me, refers to anyone older than me. Simple enough, yes? To you, the reader, it may refer to something different, and that’s okay.

Who remembers growing up and walking in on older cousins, aunties or uncles talking, and they quickly serve you with “get out of here, this is old people’s gist”.

There was a time I was in SS2 or thereabout. It was a holiday, Christmas to be precise, and my family, nuclear and extended, were all together for the festive season.

It was a cold Jos evening. My cousins and I were seated under a mango tree talking about a topic I simply cannot remember. Then a cousin of mine, who is about my age (15 or so at the time) decided to spice up the conversation by asking us if we had boyfriends or girlfriends; you know, the teenage girl kind of discussion.

Well, I said no. Even if I had, I was bound to say no. So she turned to an older cousin, who was about 8 years our senior, and asked, “do you have a boyfriend?”, and with more pride than a group of lions, our older cousin went on to say “Ha! You children are talking about boyfriends, you should be asking me if I have a husband.”

I will hold my tongue on her current marital status.

Recently, I laughed at something an older cousin said because I thought it was funny, but apparently, she did not think so. With the most condescending voice I had ever heard, she said: “Look at this child oh!”.

I am 25 but to her, I’m still a child.

A security man at National Assembly once told the driver who was driving me into the premises that: “who does she think she is that she should be taken in with a car? That small girl.”

I suspect that it also had a lot to do with my gender, but that is anger for another day.

It is hard to separate the age factor from the gender factor. Young women in the world have a different kind of struggle, and this point is not up for argument.

It wasn’t until recent years I knew there was a name for discrimination against one because of his/her age. Ageism.

As I grow up, I am beginning to stop apologising for my age, thoughts and ideas.

I was raised right, to respect people, amongst other things. And as a Nigerian, I was trained to respect my elders. But to you older person, know this: a condescending tone does not foster and create that respect; if we can relate with respect, and remain fully aware that we are not mates, but not letting that hinder the relationship, I’ll have more respect for you.

If you didn’t know, Ageism can be systematic or casual. It is seen as prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age.

Such prejudice manifests in ignoring the ideas of younger people (because they are young, not because it is not a good idea) and expecting them to behave in certain ways, especially in relation to how they communicate .

I recently stumbled on the term, adultcentrism. It is an exaggerated egocentrism of adults, including the belief that an adult’s perspective is inherently better (when compared to children). It is similar to the conditions facing children and youth in schools, homes, and our communities.

It is little wonder that many children are unable to open up to parents just as teenagers are unable to hold decent conversations with older people because they were never “allowed to”.

They grow up to become introverts, societal recluses who can’t hold a proper conversation.

 

So, dear older people:

  1. Talking in a condescending tone to younger people is totally unnecessary. If you must correct, if you must lead, if you must admonish, if you must be firm, it is possible to do so without being condescending.
  2. Reinstating your seniority at every given point suggests an underlying insecurity. We know we are not mates.
  3. Face real life; there is someone out there smarter than you, better looking, perhaps wiser than you. And it is likely that person is younger. Celebrate them, don’t antagonise.
  4. It is also very possible that although life and experiences have made you wiser, a younger person can have an opinion, a solution or a response that is better than yours.
  5. In a conversation, a younger person can be right. It may sound strange but you will be surprised that it will take nothing from you.
  6. Respect is earned and it is reciprocal. As much we teach younger people to respect their elders, there is also a certain type of respect that older people should give the young ones, if not for anything, but because they are humans.


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