At the end of my service year, I decided to take a stock of how I had spent the last year. I was still learning to have interactions but somewhere in my mind, I had this unwritten rule that if you’ve spent a considerable amount of time with someone, there has to be something that they have learnt from you. You must have learnt something from them too. As I look back at my life now, I’m querying that school of thought and I know that that statement is filled with a lot of bias and a little tad of personal superiority. This school of thought can come from different places. I wanted to take you on my own journey right? Then let’s move.
During my service year, I had the best roommate ever. The very first day I saw him, he was donning a black shirt on a black trouser. He had a black square sunshade to accompany it even if the computer room where he was sitting was considerably dark. I thought he was cool. I can’t remember what I was putting on but as I sat down a couple of chairs in front of him, I turned a number of times to take a peek. I had this gut feeling that I was looking at my potential roommate.
Fast forward a few months later, that was exactly how it panned put. Ovie became my roommate. The connection was telepathic. Some people who saw how we connected and behaved said we looked like two lovers. We’d patrol the trenches of our Corpers’ lodge, deep into the night and talk about everything from business and ideas down to relationships. He didn’t love sports but that didn’t make a whole lot of difference. I didn’t like anime either and he didn’t mind. One thing was sure, I learnt a lot from him because he was obviously more sophisticated than I was. He had more years of life and adventure under his belt.
While we were preparing to round up our stay together and one of those days, we were walking down to our lodge when I asked him a very important question. A question I had been preparing to ask for a long time. “What tangible thing can you say you have learnt from me in the time we have spent together?” he moment the question left my mouth I thought I had made a wrong move or could have waited for a more opportune moment. Looking back now, I could just have said -in what are am I superior to you- and despite it looking disrespectful, it would mean exactly the same thing.
Because when you expect someone to learn something from you, you expect that you have a level of superiority in that area of life. I had a number of things in my mind that I wanted to hear. I expected that they’d be flying out immediately I had finished. But it didn’t. He shook his head and the first thing he said was “Nothing really.” Then he shook his head from side to side as if trying to shake out the debris from the butt of a container and said some other things.
Three years down the line, I can’t remember those other things he said but I know they were important to him. They just were not the things I wanted to hear. Especially considering the fact that I had this long list of things I had learnt from him. I think I was scared that I might have just been a parasite without contributing anything to that relationship. That is a founded fear. I wanted to be friends for life with this guy because he communicated so much value but I didn’t want to be a friend who brought nothing to the table. Was there something else I was missing? Obviously.
I already said that he mentioned some things. In a value obsessed world, we want to measure how important we are to people and we want to measure it in our own way. We have our yardsticks but fail to remember that in a world filled with a variety of individuals, rarely would you find two people that perceive value in exactly the same way. When we meet people, for those of us who are value-conscious, we want to stamp our image on their lives, so that we won’t be forgotten. We want a measurable impact.
We go about fishing and poking their lives looking for perceived flaws. Because we want to be intentional about nearly everything, we lose the spontaneity that comes from connecting with a new individual. This can be from a spiritual point or otherwise since we all meet at different points of intersecting. Of course, this means that we ignore that our flaws are the things that make us humans. As we approach these new relationships, we come with our inbred feeling of superiority and when we eventually fail to connect, we blame it on them.
On the flip side, if and when we pop that million dollar question about what we mean to them, we wear our biases on our fingers. When they disappoint us and don’t say what we think or expect them to say, it kills us. If we are not careful, we can dismiss the whole period we have spent with them as a waste of time and energy. This doesn’t mean that there are no sincere people who really want to know themselves.
The only question we fail to ask is if we should be looking at this thing we call value and impact differently. If we are desperate to find it, we should be looking at it differently, from their lenses. What if they feel okay and secured in our company and that’s all they need? What if they just want the freedom to express themselves and that’s all we provide? Sometimes allow people to be themselves is the biggest benefit we can give.
We need to recognize that the deepest needs of some people who come around us are compassion and interaction. They’ve probably got their lives figured out that they don’t need to be stuck in our Ferris wheel of delivering perceived values like the man from Macdonald’s. Today, despite how far away we are from each other when the need arises, I still buzz him up and we have a nice long discussion about target dreams and goals. If that is okay for him, why wouldn’t it be okay for me?