It is 2023 already and as usual, I am certain folks are making resolutions up and down. Exercise more. Read more. Drink less. Relax more. Make more time for family and friends, etc. etc. We are enthusiastic about making these vows to ourselves that we intend to keep for an entire year.
The idea is that our resolutions help make us better versions of ourselves. So, biko whatever your resolutions are, can I beg you to please add this to it: to always consider context.
Context is everything. For instance, some random person calling a grown woman ‘baby’ isn’t the same as that grown woman’s partner calling them ‘baby.’ Same word, different context and therefore different reactions to it, right? Or a mother calling their child “my little monkey,” and some stranger calling that same child “monkey.” While the latter can cause quarrel, the former is affectionate. Easy to understand that it isn’t the word itself that is problematic but the setting in which it is used.
Setting isn’t just place and time but can also include the ‘who.’ In the words of the neuroscientist and writer, Abhijt Naskar, “Words are never good or bad on their own, context makes them so.”
In this world of growing polarizations, where empathy often is lacking and people are ‘cancelled’ after less thought than we’d give to cancelling our magazine or TV subscriptions, being intentional about taking context (place, time, who, to whom etc.) into consideration when dealing with others is imperative. I had to have a conversation a couple of years ago with my teenage son who no longer wanted to play songs by an artiste he used to like because when this musician who was in her early 20s then was a teenager herself, she said something offensive.
It didn’t matter to him that she’d apologised or that whatever it was she said back then she’d never repeated in public. I was shocked by his inability to consider that her offence was in the past, and that she’d given no one – not in her interviews or her social media posts – any cause to believe that she was the foolish teenager she had once been. Where did forgiveness come in, I asked. I reminded him that he (and his like-minded friends) had to take the context into consideration before deciding that this musician was no longer worth their time. Our conversation yielded fruit.
I was reminded of the importance of context a few days ago when some Northern Nigerian doctor in the US tweeted about an elderly white patient of his who asked him where he was from, a question that on the surface could be considered loaded, especially here in the US.
However, this patient hadn’t given the doctor any reason to think that her question was motivated by anything other than curiosity, and so he answered as politely as he’d been asked. The patient’s face lit up and she greeted him in Hausa. Apparently, she’d lived in Zaria in the 50s. She’d suspected from his name that he was Hausa but didn’t want to presume. If this doctor didn’t believe that a patient in his clinic could possibly have no ulterior motive in asking this question, he might have reacted in a more antagonistic manner.
Considering context means that your world isn’t black and white. It means that you understand nuance, that you are willing to give people the benefit of the doubt; that you understand that sometimes people’s actions are motivated by ignorance and not always by hate. The end product is that you live a life that is fuller and brighter than those of those folks (on social media and in real life) whose raison d’etre seems to be taking offence.
Devoid of context, even ‘good morning’ can be considered offensive. And that’s no way to live abeg. That is not to say that there are no malicious people with whom one ought to take offence, or that one should pretend that everyone has good intentions. People are not always all sweetness and light. It would be delusional to think so. What I am simply appealing to is to treat people as individuals, and to treat each encounter with people on its own merit.
Which is why I hope that no matter how many of your resolutions you break, (if you’re like me, you’re bound to break some of your resolutions as easily as you made them) let considering context be the one you stick to in 2023 and beyond. It is for your own good ooo. Happy New Year!