By Cornelius Ndubuisi
Did you know that the celebrated Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie started out studying Medicine at the University of Nigeria before leaving for America somewhere along the line to pursue her dreams? What in God’s name was she doing there if not that she was told that Medicine is the birthright of brilliant science students like herself? Thank goodness she listened to that still small voice that told her it has to be literature. And so, we find the Pharmacy, Engineering, Medicine, and Law faculties of various universities packed full and overflowing with people who were told what Ms Adichie was told, that their brains are a match for those courses, and that they are the gateway to the sunny side of life. By the way, who does all this talking?
A mother pressurizes her 27-year-old daughter to get married and she does. Then one year, a little more, or even less, down the line the marriage packs up, and the same mother starts badmouthing her for failing at marriage. Ask her why she got married in a hurry and she would point you to her mother. Go ask her mother and she would show you to her daughter’s age mates who are “in their husbands’ houses”; ask them why they’re all married at about the same age bracket and they would tell you that 23-27 is the “ideal” age range for marriage. And I ask who gave them that idea, who defined that ideal?
A young man begins to panic when at 30 he is neither married nor working at a high-paying job, doesn’t own a car, hasn’t built a house, and doesn’t operate a fat bank account. He looks up to heaven and asks God what’s up, turns around and begins to blame his background and the government, and goes on to dish a treat of hatred towards himself for having screwed up so badly. At just 30? What nonsense! For God’s sake, this guy’s got a whole length of years of possibilities ahead of him.
At this juncture, permit me to ask, who is this so-called ‘society’ that appears to be dictating when and where something must happen and who must be or do what? Look at the so-called ‘society’ closely and see that it is actually nothing but an aggregation of individual opinions that have over the years assumed a life of its own, metamorphosing into a force to reckon with.
By the way, let me acknowledge the flipside of the society coin. Imagine that your entire life was about tending a garden, cuddling pets, and gisting with the “Almighty” in the cool of the evenings. That’s Adam’s story, and I can imagine how fantastically boring life must have been for him, especially having to spend all evening standing in awe of God and conversing with Him only about things of heaven. Even God himself knew he had to change something. Picture that scene where Eve arrives with the fullness of womanhood, that heartbeat-skipping sort of presence. Trust me, Adam’s exclamation at the mere sight of Eve says something about us, that we’re hardwired for companionship, so much that Aristotle calls him or her a beast or a god who has no need for society. No one is an island is a popular cliché; life without family, friends, and foes is as good as death, isn’t it? This so-called ‘society’ can be that important.
And so, from the very word go of human history, we’ve always needed others; we’ve always relished their company and valued their opinions. During the cave days of our ancestors, taking other people’s opinions seriously, especially as it bothers on safety and food security, was salvific. Our forefathers had to evolve a social engineering that ensured they woke up alive every morning and spent the rest of the day cooperating with one another. They didn’t bother to build fences because they were in continual need of supplies from one another. They went on to evolve cultures that would replicate their experience in the lives of their children. And so, it has come down to us, and now wired into our DNA, to want to conform to norms; we’re scared of harm that could come from being different from the rest of the pack.
Here’s the irony: As much as we’re in need of others to smoothly sail through life, we’re created differently, with various and variegated hopes and aspirations, with different inclinations and drives, with different goals and ambitions. You know, our forefathers must be very disappointed at us, for holding tenaciously to some of the lifestyles they had evolved for survival reasons, some of which have now outlived their usefulness.
Don’t you think we no longer depend on one another as much as our ancestors did? Can’t you see we’ve evolved structures and systems that can support us to pursue our dreams no matter how much otherwise others think? In our own time, we can afford to fearlessly pursue our dreams and defiantly toe the line of purpose with little hassles. We’ve got all the information on Google, where you can find more answers than anyone human being can give you. And if our old friends leave us for being threatened by our bold, big moves, we can always find new ones on social media. We can practically do a whole lot more with a lot fewer people, which is why we should stop caring so much about impressing people.