Our Values, Our Children’s Future

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In one remote village in a distant country, a certain old man was highly reputed for his unassailable wisdom. All the villagers agreed he was such a wise man! He practically had a ready answer to every question.

One day, a young boy in the village made up his mind he was going to beat the old man in a question and answer contest. He was sure the old man's reputation as the wisest man in the village would suffer a serious blow when he failed to correctly answer the question he would ask him.

So, the young boy caught a butterfly and enclosed it in his palm.

He now approached the old man and said to him: “I have a butterfly in my palm. Now tell me, wise father: is the butterfly dead or alive?”

The young boy thought to himself: “If the old man says it is dead, I will release my palm and allow the butterfly to fly away. And if he says it is alive, I will crush it in my palm.”

For a minute, the old man looked the young boy in the face. Then the old man looked up and smiled. He said to the boy: “whether the butterfly is alive or dead depends on your palm!”

The young boy was miffed. He was so sure he would beat the old man in the contest. And now, this! He looked asininely at the old man. It was obvious that once again the old man had won.

By this same token, there are many things that happen in our lives that awaken us to the realities of our very existence – sometimes, very cruel realities.

In our society today, there seems to be a clear divide between what this generation calls “the old school” and what it sees as “the modern trend”. Values have not only changed. They keep changing, and they keep changing fast. The things we valued yesterday are far more divergent from our values of today. Technological explosion has reduced the world into a global village. And with that, new systems and new values are displacing the old.

It is as it should be. But at what cost?

While some of our values may be subject to changes from time to time because of the circumstances we find ourselves in, and because of the impact of modern technology in our lives, there are definitely those values in our culture that cannot be changed without damaging or ruining the essence of our very existence.

Take the value we now place on education, for instance. An adage says: “if a man thinks that education is costly, let him try illiteracy.” But education is not simply going to school to learn how to write ABCD or how to add and subtract. The content of education is what should matter to Nigerians. Over the years, the erroneous impression has been created for the present generation that “money answereth all things.”

So, even while in school, our children have at the back of their minds the fact that education is not and cannot be an end in itself, but a means to an end. The impression has been inadvertently inculcated into them that money is all that matters if a man is to be seen in our modern society as successful. So, they discovered the necessity to find short cuts to wealth and affluence. Some of them joined cults where the sole aim was to enrich their members or make them influential. It didn't matter how this was achieved. The end would always justify the means!

But come to think of it. What Nigerians actually need is qualitative education that will emphasise service to the community, not to the individual. Nigerian educational leaders must, therefore, find it necessary to revamp the educational curriculum. The emphasis of education should be, and its goal should point to, the fact that people can only be successful in life if through their contributions to their communities, they are recognised by the society. Our people should take more interest in being useful to the needy in their communities than merely accruing wealth, whether by fair or foul means – money that they cannot utilise in a wise and profitable manner in the upliftment of their society.

I mean, how even did the Nigerian society drift from the “good old days” and the days of “children of nowadays” to a situation where all the older values now seem to be taken for granted? In my days, for instance, the family as a unit was very special, very important. These days, the Western world insists on re-defining the concept of family. The traditional family of male husband, female wife and children is becoming a thing of the past. In the so-called modern families, children could have two mothers and no father or two fathers and no mother because their parents are gay.

Honestly, I don't think anybody who doesn't have exactly the same experience can fathom what agony children who find themselves in this situation feel. The psychology that binds man-man or a woman-woman marriage will definitely affect those children who are trapped in this kind of “union. We are still waiting, patiently waiting and studying how these children mentally differ from or are the same with children from normal traditional families of man-woman marriages. For instance, in those good old days, siblings spent a lot of times together as family. Grandma or mum would tell us stories by the fireside as we patiently waited for the maize in the fire to roast. We would remember the proverbs our elders said: that but for the fire, no one would have known that even the maize could laugh. It was fun. I mean, life was fun.

In those days, marriages and relationships seemed to be less stressful and more meaningful than they seem today. Women didn't have to work outside their homes if they didn't want to. The men provided for all the needs of their families. In those days, men were men, and women, women. Their complimentary roles in a relationship were established by their society, and both knew their boundary lines. In our society those days, there was less hustle and bustle especially among the young people. It was fine to rock the boat, and no one ever wanted to kick the boat over!

The old order changes, they say, yielding place to new and God fulfils Himself in many ways!

Our so-called modern values today have basically turned the table upside down. The emphasis now is on our greater need or desire to acquire money for its own sake – not for the pains of the lack that it can alleviate. These days, people simply want to be seen as having acquired the almighty dollar. We have debased to that level of extreme need for materialism, and ironically we see this as “growth”. Nigerian leaders still need to get it right among themselves and then put it across to their people that desire is desire, not growth. The more we desire or need, the more the vacuum is created in our lives and the more our lives remain unfulfilled.

Today, the emphasis appears to be on stardom, on individualism rather than on community life. The result is that our people no longer have respect for life as we used to in those good old days. We are still community-based. But at every point, there are community clashes that have taken great tolls in human and material terms. The Community Heads who should foresee and forestall community clashes are busy pursuing financial rewards while their communities are on fire.

It is really saddening.

Even politicians see public offices as a do-or-die affair. These days, they patronise the tendency to enthrone impunity in the system. Professor Chinua Achebe noted this in his book, “There was a Country” when he wrote: “once a people have been dispossessed and subjected to dictatorships for such a long time as in Nigeria's case, the oppressive process also effectively strips away from the minds of the people the knowledge that they have rights.” Nigerian leaders must understand the international implications of denying Nigerians their rights as a people.

In those good old days, family reunions were an annual event. Every Christmas, relations from where ever they reside, in or out of the country, would get together to celebrate another successful year. They would come together to commit each other to coming years. These days, cousins, nephews, siblings, even parents only communicate by mail, e-mail, telephone and so on. There doesn't seem to be a need any more for the family re-union of our days. But yet the difference is clear. Each year when my family members come from America, the UK, Abuja, Lagos, and from where ever they reside, for instance, the joy of those meetings can only be more imagined than described. We have still kept faith with the old tradition and I can only say it is sweet.

It is important that in our rush to welcome modern technology and the changes it is offering us, we do not throw the baby called our culture away with the bath-water. There are traditional values that Nigerians know they have to keep. These are values that transcend generational differences. There is the respect for elders. Every Nigerian knows the importance of this culture. Apart from the fact that every Nigerian is older than someone, most Nigerians aspire to become elders in their communities someday. There is respect for parents. Again, most young people appreciate the value of this culture, knowing that they too will become parents sooner or later.

There is the value we placed on trust. The tendency these days is not to trust anyone. But I think this is a dangerous path that we need not tread. Every relationship needs a level of trust to thrive. If we throw that trust to the winds, it will totally change the society's perception and direction and create leadership problems in the system. So, Nigerian leaders should take this aspect of our culture more seriously and show, first before others, that the people who voted them into public offices can at-least trust them.

Yes. It is said that values are values whether traditional or modern. But it also goes without saying that if some undying traditional norms are preserved, they will add greater values to our modern experiences in such a way that our culture and quality of life will be richer and better enhanced for it.

Our values of today will be more relevant and more important if they do not clash foolishly with our values of the good old days. We should still encourage love for each other. We should still encourage respect for each other. We should still value self respect among our people. These and others which space constrains me to mention here are the values we cannot change without changing the very essence of our existence as Nigerians. Let us stick to them as the values we still cherish today and everyday, the foundation of our children's future.

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Articles by Emeka Asinugo