I watch people. It might sound weird to you, but I derive pleasure in observing people and making tentative conclusions about them based on these. Most times I’m right, but sometimes I’m wrong. On this particular day, I was wrong.
Working at my dad’s bookstore, I have the opportunity of meeting new people everyday. One skill you learn quickly on this job is the ability to sum people up quickly by their dress, speech and body language in order to know what approach will work best in ensuring a smooth transaction. On this day, a woman had come in to buy large quantities of books for use in the school she worked at. She had the typical look of the “deeply religious”;ankle length skirt, turtle necked blouse, and a pair of shoes that resembled something dug out of Noah’s Ark. And of course, glasses. How could I forget the glasses? On getting the requested books in the required quantities, she made an unusual request which was made even more unusual by her pious appearance. She asked for the prices of the books to be inflated by about 15% on the invoice. Do the math: she had ordered for more than 100 books! I was astonished. For almost 30 seconds I was like this:
It was a hard jolt. Adidinbilivit! I would never have thought it possible for her sanctimonious looking self to harbour a brain that could conceive such a thought. I often thought of this incident but it never really disturbed me until the day I met another peculiar customer. This slow, hot afternoon, a young lady walked into the store with the typical swagger of the young and beautiful street-smart female who knows she is young and beautiful. Clad in really tight jeans, a ridiculously long weave, and a nose ring, you bet I had to some extent made some conclusions about her. As soon as she mentioned her business and the school she represented, I started mentally calculating the percentage she could ask for. Her coarse manner of speech alone was too ‘street’ for me to imagine the possibility of her not asking for “her share”. But as you may rightly guess by now, she did nothing of the sort. She instead went on to demand for a discount which she insisted should be boldly indicated on the invoice, because in her words,”afterall na our school money”. With a mixture of relief, guilt and shame, I thanked her very warmly, my guilt suddenly making me very friendly towards her. Relief, because I wasn’t made party to any dishonest transaction, and shame and guilt for labelling her something she was not without giving her the benefit of the doubt.
Putting these two events side by side, I see now that people are not always what they seem, and that everyone in one way or the other is guilty of judging too quickly. A natural haired woman sees another woman rocking a long weave and labels her “ashamed of her God-given hair”; A co-worker buys a car everyone knows he/she cannot afford on his/her salary and everyone is quick to summarize that he/she is into 419* or runs*; people see a man rocking dreadlocks or acting effeminate and they are quick to call him gay(and you know what that means in Naija). I must say, I’ve been guilty many times. I don’t know why this fills me with a strange kind of sadness, but you can bet your bank account that I’m firmly on team #dontjudgesofast now.You know its impossible not to judge a little, or at least have an opinion about something. I’m not a people-pleaser, but I wonder how many people have been disappointed because I didn’t quite reach the standard they’d set for me, or fit into the box they’d put me in.
Tell me about yourself. Have you ever been guilty of labelling people? Do you feel that people unjustly label or judge you sometimes? Share!
*419 – Naijaspeak for fraud
*runs – Naijaspeak for discreetly sleeping with men for money