Age is just a number…or so the saying goes. As Nigerians we all know that this is not entirely true because age confers many privileges in our society. Grey hair is highly revered and rendered due deference. Age and the correspondent respect and trappings that accompany it become your due when a certain number of years have been attained.
On the other hand, if you happen to look older than you really are, it also gives you an edge. We have younger people that happen to be bigger (fat has the tendency to add years!) that are accorded more consideration than someone actually older but doesn’t look it. In such situations the smaller person is often overlooked, when the offending party discovers the error their noses are put out of joint but this doesn’t stop the same person from repeating the same mistake time and time again! Size counts in our society and the general thinking is that it’s proportional to age i.e. small is young, whilst big is old.
Grey hair seems to be another yardstick for measuring the years, although when an individual has prematurely greyed it doesn’t seem to matter either. Genetics, stress, diet, health and other factors account for this condition but the overall picture is that grey or white hairs connotes longevity and sagacity. Like some labels that is not accurate (or fair), the prematurely grey person or amply proportioned individual could either have negative or positive experiences as a result.
The esteem that age confers is highly coveted, sometimes leading individuals to err on the side of increasing their age rather than vice-versa. Some people have multiple legal documents (birth certificates etc) that enables them take advantage of this societal quirk. Having an edge is the name of the game and the ‘older’ you happen to be in Nigeria the better for you, so to say. On the other hand if the long arm of the law catches up with you when you’re using falsified documents, that’s another case entirely!
We’re obsessed with age, although some western opinions in this regard are gradually seeping into society but the younger generation is quicker to imbibe and take it up. Not asking a lady her age is one that’s been absorbed and taken wholeheartedly by the womenfolk. This rule applies, except when she decides to let on. If you happen to have been classmates and your rudimentary mathematics is still intact then this is not a problem. There’s a certain age that a woman attains when she’s no longer inclined to keep her age a secret.
Forty is the new twenty-one, where everyone shouts it from the rooftops! More women attain this golden age and interestingly enough their appearance belies the number and you have to reassure yourself that this is THE age they would not deceive anyone about. Life begins anew for everyone that reaches this landmark and one can observe the ladies in this club take no prisoners with new assurance, confidence and zest for life. The forty-year old men too will not be left out in this analysis as most of them also look nothing like it and those that do certainly don’t act it either.
The most fundamental thing characteristic of all members of this club is that none of them FEELS like a forty something year old! Their dreams and visions for their lives are just taking shape and they certainly don’t feel a day over twenty. Those that have realised the importance of good diet and health take care of theirs judiciously and work towards attaining an optimal work-life balance that is so elusive.
The concept of age and maturity is gradually undergoing change (slowly) because we have discovered that the numbers sometimes don’t add up. There have been adults whose reasoning have been in doubt and belied the concept of wisdom. Whilst the young have demonstrated that maturity is what counts in some instances and not the length of time that has been lived.
Because of this new pragmatism, we have come to realise that age does not always connote wisdom or prudence and youth, waste or naivety. Maturity on the other hand should be the progressive standard by which everything is measured. This is a quality more robust and subtle and not easily assessable by physical attributes.
What this means is that we must give honour not only to whom it’s due (or those we think deserve it), but at all times. We must respect the blatantly old, not so old, young and everyone in between, giving them the necessary accord despite their appearance augmenting it or disproving it. Age is a number that affords benefits at every stage and because we understand this we must be ready to maturity take its place and grow.