By Alapa Peters Odugbo
Growing up as a child, my parents taught us never to taunt people for their mistakes. Dad always said it wasn’t simply enough to say that imperfection is a thread binding humanity in a close affinity, but that mistakes signify imperfection, one’s incompleteness, a base for humanity’s beauty and unity. As it were, I saw this as a cheap attempt to justify mistakes. But Dad’s position was to address an issue slightly different from what one may feel about it. His interest was how one treats others’ mistakes. He told us not to laugh at or taunt people when their mistakes were indeed significant, serious, or pitiful. That no one was error-filled or error-freed; mistakes were not an exclusive reserve for some particular people. He had said that making a mistake doesn’t mean one was blindingly dull, stupid or both. But that by identifying mistakes, a person accepts the very tendencies of committing them, themselves: one puts themselves in others’ shoes.
I don’t know if there is a measure for when a mistake is serious or not. Some people died for mistakes treated as minor. But I got Dad’s drift when I eavesdropped him telling Mum one quiet evening to be mindful of how she treats our errs, otherwise her attempts to repair will yield disrepair for which her life may be the price. This is a huge lesson I had carried down into my writing career in latter days. I didn’t feel whether by direct or indirect acts or display of emotions people should be belittled or insulted for their faults or mistakes. Respecting them in the manner and form one spells out their errors make them see errors of their ways, and buoys their spirit to crave for change. This is the shape critics should take, except if made without the sincere desire to cause a change.
Assuming, one’s friend says:
“give me your phone let me make a call”,
the friend being commanded could while putting up a broad smile on his face courteously point out the right thing:
“please, let me have your ….”
and may add that it was impolite to place a request or appeal in that manner. At least a critic had been made and whether or not the friend accepts it, he wasn’t insulted in any way.
Today many people react badly towards critics. Most of them claim that it wasn’t the correction pointed out that irked them, but the manner in which it was made. Regrettably, not many people care to pick corrections made by people who don’t even know how to correct. Some people even end up fighting those who seek to correct them. Although one could attribute some faults to pride, that some people wouldn’t like to pick corrections because they feel they know quite above those who correct them, the point still remains that the form critics take most often make people regard them as cheat shots.
Last week, an article was posted on one of our UCJ WhatsApp pages, by this link: https://www.tell.com.ng/anonymous/religious-studies-ui-with-its-old-lecture-materials-and-old-fashioned-lecturers-2/.
At first sight, I couldn’t wait to read through. I was so excited that some brave person had eventually taken on a war against what we face in total silence in my department. I had then instantly abandoned everything I was doing to read through. It came from Tell.com. one particular site I had wholly adored. They never fail readers, except once when it was told one kind of award presentation online voting was organized by them, and people could vote as often as they had liked for their friends. This prompted severe reactions. No one knew how the whole issue ended. In spite of that, I had still followed them ever since and regarded every moment spent reading their articles, a huge blessing. But unfortunately, that day my expectations were dashed away. I had felt so bad that the article only turned out to be anything but constructive. It belittled what I felt everyone of us never saw as little. For those who are forced to say why or how, I had deliberately left the link right here above for you to follow and read through, while I take on the dirty duty of analyzing the reasons for my utter disappointment.
In the article, three lecturers in my department were pointed out. They were clearly described even beyond what the writer had implied were their faults, so much so that anyone who attends their lessons would have no difficulty identifying them. But that was rude. Was it the lecturers that mattered more or what the writer saw wrong about them? At least, while the writer’s position wasn’t far from being right, with that kind of description there wasn’t any difference if he had mentioned the lecturers names or not. If the article was intended to amend, why describe the lecturers, or was it meant for a specific audience (who know these lecturers)? Why? It was even more sarcastic and taunting. It sought to rip off its audience’s jaws with laughter. But then, was anything funny about an issue such as that? It is so-so-and-so that have been doing this. They are all brawn and no brain. That was the article’s position. I had felt disappointed that at first sight I hadn’t even thought so deep about what was coming.
However, I had replayed severally in my mind how I had felt my lecturers would react once the article falls into their hands. Assuming you were in their shoes, I trust you would feel bad and find every possible way to even the score. Can we say then that that article had any positive purpose? Besides, even in light of the fact that these lecturers were truly guilty of the charges levelled against them, not all students in that class may take the writer’s position. Some of my friends, for instance maintain that there wasn’t any crime at all in using a lecture material gone past four decades, in as far as the lecturers saw that material as rich and needing no change. In fact it was even out of sheer ignorance that the writer had felt that everyone in the class shared the same displeasure as he or she. Some of us still adored these lecturers’ different styles of lecturing. One student once told me that he always got a C in a course taken by one of them, but still loves borrowing their courses, that he learnt quite a lot of practical things in that class. And I believe so many like him hold similar views. Anyways, I didn’t ask why and how, not because I hold a diametrically opposed opinion, but because I feel he is entitled to his own opinion.
For all I know, critics without positive intentions are always likely to ricochet back as bullets to a critic. Hence, the intention of all critics should be to amend, correct, change, transform or to encourage. Anything, in as far as it is improper or wrong, should not be taunted, belittled, degraded or joked about. It should be treated with real care and respect as something filled with meaning and sense. This will be the only reason people will then find a reason to change.
When I first read that article, I went back to the group with this comment:
“Hey… I feel this is crude, rude, million miles farther from being constructive…”.
The person who had posted it said:
“you can equally write, sir”.
I had expected him to reply in that manner. I knew he was angered by my comment. If only I had said:
“hey, that’s cute, a real brave ride on a rough road, you did well, but..”
he wouldn’t had felt bad, he would have then broached the article on peaceful terms with me. He would have taken how I feel about that article without offence. Because, if not for anything, at least I had respected the effort spent in putting up the article, and the writer would feel pleased to listen to all my buts. This was what the article had failed to do.
On a general note the article was neither fish nor fowl: it neither pleased my class who took out its anger madly against it when I forwarded it to our WhatsApp group page, nor would it please any sensible lecturer who sees it. However, it wasn’t out of place that my department was used as a case in point, even though the issues raised cut across the different departments in the university, not just Religious Studies. Wasn’t it better to address them on a general note to widen the articles audience and intention? At best one only sees my department besmeared by an insider.
At this critical point in UI where students’ rights seemed to have long been squashed away like cubes of sugar, I don’t have to say that that writer if traced will find his/herself in grave troubles once a lecturer from the department stumbles across the article. We saw what happened to Kunle Adebanjo and others whose struggles seemed justified yet were welcomed with disdain and serious sanctioning by the management. Theirs were struggles worth paying for. They paid the price!
Critics should always stand to amend and this must be reflected in their form, otherwise the price to pay will amount to cutting one’s own throat by themselves as a result of fooliness.