I stepped into the office. It was the first day of my observership in a family physician’s office. An observership is strongly recommended as part of the process of getting a practicing license to work in Canada. I was to discover later that it didn’t make much of a difference. I digress.
I said ‘Good morning, sir’ to the doctor. His secretary was in the room. They turned to look at me and stared strangely at me as if i walked in naked. It took them a while to respond. I am quite awkward with first encounters generally and they made me feel even more self-conscious.
He showed me around the various rooms in the office and explained what i would be required to do. I responded ‘yes sir’, ‘ok sir’ as he talked. Eventually, the poor guy couldn’t take it anymore and told me. ‘I am not a lord. Please don’t address me as sir’. I was shocked but at least i finally understood why i had gotten the strange stares earlier.
It took a while but i finally learnt how little importance they attached to these things. They didn’t even consider it a show of respect. Sometimes you wonder if Nigerians remember their own names. No one wants to be called by their name. You addressed them by anything but their name…Mrs X, mummy X, aunty X…etc. Age is such a big deal. Everyone wants to know who they are older than and force some ‘respect’ out of them. The younger is excluded from calling the older by name.
I still don’t know if all these truly show respect. I call my consultants by name. It took me a while to get used to it but it’s the way of life here. I respect them just as much as I would have if i were still back in Nigeria. I have learned that when i make mistakes, they don’t need to humiliate me to correct me. When a consultant tells me ‘I think you probably shouldn’t have done XYZ’, i know he/she is basically saying i made a poor decision. When a consultant tells me ‘Could you please do XYZ?’, I know he/she isn’t asking me a question, he is giving me an order.
I guess the lines are just getting a bit too blurry for me. I just think we focus too much on ‘respect’ and perhaps use it as a shield to avoid accountability. Everyone is guilty of this as far as I am concerned. The husband who refuses to be accountable to his wife…the parents who yell ‘I am not your mate’ when corrected, the teacher who flogs the students for correcting him, the politicians…everyone plays this card from time to time when necessary.
I think it isn’t respect in the true sense of the word. It’s just an armour.