My neighbour's son who is in his finals once told me an interesting story about his friend.  His  friend,  who  also  happens  to  be  his  course-mate, is  in  his  late  twenties.  From  every  indication,  his  friend  did  not  gain  admission  early  enough  unlike most of the students in that class. One day his friend came to the library to read and decided to exchange  pleasantries  with another  course  mate (who  might be  his  age  mate) sitting  some  few seats away from him. There was a lady (also a course-mate) sitting beside the person he came to greet. Probably he did not notice her or he deliberately decided to ignore the lady.  While he was leaving, after  exchanging  pleasantries with his friend,  the  lady  (she  is  about  twenty-one  years  old  and  obviously  very  much younger  than  he)  who  felt  she  did  not  deserve  that  kind  of  treatment  or  wanted  a  better recognition,  quickly  raised  an  observation. The following conversation ensued:

Lady:  Look at you!  Can't you greet?

Guy:  Really?  (angry)  Are you expecting me to greet you first?

Lady:  (serious) Why won't you?

Guy:  I beg your pardon!  Am  I  your  mate  that  you  expect  me  to  greet  you first?

Lady:  Don't you know where your mates are?

Balaraba John

My  neighbour's son  told  me his friend  at  this  point felt  insulted,  humiliated and  angered. But he was able to contain himself. He quietly walked away. Of course, he knew where his mates are.  Some  of  them  are  graduates,  some  working  in  oil  companies  and  some  might  have  been married with kids. Out of curiosity, I asked why his friend was angry and if there was something wrong with the friend greeting the lady first.  He passionately  explained  that  his  friend  is  very  much older  than  the  lady  and  therefore  it  was  very  rude  of  the  lady  to  speak  to  him  that  way  or  expect  him to greet her first. It was un-African and uncouth.   The guy is not her mate and she ought to have known that!

Quite  frankly ,  I  am  not  versed  in  African  jurisprudence  or  norms  as  pertain  to  protocol  of  exchange of pleasantries or salutation , although  I  will  not  claim  ignorance that  in  Africa  it  is  expected  that  a young person should be the first to acknowledge  or  greet  an  older person.   Waiting for an elderly person or someone older than you to greet   you first is a sign of disrespect or improper home training.  In  fact,  a  lady  usually  bows either  to  a  fellow  lady  or  man that  is older . Some customs that promote patriarchy  even  allow  ladies  to accord  special  respect  and  curtsies to  menfolk whether they  are  older than they or not.   This is in contradistinction to that of Western world.


These days,  such customs  are  gradually  waning  in Africa  with  increasing  activities  of Western-supported  feminist  movement. What captured  my  interest  in  that  story  is the  issue  of  “ mate”.  The term  is  used  to denote  a  co-worker  or  someone  we  share something  with.  Often,  we  use  it  to  describe our  contemporaries  or  people  in  our  age group.  We  can  infer  from  the  gentleman's  statement  in that  story  that  despite  the  fact  that  the  lady  is  his  course-mate,  she  is  not  his  age  mate. In  other  words,  being  his  colleague  or  classmate  is not tantamount  to  being his age  mate. It is very true! But there  is  another  side  to  that  statement  that  deserves  attention,  the  gentleman feels  he  is  much  older  than  the  lady  and  as  such  he  deserves  to  be  respected,  and  age  hierarchically  supersedes  any  other  credential,  in  this instance,  the  echelon  of  course-mate.


I pondered on the issue and came to the realization that “mate” is one serious factor that affects our young men and women rather adversely.  Young  men  who,  for  instance,  think  they  are  lagging  behind  or  are  not  doing  well  in  their  academics,  career  or  in  life  generally as  their  “ mates”  (their  age  mates, childhood  friends,  co-workers ,  etc.)  for  certain  reasons  which may or  may not  be  their  own creation,  are incensed,  embarrassed,  and  easily  develop  inferiority  complex  and  sometimes,  despondency .  Some  individuals  who  have  equally worked  hard  or  harder  than  their  perceived  “ successful  mates”  conclude  in  their  mind or  register  it  in  their  subconsciousness  that  life  is unfair to them. They allow that ill-feeling to direct their action, guide their attitude, determine their words, and aid their life choices.

Knowingly  or  unknowingly ,  they  judge  their  own  success  and  progress  in  life  on  that  perimeter .The truth  is  that  in  life  you  have  only  one  competitor ,  which  is  yourself!  In the race of life, there is no mate!  You are your own mate.  We might  be  born  the  same  day ,  attended  the  same  school  or  even  worked  at  the  same  office  on  the  same  level  but  that  is  not  a  guarantee  that we would end up the same way .  In other words, the fact that we started the race of life  together  and  at  the  same  time  does not in  any  way guarantee finishing together and  at  the  same  time, and  vice  versa.  We  are  all  beautiful people uniquely created  to run  our  race  on  our  lane,  to  be  successful  and  progress  in  our  pace  and  on  our  chosen tracks.

Always see your friends, colleagues or partners as lovely people that can inspire you to reach your goals. See their success as a source of motivation. Be happy for them.  Never  you  judge  yourself  or  your achievement  based  on  their  achievements. Identify who you truly are.  Know your strength and what you can do better.  That is the way to rule and stay above. Know your vision in life. Dream your own dream. Work hard to achieve your vision. Do what you need to do to achieve your dream.  You can have mentors, coaches and advisers who can genuinely help you maintain focus,  stay  straight  and  keep  to  the  right  pace  as  you  race  in  the  track  of  life.  Always remember, you are your own true competitor and the only true mate you have is you!


BALARABA JOHN is doctoral researcher at Leeds Beckett University, United Kingdom, Founder of Cintabali Consults International, and Advisor to She is the author of the well acclaimed book, Destroy Boredom, Create Your Happiness. You can reach her on Twitter , Instagram, orLinkedIn.