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Chukwuma Okonkwo: Why Nigerians – and humans – are judgemental

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Chukwuma Okonkwo: Why Nigerians – and humans – are judgemental

By Chukwuma Okonkwo

The other day, I was having chitchat with my (Nigerian) friend over a coffee. Our discussion bordered on Nigerian issues. The discussion was not meant to be beclouded by arguments; rather it was meant to be a causerie.

However, the gabfest turned out rambunctious when two other Nigerians who happened to be disciples of the former President, Goodluck Jonathan, appeared on our table. They figured out we would be Nigerians. Our accent gave us away. Then, President Buhari had just released the list of prospective cabinet members to be screened by the Senate. As the winds of the argument blew boisterously, I crossed my legs, with a cup of hot chocolate in my hand, listening, as what seemed like a debate between team Buhari and team Jonathan unfolded.

Similar to the public outcry on social media- which seemed to echo the same disappointment that Quintus Batiatus in Spartacus felt against Spartacus when he said to him: “….. you kiss my cheek only to finger my ass?”- my new friends- the two Jonathan’s disciples- expressed their utmost disappointments in President Buhari’s choice of ministers.

After President Buhari was sworn in on May 29th, 2015, he had embarked on a divine search for his cabinet members. The popular expectation from the public was that he would appoint paragons into his cabinet. As Mr. President is domestically-acclaimed an anti-corruption czar, perhaps given his pedigree in public offices, the public expectation that his cabinet members, appointed from his divine search, would be heavenly anointed was not unconvincing.

Unfortunately, some people’s expectations were marred when the ministerial nominees list was released by the Presidency. From the public vociferation, the four months (since his inauguration) it took Mr. President to come up with the list was a total waste of time. The list did not contain the beau ideal of technocrats that most people had anticipated. It will suffice to summarize public’s interpretation of the list, as a spinoff.

Interestingly, the public outcry over President Buhari’s list of proposed ministers has revealed (again) a chronic syndrome that is characteristic of human beings. We human beings are too judgmental. It seems like a mark of the beast in every human being to make statements that reflect their judgments about how someone or people should do things. It is our human nature to always desire to have things done or be the way we want them to be (done). As human beings, we are always dissatisfied.

While I was sipping copiously my hot chocolate, my friends were squabbling. As the fuss became unbearable, I decided to interrupt with a simple, but provoking question: why are we humans too judgmental? My friends responded in unison that, they are not being judgmental, but making judgments. I retorted, oh really? And I posed again: what then is the difference between making judgments and being judgmental? From the way they jumbled their responses, it was obvious that the question was a hard nut to crack. I know that a lot of people share my friends’ view and by extension believe that they can make judgments about whoever they wish. This is why often times we (humans) continually view other people’s actions through our idiosyncratic evaluative lenses. Indeed, if we can judge the actions of our parents, children, wives, husbands, teachers, students, clergies, and so on, it will be impossible not to judge the actions of a political office holder.

I tried to search for the word judgmental in the dictionary. I found that, in general sense, there are two meanings, which can persuade a conviction that a thin line exists between making judgments and being judgmental. On one hand, it deals with making judgments. You see, at the fundamental level of semantic, making judgments is (equally) being judgmental. On the other hand, it deals with being excessively critical in an unconstructive manner. Though both meanings can help us to strike at the heart of the semantic issue, we are faced with the difficulty of how to make constructive judgments relative to unconstructive (problematic) judgments. This is why it is crucial that when you decide to use your idiosyncratic evaluative lenses on someone’s actions- whether it is about the proposed ministerial list or not- you must; firstly, understand where the person is coming from, the person’s perspective, the (hi)story behind the actions, and the experiences that informed the present decision; secondly, be aware of whose values are behind your evaluative lenses.

If you fault others’ choices, whose value-frame are you proclaiming? What if others do not get their values from where you got yours?; thirdly, be aware of the direct and potential consequences of your judgment, particularly when your judgments carry much influence on others. 

To crack the hard nuts I posed to my friends, we are too judgmental because our judgments are often driven by force of power; our judgments lack empathy; our judgments are often unconstructive, hence problematic; our judgments are often based on our idiosyncratic evaluative lenses that inform our values; and our judgments are excessively based on others’ character.

As I shared my reflections with them (and now with you), I left them (now leaving you) to decide if they will continue to be judgmental. I know it is seems like a mirage, but it requires consistent conditioning to conquer.

  • Chukwuma Okonkwo writes from Melbourne, Australia. He is a member of the (Young) Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) and Nigerian Economic Society (NES). He writes on spectrum of social, economic and political issues.

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