I just returned from a trip to Nigeria. It was my second trip to Africa. I love Africa. For so many reasons.
The African culture is a collectivist society. This means they emphasize family, and group goals, over individual needs and desires. In collectivism, social rules focus on promoting selflessness and putting community needs above the individual’s needs. Working as a group and supporting others is the societal and personal norm. People are considered “good” if they are generous, helpful, dependable and attentive to the needs of others. America, in contrast, is an individualistic culture. We often place assertiveness and independence above the needs of the family and/or community.
Either of these, if taken to the extreme, can be dysfunctional. But, when kept in balance, I enjoy the collectivist culture. There’s an African proverb that goes like this: A basket of fruit was placed under a tree. A group of children were put on the starting line and told that the child that reaches the basket first, gets all the fruit. The “go” signal was given, and the children all joined hands and ran to the basket together and shared it.
Greetings are important in Africa. Before asking anything from someone, or conducting business, you recognize that person as an individual. You are asked things like, “How was your night?”, “How is your family?”, “How are your crops?”. Greetings can take a few minutes, or quite some time. In the market, before asking a price, you greet: “Hello sir. Hello ma’am. How are you today? I’m well thank you, how are you? I’m well thank you. How is business today? It’s slow because of the rain ma’am.” This promotes the idea of being part of a group, and not simply individuals going about their day. We are all connected, and therefore, I have a desire to begin our interaction by connecting to you.
Even after a short greeting like this, I’m then free to ask a price and begin bartering. It would be rude to walk up to a shop and ask the price of an item without noticing the keeper as an individual first. I like this noticing part. How often do you feel noticed? How often do you interact with someone, with the goal of getting information or a service from them, without taking the time to recognize them as a person and not simply a means to getting what you want?
This idea of indirectly saying, “I see you.” is powerful. This idea of taking a moment to let someone know they have value as a person, above their ability to satisfy your need, is powerful. This idea of intentionally connecting is powerful. Every relationship you have, every interaction with a stranger, every conversation in your day, will all benefit from this simple idea of noticing.
Try it out and let me know the responses you get!
Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,