By Muyiwa Adetiba
Unfortunately, it was a subject I never really got a hold on to my eternal regret. And I have probably put off not only teachers and examiners, but quite a lot of people with my writing. Later in my adult life, I found out that writing could be used as a window to one’s personality and character as no two handwritings are said to be the same.
The way you dot your Is and cross your Ts, the way you elongate your Gs and Ys could be, I learnt, a pointer to whether you are neat and precise, or untidy and sloppy. Also whether your letters slant to the left or right could be read by experts to determine whether you are bold or timid; aggressive or laid back. (How I wish I had listened to those early teachers.)
At some point in my quest to understanding human personality, I came across a book that explained how a man’s personality could be read like an open book, by how his personal office looks. I tried to use this knowledge during my interviewing days to make quick, instant judgements. Are there too many books? Too many memorabilia?
Too much furniture? Does he write on top of old newspapers or old files? Are there things on every available surface? Or conversely, is the table clean like an old man’s pate? Is the office spare and airy? These are all indicators to those who are trained to read the signs, of a person’s character.
As an aside, is it my imagination that many professors’ offices are often too small for the things—books, files, plaques—they cram into them? I have used this observation to assess many occupants of houses as well. I have found that many houses in the cities in Nigeria don’t ‘breathe’.
There are too many cars in the compound, too much furniture in the living room and too many clothes in the bedroom. My conclusion is that we as a nation don’t understand the word ‘enough’ or when to let go and pass on.
There is only so much a compound, a living room, a bedroom or an office can take before they become cluttered and claustrophobic. Similarly, there is only so much a soul can take before it becomes cluttered and weighed down by material things. We need to ‘free’ our homes, our offices and our minds.
Lately, my understanding of human beings was taken to another dimension by an article that said people can be read by simply observing what they have in their refridgerator. A look at an average bachelor’s fridge would show a few canned food and different kinds of booze while a married man’s fridge would probably show more of cooked food and less of alcohol.
You could also tell a person who often eats at home from a person who doesn’t from the contents of the fridge. A vegetarian can also be easily discernible from the contents of his fridge. If it is true that we are what we eat, then the custodian of what we eat is the fridge. It is therefore, a good place to start if you want to know who a person is.
And it is not only the content but also the arrangement in the fridge that decodes the person. Do you have to rummage inside to find what you want or are they well laid out like an attractive supermarket?
An observant but total stranger can often tell what kind of a person his host is by opening the fridge. How much of yesterday’s food is there? What about half eaten, decaying food? Does the ice need thawing? And the fridge cleaning?
All these, including the content would help in determining how homely, how thoughtful and how organised he is in his personal life. So what do you have in your fridge? Take a second look and then look at your lifestyle to see if there is any correlation.
On a larger scale, things we take for granted about countries can often show what the country represents. A tourist country often has friendly immigration officers. A totalitarian country often has the opposite. You could feel the ambience of a free, open country right from the airport.
And as you step out, the kind of reception you get and the orderliness of transportation should tell you its own story. So will the roads, whether wide or narrow, the traffic lights and the drivers’ observance of them. The buildings, the lawns, the flowers, the cleanliness of the streets, the courtesy of the people all tell stories to those who can hear them.
I recently went to five port cities—from Haiti to the Cayman Islands through Mexico and Jamaica; each city told its own story about the form of governance and leaders it has had. Interestingly, the countries had similar background in many ways. Yet the development indices are from one end of the spectrum to the other—from extremely poor to extremely rich.
And you could tell, from just driving round, which country had money, which ran a stable, orderly government. Haiti is a poor country and poverty is written all over the place and the people. The effect of the hurricane disaster of around 2010 is still everywhere despite the huge sums that poured in from all over the world.
The Cayman Islands on the other hand have completely wiped off the effect of their own disaster and it is now a foot note in their history. In fact, you cannot but be impressed with the beauty, the order and the serenity of the Cayman Islands. Especially when you realise that they have nothing but tourism and banks. They have put themselves on the world map by carving a niche for themselves in the financial world through catering to the needs of the superrich.
It was a minus for them in the past that they did not care about the source of the wealth of their clients. But they have since cleaned up their acts. Today, they are a country of virtually no unemployment with the lowest wage hovering around six dollars an hour. (Compare that with Nigeria of two dollars a day).
So what does Lagos tell us as we pass through immigration and enter the city? What story do the roads, the traffic lights, the danfo drivers tell? What do we read from the street urchins and the physically challenged beggars who peep into every car window? Do we read order and focus in the signs that confront us?
Now I know that Fashola was right in trying to beautify Lagos. An ugly environment will indeed breed ugly people. It also tells ugly stories.