What you need to know:
- Within your extended family, the rich cousins mostly keep to themselves.
- Some parents give preferential treatment to a certain sibling.
Growing up, there was this shopkeeper where I lived who was constantly grumpy. I often imagined that he was born that way, an ill-tempered baby that gave his poor mother grief. I say this because the man never smiled and always wore this nasty look on his face that gave the impression he was about to punch you.
And yes, this is the same look that he gave the many customers who thronged his shop, which, ironically, was the most prosperous in the small shopping centre. What is it about bad people getting all the good things in life? Anyway, he would treat you like he didn’t need your money, was rude, and disrespectful.
Those who bothered to say ‘hello’ would be greeted by a grunt and a sneer, or total silence. There were, however, two exceptions, two individuals who motivated him to thaw somewhat — the headmaster of the local school and a certain young woman he was hopelessly in love with — let’s call her Wambui for the sake of this story.
No, the man had no wife, and my heart went out, in advance, to the woman who would be misinformed enough to get married to the man because his personality would have gradually sucked all the life out of her.
Anyway, the transformation Mr Grumpy would go through whenever these two visited his shop was a sight to behold. He would ignore the other customers and rush to serve the headmaster, whom he would ingratiate himself to. You could tell that he was impressed by the headmaster’s title and the status it accorded him in society.
As for Wambui, the man would get so flustered in her presence, it was comical. And a bit embarrassing to watch. Thankfully, Wambui had the good sense not to give him the time of day, having observed his false nature.
There is a point to this flashback. I wanted to talk about people whose degree of respect towards you is determined and measured by your status in society and what they can get from you, the people with what I like to call the ‘mheshimiwa’ mentality.
If they gauge you to be unimportant, or of no value to them, if your title is not ‘big’ enough, then they will disregard you, ignore you and make you feel little, inconsequential, given the opportunity, yet will be at the disposal of the one with a higher title, at his beck and call, and would readily lie on the ground so that the boss can wipe the mud off his shoes on their back.
These are the people who peg your importance on how you dress, the car you drive and where you live and eat and what you drink. Even how you talk. This disparity is most visible in the service industry, where certain people get preferential treatment while others, deemed to have less money or are of a lower class, are given lukewarm treatment.
But this disparity is also visible in our day-to-day interactions at work, with friends, with extended family, at our places of worship even, where the individuals that tithe the biggest amount or who contribute the most money towards church projects are treated with more respect than other congregants.
Think of the cliques at your place of work, the individuals who get assigned certain tasks, or the ones who get the overseas trips or get invited to certain events. Don’t even go that far. Within your extended family, the rich cousins mostly keep to themselves and mostly socialise with the other rich cousins, and only get to socialise with the poor cousins during funerals.
Even closer home, some parents give preferential treatment to a certain sibling, maybe because he or she is the one who sends money home, or is the most successful career wise, or is the most talented. Unfortunately, such biases will always be part of our lives, and it is up to you to find a way to navigate them as you forge your way in this journey called life.
The writer is editor, Society & Magazines, Daily Nation. Email: [email protected] ke.nationmedia.com