Saturday, August 20, 2011

Igbo Youth, Balanced Youth

Being a keynote speech presented by Peter Obiefuna at the inaugural ICAE Youth Day banquet, Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, August 20, 2011.


Chairperson, ICAE Youth Leadership, ICAE Youth, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for choosing me to speak at this awesome event. It gives me great pleasure to speak to you on the topic, “Igbo Youth, Balanced Youth” to honor our youth, and set the right note not just for today’s amazing event but, if you permit me, for the rest of your many days to come. Please join me to look in the direction of some youth in the room and say to them, “Igbo Youth, Balanced Youth”.


For this speech, I want to define balance in metaphor -- as a 3-legged stool. All the 3 legs are important for keeping the stool stable. Each of the 3 legs needs to grow to the right length for the stool to be balanced. If any of the legs is shorter than the others, the stool will be unbalanced. Also, if any of the legs starts growing too long and much faster than the others, the stool will also be unbalanced.
Now, a life of balance is a life that is driven by purpose and evaluated by purpose. The purpose of the stool is to provide a stable surface to hold something. One of the legs can say, “Look at me, I am so long and beautiful!” That may be true, but until all three legs are of the right length, the stool is not balanced. The stool does not provide a stable surface.
I propose that the challenge to balance being faced daily by the Igbo Youth in the face of a multitude of coexisting and sometimes conflicting norms, can be illustrated by the balance of the stool. As an illustration, if you are the stool, one of the legs you stand on may be your heritage Igbo culture, the other, your immersion Canadian culture and the third, your unique views and values. Our youth do indeed bring unique values to the culture table. We must recognize it, respect it, nurture it and allow it room to grow.


“Hey, that is not the way we do it.” How many times has someone said that to you before? I can tell from the puzzle or even frustration that accompanies that statement that you sometimes feel inadequate because you feel unequipped to understand omenala (Igbo custom). Worse still, the next day at work or school, you are also told the same things by people expecting you to equally follow the oyinbo (dominant western) culture.
I applaud you today as persons of balance because you have been able to transform and are still transforming yourselves into this complex blend of a personality that can dynamically integrate the omenala and oyinbo customs. Even though not immersed in Igbo land, you diligently accompany us your parents and guardians to these socio-cultural events. You passively imbibe, you gain self worth, you gain identity, you learn of your roots and without thinking it, you deeply come to terms with who you are, your culture, your customs, your values. Then you similarly imbibe the best of oyinbo when you go to school and work and play. Just as passively as you imbibe these cultures, you also integrate them and display the most fitting conducts from these cultures to each of your target audiences. You meet someone where they are interact with them the way they will understand while sprinkling in elements of the things that make you unique. You are today’s example of those who “to the Romans, become Roman to win them over.” You do this at work, you do this at school, you do this at community meetings, at home, on the bus and while just hanging out, liming, chilling, ‘chillaxing.’ Your personality is a blend of multiple cultures rolled into one. You provide expression that is a dynamic blend of all those cultures. You uphold the best of each and you determine when it is most appropriate to express which. Without thinking, you can even express a blend of cultures that is better than each of the subcultures you contain. You are better than a typical Igbo person in subtlety and western-style politeness, decorum and etiquette. You are better than any typical westerner in colorfulness, instant friendliness, warmth, community spiritedness, reverence for elders, responsibility to family, to list but a few. That makes you better than both of them, even better than us your parents and guardians. That makes you unique, that makes you special, that makes you more balanced that we could possibly be. That positions you better than us to take hold and contribute better to the future of both Canada and Nigeria because you contain in you, the right balance of all that is good in both cultures and so are better suited to become leaders of both. More particularly, you are better fit to lead Canada into a blossoming multicultural tomorrow.

Igbo Youth! Balanced Youth!!


This is a passionate call to our parents and community leaders: We can learn from our kids how to survive here. Their tongue is more flexible to dictional adaptation, their ears are more tonally adaptable. If you doubt this, listen to their accent; listen to some of the metal and brass music they actually enjoy. Those are the things we can see. The one we can’t see: their mind is very flexible, agile, pragmatic and goal oriented. You will never find out unless you let them express it. Give them room to grow. Empower them to learn to become leaders. You must stop the present attitude of “The Young Shall Grow Only When the Old Has Died.” Begin now to give room to your young people to make safe mistakes and to learn from them; to learn from doing and not from being told. Their ears are full with our tellings. We need to let them do. We need to back off a little. We stunt their growth by hand-holding them too much. We breastfeed our young adults when other cultures in the same country feed their own hard meat. How do we expect ours to compete in future that will be demarcated by those who got some practice and those who just passively followed Mummy and Daddy’s micromanaging and brainwashing? If we don’t trust these youth, let us start engaging them to discuss our concerns. If we trust them, let us show it by cutting off the apron strings, a few strings at a time. We owe them guidance not bottling up.

Igbo Youth! Balanced Youth!!


Dear Youth, because you are balanced, you must maintain balance. You must keep balancing. You must evaluate what people throw at you before accepting it. Because you are balanced, you don’t have so many excuses for failure like others do. You will just have to succeed. You have no excuse to wallow in depression or contemplate suicide. You have a dependable community backing you up. There are people to talk to. You are worth more than your disappointments. You are somebody. Because you are balanced, you will process peer pressure differently. In fact, you will be the ‘peer’ pressuring your friends to consider things from your perspective: A richer, more balance and cooler perspective. You will not do drugs, cigarettes or get drunk just to belong.
Lastly, because you are balanced, you accentuate the good parts of all the cultures you imbibe. You are greater than the sum of all the parts. You are better prepared than we are. You will achieve more, you will be more adaptable, more survivable and you will attain more than we the adults possibly can. You will march forward with that mindset and nothing can stop you. Not the place you are coming from, not the place you find yourself today, not the place you are headed. You are my hope for a better future for my people. You are my young heroes.

Thank you, God Bless you, and have a wonderful Youth Day!