In Ghana age is not “just a number”, it is a measure of one’s place within his/her family and community. Age is associated with having knowledge, experience and wisdom; hence the older a person is the more respect he/she is given. There are strict morals dictating how one should behave towards his/her elders and these are very closely adhered to. In many western societies, for example, there is this “call me by my first name” custom whereby people tend to prefer for others (including young children) to address them by their first names. So you have young children calling adults directly by their first names, just as they would call their friends. Because of such practices, the line between adult and peer becomes blurred (to the child).
In Ghana, this would not be acceptable - an adult is an adult and a child a child. It is important that this distinction is made. Also when it comes to discipline, Ghanaians are believers of the philosophy that “it takes a whole village to raise a child”. A child belongs not only to his/her parents alone, but to the entire community. As such when the child is outside the home, others can assume responsibility for his/her discipline if the parents (or other guardian) are not around and the child is doing something which is detrimental to his/her well being or to that of others.
So long as someone is older than you, in Ghana he/she will always have certain standing over you. Even if the person is only a minute or two older than you he/she is still afforded all the rights and respect of being your elder. I have a cousin who is the exact same age as I; only that I was born 2 months before him. As infants we did everything together; we lived together, played together, bathed together and sometimes we even wore matching clothes. We were being brought up as one and because of this up until the age of four; I had actually believed that he was my twin brother! Now that we are adults, between the two of us we are still just the “same age”, but to the rest of the family we are not.
I entered this world 2 months before him and in their eyes that is enough to make him my “little brother”. He hates this classification, and I don’t blame him. Now every time he does something wrong they say to me “look at how your little brother is behaving, you must talk to him, you have to advise him”. To him it is extremely annoying, but I must admit I find it kind of funny. There are many privileges that come with being older than someone here. But I also see the way in which these can be taken advantage of.
Being older than someone does not necessarily guarantee that one knows better or is always right. Nor should it automatically give one the right to boss around and control the other person “do this, do that”, all because they are older and therefore you cannot question their authority. I love the great emphasis placed on age and respect in Ghanaian society. I think it is a good custom that benefits the overall social development of the nation. But it is when individuals start abusing it (beyond reason) and taking it too far; that is when I start to have a problem with it.
So dear reader, kindly give the maximum respect where its due..