Admittedly, I am as far from perfect as most people; yet, I used to be very particular about the character of people I associated with. Of course, I was often labelled a snob and even scorned by those whose egos may have been bruised… okay, was bruised because of my implied rejection of their affection. It was something I never worried or felt guilty about. I learnt a long time ago and even saw first-hand that the people who influence our lives the most are those we associate with regularly: lovers, family, friends, colleagues, brethren, etc… especially friends!
However, over time, the circumstances that made me rigid concerning associations faded in my mind. Invariably, I relaxed and became more accepting of people. I began to accept love indiscriminately, with the understanding that I’m not likely to attract a lot of people that are not similar to me in character. Although this has worked well so far, I was soon to be reminded of why I had been picky before.
Based on my professional experience with foundations and my contributions to awareness campaigns on albinism, I had been invited to sit on a grant awarding panel. The 20/20 Vision Foundation intended to award 20 grants to people with eye problems ranging Cataract, Refractive Errors, Glaucoma, Muscular Degeneration and Amblyopia. The grant covers all expenses that will be incurred in improving these medical conditions and includes a small token post-treatment for medication and comfort for the patients.
We were able to narrow down from 100 applicants to 30 who had the most compelling stories. We reviewed the 30 stories again and could not bring ourselves to drop any of them. I suggested a quick phone interview with all 30 applicants so we could arrive at the final 20. Yes, I was suggesting we use a quick character evaluation to pick the final 20 grant awardees. Some on the panel didn’t like the idea but no one could think of a better criterion for sifting out 10 of the 30 applicants; so, we got on with it.
We were quite excited with the first five people we contacted and were beginning to wonder if my method would be effective at all. Then we dialled the sixth person on the list: a man with Refractive Error in one of his eyes. To our surprise, a female voice came through…
Hello, greeted a female voice.
Lisa leaned towards the phone at the centre of the table and spoke, “Hello! My name is Lisa Bankole with the 20/20 Vision Foundation. We will like to speak with Onyeka Kalu please, can you get him to come to the phone?”
“Hahahaha! Is this the newest trick in the books now? You this Ashawo (Prostitute) that has been chasing my man about town, you didn’t know I’d pick the phone and now you are forming some lame story?!” the woman lost it.
“I beg your pardon? Lisa blurted, looking completely stunned. We all were.
“Your pardon?! You are still speaking English with me, you this shameless Ashawo girl; let me warn you for the first and last time now. If you ever call my fiancé again, I will trace you and destroy you! I will cause…”
I leaned in and cut the call. We sat in stunned silence for a few minutes, each of us seemed to be buried in our thoughts or busy with our attempts to make our minds unravel the mystery we just experienced. Mr Okoro picked up his biro and stuck out Mr Kalu’s name from the list.
We all began to exchange looks and soon burst out laughing. For some reason I couldn’t fathom, Lisa didn’t find it amusing at all. She leaned into her chair, pouted her mouth and folded her arms in silent protest.
Leaning close to her face with a somewhat idiotic grin, Chioma teased, “Lisa, you totally should call his phone again later tonight, say 11pm?”.
We all burst out laughing while Lisa threw daggers at each of us with her eyes.
“Too soon?!” I asked with a mocking smile, causing the others to chuckle a bit more. Finally, Lisa smiled and shook her head.
“All right, let’s get back to it”, Mr Okoro prompted.
Even though the hostile phone conversation had been amusing, it once again, pointed to the importance of choosing our associates or circle of influence carefully and deliberately. Considering the compelling story Mr Kalu had crafted in his application, he seemed to really need help but his insecure fiancé had caused him to lose a chance he most likely would have gotten, if he had come to the phone himself. Sometimes we may be completely unaware when we are robbed of opportunities because of our affiliations. We may not even be aware of our losses but we lose when we allow bad or wrong people associate with us.