Are you a dame or a lady?

By Hussaina Ishaya Audu

The late Stephen Covey posited in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Peoplethat habits are formed when there is a synthesis of knowledge (know what), skill (know how) and understanding (know why). In other words, until there is an overlap of know what, know how and know why, a person will lack the motivation to translate knowledge and intentions to character.

As an educator committed to building ethical leaders, I have to thank Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan for making my job immensely easier. You see, for months now I’ve been trying to persuade the group of girls I mentor about the value of correct etiquette and punctiliousness. I have cajoled, scolded and pontificated about being a lady in thought, word and deed. My task had sometimes been made all the more difficult by parents who do not always agree that dining etiquette or proper dress codes are essential to the education of young ladies. Some parents believe these aspects of our curriculum to be pretentious and unnecessary, and advise us to stick to the meat of education and do away with the trimmings.

Who would have thought, therefore, that the outcome I have longed to see in my girls would be achieved by observing the conduct of no other than the Dame herself! I must admit that when at first I saw the sad display of our First Lady as inquisitor-in-chief of the Principal of the Chibok FGGS, which display has now come to be known fondly by Nigerians as ‘#DiaisGodoo’, I was as dismayed as any other Nigerian. I watched our First Lady’s abysmal performance in disbelief, and marveled in admiration at the professionalism of the news anchor who managed to keep a straight face while reporting the story. Like you all, I questioned the locus standi of the First Lady to interrogate and intimidate as she did, and was disgusted by the chorus of ‘yes’ answers coming from the faceless sycophants in the room.

However, as I stood before the girls at assembly on Monday morning and observed one of the girls sitting legs apart in a most un-lady like fashion, and another young lady sitting smartly with hands in her laps, I had a stroke of inspiration! I saw a striking juxtaposition of two very different educational outcomes; a Dame and a Lady! What a teachable moment! In just a matter of days, with very little effort on my part, my girls have internalized the contrast painted by the picture of the Dame and the Lady! The Dame has become a metaphor for all things uncouth and Michele Obama for class, elegance and femininity. And like music to my ears, from time to time I hear them remind each other about the appropriateness or otherwise of their conduct by asking the question: ‘Are you a dame or a lady?’


Ms. Ishaya Audu, a public commentator and lawyer, lives in Abuja.

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