x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Spare me your titles if you can't show common courtesy

As a woman, you already feel vulnerable enough without someone throwing their family tree at you or treating you as if you are pursuing them for marriage.

Ever found yourself in a situation where someone is sitting in front of you, going on and on about how great they are, their many honorific titles, their impressive ancestral roots, and then topping it off with: "I can't believe you don't know who I am?" It's a lecture that triggers a sudden urge to just smack someone. Let me share a story that, perhaps, many have experienced themselves but with a different set of characters and a modified plot.

Once a upon time, there were three little girls with big dreams. One of them wanted to be a doctor to save lives, the other wanted to be a storyteller and travel the world collecting these stories, and the third simply wanted to become a princess. All three girls accomplished their dreams, and promised to always work together to make this world a better place. But, while two of them earned their titles through study and work, the princess got hers through marriage and love.

It got harder and harder for the friends to meet as the circle of people around the princess put up thicker and thicker walls between her and her two friends, who were probably viewed as "common working class". They were protecting the princess and protecting tradition. However, thanks to e-mail, the wall was cracked and the three reconnected. But there still remained some reservations, this time on everyone's side. It wasn't just the titles and prefixes that were added to their names; they now carried certain expectations that had to be met, or they risked losing the weight of those titles, or even the titles themselves.

It is a complicated and delicate balance between asserting your position in life, especially if you earned it and you feel others are not showing you the respect you are owed, and using it as a bludgeon to belittle others. Having lost a title that was my "birthright" due to family bickering over land and religion, I can't help but wonder how different my life would have been and how many doors would have been opened if my name was just a little bit different. I probably could have found more sponsors for the many causes that have crossed my path.

As a journalist, I often interview all sorts of people from varying backgrounds and social status. While it is a great challenge, and quite often stressful, it builds character to communicate with other people and understand their stories - and do justice to those stories when they finally do agree to sit down with you. But sometimes, some of them, especially if they perceive a woman alone, single, with no "male protector", can take liberties, humiliate and even bully.

As a woman, you already feel vulnerable enough without someone throwing their family tree and titles at you or, even worse, treat you as if you are pursuing them for a marriage proposal when all you want is a quote to finish up a story. Sorry guys, believe it or not, not everyone is after you, or wants something from you besides some information, so please, get off your high horse. Recently, I saw a woman behind the wheel smile and wave in order to cut into the next lane. While I smiled back and let her in, a man in another car mistook her smile for something else and rolled down his window and yelled out his telephone number. When she ignored him, he insulted her and even tailgated her for a short distance. What a bully, and what a loser.

It is fun observing human behaviour, and often the miscommunication that can happen based on previous experiences with the opposite gender. Whatever the case, I know we all like to be admired and want to stand out somehow, but sometimes, when one's "superior" position is used to belittle and bully others, it creates great bitterness and ill will. We should be proud and respectful of our heritage and the sacrifices of those who went before us to put our family names on the map. And, yes, often just one man, perhaps a great-great grandfather, may have changed the course of history with his courage and wit, but that doesn't mean you are great unless you have made your own mark.

The names, titles and positions we carry should inspire humility and more positive behaviour. Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, this is the way of the world: a single word from a well-known person can change everything while the words of so many others will never be heard. @Email:rghazal@thenational.ae