A couple of weeks back, my nephew got hold of one of my Black-American Movies Collection and I had to check on him periodically while he watched it in the living room to make sure he didn’t see any movie from the collection a seven year old boy shouldn’t see. It was on one of such oversight visits that I settled down for an umpteenth time to watch that 2002 20th Century Fox movie; Drumline.
Drumline is the story of a young drummer from New York, Devon Miles (played by Nick Cannon), who was granted a full scholarship to study at the fictional Atlanta A&T University, a historically black college that takes enormous pride in its marching band. Devon was personally persuaded to chose Atlanta A&T over the other options he had by Dr. Lee, head of the school’s band, for his prodigious talents, especially his skills on the drum. There were various sections in the band each with a leader whose job includes among others the training of new recruits, grading them during audition, and overseeing performance rehearsals. Devon Miles was in the Percussion Section, with Sean as the section leader and the film dwelt on the travails of the young talent with the man who was supposed to mentor him.
Devon was of the opinion that he was a better and more talented drummer than the section leader, and he didn’t keep that opinion to himself. He undermined Sean’s authority at every opportunity, challenging him to a battle of skills in front of the whole band and humiliated him. He also had disciplinary issues too, starting a fight at the school’s homecoming performance and later on, it was discovered that he couldn’t even read music; he had lied on his application form. He was demoted to the lowest position on the band, and was made to attend music classes. With all of his endowment, his career went down because he lacked real knowledge and most essentially, discipline. His career got back on track after he learned to be humble and submissive to authority. In all of these, he was very friendly with other students and helped them in rehearsals. His only problem was that he felt he was better than the person leading the section. Although quite true; however, this doesn’t guarantee that he should be the leader or that he would make a better leader. Infact his cockiness was a pointer to the possibility that he would make a bad leader. He still had a lot to learn, and if nothing else, Sean had much more experience in leadership than him. Talent alone doesn’t guarantee good leadership.
My story is similar to Devon’s in a way. I was that type of student whose day was never complete until I have had the chance to correct a teacher in front of my colleagues. I took much pride in letting them know I knew much more than they did, or I thought I did. I devoted much time to watching out for teacher’s errors and making a meal of them. I danced my way through secondary school, literarily; covering the syllabus in the first few weeks of each term and usually outlined the questions I would ask in class, when I am in the mood to attend, that I knew would make the teacher struggle. My cause was helped by the fact that I attended a public secondary school for the first three years, and when I did transfer to a private school, the teaching standard wasn’t much better than what was obtainable in my former school. That attitude didn’t leave when I got admitted to Obafemi Awolowo University to study Biochemistry; and when in 100 level I won the Shell Nigeria University Scholarship, I felt I was the next best thing to happen to humanity after Jesus Christ. Surely, there was no way I wasn’t going to make a First Class from this school was my conclusion, and really there was nothing in sight to make me doubt that. I never made a First Class and much were my travails before I even graduated at all, I had made a lot of enemies in high places with my overbearing self-belief that when crisis came (missing scripts, missing results, CGPA errors etc), there was nobody to help. So I went about solving my own problems by myself, albeit futile. I was bitter, angry with everyone except myself; I felt I was being persecuted.
Interestingly, just like Devon, I got on very well with most, if not all my classmates. My lecturers were surprised when they learnt that I took free tutorials at faculty level although I was entitled to weekly stipends from the faculty students’ association. I was that classmate you could bring your problems to. I enjoy teaching and it gives me great joy when I help with colleagues’ academic problems. My problem was with lecturers and their teaching methods, which quite frankly has to be looked into in our part of the world. One day, I had a chat with one of my lecturers who took an interest in my case. I didn’t mince words, I made it clear I was being victimized by the department because most of the lecturers felt threatened by my ability, and told him of my plan to go abroad to continue my studies. He smiled at me coldly and said; “Nobody here has a problem with your talents or abilities, you are a special student but you would have a problem even if you go to the moon to study. Your problem is arrogance, and that is one disease a geographical relocation cannot cure. You need a mental relocation and work on your attitude ‘cos it’s all messed up”. Before I could recover from that punch, he gave me another: “Forget your talent and improve on your attitude, especially how you relate with authorities. Your classmates adore you, but they aren’t the one marking your scripts. I have seen many of your type, and if you are not careful your talents will strangle you in the end”
I walked out of his office dazed. I learned the essentials of good human relations the hard way!
Talent is never enough; your success in life is likely to be more hinged on your attitude than your gifts. Nobody has a monopoly of talents; whatever it is you are good at, there are thousands of others out there just as good at same, and many more even better than you. A humble spirit, a positive attitude, and respect for leaderships are the keys that open doors faster than ingenuity most of the times. There is a thin line between confidence and bigheadedness. Arrogance diminishes wisdom and drives knowledge away. Arrogance breeds ignorance and ultimately blights a talent. An arrogant person is like the proverbial cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow. It sure takes a kind of shabby arrogance to survive in our time but it is the kind of arrogance that is bred by confidence, zeal and determination. It is not the type that is bred by an inflated sense of self-importance. For every talent that arrogance has stimulated, it has blighted a thousand.
Narcissus fell in love with his own beauty; he died gazing at his own reflection in a pool. It is better for people to find you out, than for you to overstate your scope of knowledge and be found wanting when put to test. Egotism will drive people away from you faster than leprosy. Keep your head down, your mouth shut and take the blame even when you have done no wrong. It works better than rigging does for PDP. Devon Miles was given a second chance, he learned his lesson, forged a partnership with Sean and together they guided their band to the B.E.T Southern Classic Trophy. I have my second chance and I am holding on to it tightly and dearly. Many other ‘Miles’ have gone down the road without that all important second chance. Be wise, be guided.
Ogunyemi Olaitan Bukola