(This is an incomplete thought. I had wanted to wait to publish but time is running out.)
Life. Not death. Life. Not death.
This is a follow up to the piece I wrote “Can’t Play Fair If The Game is Rigged”. The premise of that piece was that conditions as they are in Cameroon and around the world, are such that the average Cameroonian woman (any woman for that matter) is playing a losing game. I emphasized that there must be a fundamental change in how we see ourselves as women, as individuals in our communities, and as a collective of individuals forming this community. I also recommended that the first step to this transformation is reflection, thinking about yourself as a human being and what that means, but also to think about your needs and what you can to do to fulfill them. The hierarchy of needs outlined below by psychologist Abraham Maslow is a good place to start:
I’m going to take a small detour in this essay to address the most common pushback I get, as a person/woman decrying the sorry state of affairs in Cameroon. I want to this before I continue with what I want to talk about so that you understand why I still call bullshit on any reason I am given for things being the way they are, or why I am wrong for being as frustrated as I am.
The most common pushback I get is that I am not strong-minded, mentally balanced, grounded etc. I am told that I allow my emotions to be easily influenced by surrounding circumstances. That I need to elevate my mental state in order to achieve mental balance and not be weighed down by “ungovernable” circumstances. Basically, that my redemption consists in rising above these circumstances, surrounding myself with the right people and living for myself and those I love. The reasons given for this approach usually fall along the lines of “You can’t change the world…”, “People are selfish and you just have to take care of yourself…”, “This is just how things are…” Now I’m willing to bet that you’ve heard similar advice from family and friends, lovers and husbands, bosses, and even random strangers.
This is not bad advice per se. In all honesty, it’s the sort of advice I would give in a similar situation. I agree with the school of thought that our minds regulate our reality and thus mental mastery is needed for optimal life. But unlike most people who offer this advice, I wouldn’t end here. I would say that this exhortation to mental conditioning needs to eventually extend to the people in our communities, these same people whose individual and collective beliefs and actions create the circumstances we have to deal with, including the so called “ungovernable” ones. I would do this because I recognize that no matter how I craft my inner realities, that is, the world (starting with my community) as conceived, perceived and experienced by my mind, no matter how I craft this for my own wellbeing, I still have to contend with external realities – the world (starting with my community) as conceived, perceived and experienced by the people who make up that world (community). This is what Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie means when she says people make a culture and not the other way around. Things are the way they are because we want and/or allow them to be the way they are.
As the individual mind believes, so it is. But also as the collective mind believes, so it is.
But how do a lot of us in Cameroon operationalize the concept of mental balancing or whatever it is we choose to call the process of mastering our mind? It seems to me that the act has become transactional like prayer, fasting, and many other philosophical and religious practices which while intended to connect individuals to the Origin, the all-encompassing entity that some call God, that we may align our wills with what makes for Life as it could be, has become the “legal tender” by which we bribe this entity into giving us what we want, regardless of the effects it has on people other than ourselves and the people we care about. I feel like it has become a “major key” to help you live your best life, the emphasis being on what you are going to do to make you and yours comfortable, given the circumstances. So essentially, you recognize the situation is suboptimal yet only look for ways to craft it to your immediate benefit and nothing more.
Ubuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, indeed.
Ubuntu is one of the main philosophies or worldviews to come from the African continent. Simply expressed, Ubuntu means: a person is a person because of people. Or in the words of philosopher Michael Onyebuchi Eze:
“ ‘A person is a person through other people’ strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance”.
Why do I bring up Ubuntu? Because as African peoples, regardless of what part of the African mosaic we come from, one unifying philosophy is the fact that we take care of each other, that we are all we’ve got, that we go together, that it takes a village, that communality and individuality are in constant interplay, and our humanity is guaranteed because we guarantee the humanity of others. We thus navigate this path between individual consciousness (self) and shared consciousness (society, community) for the entirety of our lives so, how are we so comfortable with worldviews that limit the scope of who we consider as “ours” such that we define areas we are going to care about and ignore everything else (and wonder why we have such corrupt societies)? As I see it, this approach, is valid and WILL work for those individuals who abide by it but unless a critical mass of people does the same, it’s of minimal value to the larger society – the shared consciousness and thus the reality of the individuals who make up said society. As a result, the factors that create these less than ideal conditions don’t change by much.
As the individual mind believes, so it is. But also as the collective mind believes, so it is.
For example, my mind as a Cameroonian woman is deeply disturbed by patriarchy and sexism in the country, all it brings with it and how it has complicated to the point of destroying, is complicating to the point of destroying and unless we do something about it, will continue to complicate to the point of destroying the lives of women, and by extension society as it could be. Following the recommended thinking however, I would be expected to focus on elevating and balancing my mind and doing what I need to do to make sure this is not the case for me and those I care about. Basically, patriarchy and its attendant evils are present but how I orient my mind regarding it is what really matters and any attempts I or others make to challenge the status quo first in minds and then through policy, is wasting energy because this is just the way things are. I don’t know if I’m the only one who realizes how fraudulent this is, ESPECIALLY coming from a “well-meaning” man or woman whose praxis is patriarchy.
Think of it this way: You can become enlightened enough to eat and drink healthy, exercise and rest regularly, meditate etc. You can even know to take medications like ACTs and have access to the best. But if your compound has optimal conditions for mosquitoes to thrive and you do nothing about that, malaria will continue to plague you. Matter of fact, the parasites will likely develop resistance to whatever restorative or preventive actions you take. Similarly, you can be enlightened enough to know what patriarchy and sexism are, know how to protect yourself from their effects and live your life so all people know you will not stand for that nonsense. But if the collective mind/consciousness of the society that generates these patriarchal sexist attitudes doesn’t become enlightened as well, they will simply adapt around you and you will need to repeatedly dip into these mental balancing resources to just function normally. Energy that could go towards more fully realizing our potential goes towards just simply surviving the day without losing it.
Talk about perpetual energy drainage.
Furthermore, there is an incrementalism to this approach, an unnecessary “take am small-small” attitude which in my opinion speaks more to moral cowardice than to wanting to take a measured approach. What are we taking small small when we see the destructive effects of these attitudes multiplying exponentially? What are we taking small small when we see the causes and effects plainly? What exactly are we taking small small, when by each of us holding each other accountable as a collective, we can cover that ground much faster? There is also what I see as a communal irresponsibility imbedded in it which is why counselling/therapy, medication, meditative practices and all the means by which individuals can control their minds notwithstanding, our societies keep deteriorating. The individual can do the work but only on the level of the individual. If shared consciousness and collective reality is to change, this self-reflection, need for assessment and mental regulation also must happen at the community level.
So yes, we need to master our individual minds as beings in this universe and as women living in a deeply patriarchal and sexist world. But where is the exhortation to work towards mastering the collective mind for what we all know is the good of the collective?
As the individual mind believes, so it is but also as the collective mind believes, so it is.