“A pretty face and fine clothes do not make character.” – African Proverb
It is unwise, from whichever angle your approach, to define a people with what others say of them. But it is even more difficult not to when the people themselves have not concretised the way they see themselves.
Eccentrically, there are ‘people’, especially on the African continent, who have not taken pains to define themselves. Rather, they have allowed the world to define them as they please. To make matters worse, these people now believe the perceptions others have formed about them; and for the greater part of their time, they act accordingly.
We are no different. As a people, we have become what others say we are. And we relate to ourselves based on the perceptions of people who never bother to first find out who we really are, but only formed their opinions because of what they wanted from us.
What we forget is that in order to achieve their objective, they first had to find a way to put us down – which they managed with a move comparable to a chess master’s. The labels have changed, so very few recognise that the game is still on. But the belittling and disparaging continues in other, subtle, ways.
All this putting-down has affected our psyche. We are not sure who we are; and to make matters worse, we do not even know where we want to go. All we say is that we want to go forward, but we know not which direction we want to go. We speak insincere words. This directionless vision, coupled with our cultural complex, has frozen our potential in a way that defies reason. We have the capacity to enjoy life and yet we are not doing so. This web of complexity prevents us from formulating an ideal for us as a people. We have become fixated on something we are not sure of. Wherever we look, we can visualise everything but see nothing. It is the same old story unfolding again and again, with no end in sight. Thus, we are unable to imagine things, or even possibilities.
As a people, we need a certain amount of positive self-worth to get our well-being on track to being a healthy personality – how can we form one if we are lacking a healthy sense of self-regard. What pertains in our society is a combination of individualised self-interests which sometimes get sold as the people’s vision. Historically, our identity has been weak. This has generated a sense of rigidity and dependency on our collective self-image. We cower at the slightest show of antagonism. We are quick to showcase our vulnerability and failures, rather than our strengths and potentials. We have become good at repressing the best part of ourselves. And we have done all this to ourselves because of the perceptions of others.
The reality is that the human proclivity for perceptions is the determinant factor when it comes to relationships, whether trade or interpersonal. Our opinions allow us to maintain a cognitive balance between our sensations, dispositions and expectations. They form the active ingredients which shape our reality. Perceptions are subjective and can be really scary – because we are seeing people not necessarily as they are, but as we think they are. What makes it precarious is that we form our opinions with the attention focused on ourselves. We read signs, we watch and detect suggestions, and then we conclude what another person is or should be. Can you understand why we should never, ever allow someone else’s perceptions to affect our attitudes?
On a cultural level, perception does all sorts of good things – such as increasing communication. But the greater danger is when we allow it to derail our interests or to be precise, when it prevents us from forming our own unique identity. We have to become psychologically aware of what is driving our collective psyche, and then energise ourselves to address it in ways that are thoughtful, rather than being blindly possessed by it. An understanding of our cultural complexity should be part of the good citizenry drive. We need to examine how we see ourselves – whether we formed it from the depth of our souls or we bought into what the world has been saying about us. This is no easy task, but it is one we have to undertake.
We can only hope that the society’s growing pains will eventually lead to a more holistic perspective of ourselves. We need one that incorporates our wonderfulness and connection to nature – and helps us to rediscover the importance of living life according to our talents and the renewed emphasis that it so desperately needs. But while we wait for this maturity, let us in our own individual ways liberate our psyches and free others from the hold of other peoples’ perceptions…
Kodwo Brumpon is a management consultant and a life coach who inspires individuals, groups and corporate bodies to think and feel that which is true, and helps them to positively respond to that which is beautiful while nudging them to let goodness govern their actions. Comments, suggestions and requests should be sent to him at [email protected]