The ability to change makes us human

The mark of a clever person is not in making up your mind; it is in being able to change it, writes JOE RUVIDZO in this thought-provoking article about why we think the way we do.

It is the ability to change direction that marks us as human, because we have the power to think, make decisions and change them as needed.
It is the ability to change direction that marks us as human, because we have the power to think, make decisions and change them as needed.

If you set your opinions, values and principles in stone, they are unshakeable and immovable. But what if you are mistaken, or end up on the wrong side of history? What if your values and principles lead to the oppression of others? What if your views cause the abuse of vulnerable groups?

What if your opinions are bigoted and discriminatory, be it against homosexuals or anyone else whose lifestyle you disagree with? Are you any better than the racists, colonialists and slavers of yesteryear? Are you any different from any advantaged groups from the past who sought to maintain their power by keeping others down?

Have you examined yourself, and figured out the roots of your position, the value of your views, and the actual human cost your principles are taking in the real world? Only through such self-analysis do we figure out not just what we think, but why we think it. Have we actually formed our own opinions, or are we socialised and theologised into believing what we do? Only then can we question, not just the what, but the why, of who we are.

Pink – a girlie colour

For example, a man can say ‘pink shirts are gay’ and he will think he knows why, but he was just socialised to see pink as a girlie colour, and so he associates a man wearing a pink shirt with homosexuality.

In fact, just the use of ‘gay’ as a slur displays how someone is socialised into seeing homosexuality as wrong, yet he cannot examine himself to wonder why he has the right to make such a judgment on the wrong – or correctness – of someone else’s sexual orientation.

Another example is the woman who, in reference to lobola, says ‘I won’t go for free, he must pay.’ Has she examined the actual cost of lobola? (And not only in monetary terms). Is she content to marry into debt, because her hubby had to borrow to pay her roora? Is she comfortable assuming all the traditional roles ascribed to the woman in the home, or does she only believe in tradition at the lobola stage, but not in the actual marriage?

Will she do all the cooking and cleaning? Will she kneel, when serving meals to her husband and his male relatives? In the event of neglect of her traditional duties as a wife, is she willing to accept ‘discipline’ (read abuse) from her husband? In the event that he dies, is she willing to be inherited by his brother, as tradition dictates?

The big picture

See, only by thoroughly examining ourselves – and our values – do we come to the crossroads where we figure out just what effect our positions, values and views have in the big picture. Maybe those that pass judgment on others will be less inclined to dictate another person’s sexuality. Because, to interrogate someone else, one has to interrogate oneself first.

When did you lose your virginity? Was it consensual? Have you ever been sexually abused? Have you sexually abused or date-raped anyone before? Are you a rapist, or have you been raped? Have you ever used the services of a sex worker? What is your HIV status? Have you ever knowingly exposed a partner to HIV? The answer to all these questions will, inevitably, be ‘none of your business!’ And to that list of questions should be added ‘is so-and-so a homosexual’ and ‘what are you doing alone in a nightclub alone at this ungodly hour, young lady?’

We need to realise that what we think and how we feel cannot and should not be used to oppress even a single human being, because nobody has that power. You cannot use your own political, religious or traditional background to dictate how others think, live and love. That is just stupid.

Similarly, maybe that woman will examine her issue and start seeing herself not as a valuable commodity whose pride of place amongst her friends, family and society in general is determined by her bride price, but as chattel, property to be bought and sold.

What’s best?

Maybe she will realise that by giving in to a traditional buy-sell dynamic, she may be submitting herself to the control of her husband, and all the traditional norms and customs that come with that. Until we actually look inwards, we have no right (or ability) to look outwards and judge anything on the outside of our direct control.

It is not my principles and values that make me who I am. It is my ability to constantly interrogate those values, and figure out if I am doing what’s best for me, my family and the nation at large. It is the ability to change direction that marks us as human, because we have the power to think, make decisions and change them as needed. If you do not constantly evolve your thinking, you are doing a disservice to yourself and the world at large. Let me end with some homework, if I may:

Sit down and think about those strongly-held beliefs, that thing you hate so much, or that behaviour which disgusts you. Figure out just why you feel so strongly about it, and then see how much direct control you have, or should have, over it.

You do not have to change your mind, but the actual self-critique is a victory in itself. It shows that you are an actual human being who can think for yourself. You are not governed by your culture, your political party, your Church or your family. You are governed by your own conscience, and make your own way in the world. If you manage this, then congratulations, you are a free, critical thinker. Also known as an actual person. Well done. –

Joe Ruzvidzo is a blogger, freelance writer and graphic designer based in Harare.

Post published in: News

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