African Transformation: Towards a True African Identity II

As important as knowing and giving it a positive evaluation is, the tricky thing is finding your true identity. How do I know for sure that the identity I have or think I have is the one I must have? How do I find my true self; my true identity such that I will be able to live my life from this position of being truthfully informed and aware of my identity? That, my friend, is a very tricky undertaking but first, let’s look at possible culprits shaping our identities.

Family Background and Upbringing

This is the most obvious one. They have even invented all sorts of expressions to explain this one. ‘An apple does not fall far from the tree’ and ‘You are just a chip off the old block’, are a few examples. Whether we like it or not, our family upbringing shapes our perception of self. We have the genes of our parents; we grow up eating the food they cook and we are nurtured in a certain philosophy which will probably ring in our ears for life. Later on in life, when we have our own kids we are shocked to find that we have turned into mom and dad! That is not necessarily a bad thing as long as we don’t use our family background, particularly the really negative aspects, to our detriment. Let me explain.

Have you heard of self-fulfilling prophecies? This is a prophecy you make about yourself and find that it actually comes to pass just as you envisaged it. Generally they are associated with the negative aspects of our lives; I don’t know why. There are positive self-fulfilling prophecies but the question is why self-fulfilling prophecies self fulfil?

If you were raised in a family that struggles in the area of wealth creation for as long as anyone in your family can remember, it’s likely that you grew up being told that you would not amount to much in life. At some point because of both constant and consistent reminders that you will die a pauper and the empirical evidence all around you within the family, you begin to believe it. And once you believe it you begin to say it. Before you know it, you actually begin to act in such a way that you squander opportunities that could have lifted you out of that rut. It becomes a classic case of digging yourself deeper into your hole because you are so focused on your surroundings that you forget to look up and see the sky. That becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One of my friends was going through a particularly difficult period in his life. We met for coffee and he spent a full hour telling me his problems, how he had traced the same problems through the generations and now could see the same things happening in his life. It was depressing. After I had taken it to my ears I stopped him and told him that was why he was exactly where he was. He believed that what he had was coming from his identity, he could not escape it and he was therefore actively encouraging the same problem in his life. This man had his identity totally messed up. So we had to start from there and try to pry him out of this mental stranglehold.

Unfortunately old habits die hard and one counselling session does not begin to suffice.

The same patterns are repeated in abuse victims, failed marriages, family sicknesses and so forth. If you believe that marriages in your families are not meant to last because of some sort of curse, even when you find a really good partner, you find that you will find something wrong with the relationship, so that at the end of the day you can shout, ‘I knew it would never work! Marriages never work in our family.’ You have assumed the identity of your family.

So it’s very tricky to know for sure that the identity you have is truly yours and not one given to you by your family. But this issue is too important to leave to family.

Literature

Depending on what you read, listen to and get attached to, you are likely to start assuming that originator’s identity. A lot of young people have turned into thugs due to excessive influence of music glorifying this thug life. This also goes together with peer pressure and the desire to fit in. In my opinion, we should be well balanced people who are able to listen to anything and critic it before internalising it because we are aware of what it can turn us into especially if it colours our perception of self or makes us feel like we need to assume a new identity.

The influence of literature can be seen in trends, life styles and even religion, depending on the degree of exposure and our ability to filter what we allow to influence us or lack thereof.

Religion

This is a seriously big one. There is nothing more powerful than belief. Belief is at the centre of self-fulfilling prophecies, superstitions and even suicide bombings. Of all the things I can think of that shape our identities, religion is high up there. It does not need proof, it just needs you to accept a certain belief and before long, you have totally opened yourself to all that that particular belief system espouses. You then strive continuously to become what that belief system says you must become. You begin to see life and everything associated with it through the lenses of your beliefs. It does not matter that evidence is all around you to the contrary; you still believe.

At the place I stay, there is a really friendly black cat that likes to pay me visits every now and then. Sometimes it gets in through the window and lies on my bed. I will never forget an episode when one of my friends was visiting and this cat strolled in casually and lounged on my couch. There was pandemonium in the house. A black cat in your house, Raymond, and you are so relaxed? No, we need to do something quick! This is a bad omen of impending trouble. About the same time, an owl started to hoot and that was it for my friend. I was living with witches!

Beliefs are powerful.

I could go on and on but I believe I have made my point. It really isn’t that important dwelling on things that possibly shape our identity, if we are not going to get to the crux of the matter; where do you get your true identity that liberates you to be who you really are? This is where it really gets interesting.

And my answer is inside. Not outside. Inside. Not your family. Inside. Not what the preacher said. Inside. Not what your favourite song says. Inside. Not what your friends are saying. Inside. Not what the self help book says. Inside. Not what the popular trends say. Inside. Look inside.

No one can tell you who you are. That is your job. You need to solve this riddle. You need to process this issue. You need to bring this matter to finality. The moment someone steps in with their perceptions, you have just been given an identity. Don’t look to the west or to the east. Look inside you and you will find your true identity waiting for you.

Why do I say that? Let me explain.

The essence of who you are is contained in your spirit and your spirit proceeds from your Creator, God. I don’t have the time to argue with atheists here because I want to make a point. If God created you, surely he knows exactly what He put on the inside of you. He has hidden you in you. Your homework is to dig inside you and find you in you as your Creator intended. He is the one who created you and He is the ONLY one who can give you your true identity.

Are you tired of searching in all the places for your true identity? It’s time to focus on the inside of you and let God reveal to you who you are. So connect with Him. Spend time with your Creator and take time to know yourself.

You will see that things will become clearer. For the first time, you will see that your family’s story is not your story. Your past is not your future. And once you have established your true identity in Him, you have started on the journey of life in earnest. Who you become, going forth, is who you really are and therefore what your recreate on the outside will change to reflect your new-found self.

What I have simply done is to point you in the right direction. The rest, my friend is your job.

African Transformation: Towards a True African Identity I

I admit it. I have been very scarce; in fact too scarce. A lot of things have been taking place in my life and I needed to see them through while developing new material in the process. I guess it was a good break. I like to implement what I write as well and that is the beautiful part about my blog. If there is one person more inspired than everyone else by my writing, it is me. I believe that with all my heart.

And over the past six months I began to separate things that were truly important to me and those that were not. I began to think a lot about the kind of life I wanted to live going forward, my legacy and how I was going to achieve it. I wondered what kind of a wife and family I would want for myself as I prepared for this phase of my life. In short, I did a lot of soul searching to answer this question; who am I?

Who am I? That question lies at the very heart of my identity and yours. And as I think about the solutions to the African challenges acknowledged in previous articles in the African Transformation series, I understand that it must all start with addressing the issue of identity. It must start with you and me. There is no African Transformation without yours and my transformation. It has to be a holistic transformation. We are the building blocks of this 900 million continental population.

I think the question of who or what is an African is one of the most hotly contested in the African Transformation agenda. Thabo Mbeki wrote his famous ‘I am an African’ poem which has gone on to achieve cult status. And in it he dealt with the issue of identity.

The issue of identity must be dealt with because before you establish what you will do in life, you need to know who you are. It informs why you do the things you do. Unfortunately, in our modern world, without knowing and being very comfortable in your identity, you will find that an identity will promptly be given to you. And you tend to become who they say you are because you begin to believe it. It won’t be long before you start acting the way someone carrying your identity should act. And do you know why? Because identity is closely tied to your self esteem.

I noticed something very strange. For most of my life, I have lived alone. It wasn’t until recently that I began to live with people from time to time. When I moved into my current pad, I found nothing in there, except a renovated and fresh-paint smelling house. Then I cleaned the place out and moved in with my furniture. I kept moving furniture around and buying more until I had satisfied myself that I had exactly the outcome I wanted. In other words, I didn’t rest until I felt like the place was more…me. Identity. Hold that thought. It’s about to get interesting.

Then I began to have visitors. They always use the guest bedroom. Of course I would go in every morning and greet them and make small talk before going to work. Overtime, I realized I didn’t want to go in there anymore. I felt strange. The place was changing into something else! It was no longer the same place! I began to gasp! My throat dried up! This couldn’t be happening! I needed a glass of water, quick! Somebody call 911! *Movie-type suspense music in the background!!!!* What was the problem? You want to know? Well, suddenly my place just didn’t feel like…me. Identity.

What am I trying to say? Whether you are conscious of it or not, you carry your own identity with you everywhere you go. And you recreate who you are on the inside on the outside. If you want to look at what is going on inside a person, just look at the environment they have created around themselves because your identity has an environment in which it needs to be nurtured and grow into more and more of itself. See the danger in that? An addict becomes more and more addicted because he keeps on recreating an environment that natures his addiction. Equally true, a musician becomes better and better at his art by recreating music everywhere. That is why both are where they are. People recreate their identities. There is a popular saying that when people move, they move with their clothes, furniture, vehicles and …rodents. Truer words have not been spoken.

In view of the foregoing, the issue of identity cannot be left to others to define for you. You will try to live your life in other people’s realities and will constantly try to be them. If you are lucky you will get frustrated to the point where you cast aside other people’s identities and mould your own. Only then will you begin to experience true satisfaction and make a positive impact as your Creator intended.

That is why, as you begin to evaluate your identity, you must look at that critical component of the process of forming one; self esteem. Let’s unpack this one.

According to Wikipedia, Self-esteem is a term in psychology to reflect a person’s overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. It is conceptualized as an attitude toward the self and is similar to a judgment of oneself. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, “I am competent”, “I am worthy”) and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame. The self-concept is what we think about the self; self-esteem, the positive or negative evaluations of the self, is how we feel about it’.

According to the above definition, and loosely, your self esteem is an evaluation of your identity. If who you think you are is evaluated by yourself in a negative way, you will have a low self esteem. If who you think you are is evaluated in a positive way, you will have a high self esteem. And we know that depending on the state of your self esteem, you can go near or far in life. If you believe you are not worthy it, you will begin to recreate that feeling on the outside and before long, you will be treated like you are not worthy it. Deep calls unto deep. Shallow never calls unto deep.

Depending on who you have defined yourself to be you can have a happy life or a depressed life. You can smile and have fun here and there but as long as the issue of your identity and therefore self esteem has not been settled, you will look for it in the wrong places and will constantly be frustrated. I have learnt to vigorously defend against anything that encroaches on my self esteem because it won’t be long before my evaluation of my identity becomes negative and before long I have to change into something I am not and that is not necessarily beneficial to me. My point is, we need to form our own identity based on a number of factors, form a healthy evaluation and opinion of that identity and use that confidence in ourselves to move forward in life, recreating that state of affairs in ourselves on the outside. We will then tend to attract more and more of what we have on the inside.

And so the question to be asked is, who are you? Who am I? What constitutes my identity? If I continue to hold the same opinion and evaluation of myself as I do, where am I likely to be five years from now? How about ten years? Am I going to have the kind of career I want? What about the kind of family I desire? What about my friends? Am I likely to go through life happy or depressed? And if you don’t like the answers you are getting my friend, it is time for a reality check. Check who or what is giving you your identity. Whose philosophy are you following? Is there an incident you are holding onto that is a source of a negative identity of yourself? Is it like a spring bringing forth bitter waters continuously and poisoning everything in your life?

As I wrap up this article let me bring it all together now. I love it when a plan comes together.

When the Europeans came to Africa, their ability to conquer Africans was based on their ability to convince us Africans that they were superior to us and therefore we needed to give up everything in order to try and be like them. As we gave up everything, including our resources, trying to be them, we woke up one day to find that we had lost our inheritance and up to now we are fighting to regain it. They messed with our identity until we loathed ourselves for being Africans. I heard a funny story about how the Europeans came and said to us, “Let’s close our eyes and pray.” When we opened our eyes, we had the bible and they had the land.

If you want to mess with a person, mess with their identity!

Therefore, as an African, the first place you want to start from is settling this issue that there is nothing wrong with being born on African soil. You are who you are. You can’t change that, even if you wanted to. Once you accept your African identity, and I am not necessarily saying African culture, you have started on the journey to Personal Development. As you go out there in the global village then, you are not afraid of being exterminated for being an African but you will proudly make a difference while telling them your surname is Mukonoweshuro!

Forming a true African identity, as opposed to forming an expedient African identity (as eloquently expounded and cleverly manipulated by politicians) and its role in the global village is the subject of part two of “Towards a True African Identity”.