On Building People Up

Michael Onsando
13 July ,2015

A lot of the people I find myself in discussions with are often of the “break you down” mentality. They see the value is tracking and actively curbing a perception of the self that sees ability/a certain kind of ability. A lot of this breaking down is often hidden in “truth.” While truth can, and often is uncomfortable there is a line of thinking that imagines truth needs to be distilled as a violence. Beyond that some truths are then modified to amplify their impact so ensure they “reach.” Some truths are modified so they injure.

Many times this is something that seems to be done from a point of defense. Having experienced the world in its harshness people imagine that they are preparing others for an otherwise harsh world. But what exeptionalism exists in imagining that the world has only been harsh to an yourself? Further, what does the language of cruelty do but alienate?

Further, even with truths we avoid giving the good parts in person because “they’ll become too big.” Surrounded by a society that would much faster give out harsh “truths” to help each other and do little building there is little belief. Belief is a weird thing. The little engine that could had to think it could before it did. I’m wondering what it means to kill belief before action exists to either confirm or disprove the need for this belief to begin with. I’m also wondering how many times one is allowed to fail before belief can be disregarded. Whatever the limit, belief has been broken. And, broken, we begin to wonder if we can.

Then we don’t.

Cocacola recently launched their Billion Reasons to Believe campaign. The campaign, on one hand, is steeped in the Neoliberal counter narrative of Africa Rising, which came about to challenge the idea of a poverty stricken Africa. Though when we say Africa I’m reminded that no one really knows who we are really talking about.

While it’s easy to dismiss the existence of a counter narrative as reactionary, one needs to examine the need for a counter narrative to begin with.

And this is the problem.

Having believed that here is a space of nothingness it feels necessary to remind each other of this. That somehow we can’t dream here, we can’t dream of making, building and establishing vastness. In fact, often, it is met with a skepticism “how dare you think you can.” Any further insistence is then met with “truth.” In a search to call ourselves honest people we go around breaking aspirations.

It’s easy to say “just ignore,” or “haters gonna hate,” but I’m beginning to wonder what it means to be constantly working against. To know that every step you take will be met by intense resistance. I’m wondering how many people have stayed still because they are afraid to move.

(Think of how many people stay silent because they are afraid to speak)

This is not though, to invalidate the cautionary tale, which seems to have existed since Icarus flew too close to the sun (a story, I have been told, is more about wax as an impossible adhesive than about the dangers of flying). It is, however, to push back on the idea of statements that we throw out there to “keep people grounded.” To ask for a wariness about arguments we keep having just to “keep people in their place.” To track discussions that we seem to have only because we have them. And, in part to wonder about what a kinder truth looks like. What truth looks like when it wants to be a path and not a truck coming down Waiyaki way as you’re about to cross.

That truck will not save your life.

More likely, it will knock you down without a second thought. Truth cannot be the thing that assaults, because truth, being truth, is neutral. A knife can either stab someone in the back or slice up the ingredients to create a meal – neither of these things make the knife a non neutral object. The same should apply to truth (not to guns. Guns were made for one thing and one thing only).

And, if truth is a form of power to be yielded, then like all power, it can be abused. Also because truth, especially when it comes to people, is often subjective, it becomes important to analyse truths before presenting them, knowing the weight and power that they yield.

This is fine in theory but what does it mean when we go out into the world? On one hand to employ an endless stream of patience and tact exposes oneself to the default position of teacher, especially on the matter of expertise. This point of expertise often also a point of grinding against the social grain. For example a queer person in a heteronormative society would be the default expert on LGBTQI* matters. This then increases the burden on the oppressed person. (See not your teacher).

This answer ends up in a more complicated place. It becomes about creating balance in the number of conversations you can have and picking your battles. It also comes down to excusing yourself from many conversations. And, on a fundamental level, it comes down to finding a level of discomfort that is survivable. Liveability is impossible.

However, I’m wondering particular about the battles that we do chose to fight. I’m wondering if these battles included the truths that would keep us flapping – especially since we have already decided that the sun won’t stop us. Then, maybe then, we can have a discussion about creating safety nets for each other. But first, we need to find words that will help us fly, otherwise we’ll keep thinking that wax is the best adhesive we could possibly find.

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