Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Ditch Desirability. Pursue Purpose

The Greatest Love of All

Many years ago on a beautiful, sunny afternoon in March, I walked into a room on the fourth floor of Hall 6 at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). I was a student there, and so was the man I was about to meet.

But I wasn't meeting him for the first time. He was a classmate. A very cool dude in fact. Very low-profile. Quiet. The most outstanding thing about this guy, noticeable within a few minutes of meeting him, was that he really loved smoking. To this day, he reminds me of Terry O'Reilly's line: "Light them if you got them" in his Age of Persuasion episode about the AMC TV hit show 'Madmen'.

Soon after I sat on one of the beds in the University hostel room, I was offered black coffee and some mandazi. That, given the time and circumstances, was unparalleled 'Ivy League' hospitality!

I had come to this room to get myself some music. Illegally, of course. But it was quite a process, much unlike simply downloading an MP3 track from the Napster website and adding it onto a collection on my personal computer for offline access and - it goes without saying - additional distribution of this bootleg music through endless copying.

Joel gave me a tape cassette. On it was recorded ninety minutes of Whitney Houston music. This included some of my then favorites, and others I hadn't listened to before.

Back in my room, I transferred the music from cassette player to a desktop computer. It was a time consuming exercise, that involved the use of JetAudio, Nero and Winamp audio software. I ended up sleeping past midnight.

Finally, I had the one Whitney Houston Song that carries so much weight, and around which I write this post.

Loving oneself is the greatest love of all.

Utaambia Watu Nini?

Throughout the December 2018 holidays, there was a radio (I neither possess nor watch TV, so I wouldn't know if there was a television version) commercial by the StarTimes terrestrial and satellite TV company. Voiced by one of Kenya's pseudo comedians, the advert ended with the question: "Utaambia watu nini?"
That, of course, is if you didn't get yourself a StarTimes decoder.

That is an interesting persuasion technique, for anybody who knows just how much people love to belong and to not miss out. But there is another way of looking at it - just how much do we say, do or acquire on the strength of what others will say, think or feel?

A key premise of the Advertising classic 'The Mirror Makers' is that advertising doesn't merely show people how or what they are, but what they'd like to be.
And this is also what predisposes people to conmen and frauds - all it takes to manipulate or otherwise unduly influence a person is to tell them a story that resonates with what they either believe or want to hear.

The best example of this is the hope peddling that happens every Sunday...

The Divided Self

In his book 'The Happiness Hypothesis,' Jonathan Haidt writes about "The Divided Self."
In a nutshell, Haidt outlines the various divisions the self has to contend with, given that they often work in cross purposes. These are mind vs body, left vs right, new vs old and controlled vs automatic.

It is for this reason that each one of us, despite the obvious assumption that one would have his or her best interests at heart, will occasionally do irrational and stupid things, fail to control oneself, or do what one knows is not good for him or her.

How should a Person Look Like?

In the United Kingdom, Chidera 'The SlumFlower' Eggerue is a young woman who has had to constantly deal with the pressure to have what is considered perfect boobs.
At one point, she decided she's had enough of this nonsense and launched the #SaggyBoobsMatter hashtag on social media.

Chidera was bold enough to refuse being shamed for how her breasts look.
Sadly, not every person has the support systems around them to come out and speak boldly against harmful societal constructs that dictate what is popular or even acceptable.

It is acceptable and in order that humans will want to belong.
But time and again, we have seen people across all age groups and regions of the world, lower their dignity or otherwise harm themselves in an effort to be accepted by others.

An even more harmful version of this happens on the web, thanks to social networks. It is not uncommon to see people post fake photos depicting their near "perfect" lives in an effort to flaunt glamour and "success" in life.
All this vanity is informed by a misguided craving for social approval and validation by strangers online. Many people feel like they owe their followers and Facebook friends an account of how well they are living their lives.

This is why in August 2018, a popular Kenyan TV presenter was exposed for having projected a very exaggerated and fake lifestyle on Instagram. She would use photos lifted other sites and using filters and digital graphics editing, claim to be doing fashionable things or being in exotic places - all of which was entirely untrue.

The Purpose Driven Life

This book by Rick Warren is a great guide to living a life that is driven by purpose. It is true a lot of it is based on Christian principles. But religion aside, it has wonderful insights that are worth considering.

It much better to pursue one's purpose in life, than to be burdened with an endless search for desirability in the eyes of other faulty humans.
Or even worse - and more damaging - feeling the need to explain oneself to others as if one owes his/her life or happiness to them.

* * *

There is need for every individual to learn how to love oneself unconditionally.
There is honestly nothing wrong with loving who you are, you were born that way. There is no need to hide yourself in regret or feel the need to gain the validation and approval of strangers who in actual fact do not care about you at all. Everybody is beautiful in their own way.


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