Examination; A Thousand Words

The mark of a smart person isn’t in making up your mind; it’s in being able to change it.

If you set your opinions, values and principles in stone, they’re unshakeable and immovable, but what if you’re 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 traditionally vulnerable groups, like women and children?

What if your opinions are, by definition, bigoted and discriminatory, be it against homosexuals or anyone else whose lifestyle you don’t agree 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 actually examined yourself, and figured out the roots of your position, the value of your view, and the actual human cost your principles are taking in the real world?

Because 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.

For example, a man can say “pink shirts are gay” and he’ll think he knows why, but he was just raised and 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 can’t examine himself to wonder why he has the right to make such a judgement on the wrong- or right-ness of someone else’s sexual behaviour.

Another example is the woman who says to me “I won’t go for free, he must pay” when talking about lobola. Has she examined the actual cost of that lobola, not just in monetary terms?

Is she comfortable marrying into debt, cos 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 when it’s at the lobola stage, but not in the actual marriage?

Will she do all the cooking and cleaning? Will she kneel when serving her husband and his male relatives? Is she completely responsible for cleaning and feeding the kids?

Is she willing to accept “discipline” (read: abuse) if she doesn’t completely fulfil her duties as a traditional wife?

In the event that he dies, is she willing to be inherited by his brother?

See, only through examining ourselves (and our values) thoroughly do we come to the crossroads where we figure out just what effect our positions, values and views have in the big picture.

Maybe that guy will realise he has no right 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 slept with a prostitute? What’s your HIV status? Have you ever knowingly exposed a partner to HIV? Have you ever willingly exposed yourself to STIs by engaging in unprotected sex?

The answer to all these questions will, inevitably, be “none of your fucking business”, and to that list should be added such questions as “is so-and-so a homosexual” and “what are you doing alone in a nightclub alone at night, 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’s 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.

Maybe she’ll 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 isn’t my principles and values that make me who I am. It is my ability to constantly interrogate those values, and figure out if I’m actually doing what’s best for me, my family and the nation at large.

It’s 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 don’t constantly evolve your thinking, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and the world at large.

So here’s your homework, friends. 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 don’t have to change your mind, but the actual self-critique is a victory in itself. It shows that you’re an actual human being who can think for yourself.

You’re not governed by your culture, your 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’re a free, critical thinker.  Also known as an actual person.

Well done.

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