After I was born the rest of mylife has felt like I was created to live for someone else. Most people have graciously called it my purpose or a little more evocatively as my destiny but let me be honest, I would have been very happy crawling on all fours, being pampered and spoon fed for the rest of my life. Instead, my mother had a very long list of expectations and so I had to quickly evolve into a physically independent, very intelligent, well behaved and mannered human being while developing an extra ordinary talent in sport and Art at the same time.
After my mother the list of expectant people increased exponentially. My teachers, my siblings, extended family, friends, neighbours, my employers and as I succumbed to following the linear trajectory that every hu-MAN is expected to follow, my wife and children. Seven years ago, in a futile attempt to live life on my own terms I walked into my last employer’s human resource office and said, “Fuck it. I will live life on my own terms.”
Soon after that I realized that living life on my own terms did not really mean living life on my own terms because to survive I had to become enterprising and that meant complying to government regulations, satisfying a very demanding clientele and as my business grew meeting my employee expectations as well. Beyond that I also had to meet the expectations of a very hypocritical “society” and let’s not forget God, our omnipresent father staring down at me from his pedestal in proverbial heaven.
For obvious reasons, I am now resigned to the idea that my own terms sit on a blurred line between what I want, and what everybody else wants and expects of me. This is the line on which “shit” gets complicated because a starter pack is not provided when you exit the maternity ward and does not come with a “How to avoid Fucking up in Life for Dummies” guide book. We are just born and at birth the bar is set very high for us to become the next Nelson Mandela, Folorunso Alakija, Aliko Dangote, Steve Jobs, Strive Masiyiwa, Patrice Motsepe or Oprah Winfrey and then we are left to work out how to get there on our own. For me this means that from birth we are literally setup to err as many times as we are going to try to achieve that very high standard or surpass these very high expectations.
Unfortunately, we are judged harshly for the mistakes that we make while trying to meet those expectations in our Zambian society.
A friend, Chola Lungu Mutoni once aptly quoted something she had just heard which I feel illustrates what I am trying to say when she wrote…
“Society has high expectations of you with no commitment (to support you when you make a mistake). When you make a mistake support systems are almost none existent”
So, make a mistake and there is no way, system or tool to support you, teach you so that you can properly grow from your mistake. Nothing at all to tell you that it is ok to terribly fuck things up. What is even more ironic about this, is that the first mistake belongs to society itself, how it is structured, how it educates us and how it is cultured to perceive our mistakes.
Therefore, society deserves and gets my middle finger.
In my late teens I met a very beautiful, intelligent girl that used to walk past my house every day when she was coming from school. One day I plucked up the courage to speak and nervously recited a few memorized pick-up lines from a Baby Face song. It worked. I must add here that Baby Face is a good song writer…a legend. See where this is going? Anyway, at some point (and I am not very sure which exactly) our relationship evolved into a familial relationship. Everybody on her side got to know everybody from my family side and the bar for our relationship was set. We never got married but had a very beautiful child together that I even named after my mother.
With time everyone went back to living their lives and we were left to deal with the harsh reality that we had created to meet their expectations. During that time I admittedly made a few bad decisions under a lot of pressure to meet the expectations of my friends and the society we lived in. Naturally the outcome of that was a series of hard hitting life changing lessons. To this day I honestly think I made the best decisions I could make within those circumstances and one of them was to sadly end that relationship and that is when society showed up with pitch forks.
I was judged, insulted and called all sorts of names without anybody taking into consideration the context within which I had to make the decisions I made. Understandably the expectation of our families, friends and the society we live in was that despite whatever shit life threw at us, she and I would live happily ever after by miraculously weathering every difficult storm. I mean forget that we were young. We were expected to ignore the fact that all that shit that we had gone through had fundamentally changed how we felt, looked at and more importantly treated each other. Going through all that I began to realize that it is taboo in our society to fail and it can be very embarrassing to anyone that is associated with you. In fact, families and friends would prefer to “save face” at your expense.
“The pressure of presenting yourself as a perfect human being just to appear a certain way is a yoke you shouldn’t have to live with. #FreeYourSelf” – Chali Mulami
I see this a lot today in younger people that are required to carry this huge burden of a highly expectant society with no support mechanism to help them to meet those expectations, sometimes at the expense of their own lives. This explains why young people end up hugely indebted because they ‘have to have’ a lavish wedding, live in a certain neighbourhood, in a particular kind of house or drive a certain kind of car. What our family, friends and society is never held accountable for is that sometimes this pressure ends in the very sad story of Akakanda Lubinda Litebeele and Precious Longwe Litebeele.
Precious is the 30-year-old wife that is alleged to have shot her husband Lubinda five times killing him. Lubinda and Precious, met, dated, got married, worked for the same bank and had three children (I am not sure in which order). From the news reports they maintained a very high social profile which in one way or another may have added to the strain on their relationship. As this and many other stories like it go, no one paid attention to the underlying issues that they were going through and all we are now left with are assumptions about what those issues may have been. The bottom line tragically is that if their differences were irreconcilable someone should have told Lubinda and Precious that it is ok to go to court and ask it to dissolve their marriage.
This brings me to the point of my latest rambling. There is really nothing wrong with being that one person…that crazy fool that decides to swim against the current. Failing at school, struggling or failing in a business venture, walking away from a toxic marriage or relationship, falling back into your old habits after becoming born again, being the side chick that genuinely loves and is loved…or whatever else you might be going through is ok. Go through it, learn from it and grow mentally as well as emotionally because of it. Heck being human is ok and we need to allow ourselves to make mistakes so that we can become better human beings, and it doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault. My point is instead of drowning those among us that have the courage to make mistakes in blame, our society needs to develop a very strong social support system.
HERE IS THE BORING PART BEFORE MY CONCLUSION:
Social support refers to the various types of support that a person would receive from others and is generally classified into three major categories: emotional, instrumental and informational support. What is common in Zambia today is just instrumental support (usually monetary or related tangible support and not emotional and informational support). Emotional support obviously refers to the things that people do that make us feel loved and cared for, that bolster our sense of self-worth (e.g., talking over a problem, providing encouragement/positive feedback). Informational support refers to the help that others may offer through the provision of information (about the problem that someone is going through, where they can go for additional or professional help etc.)
I MUST APOLOGIZE FOR DRAGGING THIS OUT BUT FINALLY…
Social support systems are a part of nurture and nurture plays a very big part in the culmination of who we are. Without it we begin to conform, take lesser risk and in that regard, contribute to why we remain a stagnant society. Almost every Zambian that I know and do not know is so afraid to make mistakes because they will be vilified, will become outcasts, will be sentenced to the gallows of “persons to avoid,” persons rarely profiled, persons that will never make the invitation list of a mentorship event and yet some of the greatest lessons probably lie in their mistakes. If we started to think about and more importantly started to build a very strong social support system I imagine that perhaps we will finally have a society that does not judge its citizens so harshly. It is a glaring contradiction in my opinion, that the environment that allows us to make what we are of ourselves is the VERY SAME environment that doesn’t allow us to make mistakes.
“There’s quite a bit of hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness here, in that we want to reject others as they are, but insist that others love and accept us the way we are.” – Aaron Anson