There is something defiant and vulnerable about speaking one’s mind.
Defiant because we are often not forgiven if what we think is at odds with what others expect us to think. Vulnerable because people can only attack your ideas if they know what your ideas are.
Perhaps that’s why so many people succumb to the temptation of concealing what they really think to avoid being criticized.
And criticism hurts.
I have just recently recovered from the smarting of a stinging attack on ideas I held two years ago which are contained in a YouTube video that was made by some High School kids I interacted with in the USA.
The video was posted on Facebook by someone I don’t know (although their name is familiar) and the backlash was instantaneous, unrelenting, venomous and vitriolic.
My ideas were attacked, shredded, pummeled, stomped on, spat at and dare I say, generously covered in all manner of verbalized excrement – all in a bid to voice just how disgusting my point of view was to most of them.
In the video I stated that I believed the land issue in Zimbabwe was a moral justice issue and that framing it as a political one and particularly framing it is a ‘Mugabe-is-the-problem’ one was advancing a narrative that was incomplete.
Given the audience I had availed to me and given that the conversation was an informal one the following flaws are evident:
i) my ideas were paraded naked as I spoke off the top of my head, ii) my ideas were presented in their raw and unprocessed state un-subjected to the rigors of research iii) my ideas were un-propped by facts and iv) my ideas rested precariously on the notoriously unreliable premise of broad, sweeping and overly simplified generalization v) my ideas were informed by a skewed and biased narrative on the unequal distribution of the land and consequent economic marginalization of the black majority.
In short – I was wrong.
In any event, I ended the conversation on a flippant note by drawing parallels between the Zimbabwean land narrative I had presented and the storyline of the film Avatar! because it occurred to me that the audience I was addressing would be able to relate.
This was in 2011.I came back home and all but forgot about it, because conversations around the land rarely made it into the conversations I ordinarily engaged in.
As I pointed out above – I am guilty of uttering several inaccuracies but inaccuracy is almost inevitable when offering an opinion or interpretation of historical events that you have no living memory of.
Reflecting on that video many months later when it came up in a class discussion during my Masters’ studies in the UK; I realized how much of what I said was what I had heard incessantly in the public media.
It occurred to me that my recollections of the history of land dispossession in Zimbabwe was part of a broader public and institutionalized narrative of the nation’s past – a narrative that advanced the political interests of ZANU PF at a time when it faced overwhelming opposition.
I began to think of why there had been no alternative discourse – no rebuttal – no disputation – no challenge and almost no counter narrative.
I began to think of how the media influenced what I remembered and how I remembered it and about the framing of the land narrative.
I began to think of how I could challenge this obviously biased telling of the nation’s past when (a) I had no living memory of those events (b) I was part of the ‘born-free’ generation and (c) I never fought in any war and when my ignorance deprived me of the capacity to create an alternative narrative.
It was with these preoccupations and frustrations that I later went on to write my MA dissertation on the framing of collective memory in Zimbabwe’s post-independent generation who – like me – were either too young to remember or had not even been born at independence.
I still maintain that the issue of the land is as much about JUSTICE as it is about anything else but there is a lot that I would amend from the views I put forward in the YouTube video that has come back to haunt me in recent weeks.
It is a great source of relief that I do not suffer from belief perseverance. I have never asked for anyone’s permission to hold an independent thought, I just do. In a blog post, when I stopped to think about it, I asked why do we “beg” to differ? Why can’t we just differ?
In the political conversations that I have been privy to, belief perseverance appears to be an ailment that afflicts many Zimbabweans.
But I suppose it is to be expected when you live in a country where the political conversation is monopolized by ideological bullies who will take it as an attack on their person – equivalent to the mentioning of their mothers’ unmentionables – if you happen to hold a different point of view.
I don’t mind having my ideas attacked. I may not like it and it may not be a pleasant experience but if my ideas hold no merit and are un-constructive then they should be attacked.But attacking me personally is an entirely different proposition because when I’m provoked I don’t think my silence is a gift I should bequeath to me provoker.
I resist being bullied and maintain that I have a right to believe what I wish and to express it whilst retaining the right to change my mind about any stance I take.
In other words, I have a right to be wrong.
And when I am wrong, you have a right to point it out but that right does not afford anyone the luxury of hurling insults at me.
I once remarked in a blog post I wrote about Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo titled a woman who said something important:
Sometimes even when what we have to say is wrong… if it is important – it will get a reaction precisely because its wrongness points to what is right.
I think with regards the YouTube video – I must have said something important if the backlash is anything to go by. For all its wrongness, perhaps it forms a premise to have conversation about what could be right.
With hindsight, my MA dissertation did just that – it unpacked the fallacies I once held as fact and granted illumination upon those narratives I once held as gospel truth.
When it counts, I enjoy being my own critic – it eases the sting of hearing it from others whose dissension often comes laced with malice and marinated in venomous diction that seeks not to counter my view but to demean my person.
Anyway. There are no hard feelings.
I recently did an inventory of all my vital organs and precious body parts following the thorough cyber-bashing that my good name and person were subjected to on account of the views I expressed in the aforementioned video – I am delighted to inform you that I am still intact. Thank God, criticism is not life-threatening; I may well have been staring at death’s door.
It is said we have to live today by what truths we can get today and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood.
Today I let my thoughts roam naked and be prepared tomorrow to point out the flaws, the stretchmarks, the unsightly cellulite and the blemishes on the surface of those nude ideas.
I don’t fear having my voice drowned by the hysterical disapproval of others because it is impossible to drown the voice of a writer.
Besides, when I write… who can shut me up?