Self Made: An Illusion

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Growing up, I was a huge rap fan. I still am but not like I used to. I got to a point where personal glorification and self-aggrandisement of rappers almost left me gasping for air. As American rapper Jadakiss rhetorically asked in his 2004 hit-track Why, “why do rappers lie in 85% of their rhymes?”

To be fair to these artistes, their sounds and images are often being pressed on them by their record labels. Thence, creating a certain persona – an individual who grew up in the ghetto and had to delve into/overcome a life of crime, women and drugs to get away from poverty – a sensational story that gets the attention of the public. The music industry is all about business after all and money has to be made.

As a result, rap artistes end up projecting an image of a self-made successful individual who started from humble beginnings to get to where s/he is today. The self-made man is the ideal of the American success story; the core of American ethos.

This explains why Jeb Bush, a former two-term Governor of Florida State, son and brother to former Presidents of the United States and grandson of a (long-term) United States senator, played the self-made success card when he unsuccessfully campaigned for the Republic Party Presidential candidate nomination early this year. I found it ridiculous and funny; a classic case of delusions of grandeur.

This is someone whose first job after University graduation was with Texas Commerce Bank, partly owned by his father’s friend, James Baker. He may fail to acknowledge it but his background played a huge part in his success.

Last year, Alex Leary, the Washington bureau chief for the Tampa Bay Times, wrote in his column, “…but family pedigree played a clear role, allowing Bush to immediately land a lucrative job with an ambitious real-estate developer. It also gave Bush an advantage in local politics, irritating more established figures.”

It got me thinking about the world’s fixation on producing self-made men and women. The world is awash with stories of self-made millionaires. But is it really possible for one to get ahead in life without external help from others? I sincerely don’t think so because we live in a world that is inter-connected and inter-dependent. Rather, I think the theory of self-made man is an ego-fuelled illusion coated with falsehood.

Certain factors, outlined by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, play both positive and negative roles in one’s success journey. These factors include environment (when and where you were born and raised), parental upbringing (what your parents did for a living and circumstances surrounding your upbringing) as well as culture (inherited traditions and attitudes).

Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest men and the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, echoes this view: “I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned. If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil. I will be struggling 30 years later.”

I am not trying to playdown the essence of hardwork, effort, talent, determination, or mental strength in our success pursuit. These are all core ingredients of success but the aforementioned factors afford us an opportunity which only the prepared ones like Buffet (who possess the core success ingredients) take.

Take for example, parents, family members, communities, guardians, Government, Scholarship boards and philanthropists pay the school fees of many students but the onus still lies on the students to put in the hardwork and effort to graduate. Those who pay the school fees create the opportunity for good education whilst the prepared student takes it with both hands, studies and graduates.

Another classic example (for football lovers) is the story of Marcus Rashford. The then 18-year-old was given an opportunity by erstwhile Manchester United manager, Louis van Gaal, to make a name for himself in a crucial Europa League encounter. The prepared youngster took the opportunity with both hands, scoring a brace in the match as his team ran out 5-1 winners against Midtjylland on the night.

It is evident that we all need someone to give us that big break, which we all yearn for. This may come from friends, family, teachers, mentors, coaches, antagonists, well-wishers, acquaintances, students…the list goes on and on. It is only pride, arrogance, ignorance, delusion or insecurity that can impede one from recognising the invaluable contributions and investments of others. As Fredrick Douglas aptly said, “opportunity is important but exertion is indispensable.”

What are your thoughts about the idea of being self-made?

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Sexism: Men are Victims Too

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Feminism is a delicate topic in Nigeria. The movement has been bastardized but one is yet to fully grasp the agenda of Nigerian feminists.

There appears to be a conflict of interest in defining the essence of their feminist movement. It could be that many of them are either confused or ignorant of the core values of the feminism ideology. As my friend Moji once said, ignorance is a silent, parasitic affliction that twists and bends the lenses of one’s eyes to produce a distorted view of reality.

Today, they are pushing for gender equality; for men and women to be recognized as equal. Tomorrow, they are advocating for gender favouritism; fighting for causes that favour only women – a battle of sexes per se.

For instance, there’s always a special prize for the last woman standing at TV shows like the Gulder Ultimate Search and I have never seen any feminist stand up in its disaproval. This makes me wonder if we inadvertently propagate gender inequality and sexism.

To be fair, sexism is not anyone’s fault. It has become imbibed in our society. As a result, both men and women, directly or indirectly, make sexist comments on a daily basis.

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Nice guys are often ridiculed by both men and women for their niceness and lack of masculine energy to take the bull by the horn. ‘He is not man enough’ is often the derogatory comment used to describe these guys. And that is also sexism.

Recently, I read an article about an emotional man who often sheds tears for women whenever he is heart-broken. As expected, the comment section was rife with sexist remarks. Both men and women were quick to judge the man and say things like:

“How can a man be heartbroken?”

“Do you listen to RnB songs? Gangstas don’t play that shit. They listen to rap.”

“Real men aren’t emotional.”

“Only weak men cry over a lady.”

I had to ask, why can’t a man be emotional and cry over a woman? Is there any law out there that forbids anyone with the male genitalia from crying? I mean, if it is therapeutic for him, he should go ahead and do the needful – there’s no shame in that.

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According to Wikipedia, sexism can affect any gender but it is particularly documented as affecting only women and girls. And this is evident in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign to rescue the 219 Chibok girls that were abducted by Boko Haram. There’s no mention of the young boys that are also victims of such abduction or sex trafficking.

Women, not only men, also perpetrate domestic and intimate partner violence, falsely accuse men of rape and other devious acts, molest/sexually harass young boys and commit paternity fraud. Even cancers affecting women get more attention than those affecting men.

Despite all these risks men face, support services for men are almost non existent compared to services for women. There are also ministries for women affairs, but none for men, in the UN and virtually all Nigerian Governments both at Federal and State Level.

Like I aforementioned, our society upholds sexist attitude, directly or indirectly, through the media, culture and/or education. Despite the patriarchal nature of our society, every child, whether male or female, is instilled with a woman’s point of view. The boys are taught to protect and give the ladies special treatment as the head of the family whilst the girls, in total submission to men, are taught to expect preferential treatment from men.

If there’s any justice in the world, no individual will be judged based on appearance and/or masculinity/femininity. Unfortunately, there is none.

Blame It On Me

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I just saw the recent disheartening video footage of Matthew Ajibade, the Nigerian student who died mysteriously in police custody in the United States earlier in the year, being shocked by police officers while handcuffed to a restraining chair and writhing in pain.

Ajibade, who was only 21 years old at the time of his death, was found dead in jail in the US on New Year’s day. He had been arrested the previous day after his girlfriend put a distress call to 911 for an ambulance following an episode of his bipolar disorder which made him strike her. The police showed up instead and arrested Ajibade despite the girlfriend making it clear he needed medical attention.

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This has become a norm in the United States where young innocent harmless black men are more likely to be gunned down by the police than they would a white. Their only crime is being black. Black people are generally presumed to be dangerous, a threat and always guilty until proven innocent. According to promoters of the Black Lives Matter movement, a black man, woman, or child is murdered by police or vigilante law enforcement every twenty-eight hours.

In light of the recent extrajudicial killings of black people, I reaffirm my stance as an unapologetic Black man and throw my weight behind the Black Lives Matter movement. However, I hate the fact that black people blame everything wrong in their lives on racism.

Black music artistes are often quick to cite/blame racism for their failure to get nominations or win music awards. If American actor Leonardo DiCaprio was black, maybe he’d have taken the same route and blamed his failure to win an Oscar, despite mesmeric performances in a number of movies, on his race. Or the likes of Larry Bird, Jason Kidd, Steven Nash and Dirk Nowitski would have pinned Michael Jordan’s recognition as the greatest basketballer of all time on race.

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I do not know if blaming everything on racism makes some of my black brothers and sisters feel better about themselves but it is about time we took some of the blame for some of the things happening to us. There’s a saying that “no one can make you inferior without your consent.” Magnifying our self-esteem issues by seeking sympathy from the world for being black will give others the power to use us as pawns.

I do not seek sympathy from anyone for being black. Being black is not a plague/curse. Back in Nigeria, being black is becoming a bad thing too. It requires painstaking effort to discern a Nigerian from the crowd these days. We have adopted foreign accents and sound more American and British than the Americans and British people themselves.

You are automatically proclaimed intelligent once you speak well with a foreign accent. Perhaps that’s why it has become a “taboo” for anyone, especially those going into media or entertainment industry, to have a Nigerian accent. Listen to the radio and TV stations now, and you ask yourself “why the struggle to sound white?”

The same Nigerian accent we deride was recently ranked 6th sexiest accent by CNN, higher than the the American accent and a spot below the Queens English accent. However, have you ever seen whites  “killing” themselves to have a Nigerian accent? The essence of language is to communicate but it is also an integral part of a people’s culture. It is one of the things that sets one apart.

Accents define us and grant others information about our lives – where we are from, our history and identity as a people/ race. Our accents depict the richness of our cultural heritage and diversity. You don’t need need a foreign accent to have a high self-esteem rather forcing a foreign accent enhances your inferiority complex.

You are a representative of the Black Community; stop making our kids feel being Black and having a Nigerian accent is a bad thing. So instead of blurting out “Don’t Blame it on me” like John Newman, take the blame today like George Ezra and be proud of who you are. Be made of black!

Pay Attention To Your Feedback

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As a Nigerian, I have come to realise that one of the things we, as a people, are often afraid of is people’s criticisms/negative feedback. No one likes to be criticised so we tend to develop strong resistance and reluctance to it.

Critiques often trigger strong emotions in us all. We tend to get bitter, angry or try to hurt people who have offered their critiques. We create a defensive stance to protect our self-worth which we feel is under vicious attack.

As a result, we try to disconnect from our social environment and prefer to live in our heads or associate with people who share our ideas and values. We develop an intemperate dislike for other people’s values/opinions and grow insensitive to people’s differences.

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Our environment encompasses people from different cultures and backgrounds who we interact with on a daily basis. We fail to understand that paying attention to our environment is necessary for human survival.

Almost everything we do is for the public – large or small. For instance, an entrepreneur develops his/her products for public consumption, a teacher/lecturer does his job for his students (public), the students do their school work to impress their teachers (public), the public office holders serve the poor masses etc. Thus, no matter what you do, we depend on people’s feedback to forge ahead.

Your ideas/work may seem brilliant to you but without feedback from people, our ideas/endeavours become especial and illusions. Hear American Rapper 50 Cent, “The public is never wrong. When people don’t respond to what you do, they are telling you something loud and clear. You’re just not listening.

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I remember when I presented a scientific paper about a year ago. In my head, I did pretty Ok amid the response from the audience but the examiners thought otherwise. Although they commended my delivery, they critiqued the information. I was disappointed at first but after meeting with them privately, areas of the presentation that were flawed and needed to be worked on became magnified/clearer to me. 

Just as I had thought, we often deceive ourselves into thinking we have an insight into how the public feels about us/our work but this information is often tainted and false. This is because we prefer to surround ourselves with friends/family or sycophants who may envy or praise our every move thereby creating a distance between us and the real information out there (the public).

For example, our politicians/leaders/public office holders distance themselves from the people they represent, lecturers distance themselves from the students they teach, employers/superiors distance themselves from the employees/subordinates thereby creating a huge communication gap and thence false feedback from the public. Distancing yourself from the public can be tragic because feedback is so crucial to success. By bridging this gap, we encourage direct interaction with the public and allow them to voice their criticisms and feedback.

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It is impossible to please everyone or control what other people will say, whether they’ll approve or share their opinions but the strength of interacting with the public does not come from the quantity but the quality of your feedback. If you have little or no access to the public, then how do you learn from your mistakes? How do you improve? How do you know you are ignorant? How do you know what the people want?

Criticisms and critiques are never easy to receive/accept but they give you an idea how people see you. Pay attention to your feedback, the most important information in the world, and transform it into an opportunity for personal growth, emotional development, time efficiency, improved relationships, and self-confidence.

Thank you for making out time to read this article. If you have enjoyed it, please comment and share your views on this issue. Also, do like, share and follow the blog.

The Past Does Matter

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Everyday I hear people say, “the past is the past. It doesn’t matter; just leave it there.” This always gives me a wry smile because anyone going on about how the past doesn’t matter has shown his/her hand.

Does the past really matter? Yes it does! If the past doesn’t matter, why do we still see people the way they were back in Secondary School or University (until proven otherwise)? Why does your doctor always take your medical/clinical history when you visit the hospital? Why do your potential employers check your track record during an interview? Why do people cling to their culture/tradition? Why do African parents insist on investigating their potential in-law’s family history? I could go on and on but I am pretty sure you get my point now.

This may sound harsh or judgmental to many reading this but this is just me embracing reality here. Personally, I don’t judge people by their pasts anymore but it gives me an idea of what to expect from you and prepare myself for it.

This is not a “fun” topic; people are often torn between digging into their potential partner’s past and leaving the past where it belongs. Paranoia grips us when people try to find out certain information about us that we don’t want them finding out, and dealing with disrespect, distrust and uncertainty.

Most people would ask, “what’s the essence of asking about one’s past when s/he will definitely lie? After all, people do change you know” Yes! People do change but our past must have had a huge factor in triggering this change.

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Life is about events, which can either have positive or negative effects on us. Also, these events have a tendency to reoccur so taking history of these events prepare us better to face such things when they reoccur.

For instance, our immune systems spring into action when pathogens (viruses, bacteria and other microbes) invade our body and try to get rid of these foreign invaders. Afterwards, our immune systems make a memory for them and subsequent responses to these antigens are quicker and more effective than those that occurred after the first exposure.

Your past is your story; we are not proud of the wrong choices and mistakes we’ve made but these mistakes often embolden us in all ramifications. We build/develop ourselves based on past events and experiences.

For instance, apostle Paul/Saul went about persecuting Christians with zeal until he was arrested by God on his way to Damascus and was converted to Christianity. He preached the Gospel of Christ with the same zeal he used in killing Christians back in the day until he was martyred.

Life is about patterns; some we carry with us whilst we acquire others as we go along. However, sometimes we let these patterns go unnoticed and this can have a drastic effect on our perceptions of logic, and cause and effect. A good understanding of these patterns allows one to have a different outlook on life as well as the insight to embrace the truths unfolding around us.

Finding out the truth about your new partner’s past is often hard to take, especially for the broken-hearted and faith departed but it is better to know the truth and be prepared for the worst; it saves one from so many things s/he probably could have easily avoided. The past also helps the future generations to act from the mistakes of their predecessors.

Nonetheless, it is also possible to ignore the past and still have happy and fruitful personal relationships with people. In everything, there’s always an outlier.

Thank you for making out time to read this article. If you have enjoyed it, please comment and share your views on this issue. Also, do like, share and follow the blog.