One of the most troubling features of the New Gambia is the level of interpersonal acrimony among some Gambians on social media. It is hard to tell if what we see on social media is reflective of what is in our society on the ground. Perhaps the focused space of social media makes the problem look bigger than it really is; but the fact remains that some very unpleasant and dehumanizing exchanges are going on among some Gambians on social media.
We are insulting each other, calling each other ugly names, literally wishing destruction for each other on social media. The whole situation projects an image of people who pay little respect to each other’s humanity, and who are therefore sabotaging their own humanity. It is a fact of life that we cannot insult someone else without insulting our human dignity. We cannot dehumanize other people without dehumanizing our self through the very fact of our humanity. We cannot inflict violence of any kind on someone else without inflicting violence on our self in some way. Violence of any sort is a double-edged sword. It always cuts both ways.
A society that engages in unpleasantly raucous behavior and inflicts emotional violence on each other is a society engaged in self-degradation and self-diminution in dignity and humaneness. When we reduce our fellow human beings into anything less than their natural humanity, we are reducing our self into something less than our natural humanity. That is because our humanity is one and indivisible. We can choose to disrespect our humanity, give free rein to our negative passions, and inflict emotional pain on other people. Or we can choose to respect our own humanity by respecting other people’s humanity.
We may be entitled to fight harsh words with harsh words, to inflict the same amount of emotional pain on any person that inflicts emotional pain on us. But we can never be truly justified in doing so because it is subversive of our own humanity. It is subversive of our self-esteem, even though we do it all in the name of preserving our self-esteem. It never feels dignified to deliberately hurt someone’s feelings. Even when we do so for what we consider good reasons, we cannot avoid feeling a sense of regret and therefore pain, however subtle and transient.
As human beings and Gambians, our existence is unified and coterminous. We all claim equal love for and ownership of Gambia. That is because we are Gambia and Gambia is us. We cannot conceive of ourselves outside of the idea of Gambia. And Gambia cannot be conceived of without us Gambians. Gambia defines us and we define Gambia. However far away we are from Gambia, we can never cease to be part of Gambia. And since we all belong to Gambia, we all belong to the same entity, the same essence, the same body politic. We are one indivisible entity. This means that if any part of this entity is hurt, a part of us is hurt. It therefore follows that hurting any Gambian is hurting ourselves. Of course, some of us may say we don’t care; that we will fight fire with fire; but if the fire we use hurts a Gambian – a part of Gambia – it hurts us, however indirectly. And since hurting ourselves is inimical to our self-preservation and wellbeing, it makes better sense for us to just stop hurting others, and therefore ourselves.
Or let us consider that all of us are devotees to some form of spiritual creed. We may worship God or our ancestors, or even our own creed of individuality that recognizes no divine essence. Whatever we worship, the fact remains that we seek to be at peace with that higher essence with which we seek ultimate union.
Most of us who insult each other on social media say our daily prayers or reaffirm our devotion to some higher essence, even if this is only a higher essence within ourselves. Do we not see that these higher essences are pure peace, pure good, pure positive energy that can never be invaded or polluted by negative energy of any sort, especially hate and insults? Does it not therefore follow that our quest for peace and union with these higher essences is doomed to failure simply because we carry in our hearts hate and insults that can never be reconciled with these higher essences? Much like water and oil, the pure essence of God, or the ancestors, or our higher selves cannot be mixed with hate and insults. And since we can only be whole and attain peace of mind if we are reintegrated into these higher essences, is it not much better, for our own good to simply stop harboring hate and hurling insults at our fellow humans? Do we not see that that our behavior is in direct contradiction of the lofty values taught by all these creeds?
The good news is that since our hearts and minds are not written in stone and unchanging, we are capable of evolving into better human beings, however good we feel we already are. We are capable of recognizing our faults and shortcomings, and modifying our behavior accordingly. Each of us in our own private spaces is capable of thinking and quietly coming to terms with our mistakes, and therefore decide to evolve into a higher and better person. And since the ultimate search in life is a search for self-betterment, it should be easy for us to say you know, I can make myself better by simply treating other people better. Ultimately, a measure of peace of mind is ours for the taking simply by our decision not to intentionally disturb other people’s peace of mind by hating or insulting them. We should recognize that if we insult someone, it says more about us than it says about them. Do we realize that the hate we express and the insults we utter actually live inside us and comes out of us? Choosing not to harbor or project negative energy, not by suppressing it but by recognizing it for what it is and letting it go creates room for positive energy in our hearts and therefore enhances our lives, our humanity and our peace of mind.
The reality is that who we are – human beings, Gambians, aspirants to peace and unity with our God, our ancestors, or our higher self – who we are dictates that whenever we insult someone, we insult our self; whenever we demean another human being, we demean our self; whenever we inflict violence on another human being, we inflict violence on our self. Of course, we can and we should disagree with each other; we should feel free to argue, even vehemently over our opinions and preferences, our orientations and identities, be these political, ethnic or religious. But we can disagree and argue without resorting to self-degradation by hurting and degrading our fellow human beings and thereby further alienating ourselves from who we are and who we want to become: a beautiful and decent people at peace with our God, our ancestors, or our own higher self, as the case may be.
By Dr. Baba Jallow