A Chinese sage, Lao-Tse said: “The reason why rivers and seas receive the homage of a hundred mountain streams is that they keep below them. Thus they are able to reign over all the mountain streams. So the sage wishing to be above men, putteth himself below them; wishing to be before them, he putteth himself behind them. Thus though his place be above men, they do not feel his weight, though his place be before them, they do not count it an injury.”
What a difficult balance to shift! In a society where all eyes are pinned on the ‘one above’, every detail of every indiscretion laid bare for all to see and know about, to be a fallen hero in little Gambia is commonplace. So it is in most parts of the world, especially in West Africa where living together in communities is very common – And minding ones business is not common place at all!
Whereas we can’t squarely fault communal living for its role in investing in this notion, it sure does partake its share in life’s notorious curveballs, at least for most individuals. Living in close-knit communities where everyone knows everyone else’s business surely reinforces chitchat about everyone else but self.
Over a steaming cup of coffee, I chatted with my chat fellows in our niche group. As always, gossip was rife as to who did what and what. The juicy details were professed by my male buddy, Baiyi Nderr. The topic of conversation was ‘gossipy’. Apparently, those people being gossiped about were not very good at hiding their deeds, otherwise, how would we come to know and discuss them at length in our own cocoon?
Besides, there were snap chats to validate Baiyi Nderr’s assertions. He handed me the videos to back his claims. I pried and returned his apparel. It was not good at all. Yet it was no less tasteless to me than the live videos on fb. Talk was rife and as I listened attentively, adding the necessary ‘ahhs” and “ohs” the spices that garnish all enduring conversations, I felt embarrass for the persons’ embarrassment, I mean, how could they possibly feel, and their families too?
In our little group, we could apparently talk about anything and just about everything without reservations. We ended up analyzing each story for its weight and the perceived repercussions. The imam of our group gave a laconic sermon and warned us, as if we would pay heed, to desist from propagating bad news. Well, we knew that was bad news, because it was spreading like wildfire in the harmattan, without our assistance. It was not our fault, that we were sharing the juicy details and examining them at length. Was it? And that’s exactly what I told imam.
It is not a very common feeling in our society, where people get to be so relaxed and unencumbered as to say exactly how they feel in the midst of friends. In fact, wasn’t I the very one who quoted Benjamin Franklin, erudite US President as saying, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead”. Well, when in the midst of my conversationalist buddies, I throw all caution in the wind, partially because consistently, they have been able to demonstrate neither ill-intent nor contempt, just laying the facts bare, like reporting on a snap chat viral video etc; and mostly because they are guys. Yes, guys don’t usually snitch on their girl buddies, or do they?
But I’m not the one to claim I don’t have girl friends. I have girl friends whom I love dearly and interact with at all levels. I believe there are certain conversations you can have with guys, and there some that only girls can understand and give you the relevant feedback you require. But this is stuff for another write-up. So returning to our conversation, it was about So-so and so, who did such and such a thing. As the conversation gained momentum, I wondered innately whether the issue at hand would have gotten to the level of a major scandal, if the persons involved were not famous and popular (i.e. “above men”).
Excuse my pertinence, but when I refer to above men in this article, I am alluding to both men and women who add up to something in our society. These are people who are either famous or popular due to their stations in life or by the good deeds they have performed for people in their respective communities.
Every day, we are variously bombarded by unnecessary information about these people’s indiscretions. Public figures bear the brunt for the most part, because as I say, they are “above men”. I am not excusing any one’s indiscretions by this article, don’t get me wrong. But for me, as long as it has nothing to do with how effectively they perform their duties in their public lives, what is done in their private lives should remain what it is, PRIVATE! They are not accountable to the masses for what is supposed to be their private lives.
We, collectively as a society, ought to encourage public figures for the good they espouse in public and stop bringing them down by childish, irrelevant and cruel exploits. We ought to give praise where it is due, and stop parading absurdity, for it won’t take us anywhere. We are not hyper-rational creatures who can make decisions, especially about our personal lives, without the clouding lenses of human fallibility. It makes sense that we must fall from grace sometimes. It’s called part of being human.
Yet, after all is said and done, like all warm-bloodied creatures, we all love to gossip. As my friend would say, “gossip enhances our lives by letting us know details we would not have known about, but slander kills our spirits by tarnishing our souls because we destroy other people.” Yes, I know. She is one good philosopher. And therein lies the problem with quotes. They are other people’s views about issues. Quotes are not necessarily true. In our day, quotes, especially famous people’s quotes, abound in the internet. The veracity of those quotes are true to only the person writing them, even though some reflect our own views.
The sad part of gossip is that we have no way of knowing when we cross the line that separates slander from gossip because all too often, we garnish our speech to the extent we ruin the substance and dilute truth with spoof. People who love drama, like the devil’s step-son, would embellish the truth for fun, to elicit laughter and/or pain, to the extent that it changes everything. In fact, I always wonder whether people know the difference between gossip and slander.
The internet age has brought a new face to gossip. Yet, it has exacerbated its effects. These days, social media, which by the way, is free as the air we breathe, is essentially used as the tool to target our perceived enemies and the ones we hate for merely existing. In fact, it is easy to set up a fake profile online, call oneself Xin or whatever, and target unsuspecting individuals out of spite! If anyone wants to know how it feels to be a target/victim of ill-intentions, let Xin be your friend.
The rise in Xins and their animated half-sisters who call themselves ‘truth speakers’, are ruining a lot of lives. Sending anonymous text messages and even video chats of unsuspecting individuals who are usually held in high regard in the society, out of jealousy, malice and/or blackmail -is the order of the day. These Xins and their half-sisters are ruining marriages, perpetuating hate and destroying people’s lives. They simply have no space in ‘civilized’ society. My favorite cousin would usually ask, “Is the information you are giving me necessary? Is it going to add to my life? Is it? Is it?…
Much as I love to hate her, she is so right…
Sadly, the neophyte in his corner, who happens to be either gullible or plain dumb, takes every word he/she reads in social media as Gospel, especially if it is video-taped. It must certainly be truthful because it is on record. Well, the devil has many means-video messages are the least of his methods. Allowing oneself to fall afoot to schemes plotted by people whose intentions one does not have a clue about, and repeating what one hears or sees without shame to the next person that listens, each one repeating, and perhaps embellishing what he/she interprets and so forth; is naivety to say the least. Gossip, has turned into slander in a meaningful way…And slander, is the bane of the society.
Gossip amongst a niche of friends is understandable, even if it is not acceptable. It is what it is, because we have so much free time in our hands, we have to spend it doing nothing. And since idle talk is the best way of doing nothing, gossip is easy prey. But gossip that is shared around the world in a split second is catastrophic. There is no deleting the internet. It is meant to endure. So really, we must pay heed to the words we wish to be ascribed with on the day of judgment. There is no tolerance for ignorance and the I-didn’t-know pretexts. The indiscretions of men, must be their learning curves in live, why not bother about our own curves and try to straighten them out than talk about others.
By the way, how many other indiscretions do “little men” commit that go unnoticed and man feigns not to give a fly, simply because the person who committed the offence is not popular or held in high regard? What would happen to our society if we continue to dehumanize, humiliate and bring down all our leaders by foolish antiques and dim-witted tactics? What does it gain us to caricature the people we are supposed to revere and whose jobs we can’t man because we do not know what they know?
To be above men in our society nowadays, is to be belittled, disrespected and humiliated. So a sage wishing to be above men, needs to take the back seat and let the ‘drivers’ cum haters and slanderers lead the way. He or she needs to develop an iron-clad attire and wear dark tainted glasses to withstand the assault on his/her humanity in order to fulfill his/her destiny. Alas, I wonder whether we don’t make the angels that bound us blush, from the hateful campaigns we shamelessly parade in the name of exposing people… Just saying!
Rohey Samba is a Gambian writer and publisher of three anthologies of poems namely, Mother Gambia…Beats, Behind My Back and Heart Songs.
by Rohey Samba