September 22, 2008

face value

describe yourself in three words. choose the characteristic that is most prominent. there you have it, your new identity... look no further, ignore all other qualities, traits and features... the characteristic you picked now represents your ENTIRE personality. fat. clever. male. black. rich. young. what are your favourite boxes? ‘our take on others becomes a simple act of reductionism. bill gates is a computer geek, mother theresa a saint, the waitress a function.’

generalisations, summaries; be simplistic and it’s a short step to feeling different. many writers have explored how the self defines itself according to the ‘other’; defined by our differences. ‘differences, whether of race, ethnicity or gender, are always socially constituted, and they always have a dimension of power.’

who are those other people, who are “they”? people out there, washed or unwashed, great or not great, but always other people. are “they” mostly poor, to you? mostly stupid, or, at least, mostly not quite as bright and intelligent as you. mostly not quite as attuned to what is going on as you are. are “they” slow? are “they” thick? what do “they” want? do “they” even know what they want, or do they lie to themselves, lie to other people, and lie in the polling booths? can you believe a word that “they” say? who are “they”?

think about it; are we african or are “they” african. ‘the unschooled mind, inclined to rational reduction, to pigeonholing and simplification, readily pushes everything african into a single bag and is content with facile stereotypes.’ but in actual fact ‘the continent is too large to describe. it is a veritable ocean, a separate planed, a varied, immensely rich cosmos. only with the greatest simplification, for the sake of convenience, can we say ‘africa’. in reality, except as a geographical appellation, africa does not exist.’

yiwonda asserts there is no such thing as racism. she means that your ideas about a collective group of people never affect the way you relate to individuals. as soon as you connect, as soon as “they” step out of the collective blur and in to focus, the person proves your assumptions wrong and you often have to start from scratch. i’ve found that people like yiwo - who don’t fit into the usual boxes – are usually the most open-minded, most ready to take you at face value. we’re all humans, all children of god right? ‘here there is no greek or jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, scythian, slave or free, but Christ in all, and is in all’.

great, but is an open-minded blank slate enough to see people as they are? ‘you fight your superficiality so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance… you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes, take them on with an open mind, as equals… and yet you never fail to get them wrong. you get them wrong before you meet them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of mis-perception… so ill-equipped are we all to envision another’s interior workings and invisible aims.’

‘we don’t see things as they really are, we see things as WE really are’. ‘knowledge of the self is the mother of all knowledge.’ hmm could my lack of knowledge about myself possibly determine the way i experience other people? ‘the other is consistently being fashioned out of our own discomfort and dis-ease with our selves’. ‘wrong thinking about God and people often begins with a debased image of ourselves. as we continue to confuse our perception of ourselves with the mystery that we really are, self-rejection is inevitable.’

‘the divisions that pervade our daily life and cause destruction and violence are interior as well as exterior: the divisions among our most intimate emotions and the divisions among the most widespread social groupings. the division between gladness and sadness within me or the division between the races, religions and cultures around me…’

no worries, heres the magic answer; knock down the divisions, become whole, see others as they really are. haha how? i reckon it might take a bit more than will-power. ‘the spirit that calls us the beloved is the spirit that makes whole. unification, healing, restoration and reconciliation. wherever the spirit works, divisions vanish and inner as well as outer unity manifests itself.’

Philip Roth ‘American Pastoral’ 1998
Paul ‘Colossians’
Brennan Manning ‘Ruthless Trust’ 2002
C. Hall ‘Introduction: thinking the postcolonial, thinking the empire.’ 2000
Stella Orakwue ‘We live the Revolution!’ 2008
Kahlil Gibran
Henry J.M Nouwen ‘Life of the Beloved’ 1992


  1. WE/I/YOU need to destroy the EGO. After all, the biggest/wisest/whitest/blackest person was once a baby. It's only after destroying the ego that we can truly see each other the way we are meant to see each other. As spirits, very much capable of attaining the Highest consciousness (the highest consciousness being a part of us as individuals).

    Thereafter, it's Nirvana/Anandi/Bliss, etc. This is a good piece. Someone is becoming aware.

  2. It's so true that we make surfacy assumptions about people based on a single encounter. We quickly put people into boxes and size them up according to our perceptions. We're only fooling ourselves, and maybe depriving ourselves from a deeper understanding of who he/she is. thanks for the reminder to look past the surface...

  3. Really good job, I enjoy each and every posts!! Very deep and touching! Keep up the good work.

  4. Men do not differ by nature, but only in time and place, in their occupation and ideas, for difference is foreign to divine unity.
    - Victricus, 1st Century

  5. these are beautiful pieces of writing, Jessica...
    i will absorb slowly

  6. I agree that we sometimes get the wrong picture of people. However, you failed to comment on the fact that we also sometimes get it right. I think what's important is sorting out our motives towards others before we encounter them. Christ said this motive should always be love. If we strive to live up to this ideal, aiming to love others whatever their character, a meaningful relationship with another is possible despite the differences/prejudices/misconceptions that create divisions.


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