Toward the end of autumn in 1913, Russian explorer and adventurer Ruski Issledovatel, along with his team of 3 assistants Yuri, Vladimir and Gabriella set out into the wilderness of Siberia. Toward the end of the previous century, rumours had surfaced of the existence of an aboriginal people who had long inhabited that region undiscovered and oblivious to the world.
Arriving in mid summer of that year, Ruski found a community of people who had lived and developed a way of life distinctly different from those of contemporary Russia. Everything from their mode of dressing to eating habits could not be compared to that of early 20th century Russia. Most importantly though was their language which although being different from any known romance language, showed some evidence of having evolved from medieval Latin.
To them, Ruski’s Russian, or Gabriella’s English was pure gibberish. Not much different than what an English trained parot’s speech would sound like to a Chinese. To them, theirs was not just “a language”, it was simply “Language”, The Language.
In our hearts, a vast majority of us are in the same state as this people. We were born into societies with maxims, ways, norms and mores which we have been taught, trained, cajoled and/or compelled to accept as The Truth. There are certain way things have been done for countless generations, ways which were taught to our parents by their parents before them, and theirs before them, which they have in turn taught to us not as a way, but The Way. Just as it is with the Berru child who has no idea about the diverse nature of humanity, our ancestors probably had no idea of this diversity. The implication of this is that they had no idea about ways of life that had been tested and proven more effective and efficient than what they held as “the Way”, and anyone who would attempt to experiment with new methods would have had to go against the will of the society and as Diana Gabaldon wrote “it takes a special kind of courage to stand against the crowd”.
A Yoruba adage goes “ení bá se ohun tí enìkan ò se rí, Ojú è á rí ohun tí enìkan ò rí ri”; whoever does what no one has done before would surely witness what no one has witnessed before, a form of subtle warning against non conformity. Given the close knit and communal nature of our traditional communities, along with their the cost of becoming a black sheep/pariah (having to pay reparations, getting banished or even ultimately payng with their lives) would have been enough to enforce conformity.
A few decades ago, it would have been virtually impossible for a man in Igbó Orà, Oyo Nigeria to have any inkling of the way of life of someone in Kafanchan, Kaduna state or even Ikare, Ondo state within the same South-Western region. But with our technological advances came better and faster means of communication. While a man traveling from Lagos to Abuja in 1900 would have had to spend several weeks trudging along on foot, that same journey would take about a day by bus today and the same journey would be completed in a matter of minutes by air. This, coupled with advances in other aspects of communication such as the television and ultimately the internet means ideas are easily communicated over long distances almost instantaneously. The meaning of this is that we are almost constantly being exposed to Vastness of human existence and the diversity of reality, so that as long as we are not being intentionally obtuse or close-minded, we learn new ways of doing things, some better than, some others not as good as ours, but ultimately we learn the fact that our ways are not “the Way”, but “a way”. Thus confirming the Yoruba adage which says only a man who has never seen beyond his father’s farm is absolutely confident that theirs is the largest farm in the world.
As bright and beautiful a picture of humanity as the last paragraph paints, it is sadly not the reality for most people. Even though we now have access to improved communication technologies, meaning we can more easily meet and learn other peoples’ ways of life, and the price of nonconformity is not as great as it used to be, we are still held up either by the largely hypocritical notion of preserving our culture, and/or lack of objective knowledge.
A large number of us often feel or at least claim the conviction of having to defend and preserve our culture — although this is mostly a facade we adopt in an attempt to make amends for the aspects we have discarded in respect of better methods — holding on to ways of doing things which have been shown to be of little benefit or moral benefit to humanity even when we have little or nothing to gain except the idea that they have been useful in preserving their culture. For example, the average Yoruba Christian man or woman, despite having rejected a key element of the Yoruba culture (the traditional religious practices) can’t stop prattling about how foreign influence has been, and still is eroding our culture, citing instances ranging from dress mode to language as well as abstract concepts like respect and fidelity. These people conveniently forget the fact that they have themselves rejected certain aspects of said culture, as well as the fact that culture is an ever-evolving construct, which changes over time, and not something set in stone and frozen in time.
Similarly, a vast majority of people all over the world still lack access to proper objective education on the ways of others. Formal educational curricula represent the whim of policy makers. This means such subjects as history, religious and civic education are easily doctored to fit a narrative that suits the people in charge. An example is how media content could be restricted and outright ban impressed on certain topics which might knock the people out of complacency or cause them to lose their way. Just as the average white man must have been raised with the understanding that Africans, were sub-human entities, and the average Afrikaner was raised with the understanding that the native South-African was not quite human, and most Americans believe in the ultimate goodness of free market capitalism and despise the evil that is socialism/communism and inter-national prejudice still reigns among the nations of Nigeria, the advances we have made in communication have not necessarily translated to objective education. People are still trapped in opinion bubbles representing the society’s prevailing frame of mind. People are trapped in ideological echo chambers saturated with narratives which only serve to enforce the prevalent prejudices of the society, community or group they belong to.
The implication of this is that most people (even in this jet/internet age, even in the most developed corner of the world where people have access to the best communication equipments which grant them virtually unfettered access to virtually infinite information) still go through life without any concrete/factual knowledge of the ways and practices of other people, only resorting to hearsay and subjective media crafted on their side of the divide, and intended to enforce their own beliefs and worldview. Even more disturbing is the fact that most people lack thorough understanding of the views they hold as truth and vigorously profess. So, a great percentage of Americans simply believe their system of governance is the best, without actually looking at things from other perspectives, just as it would have been with the Spartan or Athenian of a past era. Much thesame way, most Christians or Muslims go through life without absolutely any knowledge of most other religions or even theirs, simply believing that they know The Way, and that Yahweh/Allah is The God, while in actual fact they merely know a possible way and he’s just a God (one among tens of thousands), the same way the Berru would have thought of his language not as a language, but as The Language just as a Norseman would have believed he knew The Way and Odin is the King of gods, the same with the ancient Egyptian would have thought of Ra, not as the Almighty leader of a pantheon of gods, but as the King of The Pantheon.
It might be a fact of life that like minded people tend to instinctively gravitate toward one another, and we tend to reject views which contradict our convictions, thus setting in motion mechanisms that result in the formation of echo chambers, we must realize that the attainment of truth requires objective observation from all possible perspectives. We cannot claim to know The Way, or The Truth until we have objectively assessed and obtained factual understanding of the full spectrum of “ways” and “truths”, including that which we profess.
This means that you cannot rely on anyone for your education, but must embark on a personal journey of discovery. Read books you aren’t meant to read, discuss topics you shouldn’t even think about, question popular beliefs, don’t just accept the way your ancestors did things during the dark age many centuries ago, experiment and find new ways.
In essence, “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored or believed by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it”. Do not believe anything simply because you saw it on the internet, or because you read it in the news, or because you saw it in a movie. Do not even accept what I have written here simply because you see it in print, but test the truth of it. Prove all things and hold fast that which is true.
Belief never simply translates to truth, no matter the number of people who hold or however deep their conviction. Neither the pope’s faith nor Galileo’s impiety could either make the sun orbit the Earth or make our world the centre of the universe.
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