It’s not you, it’s me… (1)

We don’t view the world as it is but as we are. Therefore, criticism often reveals more about the worldview and preferences of the critic than the thing being discussed.

Let me put it out there: I am a huge fan of Kanye West; however, over the last few years I have been experiencing mixed emotions when it comes to him. My unease was further exacerbated by the hysteria surrounding the release of his tenth studio album Donda.

I reluctantly listened to the album five days after it appeared on Spotify and became bored after the first six tracks. My initial thought was that Kanye West, the sonic explorer, had sonically regressed. In my opinion, Donda sounded like a fan paying homage to Kanye West – influenced by Kanye’s sound but not adding anything new.

It was a fair assessment, but I was aware that there were unexplored thoughts and feelings prowling under the surface of my consciousness. Why did I react that way to the music? What influenced my assessment? Since my respect is lower for people who impulsively dismiss music, films, or works of art, I figured I had to make the ‘unconscious conscious.’

In Nigeria, back in the 90s, TV was devoid of anything of interest – at least to my adolescent mind. This was way before the internet became a thing in the 2000s. I only had access to the music that was being played around me: Sade, Bob Marley, Celine Dion, Queen, ABBA, Tupac, and music on the Reek Dees Weekly Top 40. I had two criteria for liking any song or album – is it danceable, over-sentimental, on the top 40? If so, I enjoyed it. If my father loved it, I would avoid it. All that changed as I got older.

In 2013, I listened to Kanye’s album Yeezus on the way to visit my dad. After listening to the first two tracks on the album, I immediately switched off the player. I drove silent for twenty minutes while trying to make sense of what I had just heard. It was not like anything I had heard in mainstream hip-hop. That album introduced a whole new world of sounds for me. Not only was Yeezus my gateway into the weird and challenging, but it also changed how I engaged with music. …

What good is gratitude?

Gratitude is the feeling we get when someone is genuinely generous towards us, and not necessarily because we earned or deserved it. To be grateful is to recognize that someone else was responsible for making our lives better in some way.

We express gratitude by our eagerness to repay others for their kindness, not because we have to, but because we want to. That is the distinction between gratitude and indebtedness. Gratitude is a joy-inducing emotion.

The flip side of gratitude is resentment. We harbor or act out vindictive thoughts against people whom we perceive to have hurt us. Gratitude rewards, resentment punishes. People are often unsure about how to either give or receive benefits. 

Gratitude is predominantly recipient dependent. To feel gratitude, the recipient has to notice that a favor has been granted and to determine if the giver acted without any ulterior motives. 

Some people are more disposed to recognizing instances of kindness than others. A person who has a strong sense of entitlement is less likely to express gratitude. These people will barely recognize it when someone goes out of their way to help – they consider it their birthright.

When we feel grateful, we admit that we often have to rely on others. This realization generates feelings of resentment in those who attribute positive outcomes to their efforts. They will downplay or dismiss the contribution of other people in their lives. They will also be unwilling to ask for help, since that conflicts with their self-identity.

The intentions of the giver also matter. We will not respond with gratitude if we sense that the giver is actively trying to make us indebted to them. Any attempts by the giver to demand gratitude will only incur the opposite effect. Recipients will resent the giver if they suspect the giver is trying to manipulate them. 

Gratitude creates bonds between people. It makes you more sensitive to positive events. If you appreciate the good someone did for you, they are more likely to help you in the future. We refer our friends to businesses that treated us wonderfully.

Who are you grateful to and why?

Childlike qualities

As children, we envied adults and thought we couldn’t grow up fast enough. Adults praised us when we behaved a bit more mature for our age or dazzled them with precocity. And as we transitioned into adulthood, we had to repress many of our childlike traits. It was the toll demanded.

As adulthood introduced bills and responsibilities, we gradually abandoned our childish ways in response. Due to that, many adults lost some of the childlike qualities required to improve their lives as they grow older.

Unless discouraged by adults, children will exhibit traits like curiosity, imagination, openness, tenacity, honesty, receptiveness, experimentation, kindness, playfulness, humor, etc.

Children ask questions and are open to learning. They make up complex stories and invite others into these fictional worlds. They spend hours tinkering and are not afraid to ask for help when attempting to figure something out. They are kind and honest to a fault. They find many things funny and seek out new experiences. They accept changes without getting defensive.

Very few adults keep these traits. We give them up out of fear that others would perceive us as naive, weak, or incapable. We become inflexible and often defend our views even in the face of disconfirming information. We do not ask enough questions and avoid situations that might expose our ignorance.

Children relish taking things apart and sometimes they manage to put them back together. They want to know how things work. Innovation requires experiment and those who are intolerant of mistakes won’t flourish.

Adults are too frightened to say they do not know and eventually end up not knowing. Oftentimes, people will go out of their way to help you if you show an eagerness to learn. Ignore people who, instead of pointing you in the right direction, will shame you for not knowing.

To thrive in tomorrow’s world, we have to live like children again.

Easy categorization

You can notice people tense up when a Nigerian introduces themselves. They view you with suspicion and constantly question your motives. If they can, some people will avoid interacting or doing business with you, and with good reason. 

They’ve either had a bad experience with a Nigerian, or know someone who has. Every other week, there are news reports of a Nigerian who was arrested for money laundering. Thus, one can sympathize with people who hesitate to deal with us. 

These instances will inevitably influence how others perceive Nigerians. For some, counterexamples might even fail to convince them otherwise. People usually feel negative information more intensely than positive information. 

Most stereotypes start this way: with a set of beliefs about a group — beliefs that may be true or false. Although they can be positive, stereotypes are mostly negative. They help us simplify the world by sorting things into categories based on what they have in common. Categorization enables us to make decisions by predicting the behavior of things. It would be overwhelming to treat every person, experience, or object as unique.

We rely more on these categories when we are tired or distracted. We also use them when we have insufficient information about people from a particular group. People are complex and often defy easy categorization. The recent surge in protests and riots across the globe reflects that fact. We have to revise or stop using some of our stereotypes. Being more sensitive to differences is a skill we all need to cultivate.

Newsflash…

Unpopular opinion: power is not neutral. If left unchecked, it often tilts toward corruption.

We grant power to those who will use it to enhance the well-being of others. We also strip people of power when they abuse it. The old Machiavellian understanding of power (fear and coercion) only gets you ostracised.

Newsflash: Society no longer rewards such behaviour.

With great power comes great responsibility. Although trite, this is nonetheless true.

One of the reasons there is so much resentment aimed at the powerful is because they often do too little to reduce the suffering of the many. They have failed to assume the responsibilities that come with wealth and power.

It is in the interest of those with power to empower those without it. The pitchforks usually come out when the powerful ignore this.What do you intend to do with power? 

Right side of history

How do you increase your likelihood of being on the right side of history?

Here are a few rules of thumb I live by:

  • Do not exploit the vulnerable
  • Money is a means and not an end
  • Be on the side of the oppressed – They always win
  • Resist the impulse to abuse power
  • Be kinder and more empathetic