This past week, on the weekly Street University webinar, a therapist took participants through the topic ‘living your authentic life.’ In a world where so many people struggle for acceptance and where people measure their value by the amount of likes and follows they get on social media, there has never been a time when the gospel of authenticity needs to be preached with more aggression.
The power to be authentic comes from a deep-seated confidence in oneself. Last week we read about Richard Branson going to space and it was such a great moment for him and also for the future of commercial space travel. Jeff Bezos followed soon after.
As we celebrate and follow news of such people the obvious becomes even more obvious: People who are celebrated on Earth have one commonality — they are authentic; they have embraced their uniqueness, crafting their own way of doing the things we all do. Be it a dancer, an athlete, business, political or even religious leader, each one with a following has a unique way and discipline that led them to the unique mastery of their craft. If you are not confident enough to be different you cannot be authentic. Your greatest strength is not in how similar you are to others but in how different. Only those who embrace difference can become authentic.
A leader who cannot define their uniqueness and that of the brand they represent will at best be among the crowd. To become market leaders, uniqueness cannot be compromised.
In my youth, each family had a tailor to make our clothes, and special occasions were marked with palm wine and our homes filled with locally-made furniture. We celebrated local authors and quoted our own. Even people who studied abroad for years came back without an accent. We were proud of who we were and how we looked and sounded.
Gods must be crazy
Today, one goes abroad for a year and comes back with an accent. We aim for sophistication by always trying to show how much we know about others. Africans take pride in how foreign they look and in the scramble to appear sophisticated, totally lose who they truly are.
These things reveal a people who do not know self and will conform to the desires of the audiences they so badly want to impress. It gets doubly precarious when the audience also has no sense of identity and are wowed by how foreign you look and sound and their greatest aspiration is to be like you. This is how Africa has lost her identity, relevance and voice in my circles.
Renowned journalist, columnist, historian and author Dare Babarinsa wrote about a revered deity of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. The deity called Ogun who was god of war and patron saint of blacksmiths, artists and travellers supposedly drank palm wine with the natives in his earthly sojourn. Traditionally, Ogun has been associated with palm wine and Ogun festivities and rituals always had a large supply of palm wine. However, today the story is different. Instead of palm wine, even the local god now ‘drinks’ imported wines and spirits.
See where our problem lies? If the so-called god of the people has moved on, leaving palm wine to waste in the forests instead of being tapped to create an industry, can we blame the citizens for losing their authenticity? Indeed, the gods must be crazy. To be continued…