The President is angry: angry at bureaucrats bent on sabotaging his Hi-Five agenda; angry at his subordinates who sit and wait for someone to tell them what to do – waiting, waiting, waiting; angry at citizens who expect him to run their households for them; angry at cry-babies long on diagnosing the country’s ills but short on proffering solutions. Angry, angry, angry.
UTM is irked: irked at a political partner that has ditched them in the middle of a stormy sea and unilaterally transformed ‘Tonse’ into ‘Tokha’; irked at the slow pace of the implementation of the campaign promises – ‘Had we been at the helm, we would have commanded Mulanje Mountain to plant itself in Lake Malawi.’
John Kapito is incensed: incensed at a government incapable of cushioning the poor from the spiking cost of living; incensed at ‘useless economists’ stuck in the jungle book of theories borrowed from across the oceans, theories no longer taken seriously even by those who crafted them – ‘You should be ashamed of yourselves!’
Academics are enraged: enraged by a mad nation that does the same things and expects different results; enraged by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) happy to import expensive suits to look the part they don’t deserve to play – ‘If you have suits imported from Paris, burn them so that we can revive the local textile industry’.
Musicians are irate: irate with thirsty lice sucking to death the cow of an ailing economy; irate at the rich citizen who throws a party and runs out of wine half-way through the feast; irate at a self-styled Moses who promised to lead his people to a land flowing with milk and honey and, instead, hands them a stone for bread, a snake for fish – ‘ You promised you would step down if you didn’t turn things around in two years’.
The Church is indignant: indignant at an indecisive leadership presiding over all manner of ‘gates’ and paying lip service to the anti-corruption creed; indignant at idle civil servants happy to spend their monthly earnings on expensive gins and tonics – ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim the Good News to the poor.’
Everybody is angry at someone. Everybody is pointing a finger at someone. Everybody has seen a speck of dust in someone’s eye. Malawi has become a nation of accusers, an angry, irked, incensed, enraged, irate and indignant nation. We are back in the Garden of Eden where Adam says it’s Eve, Eve points the finger at the snake, and the snake…well, he is still looking for someone to blame.
Red and Blue
The New Zealander forensic psychiatrist Ceri Evans describes, in his book Perform Under Pressure, the structure of the brain as consisting of the ‘Red’ zone and the ‘Blue’ zone. The Red area, which is primitive, is primed for self-preservation. It governs the threefold response to unfavourable stimulus: fight, flight or freeze. ‘Red’ is the domain of feelings and instincts, not language and logic.
The ‘Blue,’ instead, is the part of the brain gifted with logic and language. It receives information from the lower part of the brain (the Brain Stem) and processes it into rational thought. The ‘Blue’ is the area of civilisation, self-control and inhibition. It helps us to name our feelings, thereby gaining control over them.
Dr. Evans observes that the Blue predominates human behaviour when all is well. When we are safe and our stomachs are full, we can be civil with one another and can have the luxury to compose exquisite poetry and rhetoric-powered speeches. The Red, however, kicks in when we face threatening situations, chief among them being the so called ‘performance moments’ – moments we perceive to contain some judgment. In such circumstances, our thinking becomes blurred with anxiety or fear. When push comes to shove, our faculty of speech can atrophy.
Dr. Evans continues to submit that outstanding performers in history – from sports to politics – are those able to tap into the Blue in situations that are normally predominated by the Red. And it all starts with the decision to take a deep breath that helps us to replace anxiety with calmness, overthinking with clarity of purpose, and, yes, the resolve to be the master of one’s fate, the captain of one’s soul, as William Ernest Henley powerfully says in his Invictus, those lines that sustained Nelson Mandela on his long walk to freedom.
Malawi in Red
Malawi is clearly in Red right now, what with the skyrocketing prices of commodities, acute forex shortages, contraction of the job market, and the ‘war in Ukraine’. Our survival is at stake. Not surprisingly, we are all losing the power of logic. We are all screaming at someone. When we enjoy a brief moment of Blue, all we can see is what someone else should be doing or should have done to get us out of this mess in the first place.
What we do not seem to realise is that no nation on the face of the earth has ever developed from the springboard of the blame game. We can pass the buck all day long but, when we have attained some catharsis, we will wake up to an even more desperate morning.
Bluing the Nation
A nation in Red is a nation stuck with reactionary measures. To make some progress, Malawians need to move into the Blue zone. Where do we start from? A Mea culpa moment is the best starting point. The African American philosopher and activist Cornel West identifies ‘tracking hypocrisy’ as one of the features of prophetic thought. Through tracking hypocrisy, we become aware of the gap between our own rhetoric and action. We all need to spend a minute or two asking ourselves how productive we really are. What about our spending habits? What about the discipline to execute on our commitments, small though they may be? What about planting a seed for tomorrow’s harvest?