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Mfonobong Inyang: Building Your Gift of Critical Thinking & Perspective



If you missed the first and second essays under this subject, you can read them to put these newer thoughts in better context.

There is no gainsaying that critical thinking is one of the most important skills to have in the 21st century. The ability to interrogate data, thoughts, people and events is key to unlocking the immense value we possess. This particular essay is really going to focus on conditioning and social engineering; these two concepts have their roots in behavioural psychology which posits that actions and inactions are learnt.

In the second instalment, I said that two of the biggest drivers of our group-think as a people are religion and culture; neither of which are inherently flawed but their broad applications have done more harm than intended.

So let’s break this down, brick by brick. Culture here is not reduced to its expressions or touch-points such as songs, dance, clothing etc. Culture is simply a way of life that is widely accepted and seen as the norm. For example, slavery was a norm at one point in our history; it was surely reprehensible and dehumanizing but it was legal. Bringing it back home, we have a culture of respect – which is a great thing. Especially when the person is older than you or possesses a higher position than you; you are supposed to defer to them. This is done with the assumption that wisdom is a direct function of age, so the older you get, the smarter you become. Such convention is supported by maxims such as, “what an elder sees sitting down, a young person cannot see even if he/she is on top of a tree”. Is this cast in stone or “we fit use drone run the package?”

What about religion? Our belief, for those of us that acquiesce to the existence of a Supreme Being, is that this entity is responsible for creating the universe and must be revered. So anyone or institution that claims to be a surrogate or emissary for this Being is likewise revered. There lies the challenge; the best of humans are still humans. Whilst there exist an honest handful, most use these privileges principally to control and exploit others. Ignorance and misinformation is greatly weaponized by such unscrupulous elements. This goes way back to the times when some of those that brought new faiths to our continent used the same teachings to justify slavery and holy wars and is still being used to till this day to rationalize unimaginable things an infringe on human rights. This brand of religion is largely antagonistic to critical thinking because it doesn’t like being questioned.

The nexus between religion and culture is that they are both very effective tools of conditioning. This is why if a younger person tells an older person that 2 + 2 isn’t 22 but equals 4, he or she may be seen as arrogant or forming “I too know”. This type of culture focuses more on preserving the status quo and the ego of its stalwarts than in investing the same energy in gaining new knowledge. This is why Galileo was almost killed for daring to counter the erroneous assumption that the earth was flat. All they had to do was have an open-mind but they chose to leave the group chat instead. This is how a culture of silence is being developed; now you see why the soro-soke generation is a counter-cultural movement in many respects.

You may have been conditioned to expect mediocre leadership, which is why when you see a non-establishment but competent aspirant running for office, you summarily conclude that he or she won’t win because all they bring to the table are ideas and not a heavy financial war chest. You may have been conditioned to accept the regular news of kidnappings or killings, how you know this is true is because you’re no longer outraged – now it’s just another day at the office, another headline and another statistic. You may have been conditioned to accept that poverty or suffering is a sign of holiness. Robert Kiyosaki suggests that most times people do well in business and other facets of life – not so much because they are the smartest in the room but because they have been wired unconsciously by their parents to have a mindset of wealth and possibilities. You may have been wired to accept corruption as a norm, this is why you factor in kickbacks into your budget when you want to execute a project. You may have been conditioned to accept domestic abuse in your relationships, that’s why people say things like, “if he/she doesn’t beat me, that means he/she doesn’t love me.”

In the event that all these submissions are flying over your head, perhaps an anecdote will help you get the thrust of my thoughts. In a hypothetical situation, let’s say that we have a 24-hours power supply – this is a ‘normal’ thing. After a while, the supply drops to 18 hours a day, you complain and rant but you adjust. It drops further until it gets to a mere 6 hours of power supply daily, once you accept this, it becomes your new ‘normal’. So the next time you see power supply being increased to say, 12 hours a day, what do you think will come to your mind? You might even say, “omo, these people are trying o!” Meanwhile, they are actually retrogressing and you have been successfully conditioned into accepting their incompetence! That’s why some people have PTSD when they travel to more developed climes, they are always charging their phones because “dem fit take light anytime” is living rent-free in their heads.

Isn’t it interesting that some people who are running for office usually say they have a divine calling to do so? Especially some who are seeking re-election or aspiring for higher offices. It begs the questions: how come you never heard from God to fix bad roads, pay outstanding salaries, speak out against human right infringements, fix public health, invest in tech and education, create pro-business environments or protect lives and properties? Is it only when you want political power that you hear from God? Of course, they do that because over here the underlying belief is once you mention God in every sentence you make, everybody should just give you a free pass. Religion for many has become a get-out-of-jail card and a waiver for accountability. Comrades should be wise, make dem no run una street again.

I love talking about slavery even though it may be a very uncomfortable topic but it’s important you know why it was such a brutally efficient system. The first thing slaves were stripped off wasn’t their clothes or gold but their human agency; their independent thinking, will, identity, culture and history. Slaves didn’t have an opinion, they were conditioned to do as they were told. This is why some slaves almost made a u-turn when they were closest to freedom because the responsibility of independence and leadership scared them to death, so they contemplated a return to the ‘comfort’ of the familiar even though it dehumanized them. It was so bad that most people weren’t really fighting for freedom, they were fighting to be house slaves; they figured that if they couldn’t replace their oppressors – they should go for the next best thing which was to be in the oppressor’s good books. This is why I am always triggered when I see people outsource their thinking because I know the etymology of that social behaviour. Of course you can learn from others, they can inspire your thoughts but never get to the point where you stop thinking by yourself.

Aba women went out for a legitimate protest against high-handedness but in the textbooks, they called it Aba Women’s Riot. Just so you know that this use of misleading language didn’t start in October 2020 or in this generation; it’s just a revised version of an old playbook. How can you invade a person’s land, fully-armed, yet in the media it’s called “clashes” when there is an obvious and disproportionate use of force? Riddle me this: if you have the ‘wrong’ skin colour, you get cancelled for something others get a slap on the wrist for – there is outrage for everything else but racism. Funny how when some people entered our continent without permission, they called it “voyages of discovery” but when you enter their continent without permission, they call you “illegal immigrants”. Natives who visit their own forest reserves are called poachers but when some other people visit, they are called tourists – today’s lions really need to up their writing game. Selah.

By the way, most of what you were taught in history classes are lies; some of your favs were no heroes. It is a leaf from an oppressor’s playbook, after they had done unimaginable things, they would usually try to rewrite history by laundering their names and creating pseudo-legacies. So they would put their faces on currency notes, name important institutions, laws, streets, places and even foundations after themselves. Ever wondered why during the global protests that rocked 2020, most people literally overthrew the statues of certain historical figures, especially those who were slave-masters? The experience of slavery has really been watered down deliberately, a lot of its horrors are best imagined. No surprise some people don’t even want history taught in classes altogether.

How were people convinced to exchange able-bodied human beings for mirrors, gunpowder and umbrellas? How in the world were people convinced that twins were a sign of evil and had to be killed? Or that a woman was responsible for only giving birth to female children when science clearly shows that the man is responsible for the gender of a child? Thousands of people being killed is a tragedy but the real tragedy was that people who executed such pogroms were convinced it was the righteous thing to do – in the name of a ‘god’. Religion made people kill the very Messiah they had waited for since the days of their forebears. Religion makes you fight for God but when it comes to demanding better governance and development, you outsource it to God. Religion makes you throw tantrums over what a person is wearing more than it makes you outraged over the gruesome loss of lives. It is conditioning that makes you think that not having a ‘tush’ name, having a deep ‘local’ accent or eating with your bare hands instead of using cutlery makes you razz.

Let me share a fictional story you have probably read before; a classic example of rituals which are routines without revelation. A man usually bought a huge goat from the market for his family every Christmas. On each Boxing Day, he realised that his wife would dispose a huge chunk of the raw meat. He kept overlooking it but on one occasion, he lovingly asked her why she did such and she gave a very honest answer: “that’s how my mother used to do it”. This man was perplexed, so on their next visit to the village, he decided to interrogate his mother-in-law on such a very interesting practice. In her response, “my son, during my time, we didn’t have refrigerators or deep freezers and because we reared hundreds of goats at the time, it didn’t make sense to keep any leftovers till the next day after the 25th of December.”

Why do we spend more when a person dies than when they are alive? Person dey alive, e no see full chicken chop but when e die, dem dey kill cow for am. No be juju be that? Most tears at funerals are not tears of bereavement but those of regret – regret of the things that weren’t done or than could have been handled better. I don’t enjoy writing eulogies, I like to give people their flowers while they can still smell the roses – that’s why I am almost always referencing those who are doing great things. I am big on faith and I also believe in exporting our culture but we must realise that culture is time-relative; some of what was norm yesterday must not be norm today – the pandemic has reminded us of that. Communication has evolved from the days of the town-crier; that’s why I can type this from my office and you can read it on your device regardless of your location. One person once described some archaic aspects of culture as “peer pressure from dead people” – I fear he may be right.

“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise. Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear, I rise. Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise” – Culled from Maya Angelou’s classic, Still I Rise.



Photo by ANTONI SHKRABA from Pexels

Now available in select bookshops and on my Selar Store - get your hands on my brand new book, Hope Is Not A Strategy; Faith Is Not A Business Model - Mfonobong Inyang is a creative genius who works with top individuals and institutions to achieve their media, tech and communication goals. As a consummate writer, he offers ghostwriting, copy-writing and book consultancy services. A master storyteller that brilliantly churns out premium content for brands on corporate communications, book projects, scripts and social media. A graduate of Economics – he speaks the English, Ibibio, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa languages. He appears to be a gentleman on the surface but the rumours are true - he get coconut head! Reach out to me let us work together on your content project(s) - [email protected]

1 Comment

  1. Chrisyinks

    March 15, 2022 at 11:30 am

    Great post! Indeed human agency piercing through barriers or religions and cultures creates that better society for you and me.

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