The year is finally here. 2013 was filled with all sorts of news, technological developments, mounting internal security crisis in several African countries and gradual, very weak economic recovery in Western Europe.
This year, though, I plan to focus less and less on the usual political events and news stories and much more on the inner world of the mind, perception and the human psyche.
In Uganda, a society as intellectually superficial as most other countries in Africa, when prominent public figures die, their academic credentials, schools attended, long career, jobs and offices held, are enumerated.
In all our news reporting and historical studies, the Big Men and “success” stories of society are measured by their role as MP, minister, bishop, headmaster, lawyer, sports star, civil servant, businessman, banker, ambassador and so on.
In Uganda, we are where we studied, worked and served. We don’t have the penetrating minds and culture to study, observe and assess the inner workings of our minds, which is the true Self.
That is paramount. It is the hardest part of us to control and master and yet that is where our happiness and peace of mind and emotional balance is determined.
The relentless advancement of technology is making life much more convenient for the majority around the world, from mobile money outlets to smartphones, the Internet, 24-hour TV news channels, large shopping malls, a wide range of consumer products and services.
But while the practical, material life is getting easier for most, the burdens of the heart and mind are still as complex and unresolved as they have been for centuries.
Most of us on a daily basis suffer much more in the realm of the mind and emotions than even in trying to earn a living or paying our bills. Anxiety over known and unknown fears rules the majority of us, from President to peasant.
Writing in 1948 about the pioneering psychoanalysts Otto Rank, Patrick Mullahy noted of Rank’s observation of the forces that shape the human mind:
“Man fears final destruction, not so much natural death for in the belief of many peoples the soul lives on after death. What he fears is destruction of his spiritual self. Racial survival in one’s children and their descendants is not sufficient; it is non-personal and limited by death. Mankind yearns for some kind of eternal spiritual survival.”
This is the anxiety, the fear of a terrorist attack, complicated health problems, the fear of dying young and all the stress of modern living that I am thinking about a lot these days.
In fact, the one thing that the large social networks Twitter and Facebook have done is confirm to me just how empty, in essence, the lives of we modern, urban, white-collar citizens are.
It was the lack of inner knowledge and balance in world superstars like Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and others who wowed us with their celebrity status but deep inside were emotional cripples and all their adult lives simply could not find peace of mind or happiness.
Camille Barbone, a talent agent with the Gotham Agency and Studios in New York City, who first spotted Madonna (Holiday, Into The Groove, Papa Don’t Preach, Take A Bow) described dealing with the famous singer and how Madonna used and then dumped her after her recording career got underway in August 1981.
“I risked my entire career on Madonna and she nearly destroyed me. I begged, borrowed and stole to do what I could for her. But rules of loyalty and decency that apply to the rest of us didn’t apply to her,” Barbone explained to Randy Taraborelli in his book, Madonna: An Intimate Biography, “She wasn’t intentionally malicious, but just incapable of seeing life from anyone else’s point of view. She wanted what she wanted, and if you didn’t give it she turned her back on you.”
As for Madonna, this was her explanation about why she took Barbone for granted, then broke their artistic contract when her debut album started to hit the record charts in 1983: “Sometimes I feel guilty because I feel like I travel through people. That’s true of a lot of ambitious people. You take what you can and then move on.”
What was Barbone’s response to Madonna on that? “I don’t hate her. On the contrary I miss her. And I understand her. It all has to do with her mother, it all goes back to her death. It has to do with Madonna feeling so beat up by what she felt when her mother died, she never wants to connect to her emotions. So, she leaves people before they can leave her, the way her mother did.”
And so here we have the most successful singer in the history of Pop music, Madonna, who even now at the age of 55 was one of the top 10 most searched for people in America, according to Microsoft’s Internet search engine, Bing.
But lying at the heart of Madonna’s huge global Pop hits, theatre play and film roles and her love for courting controversy, is an emotionally crippled woman. These emotional struggles, embedded deep in our minds and very difficult to erase, are the area I am most interested in.
Despite her Miss America good looks, glamour and best-selling albums and uncountable music awards, Whitney Houston was a crippled personality at the core of her being.
With all this in mind, with the time I’ve spent trying to understand human nature and psychology, I’ve decided on the course for my children, Shalom and Elijah.
I am generally not very bothered by how they perform at school. If they are among the top 10, fine, but that’s not my priority now or ever.
And I don’t care whether my children in future get jobs in the World Bank, Google, the UN, Microsoft, become Members of Parliament or sell fish at Ggaba or second-hand clothes along Luwum Street.
What I’m most keen about is the inner emotional and psychic development, where lies our feelings, sense of self, our worth, what we think of ourselves, our fears, complexes, assurance, memories and struggles with ourselves.
My only question and concern will be: are they emotionally balanced, moral, self-assured people? If they are, if they grow up to understand the fundamental question of the meaning around life, then they will be, in my eyes, successful children.
This will be the main theme of 2014 for me.