Saturday, 15 September 2012

Open Minded Bias

Are you open minded? I am :) and I'm pretty much certain most of you reading this would say the same. I mean it is a mark of intellectual maturity to have the patience to entertain differing views from your own and not have any innate biases. However that is not necessarily the case as to some degree there is usually some close-mindedness within us particularly with our pet ideologies.

The other day somebody made an interesting statement on an online forum I'm in to do with biblical matters. He mentioned how somebody he knew would run her thoughts through different people people to hear "what they thought." And he said to myself, "What a noble and mature way of processing, formulating, developing, and refining one’s own philosophies!" But then, after he observed this woman's supposedly-admirable social exercise for a while, it became  clear that what she was (actually) doing was not trying to obtain new, progressive, or differing viewpoints on the subject, but rather – simply going through the numbers of people until she located someone... anyone who would validate her philosophical position on things. Made me think of the number of times I've been guilty of that!

I realised that is the folly of being in a mental comfort zone and looking for opinions that reinforce your own bias in the guise of being "open minded". That brings me to another example much closer to home in Kenya and one that has to do with a subject that is very much in our national consciousness- that of tribe!

A few weeks back I'd attended the graduation ceremony at USIU and one thing I noticed is that bunches of similar Surnames were repeated often with the graduands making a chorus. The names in particular were of Kikuyu origin and quite a number they were so later on we jokingly made a reference with some friends about that pattern in the ethnicity because the university has a lot of business courses. However inaccurate our assessment may have been we were perpetuating a stereotype of Kikuyus being more business savvy and loving money.  We even went on to remark that there was a lack of students from other communities and we should report them for tribal imbalance- jokingly of course. Then the discussion went on to how members of the Luo community were few because they are not as interested in business- another common stereotype even with 'examples'.

However in the midst of that discussion a different voice came up. One of us said that we were talking like that because we were all from the central region and there's nobody to question those assertions. Looking around the table that was true. She went on to say how she would talk like that among her friends because they were alike but once she was called out by a friend from elsewhere about how unfair those remarks are. Made me think about how we urban youth think we are so enlightened and open minded but deep down we still harbour those old ideas implanted in our heads by our family and communities. She had a very good point about how insensitive we can be as Kenyans with our jokes which could be in very bad taste particularly at this time when we are trying to build national unity.

As I thought about that experience I realised that it is an important warning at this time when we are edging closer to the elections and we are already experiencing cases of violence that are all too common during such seasons. So as we prepare for campaigns and electioneering it's easy to retreat into our ethnic groups and start trash talking about other communities but that's counterproductive as we so well know. This time the stakes are much higher we know the cost of words of disunity.

Time to think not just in terms of our tribes but as brothers and sisters in a greater nation. Let's all remember to be really open minded and understand that at the end of the day the country must go on.