I recently had the privilege of serving as a commissioner on the student-run Electoral Commission of our university during the students’ elections.
It was a twenty-four hour affair which consisted of clearing all the candidates’ pictures, setting up the polling station, facilitating and monitoring the voting process from 9am to 9pm; and after a one-hour dinner break at 10:30pm, we proceeded to the vote-counting phase. We wrapped up a few minutes to 6:00 am. Tired but immensely fulfilled.
In order to maintain our neutrality and objectivity, we, the members of the commission, could not vote. Not voting meant I could still have an opinion without the burden of choosing a preferred candidate.
And still look hot in the branded denim shirts.
But the thing is, I still had an opinion. In fact, several opinions that touched on the elections. For instance, several of my female classmates didn’t vote for the ladies vying for competitive slots. On asking them why they said it’s not right to vote for their fellow women just because they’re women. I had an opinion on several other matters. For now, I’ll revel in the bliss of neutrality. I know it shall pass.
But I discovered that being neutral is only good for a time. At least until the vote counting is done, and then we are back to having opinions. The new student government that was voted in is now my student leadership and my opinion, if any, is private by choice, rather than by mandate.
It was comfortable to be in an officially neutral position. I had authority. Like when this guy was taking a photograph of the ballot paper indicating how he’d voted. I stopped him saying it had no integrity. And he protested wondering what he had done wrong.
“There’s nothing wrong. It just has no integrity.”
“So, why can’t I take a photograph?”
“Because it is a secret ballot voting process.”
“But it is my vote. And I want to show my guy how I voted.”
“What does it matter anyway how you voted? It won’t even matter in a few hours when the results are announced. And why do you need to let your guy know how you voted? Why do you need to prove your support?”
I stood my ground as commissioner and he eventually cast his vote. I forgot all about it, but I doubt that he has let it go. He has not acknowledged my greetings.
Of late I have been observing certain individuals in my various circles express themselves from the standpoint of their specialty. They have a firm grasp on what they believe. They are bold enough to articulate their stand and in doing so; they invite fans and haters alike. Be it some of my pastor pals, PK and Curtis; or Pst M, the senior pastor at my church; or Ginger from the Landmark Forum; or the dude from my fellowship; or the fearless Boniface Mwangi; or even my lovely wife in her academic and intellectual expression. Equally admirable is that dude from the now-registered, now-suspended Atheists of Kenya (which I think should be registered). No, I’m not talking about their president: that one feels like one of those Man U fans who know and follow up on everything Arsenal. I’m referring to the bearded chap who is a childhood buddy of mine and who knows the Bible. Yeah, that one. He has a firm grasp of why and what he believes in, or doesn’t.
I watch these individuals with a mixture of admiration and dread. Admiration for the full conviction they place in the declarations they make. And when they invite me to their quests or beliefs, the certainty with which they guarantee the outcomes is sooooo sexy, inspiring and reaaally admirable. They approach new arguments with the same confidence I approach chapati and chicken. They are giants in their respective disciplines.
I dread the same individuals or rather their outlook because I have disagreed with each of them on the basis of their unwavering stand from their perspectives. I tend to, in these arguments, lack a formidable stand of my own except that I don’t completely agree with their seemingly fixed viewpoints. My disagreement in the absence of facts is often a weak place to fight from, especially when I lack alignment to their ideas, thoughts and or suggestions. I am usually, however, vindicated by time: a time when I have clarified my thoughts that then crystallize into ideas which I can then communicate coherently. The annoying thing is that these guys will have moved on to the next argument and I will find myself playing catch up yet again.
I often feel, though, that these need to broaden their minds a bit (or even a lot) more. That notwithstanding, I still admire their conviction, focus, and unequivocal stance. And as they continue to express themselves, they grow, expand and evolve.
For instance, I still struggle using scripture as the basis of my Christian life. My assertion is that God and His several ‘expressions’, rather than just the Bible, are the basis of my Christian life – indeed my whole spiritual experience. Now, I often come across as being overly defensive in my outlook, unconfident about my stand, shifty in advancing a convincing argument. The result is I am left feeling irritable, small, resentful and often jealous. I second guess myself and even wonder whether my thoughts or questions are even valid. In the midst of another self-inflicted faith crisis, I choose to remain silent and feel stupid.
Three years ago, I was selected for a master class scriptwriting workshop. It was a big big deal for me. My claim to fame was my experience of having written my autobiography as an alcoholic. Having completed the workshop, a couple of us were selected to write a screenplay for a feature film. Another big big deal. My co-writer, twenty or so years my junior, was a trained filmmaker. I thought we made a great tag team. He had me watch several movies so that we could get a feel of what to write about. I got and felt nothing from watching those movies. Yet, I still felt that I had a legit right to be here. I’d say that I was in this tag team to bring the soul. He didn’t buy it. I started getting late for our brainstorming sessions, our Skype calls with the producers. And what looked like a once in a lifetime opportunity was now looking like production and I began dreading the meetings. Worst of all, I stopped trusting my input yet I knew there was no other contribution I could bring to this project except me and life experience. And the project was halted.
I was not surprised. Disappointed? Yes. Surprised? No. My assigned partner and I couldn’t seem to build a synergy out of our unique strengths. By the time I’d processed my side of the street about the fallout, not only had everyone moved on, but a new film was shot on the same location in Tsavo East. I got that it is ok to write from my soul. Only thing is, there was no one to tell and I have never looked at another screenplay since, or even dabbled in writing one.
[“Healing is learning to trust my own wisdom, my own intuition.”
I am back in school now and besides being quite excited about it, I am being more intentional and deliberate than I ever was. Being a full-time student is coming at an opportunity cost of the time I could spend growing my business. It is also coming at a high price because I am endeavoring to understand the content of the subjects I am taking each semester. That has also meant that I am bit slower on the uptake and more so on gunning for the distinctions. Yes, I am getting some good results so far but good grades are not my primary motivation. Getting some knowledge, history and diverse perspectives about the stuff that inspires me is the motivation. You know why?
I want to be an authority like these ladies and gentlemen!
I want to win arguments or, at the very least, sustain them. I want to count. Yes, that’s it. I simply want to count. I really want to take a stand and have the balls to defend it: with facts, conviction, confidence and authority like a commissioner on that students’ elections day. And when wrong, I want to stand up, learn from my mistakes and put my butt on the line again. Because being neutral, like an ECD commissioner’s term, has an expiry date.
Sitting on the fence soon gets rather uncomfortable.