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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Is it bad to be an intellectual?

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The word intellectual seems to be more or less a bad word in The Gambia. Being an intellectual doesn’t seem to be something praiseworthy, instead that is something looked down upon. This is very strange for me, because this is quite the opposite from how intellectuals are considered in other countries. I have been thinking about this for a long time and tried to understand where this perception comes from. Perhaps there are a lot of reasons, but I wish to highlight at least some of them.

Some intellectuals brag about their level of education and they use it in a way of making others feel less worthy. That is silly and only shows their low self esteem. We all know that intelligence doesn’t come from studies. We are all born in a certain way, some of us are less fortunate than others – either financially and/or intellectually. Being fortunate enough to study at a high level sharpens one’s intelligence, that’s for sure, but that is not all. I know several intelligent people who have not been able to study, but their intelligence shows through their actions and their values.

There is something called ”emotional intelligence” and that is nowadays of a much higher value than what we commonly call intelligence. It doesn’t matter of someone is brilliant in mathematics or has an amazing vocabulary if that person is acting like an idiot. Emotional intelligence is a matter of being able to understand how other people feel and having the ability to reach out to them on a suitable level. A person with emotional intelligence is interested in other people and not only in him or herself. This kind of person is able to ”speak to farmers in the farmer’s way and with scholars in Latin” as the Swedish author and poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt described one of his fictive characters. That figure, called Fridolin, was able to speak in such a way that everyone listened to him and he was highly respected.

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Fridolin was a fictive character, but I think we all know someone who could be described in the same way. Unfortunately we also know too many who don’t have emotional intelligence, who are unable to adjust their way according to the context. Instead they act as they always do and are not bothered at all if that way is appropriate or not.

This kind of people put themselves above others, and if someone is questioning them they only reply that ”this is how I am – take it or leave it.” That is arrogance and as there seems to be no cure for such it is better to avoid this kind of people.

There is a concept called ”energy thief”. Perhaps you have never heard about it, but I am sure that you have experienced it. As you can understand from the name, this is a person who is consuming your energy. Nothing you do or say will ever be good enough, the demands might not even be outspoken but you will feel them anyway. You try your best to behave in a way that might make this energy thief satisfied with you. You almost turn yourself inside out and still nothing is good enough. It is a one-way communication, where you are the giver and the other part is the constant taker. You find yourself exhausted, empty, emotional and questioning yourself.

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You can’t change an energy thief’s behaviour how much you try. It doesn’t help to reason with him or her, because it will always end up with you being wrong and the other part being right. The only thing you can change is your own approach. If you can – leave that person, either it is your boss or a spouse. If you can’t leave – find a new and better tactics to deal with the person. Don’t get involved in argumentation, try to remain calm but distant. This advice leads me to the political debate we all have heard about. This debate was between the leader of PDOIS, Halifa Sallah and the leader of CA, Dr Ismaila Ceesay. What a difference from what we are used to in The Gambia!

Here we had two distinguished gentlemen who were able to discuss the difference in their political opinions without cursing, insulting each other or raising their voices. This was a historical moment and I am proud of them both. This is the beginning of a new era in The Gambia. Let us leave the embarrassing shouting games somewhere in the darkest corner of our history. Enough with outbursts and blaming each other’s parents for this and that! The way Halifa Sallah and Dr Ismaila Ceesay handled the political debate was dignified and they focused on the political issues. I admire them both for how they handled this occasion. It took a lot of bravery from them both to stand there in the eyes of the public. Kudos to both of you and let others have them as rolemodels in the future.

What does this political debate have to do with energy thiefs? The answer is: a lot. Compare this debate with the ”normal” way we have been forced to get used to. Perhaps you didn’t even consider that there could be some other way of discussing political differences? Even if you had no earlier experience of this way of debating, perhaps you had an awkward feeling everytime some of our Honourables raised their voices in an unworthy manner. We have the right to expect more from those who are representatives of our community. If we would have been satisfied with the current way of trying to solve difficulties and differences we could have been standing outside a local bar during the tourist season. ”When the alcohol goes in, the wit goes out.” That is an old expression that is true, and even if most of us who are Muslims don’t use alcohol you might believe that some people are under the influence of something that has harmed their common sense.

“Common sense is not so common anymore.” This is something my husband used to say from time to time, and it is unfortunately very true. Our society is affected by energy thieves who are under the influence of their own importance. This is draining us all of our energy, our money, our creativity and it is making our lives unnessecarily hard.

The energy thieves are to be found everywhere, not only among politicians. Some years ago I was working as a musician in a church. One of my collegues, also a musician, turned out to be an energy thief. I say turned out, because it takes time to realize what kind of person you are dealing with. I have the habit to believe that a person is nice until he or she proves the opposite. Perhaps that is considered as naive, but I was raised by a parent who was the complete opposite and it was awful.

My collegue was so convinced that she was always right, and she had such a bad temper that even our boss was afraid of her. My collegue was acting nicely in the beginning, that is how energy thiefs act. They are manipulative and instinctively they know which strings to pull at every moment. I left that working place after some years. I struggled, tried to adjust but it was impossible. I gave respect but never met respect. No matter the relation, we must be able to treat each other with respect. Now, in times of the election and the debate can become heated, we must expect from our representatives to act in a dignified manner. Let us look at our two genuine intellectuals; Halifa Sallah and Dr Ismaila Ceesay and say with pride that this is what our country needs.

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