Duty of optimism
I woke up to read a weekly bulletin called “Friday Forward” by Robert Glazer. The title of the bulletin this week is “Horse Blinders.” This has inspired my further research and reflections captured below on duty of optimism.
“Horse blinders are firm leather squares or plastic cups that attach to a horse’s bridle or hood and prevent a horse from seeing behind and beside “him.” Horses that pull wagons and carriages wear blinkers to prevent them from becoming distracted or panicked by what they see behind the wagon.”
This same pragmatic gear also apply to race and other driving horses to keep them from being “distracted or spooked” on race courses and crowded streets. Blinder, blinkers or winkers as they are called keep horses focused on what is in front, encouraging them to pay attention to the race rather than to distractions.
The way the horse is created by God is an attestation of God’s infinite power over the earth and the things therein. The eyes of the horse is positioned on the sides of the head. The eyes are segmented and so have the amazing ability to switch between monocular and binocular vision.
They can view both sides of their vision separately, through each eye. It is an incredible work of nature. This gives the horse a very wide field of vision and can receive large amounts of visual data about their environments. The horse has a nature endowed advantage of the eyes as a defense mechanism. To the wild horse this is most helpful in avoiding predators.
I read that the only areas horses find difficult to see are directly in front of them, and directly behind, their heads. This is why predators mostly attack from the back.
The downside is that the large amount of data received by the horse through the eyes can create distractions, anxiety and a constant state of panic. This is similar to the downside of social media in the current times. Good for information but often a tool for distraction and veritable source of anxiety.
For domesticated horses, this is where blinders come in with the purpose of reducing the field of vision for the horse and ensuring they are relaxed, attentive and focus on what is in front of them knowing well they are challenged with immediate front vision. Limitations in immediate front vision can be likened to the unpredictability of our immediate environment.
My reflection is that as Nigerians, we are currently being coerced to act like the wild horse situated in a city with the unlimited information available and disseminated on social and mainstream media. Unlike in the wild whereby most signals are relevant, the sad part is that a substantial portion of the social media information are often outrightly false, largely unverified and creation of wild imagination.
We are contending with myriad of interests motivated by political, religious, ethnic and sometimes just pure evil sentiments. Sadly, the mental power to blind, blink or wink our vision can be lacking in the middle of anxiety, poverty, and basic quest to survive.
There is no doubt that we live in a very challenged environment with so much existential threats across most if not all aspect of our lives. Developmental challenges, high poverty penetration, economic hardship, weak productivity, weak infrastructure, fragile security, etc, are all staring us in the face.
Hence, my view on duty of optimism is not absolute or unrefined and should not be equated to blind optimism. Blind optimism is about biases, self deception, underestimating risks, poor or no planning, unrealistic beliefs and expectations, and overestimating abilities.
So, the intention here is not about burying one’s head in the sand like the ostrich ignoring danger, unpleasantness, or encouraging carelessness or not planning at all. It is rather a positive slant in response and coping mechanism to encourage collective resolve to deal with our challenges.
According to Statista, “In 2018, approximately 4.44 million passengers travelled on international flights in Nigeria.” Realistically there will be of course a number of repeat travellers among this group. Anecdotally, it could be said that only average of 2 percent of Nigeria residents travel internationally.
So, if we stretch this – 95 percent or more of Nigeria residents have no other place to go and should there be a state of full fledged war or country wide anarchy, an overwhelming majority of us will be largely stuck in Nigeria. This is assuming people who have access and means to go can even get out at all.
This is where I get very concerned around uncontrolled access, dissemination and propagation of false information, rumour mongering, gas lighting, stereotyping, labelling and heating up the polity insensitively. When the chips are down; this is the only country most of us have.
This is where the blinders are needed to stay focused on what is ahead of us without losing the sense of appreciation of the challenges. Realistic optimism must prevail with political consciousness, citizen’s participation in governance, civic responsibility, government accountability, etc., as additional ingredients.
Now back to the bulletin I read this morning. It was the way Robert Glazer captured the Londoner’s approach to World War II that struck me in most part. I quote, “What often kept Londoners from losing hope during the bombings was the simple fact that, though the threat of bombing was ever-present, only a small percentage of citizens were affected on any given day.
For each day that most Londoners awoke unharmed, their resolve to keep going actually grew until the threat finally subsided.” Again, it must be reiterated that the intention here is not to underestimate the existential challenge we face but rather to encourage the often difficult to assume duty of optimism. The minority evil people should not overwhelm the collective resolve of majority good people who just simply want to earn a decent living.
He went on to write, “I couldn’t help but imagine how the contemporaneous social media and news coverage we have today would have punctured this resilience.
Instead of focusing on their good fortune to wake up safe, imagine if Londoners were barraged with videos of every casualty of the bombing, every day, for two months. That constant stream of horrific stories would have surely terrorised the many Londoners who managed to avoid actual harm or danger.”
In Nigeria, what I have found to my surprise with all we have to contend with is that we even go extra steps of creating false content, importing chaotic contents and relabelling for local affiliation, and in many cases it would appear some people derive joy and pleasure in misfortune.
Let’s think about this message before we share that next unverified random video, audio, written message. Simply ask whether it amplifies your anxiety or blind, blink or wink the distractions to keep you focused on what is ahead.
Ogunleye, a social commentator, writes from Lagos