15 April 2018

Ethiopia: Lazy Labels


We live in a time when not everything is as black and white as we wish it to be. Once, after a few back and forth over the nature of my profession, I was compelled to give an answer that was digestible to the person asking.

People are preoccupied with labelling themselves and others. We have been told which labels are good and which are bad. And in whatever the situation, one's whole existence must be able to fit into two or three sentences.

Many of the past generation, such as my parents, have worked in the same office for decades. Such commitment helps to have the patience in being able to educate children and live thriftily with the hope of being able to hold on to a family. Such that the 1980s were bleak, this was the dream. Their need to hold tight to any form of a stable life is understandable.

Young people today though ought to let go of the baton passed on to them by parents. We are not in their place - we must keep creating a path of our own. People must be free to be any version of themselves.

This is easier said than done. We each battle the version of ourselves that has been handed down to us by the community, nature, family or country. There is much to untangle that it can feel overwhelming at times - to be all things to everyone else and not sure what we mean to ourselves.

Being at a stage of life where I have been making decisions, I am learning new facts about myself. Much of our lives has been written for us, especially for women whose mere existence in most communities is an act of defiance, living a meaningful life has to be made a point of. We have been handed down a manual that should be lived without question, and which we must actively resist.

I have asked myself the reasons for marriage, which, contrary to what some may believe, it is not a pre-requisite of adulthood. Many women have been forced into marriage, because of tradition, even if they are free for all intents and purposes. There is no reason others must be pressured into it also. To live a contented life must be to make the choices in essence of one's will.

I have also asked myself why I have chosen my profession, the people I have surrounded myself with, or the path I have taken in life.

There are mistakes on life's road, and that's hard in a society continually scrutinising individuals. We feel the pressure of succeeding or making our families proud. Some of us might even have family members dependent on us. Mistakes can feel daunting, but we must give ourselves some room. Be kind enough to ourselves with such mistakes, even if our communities might not always be as generous.

The blinding dust of tradition must be shaken-off by enlightenment. The educated few of our nation must bear that responsibility. The educated are those that can process conflicting information and make-up their own opinions on facts.

Labels give way to thinking that continually tightens each shackle of conformity. It is a thought process that keeps putting people in confining boxes prohibiting them from achieving their very best.

Life ought to be full of self-induced decisions. There will be good days and bad, and dull decisions and some not. But one action, must not determine who we are. It must not brand us.

A world without labels may sound chaotic, but they make us lazy. We refrain from asking the questions that matter the most as we choose to decide to box everyone into stereotypes.

Small talk is everywhere, but we give little time to learning about those around us. Small talk has given us the excuse not to have real conversations.

A world without labels could mean that we would get to know our neighbours, look beyond the facade and see one another. Maybe we each need to think of how we can break free from the labels that confine us. We could pierce through the mould and do the unthinkable: simply live.

Hanna Haile (Hannahaile212@gmail.com) Is an Ethiopian Writer, Researcher and Social Worker Who Uses Her Writing to Promote Social and Gender Equality, Identity and Women's Rights. She Is One of the Organisers of Poetic Saturday At Fendika Cultural Centre Where She Performs Spoken Word Poetry Every First Saturday of the Month.


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