Doing away with bad habits

Doing away with bad habits

A long queue that stretches as far as the middle of the mall, excitement amongst those that are waiting in line to get into the liquor shop, and the realisation that this country shall never progress if it carries on with the kind of mentality it has nurtured for centuries. Morena Moshoeshoe, like many Native American chiefs, saw the danger of the fire water (whisky or brandy) before drinking became vogue. These leaders saw the social decay that came with the drinking of alcohol as a form of recreation.

Lesotho is actually the first country in the world to have a law against the drinking of alcohol enacted by Morena Moshoeshoe himself, it seems that we do not understand what he meant, or, as the current Covid-19 scenario is revealing to us: Basotho have actually never listened to the wisdom of their king with regard to the issue of imbibing alcohol for recreation. This is the lead reason why people find it sensible to wait in line for a bottle of liquor so they can go and drink themselves senseless in the middle of a plague.

These Gomorrah attitudes are what has held this country backwards in time, a little forgotten kingdom that is proudly spoken of by the ordinary inhabitants but which remains shabbily treated by those who should take the lead with regards to its upkeep as a state.
The mentor in the rehabilitation centre I attended used to repeat on several occasions that it takes only 21 repetitions to form a habit. We have had more than 21 days to rethink our ways, but some of our actions reveal that we are not learning anything from the virus experience, perhaps with the unfounded hope that the worst of the deluge will pass us over. The reality however is that we are waiting with bated breath for the first statistic, and there will be many such Covid-19 victims if the country carries on as it is doing at this point in time.

There may be arguments to the contrary, but the real truth is that Lesotho has no conception of reality; from the leader class to the commoner: there is the big brother mentality amongst Basotho. It is this inside looking outside type of attitude that has seen this country fashion the best strategies that were never properly implemented to the point where they become realities that can be enjoyed by the citizens of this country. Giving up and giving in largely hinge on the mannerism of the individual, and if a society is largely made up of pious non-believers like we have in this country, then the process of adhering to measures that at the end of the day will come to save us becomes impossible.

It is true that we whine that government is not doing this or that which they were supposed to perform. We however never question our own attitudes and mentalities with regard to dealing with the prevailing situation because deep down, a large number of us are in plain terms hypocrites. It is hypocritical to feign poverty because of the lockdown when you still find time to drink alcohol.

The attitude means that one does not think they should be serious about getting themselves out of the mire because the state should be the one being serious about it: quite nonsensical to think that the government and good Samaritans should worry about getting food parcels to the poor whilst you worry about where you will get the next bottle of lager, gin, whisky or brandy. Alcohol is the worst of the tools that tear down social relationships, drunkards can never think straight: Morena Moshoeshoe knew this when he enacted the laws prohibiting the sale of European liquor to Basotho. With the right attitude, we stand a better chance of surviving the outbreak than at this point of time where it is open season on the streets of Maseru. Victor Frankl speaks these words from the point of view of the man that survived four Nazi concentration camps in the course of WWII:     

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…
What way we shall choose as a state cannot be based on the prevailing attitudes at this point in time, and the government should stop making promises they cannot fulfil. It is time for everyone to take the current circumstances on a more serious note, including those that put personal opinion and glory before the social realities affecting the majority.

The partisan politics and their mentalities of polarisation have ripped this country to unrecognisable shreds, as seen in the political shenanigans that find the elite fighting for positions when the concern should be strengthening the health system to the level it is ready to deal with any eventualities. We are a country that has over the years become so increasingly dependent on foreign aid that we have literally become paralysed and catatonic. Instead of sorting our national issues, political gossip becomes the distraction used to avoid getting down to addressing the real issues on the ground.

The country’s working class have fallen victim to the economic collapse that comes in the wake of the lockdowns and this means that poverty will go even deeper into the fabric of our society. The country should be worrying about how they will deal with the outbreak in the next six months instead of worrying about what they will drink or whether they will keep their seat in parliament.

In a land of the poor where pride is bigger than the wallet, it does not make sense to pretend that all is good when the world is changing faster than you can say ‘hello’. Feigning ignorance at what is panning out in the world is sure to lead us to perdition, there is need to understand that this time is not the last time and that we need to change our outlook with regard to dealing with situations. The government has not delivered on some of the promises it initially set out, and collective responsibility has become their saving grace.

Efforts by good Samaritans and other non-governmental organisations have gone a long way towards dealing with the repercussions of the lockdown that include increased vulnerability amongst the poorer sections of society. It is only right this time for government to take the baton they failed to pass on to the masses in the form of needed aid and financial support to the sectors that need it. The eroded sense of comprehension with regard to the true essence of duty and obligation on the part of the government needs to be recouped well in time to be able to deal with any new statistic of the Coronavirus if it so happens that anyone becomes infected.

The current realities that include relative disregard for the seriousness of the outbreak have largely been caused by the brevity of the authorities when it comes to defining the core issues related to the stemming of the virus. This has led to the uncontrolled movement of people from outside the borders of Lesotho that come from Covid-19 hit South Africa and people gathered en masse on the streets of Maseru as is seen everyday. The buoying mentality is based on the thin hope that none of those that enter shall bring the virus with them.

The question however remains: what if some of those that enter the borders illegally bring it with them? Will the health system be able to deal with the results of the outbreak? It seems that the reality that the virus could hit us any day has conveniently been hidden behind the façade of normalcy despite the times being abnormal. One can attribute it to human attitude, but it could be the result of people trying to find the meaning to their human lives in these abnormally hard times.

Economic depressions have come before and people did quite a lot to gain some semblance of meaning in their everyday lives. Some actually gain their meaning to life just by walking in the melee in the city centre. It seems that this is the leading attitude which is fostered by the illogical “it won’t happen to us…” assumption. However, when logic is sacrificed for the sake of convenience, the life we live loses its meaning.

Viktor Frankl insists that the human’s primary concern is not to search for enjoyment, or supremacy, but to discover the meaning of existence (Ponsaran, 2007). He denies that humans can be reduced to what he calls, “the Freudian life and death drives” but promotes the idea that humans have the “freedom of response,” even if the situation is calamitous (Cowen, 2005).

A statistic of the Holocaust, Frankl understood in clear terms the benefit of keeping the right attitude regardless of the hard times. There is the real fear of tomorrow beginning to set in amongst the members of Lesotho society. It could have set as soon as the lockdown was announced and it keeps increasing as the poverty sinks its claws deeper into the lives of the ordinary people. It will become harder for us to keep up with the fast-changing realities in our everyday world as the virus progresses.

The only fortune we have is that there is ‘maybe’ still time to change our tendencies and habits to enable us to deal with the virus if it does come along at any point in the near future. The kind of response we have so far expressed is one of individuals gathered in a state working hard to wish away a novel reality unfolding. This means that all our interests, all our passions, all our commitments and other human attributes will come out changed on the other side of the future. There will be new habits formed after this deluge because we will perish if we carry on pretending that nothing is happening just because no case of the Coronavirus has been confirmed.

Victor Frankl speaks of this type of detachment in his Man’s Search for Meaning. We now conveniently pretend the virus won’t hit us despite its being on our doorstep and carry on with old bad habits. It is not right to pretend that nothing will hit you just because you did not see the thrower, or that it will not rain because the skies are still blue. As Victor Frankl puts it:

Such detachment is granted to the outsider, but he is too far removed to make any statements of real value. Only the man inside knows. His judgments may not be objective; his evaluations may be out of proportion. This is inevitable. An attempt must be made to avoid any personal bias…
The real difficulty of dealing with an outbreak of this kind lies in people being or acting noncommittally when it is convenient for them that results in their being unprepared when that which they were forewarned about becomes a reality. It is no use running helter-skelter when one can wait the storm or its advance, but right now, one cannot ignore the fact that there are hard times ahead with or without the Coronavirus.  At times it will be necessary to have the courage to tell of very intimate experiences, just so that the people can understand the full extent of the danger the virus poses to the citizens of this here country.

It is natural to want to get some pleasure, but pleasure is not a need, it is a mere want that can be shoved to the back of the line when the demands of the moment dictate so. This is one of the reasons why I could not understand the reason for the long drunkard line at the shopping mall. A bottle of wine will chase away the blues, for sure, but it cannot do away with the flu: money used to buy this lie (wine) posing as the truth could be put to better use helping those that really need help or the imbiber to fulfil some of his or her obligations.

The 1959 work by Viktor Frankl states that the basic reality is that life has meaning in all circumstances, even despondent ones if we apply the right principles. The second motivational force is the desire to find meaning in life because humanity has the freedom to choose the right attitude even in situations of unchangeable affliction. Frankl in short purports that people can discover meaning through creative, experiential, and attitudinal values. Our creative values consist of achievement of tasks (however mundane) such as painting a picture or tending a flowerbed.

Experiential values consist of encountering another human, such as a loved one, or by experiencing the world through a state of receptivity such as appreciating natural beauty in moments of solitude and reflection.  Attitudinal values speak of the potential to make meaningful choices in situations of suffering and adversity like we are going through at this point in time.

It will take a reading of similar experiences others went through to understand why we should do away with habits that might lead to our demise. Frankl lived through the Holocaust, we are going through one now (we will come to understand this the day after the vaccine establishes the first proven cure). For now, we need to hold back a bit and retreat back to the safety of our homes and observe the guidelines provided by the authorities.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

Previous Young ministers a big letdown
Next Moleleki grilled

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