The discovery of purpose is ironically a process of victimisation and self-imprisonment, which is not a privilege for all men and women. Some of us will never discover who we are and what we are good at, while always simply striving to find purpose so we can serve it. The process of self-discovery cuts across every facet of human existence, both physical and mental. It is about what we think out and whatever it is that we do with our hands and feet.
A brief history should suffice as a preamble. In 1972, and then in 1976, the soulful Afro-American delectable singer and song writer, Candi Staton, produced two memorable songs: “In the Ghetto” and “Young hearts run free,” which a reviewer referred to as “the real Candid”. It was indeed Candi Staton exposed. In 1978, she released “Victim.” The track had everything that soulful music should possess; a rhythmic high tempo beat that is not stressful, a steady bass sustained by blended instrumentation and a drumbeat that forces you to shuffle and dance, assisted by blended percussion that bears an unmistakable African root. I still have my copy of the album. I played the track “Victim” so many times to the exclusion of other tracks on the album, that if they could talk and we could hear them, they must have been shouting and pleading in protest “listen to us too!”
Like her earlier songs in 1972 and 1976, Candi’s “Victim” profiled the existential reality of American ghettos: the poverty, squalor, drugs, reckless procreation, suffering, guns and violent crimes that define the landscapes. In “Young hearts run free”, it was the painful cry of a heart too ready and too willing to give love, only to be cheated, battered, wounded and deserted. “Victim” is a consequence of the latter narrative. This time, it is a truth-telling discourse about the individual’s unrestrained complicity with talent.
The gruelling agony of its discovery and loyalty to the inescapable command to service it every season, regardless of the accompanying pains and sufferings, which in this case are authentic and true marks of purpose and excited freedom that an artist or entertainer (the group where it is easily most noticeable) feels. If Candi stops to write her story and sing her heart out telling it to her appreciative audience, then she fails to be herself, thereby revelling in denial and self-deceit or what existential philosophers call bad faith. To live a purposeful self-fulfilling life, therefore, she must sing and through her song continue to tell her story regardless of her pain. Because she cannot but sing, she has become victimised, arrested by her talent, imprisoned by what she is best at doing forever, to the applause of third parties.
Sequel to a profound existential mirror of self-discovery by the sweet melody and lyrics that draw you towards pity and perhaps sadness, even as you dance, Miss Staton thankfully found her purpose, she dug into herself and discovered the core of her being, and with it her crown of thorns and cross, which if she wishes to remain authentic, if it is her desire to experience internal joy and fullness of being though hurting, she cannot but arrange the crown on her head and carry her cross all by herself daily. This is the narrative of human beings who are fortunate and or unfortunate to find purpose with their talents and who suffer consequences worse for them if there is no understanding or support from anywhere to develop it and for them to flourish. It is the story they all come to tell with an admixture of joy and pain. This piece is about all who have discovered who they are and what they are good at doing, engaging in that which comes natural and effortlessly to them through tears and pains, even when they are not remunerated. They are victims. Those who escape are those nondescriptive persons who fail at self-discovery, never finding who and what they are. They are legion.
The discovery of purpose is ironically a process of victimisation and self-imprisonment, which is not a privilege for all men and women. Some of us will never discover who we are and what we are good at, while always simply striving to find purpose so we can serve it. The process of self-discovery cuts across every facet of human existence, both physical and mental. It is about what we think out and whatever it is that we do with our hands and feet. Architects, artistes, novelists, singers, sculptors, sports men and women, lawyers, composers, caterers, journalists, fashion designers, orators, academics, preachers, painters anywhere and everywhere where talent discovery is the only ticket, accompanied and assisted by passion, hard work and commitment. Here there are no heroes or heroines, only victims condemned and conscripted. We, expectedly, would sing their praises and idolise them but never know or share their pains. Artistes and community political leaders are ruined and or killed sometimes through drugs overdose, assassinations, while serving their purpose. George Michael, Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye Jimmy Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkruma, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr, Macom X, Mahatma Ghandi, are all victims of their talent serving purpose.
Of singular interest to me, however, are some philosophers who in serving talent and purpose and doing what they do best, are described as weird and eccentric goodtime stoppers with a bold charge of obscurantism. Beyond Diogenes, whom Plato described as “a Socrates gone mad”, there are still many more even today. Maybe there is some serious discomfort in serving out their sentences, as they engage with what they do best, while arguing about the problem of one and many, particulars and universals, about language and the meaning of meaning, appearance and reality, and the problem of knowledge. Recently in London, I was present at a philosophy conversation sharing thoughts on “Epistemic injustice, silence and speech”. It was sheer joy and truly uplifting. A good lecture. What is particularly frightening however is when philosophers become fastidious victims, when their philosophy becomes their life and vice versa and there is no letting go.
Philosophers are thinkers. The true ones are always in pursuit of wisdom, knowledge and truth, wherever they are to be found. With some reflection, I have come to the realisation that perhaps the pain of our victimisation and imprisonment, which just will not go away, can be lessened if concrete existential interventions and debates take centre stage, where the objective is to bring about true self-development and concrete social change in our immediate environment. The seriousness of doing philosophy the old way, dragging the sack load of Western Philosophy and its worries may be found wanting in serious socio-economic terms and relevance to concrete human endeavours and needs, despite the good works of philosophers who interrogate indigenous cultures.
Call it serious advocacy: It is time then to begin the urgent debate of how to become purposeful human beings, the morality of war and its obvious madness as some nations make cheap and insignificant the human life, climate change and the prospect of self-annihilation, the road map for peaceful human coexistence within the ambit of the finiteness and brevity of human existence, the sad consequences of reckless acts of procreation and the evil of over population, derelict political leadership and groundswell programme of deceit, the merit, demerit and cancer of religion, human survival and the threat of artificial intelligence to mention a few. Individuals will continue to be engaged in self-discovery living with pains that come with serving out themselves because at least there is delight and self–fulfilment, even as helpless victims. Indeed, doing what they do might be the only tiny opportunity of acquiring joy and ascribing some meaning to an existence that is not only brief but essentially of itself has no meaning.
Wale Olajide writes from Northampton, United Kingdom. Email address: email@example.com.
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