Reflections on Lack of Self-Reflection
To be an Eritrean, to us, is more than a glamorous fact. There is an irrefutable fact that is based on a historical truth which is behind our identity. That truth is shaped by the sacrifices paid by the previous generation who resisted suppression and the freedom fighters of the subsequent generation who forfeited everything to drive the enemy out of Eritrea. That is why we often ask ourselves ‘how can we expect to know where we are going without the signposts our freedom fighters erected through their sacrifices?’ We know, as a minimum, what has been achieved so far; that is the sovereignty of our country which is intimately intertwined with our political personality, is an integral part of our existence. We also know that we should neither allow the current frustrations of our people get the better of us, nor influence us to doubt that very foundation of our identity. To overcome those frustrations and to stay the course we try to regularly self-reflect.
In the Eritrean struggle for justice and democracy we see adversities emerging which, every now and then, are impinging on our national composure. Religion and regionalism are recklessly being thrown into the struggle-formula by creating divisions and added tensions among conscientious activists. As we struggle to actualise our people’s aspirations, we warn ourselves that we will pay a heavy price if we, fortuitously, unhinge our resolve from our core beliefs as Eritreans. With such apprehension in mind we would like to proceed to the main aim of this article.
Let us start by making a point that it requires a great deal of patience, wisdom and a discerning outlook to adopt a self-reflection-led struggle against injustice. What is self-reflection? According to dictionary definition, it is a tool that helps us to enrich our capacity to look within ourselves and strengthen our willingness to learn more about our fundamental nature, purpose and essence.
Psychologists point out that self-reflection changes our perception of reality – that is to say, it empowers us to think outside the box, influences our reading of our surrounding, helps us discovery other ways of thinking and develops our consciousness. To activists, we believe, self-reflection is one of the most important tools that can help them manoeuvre through thick political undergrowth which is full of camouflaged obstacles. But there is too often lack of self-reflection in the way the Eritrean activists carry themselves around nowadays. Unfortunately, scheming, backstabbing, bullying, succumbing to devices orchestrated by others and so forth are more accentuated ways of operating rather than reflecting on what we as activists should do to better the lives of our people while maintaining our unity, integrity and sovereignty intact . As we come face-to-face with many of our current problems, some tend to question the very Eritrean identity that has carried us through until now; some apply historical denialism to justify their distorted sense of patriotism; some fall victims to short-sighted political stunts; others are simply deluded by self-interest … etc. All those scepticisms, repudiations, infightings, reticence, allowing oneself to be stage-managed, are all signs of a movement that is lacking closer inspection of what we as Eritreans really want.
As already mentioned above, we happen to believe that seeing within us quite often changes our outer vision, so to speak. Actually, seeing within us helps us not to go off course and get stuck at the cul-de-sac of things. We also happen to believe that lack of self-reflection not only does it lead to further frustration, but it also has some bearing on the way we come to harbour acrimonious attitudes towards other players in the same camp who choose to employ different modes of struggle.
We would like to make a remark, perhaps a daring one, concerning the nature of activism within Eritrean circles. We are of the opinion that committed Eritrean activist are either not aware of the fact or simply forget that self-reflection should be one of the core characteristics of their makeup. Basically, self-reflection brings us down to earth and somehow begets our waywardness under control. Putting it differently, it helps us to think twice before we jump to conclusions and reminds us there is plenty of room to be magnanimous.
In our struggle there should not be any room for the sterile 'I, me or mine' stance; but we should embrace the progressive ideals of 'we, us and ours' instead. Our struggle concerns all of us; therefore, we are in it together. Experience has taught us the importance of refraining from overestimating our contributions and not undermining the efforts of others is the better course to pursue. As activists we should strive to master the art of looking into the mirror of the collective and critically assess our own reflection. If we are to remain significant players in this struggle, before heaping praise upon ourselves and reassigning blame unto others, then we should take a look at the negative aspects of our activist composition.
When we fail to keep the balance between ourselves and other fellow activists and more importantly, between us and the neediest of our people, then we are missing the point of our struggle all together. Isn’t the unbridled attitudes we espouse towards our way vs. their ways menacing? This brings to mind what Dalai Lama said about such stances: if you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them. There is an important lesson in that simple dictum: it highlights the need to acclimatise our ways to that of others and become more socially (and politically) responsible activists. That leads us to pose of few more questions pertinent to self-reflection or of that nature. Why do we have to allow things we cannot do interfere with the many things we can do as activists? Are we afraid of failure? Or are we disguising our failures by attacking others? Well, whatever the reason might be, we do not think failure is a mortal sin; what is mortal might be our failure to change our ways.
The more we learn about ourselves, as well as think of the experiences we gained over the years as activists, the more we should struggle to avoid the arrogance of thinking we know what’s right for other activists (or groups) who are conducting their own campaigns as they see fit. In this case, the least we can do is to go back to basics – to learn and re-learn the art of self-reflection. Once again, what we need is self-reflection, not self-deception.
EMDHR February 2016