Excessive partisanship is corrosive and deprives the nation, but nothing happens in a vacuum. Why are we so partisan? What explains our roller coaster attitudes of denouncing each other, or justifying wrongs based on who the wrongdoer is and our relationship with them? Why do we seek to be vindictive when those we’re opposed to falter? The answers can be as numerous as the number of people wondering the same. But looking at general trends across various aspects of society, here are a few that stand out.
We are a very sensitive people when it comes to our views and choices. As a result we take everything personally and hold grudges for what we perceive as hurtful to our ego. Our sensitivity is due to the fact that our egos are over fed and accepting that we could be wrong is a challenge too many of us cannot embrace.
Because of that, we shun substance and focus on personalities. Whoever does not agree with what I value, or who I hold dear becomes the problem never mind how valid their reason for being on the opposite side of the divide is. Have you ever had a friend who gave you a cold shoulder because you’re cool with someone with whom they had a falling out and they want you to be the same towards that once mutual friend? If you have had that experience, then there lies your explanation as to why we’re so excessively partisan.
This viewpoint pervades our political space, when compatriots who’re known to be on opposite sides of the political divide compliment the opposing side for some action or decision, naturally they get celebrated by those on the receiving end of the compliment. But for those with whom they share the same views and ideologies, extending such niceties to the opposing side is frowned upon and discouraged no matter how objective. In fact, some will go as far as suspecting you of being a sympathizer or a double agent of sorts. It is worse if the person concerned is a self-confessed neutral subject who decided to be objective and give credit to one side over another based purely on the merit of the arguments or positions presented.
It is natural that when a rival party, whether in business or politics, says something positive about you, that you’d use that as an endorsement to sell yourself better. We see it in advertising all the time. Conversely, if one decides to blatantly skew facts about the competitor, it becomes false representation and can amount to a libelous offense. It is also understandable that when we both want a similar thing, we seek to present ourselves as the better option, but not to the point that when facts emerge about the competitor/opponent/rival we go personal just to undermine that fact.
With such ubiquitous bitterness surrounding almost everything we do, naturally we become suspicious of one another. “He/she does not wish me well, why should I empower him/her over me!” This captures our attitudes, and so we seek to project and magnify the ills we know of the person even if such views be purely subjective. Remember that friend who wants you to cut off a once mutual friend? Remember how he constantly tries to tell you all the dirt he has on that friend? He will never accept the fact that whatever led to him falling out with the third party had nothing to do with you and because he is bent on making that third party miserable, he will only have negatives to share with you. That view, and the mindset that sustains it has spilled into our political space and its manifestation is the excessive partisanship we are witnessing.
We are unnecessarily personal, unreasonably egotistical, excessively begrudging and worse, for some of us, we find strength in putting down others. We don’t want to listen to each other lest the rival has some facts to present that may be appealing to the same crowd I seek to appeal to. It goes to the extent that we see people wanting credit for who first found out about a piece of gossip-worthy news and spread/broke it. Similarly, you wonder why some of us “want nothing to do with Gambians” when we meet abroad? It’s that suspicion we harbor of one another.
I wrote severally about this issue in our emotionally charged nation and also in another article; emotion over reason and noted that we view things that way because we expect bitterness and rancor from those who disagree with us, so we come to the show prepared to be defensive at any cost. Again symptomatic of our inability to be substantive.
Enter culture! We all have preconceived notions of each other as individuals or groups; stereotypes (positive or negative). Ours manifest along regional or ethnic line and so the debate around tribalism is shaped. Like the bitter friend used as a case study above, we find among us those who are so determined to validate their negative stereotypes that they see everything along those ethnic lines, everything becomes tribalism in some form or the other. It is fueled by nothing other than suspicions we harbor of each other as individuals or collectively as groups.
The same can be said of religious believes, be they sects or denominations or alternative faiths, we shun substance and elevate personal prejudices. Economic status, education level, etc. You name it, we have managed to create some sort of divider and based on that we have an “in” and an “out” group, it’s our reality. Leave the “in” group and you’ll be demonized.
Before we decry the excessive partisanship, we need to look in the mirror and assess our inter personal relationships. Whatever is not right at the top is symptomatic and reflective of a much deeper seated culture that we would rather deny than acknowledge as needing rectification.
Know that because you agree with someone on some things does not mean they could not wrong on other things. Similarly, because you disagree with someone on so many things, does not mean there are things they can never get right. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses.
When caution graduates to cynicism, we set the stage for a rat race and the greatest loser is The Gambia.