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Opinions of Thursday, 14 June 2001

Columnist: Annoh, Lyssiemay

INSECURE?

Lyssiemay Annoh says Think Positive!

"We have been finding fault with ourselves ever since we gained independence"

Insecurity among Ghanaians is popularly believed to be the fault of advancement, as in being the only successful person in one's area of work, the school one went to, one's career path, the media, latest fashion shows, beauty contests, who one knows, you name it....

But while we are busy blaming modern culture and society as a whole, have we overlooked the principal source of our insecurity?

Maybe we are even too insecure to try to get to the bottom of this problem (And, of course, does the bottom look too big in this?)

Ironically, one of the main causes of insecurity is its alter ego, vanity. To admit that you have no faults or insecurities is seen as being ultimately vain. And that, as we all realise, is frowned upon.

I remember sitting behind the television watching KSM (Kweku Sintim-Misa) grilling the parliamentary candidates during the countdown to the elections and saying to myself how brave of them! Good many of them could not express themselves adequately in the Queen's English - some had even gone as far as rehearse their textbooks for the programme. For this programme, we the viewers had a field of day, condemning those who could not express themselves. We were amused that some felt they were the best in town. This might sound vain, but generally that is what candidates are regarded to be. Who hasn't wished he or she was a famous or a successful person at some time or another?

It is often said that it is lonely at the top. I have watched some high ranking officials while I interviewed them, twist and turn in their seats, searching for suitable answers to questions which may somehow impinge on their insecurity. I have heard CEOs busy tapping the office gossip line to see who has said a word or two about them.

But back to the crux of the matter. Nobody wants to be seen as vain. So to escape being known as such, we tend to focus on a particular feature that we identify as fault, an imperfection, something that makes us fallible. This becomes our insecurity.

My main source of insecurity is my stomach. This has dogged my life since I hit puberty, which incidentally is a crucial time to develop these usually irrational hang-ups. Suddenly, everything filled out - my hips, my thighs, and my chest - which can be pretty alarming, whether or not you are prepared for it. Because everything seemed to change so quickly, I took a rather unusual dislike to my new look. Although, over the years, I have come to terms with the fact that I can't jump around without an industrial strength bra, I never quite embraced my new lumpy tummy. So it has become my physical insecurity, something that I grumble about in communal changing rooms while other women grumble about the size of their backside/hips/thighs/breasts (delete as appropriate). In a way, we can bond over our faults and insecurities, because some how, it makes us feel normal. We wear 'made-in-somewhere' clothes instead of those made in Ghana so as to feel that we belong.

I listen to our dear brothers and sisters abroad complaining about how they cannot trust anyone to build or develop any capital investment activity for them. You ask them how much they intend to invest in the project and they mutter out a figure that would barely dig a manhole. Then you wonder what all the paranoia is about. And this could be one reason why instead of doing something about my stomach, I am content to ignore it for most of the time, but grumble about it in a fitting room.

For many other Ghanaians, it is a general opinion that even being a Ghanaian is a curse - and this insecurity can come from comparing themselves to other people or race, or worse, being remorselessly discriminated against or even being described as 'HIPC'.

In the working environment, and usually where government activities are concerned, secrecy reigns. A climate of secrecy undermines public trust. People's mistrust become People's fears and this translates to insecurity. People are more likely to feel re-assured by a leadership that is open about its mistakes than by one that hides them. It has been shown however, that naming, shaming and punishing have not worked in addressing errors in aviation and other high risk industries and that these responses produce a culture of secrecy, defensiveness and anguish. Even if we accept that we ought to deal with events in private, it may be that more can be done than simply making sure that those involved have learnt a lesson; after all it is a mistake that any Ghanaian is at risk of making.

The interesting thing is that the average Ghanaian's insecurity is not simply a woman problem. Men have it too. Since a man is not supposed to 'cry' in Ghana, men will tend to hide their insecurity, so that it seems as though they don't have any or at least not any that they let affect their lives.

If anyone picks up on a flaw, the common guy will dress up his insecurities as something to be proud of. I know several members of the opposite sex who, around their friends will boast about the size of their carefully cultivated beer belly, yet in private, will worry themselves silly about how attractive several pounds of extra flesh will be to a potential partner (if not the new secretary in the office). Ironically, this helps them find common ground with women, as most women wouldn't want to be in a relationship with a man who thought he was perfect - mainly because they would feel that they weren't up to his standard, thus increasing their insecurity.

Another good argument against third parties causing insecurities is that we have been finding fault with ourselves ever since independence. We are ultimately trained to look for faults in ourselves as a survival instinct - to make sure that we are not hurt or getting ill.

Ghanaians have been trying to cover up their perceived faults for years - Our insecurity is certainly not a new development, and neither is our lack of positive thinking. But maybe we're just better at identifying these and giving them a catch-all name. Certainly anyone suffering from an eating disorder will no doubt confirm that their illness wasn't caused by the lack of a permanent Nutritionist at Korle Bu Hospital.

So the next time you glance in a full-length mirror and the first and only thing you see are your dimply thighs and roots don't start feeling insecure. Focus on the other, more positive features, like what you can do to help, what skills you possess, what comments you can offer, because the only person to really blame for your insecurity is yourself - No-one else!