Be Still – Be Patient – Be Silent – Be Wise

OF THE many poems performed at Spoken Word poetry nights [in Windhoek], among those that made the most impact on me was a poem by Oshosheni Hiveluah. It’s chorus, or refrain line, was “be still; be patient; be silent; be wise”.

That line, and the poem it is from, had a big impact on how I tried to live my life, and I thought about it more recently in relation to the latest round of murders of women by their male partners.

Unlike some, I am old enough to remember similar killings throughout the 1990s and 2000s, and know, sadly, this is hardly a new thing. It is, rather, something deeply rooted in what it means to be a young Namibian man. It is my view that we need a new vision, a new manifesto for Namibian young men. One could call it a counterculture.

Which brings me back to Hiveluah’s poem and its refrain line. I’d like to offer that line as a partial source of ideas for this counterculture.

Be still. Being still – being calm – is learned. We men need, as a starting point, to learn how to recognise when we are angry and how this affects our decision-making. We should investigate techniques our cultures have invented long ago to cope with our anger. These include meditation practices invented by our brothers and sisters in many parts of the Global South. They include the Christian concept of the “Prayer of Silence”. We should also investigate which pre-colonial “ancestral” ceremonies or practices could be revived or updated for this purpose.

Be patient. In this hyper-capitalist society, a man who does not get rich quickly is seen, and sees himself, as a “failure”. Failures usually have a violent temper. In discussions, men expect women to instantly come around to their point of view. Namibian parents fail to set an example to children of violence as a last resort, rather than first response. Instead, let us be patient. Let’s build a society that helps those who are struggling, rather than dismissing them as lazy losers.

Let’s encourage positive behaviour management techniques among parents and schoolteachers. Let’s learn to see women as independent thinkers, not as clones of their husbands and boyfriends.

Be silent. We live in a time when it is expected of young men to talk much, to be right, to always know the answer. Not only does this put unfair pressure on any man (no-one can be right all the time, no matter how knowledgeable), it also denies women, older children, elders, and others the right to be heard also. I think if we as men listened to the women in our lives more, and talked much less, there would be fewer explosive arguments of the sort that lead to violence and murder.

Be wise. We live in a time where knowledge is not valued as it should be. We look to education and science more as ways to get good jobs than to solve problems. As men, we should learn as much as we can. If any of us is in a relationship, then psychology, women’s rights, conflict resolution strategies, the biological differences between males and females (which does nothing to detract from our equality), should be required reading for him. I think that we men should also be at the forefront of calling upon our leaders to invest in psychological science and its investigations into the human mind.

I believe if we start with these few steps we can eventually rebuild the all-but-destroyed image of the young Namibian man.

In the wake of the latest set of murders, there have been calls from some women for the reintroduction of the death sentence. Despite the fact that this reintroduction has not significantly lowered murder rates in any country that has tried it, it should open our eyes to how seriously women view the problem, and what drastic action they are prepared to take (as a numerical majority) if we men do not radically shape up our attitude.

Guys, it’s time to hang together. Or else many of us will soon be hanged separately.

Hugh Ellis is a lecturer in journalism and communication technology at the Polytechnic of Namibia. The views he expresses are personal views.