Culture of Sadness
Culture comes from the Latin word cultura which is rendered as to till, to cultivate, to tend. Figuratively, the word culture can be used to mean acts that nurture or promote a particular way of life. It is in this figurative sense that we will be talking about culture of sadness. What are those acts that promote sadness and leaves us empty? In Nigeria, we may name poverty, social injustice, and corruption. But these realities in themselves do not make us sad. We can be joyful in the midst of poverty. And joy can become a panacea for corruption and injustice. Nigerians are very familiar with the concept of Bigmanism. Reading the concept with the lens of social anthropology, Bigmanism becomes a subculture that fosters sadness.
The whole apparatus of Bigmanism is the culture of exclusivity. It means the big man or woman defines himself or herself in distinction of the other. In this subculture, walls are erected to protect the big man or woman from others. The other is seen as not relevant because there is a fear that if the other is relevant the big man or woman loses his or her relevance. The other is simply used. Professor Elias Kekong Bisong in his comments on the concept of Bigmanism said it is mostly those who are small inside that suffer from bigmanism. He sees the reality of bigmanism as a dysfunctionality. It isolates the individual and puts him at odds with others.
While the big man or woman may have the command of resources to use others for his or her self-satisfaction, the consequences is that he or she becomes unhappy, insatiable, and empty of the joy the other brings. In his or her high walls, he or she cannot behold the beauty of the drama of humanity. That is sadness. It is the sadness that comes from being bored with oneself. Borrowing the words of Leo Scheffczyk, we can say it is a sadness that comes from ‘man shutting himself off in himself and making an absolute of his own finitude.’ That is, we close in on ourselves and make no opening for God’s Spirit whose presence brings joy, and whose absence brings sadness.
We deny ourselves of the sun that rises when we encounter the other: God and our fellow human beings. And as such, the ice of sadness insulates us from the warmth of joy. In the Western world, the concept of Hyperinflated individual used by Pope Francis in his book Let us Dream: The Path to A Better Future best captures the subculture that gives rise to sadness. Pope Francis speaks of an individual who is withdrawn into his or her own little world and makes himself or herself the centre of the universe. He speaks of a narcissism that is self-seeking, self-referencing, and self-indulging. Such behaviours bring about the globalisation of indifference and the rise of despair.
And where there is despair, there is obviously sadness. The sadness Pope Francis is talking about is not mere emotion of being low. It is the sadness that can be liken to the Greek word Akedia, meaning without care, or lacking the passion for good of God which is love of God and love of neighbour. It is a kind of oppressive sorrow that bogs us down because of our inability to enjoy the good of God’s existence and the presence of the other. Simply it is the misery we suffer when we are indifferent. Psychologists and psychiatrists are beginning to pin the sadness down to what David Broke calls the Big Me. The Big Me is very similar to Bigmanism.
The difference however lies in the fact that Bigmanism is mainly a sociological reality that may have spiritual consequences. But the Big Me is a metaphysical and psychological reality that have grave consequences. One of these consequences is that in the Big Me subculture there is no room for God. In the words of Hugo Grotius, we live as if God does not exist. We become gods to ourselves and by so doing we distance ourselves from God, who is love and the very possibility of joy. We become sad. Secularism is contributing in big ways to sadness in the world. It is bringing about a spirituality of worldliness that sits in bubbles. It is well protected with policies and rights that numbs those who subscribe to it to the reality outside the bubbles. In that sense, we tend to live not looking up to God and outwards to others. But we live looking inwards to ourselves. We live in cocoons, with our wings clipped, rendering us incapable of flying. And what a sadness to live like that knowing we are meant to fly up to God, to soar high to enjoy His goodness and that of others?