As a recent Monitor feature shows, there are myths about Africa and Africans: myths of inescapable poverty, unavoidable violence, perpetual technological backwardness, and permanent dependency on the West. There is even the myth, or misunderstanding, that Africa is a country instead of a continent with 54 countries and hundreds of languages and cultures.
Just as there are myths about Africa, there are myths about the nature of people everywhere: that we are helpless in the face of circumstances, like small boats tossed by waves of fear, uncertainty, and economic distress. Yet our true nature, our spiritual nature, anchors us, giving us stability and the power of ideas to overcome adversity. Our spiritual nature, which is a reflection of God, gives us strength to face challenges and hope for the future.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Monitor, urged readers of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” to have “not a faltering nor a blind faith, but the perception of spiritual Truth” (p. 582). Perception, she argued, is the key to how we live and how we see ourselves and others. Of course we all have material bodies, but who we are is much more than material particles.
It makes little sense to perceive of such a diverse continent as Africa with a single, limiting image. Instead, we can try to perceive the spiritual nature of all of us.
As a former staff correspondent for the Monitor for eight years in Africa, based in Kenya, I discovered (along with my wife, who is a photographer) the strength, resilience, creativity, and wisdom of the people we met. It was not a continent without problems; but neither was it a place forever locked in poverty, violence, backwardness, or dependency.
There were several wars and still are a few; but the vast majority of Africans live in peace today. Millions still live in poverty, and the loss of life from drought and famine in East Africa indicates how much more needs to be done. Yet in other areas the middle class is expanding. Ghana and Zambia, for example, have recently joined the initial ranks of middle-class countries. The courage of many Africans to stand up for freedom against authoritarian rulers, who misused their country’s wealth, brought democracy to most African countries in the 1990s. Africans are solving many of their own problems.
Globalization – the increasing trade, travel, social networking, and blending of cultures that is bringing us all closer together – offers new opportunities to perceive what we have in common with others: our spiritual nature.
Most people share a sense of family, an appreciation for honest, hard work and creativity, a desire for freedom, and a respect for human rights. When we embrace a spiritual perception of ourselves and others, these qualities and conditions become clearer. A proverb from Tanzania reminds us, “The art of living means embracing its challenges.” A proverb from Malawi says, “Life is a gift of nature; but beautiful living is a gift of wisdom.” Mrs. Eddy wrote, “The time for thinkers has come” (“Science and Health,” p. vii). This means setting aside myths and perceiving our spiritual nature. That’s a good starting point for meeting any challenge.