You hear what you want to hear

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You hear what you want to hear

"The Point" is a story about a little boy and his dog. I first saw the story presented in a cartoon movie in the early '70s at Franconia College. One of my favorite lines in story goes something like "You see what you want to see, hear what you want to hear, you dig?" says the Rockman. "You ever been to New Delhi? No? So, you see what you want to see and hear what you want to hear". For me this is not a value judgment, but a perspective. I wanted to experience something different than Sacramento California USA, so I joined the Peace Corps. As the Rockman might ask, "Have you ever been to Ikot Ekpene, there you are, you heard what you wanted to hear". I think of these anecdotes as about the power of propaganda, but it is really about cultural assimilation.

My passport says I entered Nigeria on Nov 6, 1965. I was in Biafra when it declared its independence on May 30, 1967 and left Biafra July 20 1967 from Port Harcourt. My passport only says I left Nigeria July 23 1967 for Ghana on the way to Somalia.

As things heated up prior to and including Biafra, I remember thinking that only British Broadcasting Corporation or Voice of America would be closer to a non bias viewpoint. Certainly no newspaper or radio broadcast from Nigeria or the Eastern Region could be trusted. This was a very specific thought that I held every time I read a newspaper or listened to the news. I never said it aloud to anyone, but I considered everything in the press to be propaganda. I reminded myself of this many times. I don't think it helped.

This hit me when I was in some Lagos hotel drinking beer with other PCVs. We had spent the last day in the empty cargo hold of a freighter traveling from Port Harcourt. We left because the Biafrian government could no longer guarantee our safety. There I was, safe drinking Star beer, when the thought went through me head that I was probably surrounded by Nigerians who wanted information about Biafra and were listening to every word I spoke and to use it against Biafra. Wow, hold that thought and mull it over easy.

Another of my concepts of self includes a "guy who sits on my shoulder". When that thought went through my head, "my guy" simply asked if I really believed that? It was like an instant whack of culture shock. It staggered me. In some ways my internal value system said I was definitely paranoid. In short, part of me had bought into the "Be Vigilant" poster and all the words and thoughts I was exposed to in Biafra. This flipped me on my head. I realized conditioning happens and it is not just about me and my control. It is about where I choice to put myself and that there are consequences. One of the Rockman's points, I think.

A few months before, I had realized that part of me had made a serious switch. Bluntly. I thought I was black, as in Nigerian or Ikot Ekpene black. This happened in a movie theater. Along with other PCVs, I had walked into a fancy hotel to watch a movie. As we moved down the aisle to the front to find seats, I started tucking in my shirt, checking my buttons, my collar, my hair and the zipper on my shorts repeatedly. After sitting down, I kept this up until "my guy" asked me why I was repeating this behavior. I identified that I felt nervous, my guy asked why? I felt like everyone was looking at me. Of course, "my guy" asked if that is what I saw. Looking around, I realized the answer was no. And that most people in the theater were not Nigerian and didn't look that different from me. Clearly, they didn't think I was different from them, but I thought I was obviously different from them. With this rationalization, I started to laugh at the great joke my mind was playing.

"You see what you want to see, you dig?"

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