A strong personality is often admired in business, professional, personal and family relations. One is applauded for ‘keeping their head, when all others around are losing theirs”. There is no pride in being a wimpy child, a loose canon, or loose lips. Even as a parent, it is admirable to be strong for one’s child(ten) at all times to reassure them that “everything is gonna be alright”. Moreover, a mother is often expect to hold it down stronger than the father, as the key nurturer and builder of her children’s characters. So, we do not really have an ok to cry in front of our children (some psychologists might say otherwise), or go on a rant about our challenges and frustrations in marriage, parenting and relationships between co-parents. For the sake of our egos, even amidst torment and torture from life’s miseries or challenges, plenty of us often tend to keep a strong face to appear sane and happy. Thus the most common cliche, “I am fine, thank you” or “I am doing great, thanks”, even when one is dying inside. A strong personality is also a measure of good mental, psychological, emotional and personal health. What happens, then, when that “strong personality” is eating away at one’s heart, comfort, confidence and emotional stability?
I am one of those [self-] identifying as having a strong personality, which I attribute to circumstances from my childhood that were not always beautiful and simplified. No! I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, even though I have tested food on ‘silver platters” many a times. I do not know if my strong personality has anything to do with the fact that I was the only child of my parents born outside my family home? Perhaps, maybe? But I know that as the second last child of my mother, I grew up observing the lifestyles and life choices of my older siblings, some of which I committed myself never to repeat. My family household was not all too beautiful, either, as do plenty of families I know with children from multiple maternal sources. Though I should add that, I grew up around family friends who got along so much easier than our family, without a glaring indication that they were from multiple mothers. I attribute this to their father, the source of the multiple mother, successfully ensuring that all children felt ‘equally’ loved and represented in the family.
Anyway, the other attribute that shaped my “strong personality” has to be growing up around children from very well-to-do or upper class families, while my family was pretty much “lower middle class”. The beauty about Uganda back then was that, one could afford to “rub shoulders with the rich and famous”, without coming from an upper class lifestyle. Children from peasant background made it to elite schools with children of the rich because of their good grades. Not exactly the same anymore, as money now dictates the kind of school one goes to, which are a strong determinant of one’s future life trajectories. Elite lifestyle is pretty much pre-determined for the rich, who can afford an ‘elite’ education from childhood, ultimately preparing their children for an elite higher education, and most certainly elite post-school employment.
Once again, the need for a “strong personality” seems more than necessary if anyone is to breakthrough the gutters to active belonging and participation in society. This implies that one has to withstand all sorts of humiliation, bullying, dirty talk and discrimination to become “a person”. To breakdown or cocoon under pressure and feeling of “a nobody” is not an option. In fact, it is a demand of “Survival for the fittest” in a cosmopolitizing global culture, as well as ‘successful’ parenting in mother-only households. A breakdown in front of one’s children is not a desirable option. In fact, sharing one’s frustration about an ‘absentee’ and disrespectful father with the children is scorned upon, lest they grow up damaged and not able to live normal lives in future. Even at job interviews and in personality tests, a strong personality is expected to reign supreme over any discomforts, trials and tribulations, which are considered ‘insignificant externalities’ in the pursuit of professional success. Moreover, it takes a strong personality to depart from ‘the established norm’, like women who revolutionized women’s dress code to include pants, and black people mainstreaming afro and natural hairstyles in white social and corporate culture. The introduction of non-white European cultural celebrations, foods, dresses, language, education, and languages in school systems of cosmopolitan settings like New York, all demand a strong personality.
The question is who helps the helpers? Who helps the strong personalities when they need a little tender love, reassurance that everything is gonna be alright? When they have to put up with plenty of other beings who depend on their effort to remain strong? I was talking to a Muslim American woman the other day, who shared her discomfort that her husband was in the process of taking on another wife. Of course, she accepts that as part of her religious practices, and was well aware at marriage that time will tell. Though, acceptance of a norm is not agreeing to nor comfort with the practice. I could tell, she wished she did not have to welcome a “sister-wife” aka “Co-wife” into her marriage, but it is too late. She was born into this religion, and practices all its tenets sacrilegiously, including staying in a polygamous relationship. She has to put on her strong personality for the sake of her sanity, her family and her children. Yet, it is her strong personality that eats up her heart. Plus, she is a product of a double culture (may be more than a double); she is muslim and she is America. The latter preaches individual consent to a monogamous marriage, while the former involves family and religion in blessing the potentially polygamous marriage. I guess that same is true with African women who subscribe to polygamous family relations, not because they are happy ever after, but perhaps for the greater good. I have one such friend, and I have always thought I would be comfortable under such circumstances. Now I wonder! Perhaps it is not so easy and simple in practice. Perhaps my strong personality would fail me. For now, I believe that is pretty much all we got to hang onto and cherish for the sake of survival, acceptance and interaction within our social living. Over and above, a strong personality is what we need to get our next shelter, next meal and next paycheck; it is what is required of “belonging to society”.