A relative of mine—not my parents or siblings—once opined that I had accomplished nothing in my life. When I pointed out that I had learned two foreign languages, retired from the military, and published a novel, he discounted those things!
Once I got over being angry and hurt about that conversation, I realized that my relative’s opinion had one meaning that is two-pronged: that 1) nothing is a real accomplishment unless it has produced vast quantities of material things and/or awards in order to 2) be seen and show-off in front of on-lookers. (My relative didn’t deny it when I, still angry, said that he didn’t think that the things I had done were real accomplishments because none of those were things that he could brag about; none of his ignorant friends cared about such things.)
Having recently lost almost everything I owned spurred a conversation I’ve been having with God and a continuation of a philosophical “conversation” I’ve being having with myself since that other conversation. What’s the true purpose of using your talents—meant in the biblical sense? Is it so you can buy stuff to enjoy? Or to look good in front of others? Both? I know countless people who push to get their degrees and well-paying jobs for those reasons, especially the latter.
“Floor-showing” was what my great-aunt (RIP) called the fruit of this type of thinking.
It seems to me that floor-showing as an ultimate life goal is the full-flowering of ingratitude and entitlement. It is also a sign of a deep-seated inferiority complex.
And that’s what this whole thing with Jada Pinkett-Smith is about. It isn’t enough that her husband, Will Smith, is an accomplished actor and that the two have raised their children in great opulence. They must have validation! And not validation from the lowly consumer, but from the Big Guys! And, through that kind of validation he can say “I’m an Academy Award winner! Look at me!” And she can say, “I’m married to an Academy Award winning actor! Look at me!” The alleged scorning of black actors by the Academy is a mere vehicle to get others on their side. Will Smith’s former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air co-star Janet Hubert sees right through this tactic.
Outcome-based education and employment–otherwise known as Affirmative Action–are two sophisticated types of floor-showing; they are the reasons that hard work has almost become irrelevant. Only the title accrued means anything, no matter how dumb-down the curricula or qualifications are made. This mindset has become so pervasive that even material gains and box office receipts are no longer good enough for people like the Smiths. They have to be crowned by the establishment they serve and, if not, they will take their ball and go home. And, in the name of tribal solidarity, they want other black actors to do the same, regardless of whether the latter have mortgages to pay or not, as Ms. Hubert mentioned. I’m guessing that the Smiths will not be putting up any boycotting actors in one of their mansions.
That said, what should any final life goal truly be? To give glory to God, which I think, is why He gives us personal talents/gifts in the first place. Achieving milestones in order to “be seen of men” seems to lead to chronic hunger. And anger. And unhappiness.
Investing our individual talents is what we are asked of God to do. And when we do it, we receive manifold interest: happiness, peace, and, maybe, vast material possessions; at the very least, enough to sustain us. But those first two are priceless and, as I recently discovered, hard to dislodge.
Juliette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. (Her older blog is located here.) Her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was published in 2012. Her second novel, tentatively titled, Arlen’s Harem, will be done in 2016. Follow her on Twitter.
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