Monday, February 16, 2009

The happiness of Africans

I'm not sure what to make of the recent story Overcoming Bias has posted on an unfortunate Nigerian tale where kindness is repaid with pain. I do though most definitely disagree that this pessimism, as suggested, "has something to do with why Africa stays poor".

A digression before my point: I recently posted about the book Geography of Bliss and lamented that the author didn't visit any African nation in his worldwide exploration of happiness. I personally find many Africans to have a view of happiness which, while not being Buddhist, has an interesting similarity in that they do not worry so much about the things they can't control. The world is as it is.

Of course, many westerners (myself included) look at the list of things some Africans consider outside of their control as too broad.

Researchers, journalists and spiritual nuts have spent a lot of time thinking about European and Asian views of happiness, but I think its time Africans and indigenous Americans get their say on the matter.

I'm not the person to begin the journey into elucidating a so far silent voice, but let me suggest it begins by not assuming their view is the same as ours. Similar perhaps, but not the same.

Back to the tale. I don't know if the poster Eliezer Yudkowsky has ever been to Africa, but to make a pretty strong generalization, he is likely to find in just about any village a people that are (1) incredibly kind to strangers and (2) dedicated to a very strong family support network. Together, this general sttitude makes most westernerns look stingy and uncaring. So, I suspect this tale isn't endemic to a general African mistrust, so much as a contraposition to a culture that hardly lives by such philosophies.

Of course, any kindness can be repaid with pain. The world is as it is.

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