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We can overcome the denial which seeps through our politics

Alex Tabisher writes that dealing with denial requires us to sit down and unpack the causes of denial, and why they are often preferred to the raw gristle of the truth as it should be told. Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Alex Tabisher writes that dealing with denial requires us to sit down and unpack the causes of denial, and why they are often preferred to the raw gristle of the truth as it should be told. Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 9, 2021

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My word for this week is “denial”. We start with the dictionary, which defines denial as a negative reply to a request. It is also a refusal to comply or satisfy.

More seriously, it can be the refusal to grant the truth of a statement or allegation, a contradiction. Dangerously, it can be the rejection of doctrine or belief. It is not surprising that it can eventually degenerate into disowning, repudiation or disavowal.

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One only understands the power of the act of denial when one realises the ultimate consequences. Like all negative psycho-social behaviour, it might have a small unnoticed beginning.

But the tendency grows as it becomes a powerful defence that either saves one from being accountable, or it has wider ramifications on institutional or national levels. It is a small step to go from denial to out-and-out lying that becomes habitual and almost always ends up badly.

I remember how, as a child, I wondered at the whisperings in the presence of certain topics when adults conversed. Much later it tuned out that they were discussing a lady who was home-treated for TEEBEE, today’s openly discussed and treated TB or tuberculosis. No one dared say the word aloud.

There were grim tales of coughing up blood, fading away physically and being of unnatural complexion.

That form of denial has been dealt with by society as we gravitated from tradition and myth to scientific knowledge.

My readers may argue with me that these scourges are liberated from their negative perceptions by open discourse and treatment. If that is true, my question is: why are so many people still dying of Aids, HIV, tuberculosis, alcoholism, drug abuse?

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The truth is that dealing with the notion of denial is not adopting its semantic opposite of admission.

Dealing with denial requires us to sit down and unpack the causes of denial, and why they are often preferred to the raw gristle of the truth as it should be told.

We are all familiar with responses like: Who, me? Do I look like I would lie to you? It is my experience that the incremental mushrooming of substance abuse is in direct proportion to the users’ refusal to either admit his/ her condition of dependence or reveal his source of supply.

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There are mountains of literature that could help us demystify the notion that admission is defeat. The use of behaviour-changing substances and diseases which are seen to be “shameful” need empathy, understanding and a strange contradiction called “tough love”. Another support or rescuing strategy is called “cold turkey".

Revenons a nos moutons – let us return to our sheep. In other words, let us get back to the matter in hand. Denial on a personal level enjoys many agencies and strategies of support. In fact, therapy of many sorts legitimate their existence by engaging with these refutations, instinctive, defensive or deliberate.

But what do we do when a whole government is in denial about its responsibility towards the nation it purportedly governs and protects? What if a whole nation believes that party loyalty is greater than the national imperative.

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I refer to the magisterial Dr Brigalia Bam, whose massive service to the IEC is legendary. It was well-documented in the Weekend Argus. Strange that her lasting quote from the piece goes as follows: “If we vote for people that we do not know, they are accountable to a political party, not to us.”

That is the dangerous denial in the ANC that now tries to hide the whole catalogue of deception the human being is capable of.

They construe commissions of inquiry, requests to step aside, injunctions to reveal personal (and secret) wealth. All in the name of party, and not national, integrity.

I will end my piece on a quote from a famous play (again I will not name the play): “Diseases desperate grown, by desperate appliance are relieved/or not at all.”

This is an election year.

* Literally Yours is a weekly column from Cape Argus reader Alex Tabisher. He can be contacted on email by [email protected]

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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