It is said that the true hallmark of the character of a nation is how it responds to adversity and whether, faced with a crisis, its people can put aside their differences and work together for the good of the society. A reference is often made to the British people during World War 2, how they rallied under the leadership of the arch-colonialist Winston Churchill to defeat Hitler, but then dumped him in the first election after the war.
If we do accept this theory, what does it say about our own society and how we face up to the challenges we face? Here we are, after a painful year during which almost 2000 persons have contracted COVID-19, though fortunately with only 10 deaths, our children deprived of face-to-face schooling, and losses of jobs and incomes to many workers, farmers and small businesses. Do these not indicate a major crisis, worsened now by the threat of the violent eruption of the Soufriére volcano?
Given all this, should we not be focusing on the challenges before us all, not ignoring whatever differences we have, but maturely keeping our objectives in mind in seeking solutions? Yet, day after day, the chattering, tweeting and even vitriolic language of some so obsessed with their own narrow objectives goes on and on. One can be forgiven if one thought that the threat was not real.
Not even Holy Week, never mind how we profess to be a “Christian society”, nor Good Friday could halt this curious obsession of ours. Do we really want to return our country to normality and to be rid of the multiple threats to our collective health and well-being occasioned by the pandemic and its economic and social offshoots? It appears that rather than try to be consensual on our way forward, too many of us get trapped in confrontational and divisive approaches. COVID affects us all so why should we not want to work together to combat the threat?.
The arguments started over the wearing of masks in public and social distancing, which necessitated a reduction in numbers allowed on public transport. Now the focus has shifted to vaccines, especially given the controversies in Europe over the Astrazeneca vaccine. This has been seized upon by persons who seem hell-bent on confusion and prefer to ignore the facts, fuelling the impression that the vaccine is unsafe and will not contribute towards combating COVID, so why take it? More than 20 million people in the UK alone have received the vaccine and over 100 million in Latin America and the Caribbean. How many people have reported these side effects? What is the situation here in our own country?
The leadership of local unions which are opposed to government policy on government employees taking the vaccine, or at least to undergo regular testing, must explain how we will combat COVID. One can accept that there has been a loss of trust between government and the leadership of these unions, but that is not what is at stake here, the stakes are far greater and more all-encompassing. We must have a strategy, a common approach to ensure a safe level of community immunity, paving the way to a return to normalcy and economic recovery. How will these objections on personal grounds help us achieve those objectives?
It is one thing to have personal objections and personal preferences, but should these hold sway over the interests of the community at large. Mind you, it is not just a health threat that we face, the pandemic has triggered off very serious economic and social problems as well. God help us if we have a violent volcanic eruption to contend with as well!
We need to generate economic activity to support the needs of our people, including paying salaries of those who place their personal fancies above all else, and we will all have to sacrifice to achieve this objective. We must draw on our experiences in the past. Remember how the constitutional reform debate got derailed and degenerated because we pandered to the same line of individual rights in order to score political points over the government? Even Barbados is this year moving away from the British monarchy while we are still stuck with colonial legacies.
The legendary calypsonian, D Black Stalin, has immortalised the situation facing us all when he made the call, “our country needs us in its darkest hour”. Let us heed this call to duty, put the future of our country and children before all else. Focus on the tasks before us all, they are more important than the individuality which continues to detract us from protecting our nation and providing an environment conducive to progress.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.