February 28, 2014

It takes more than prayer

Reverend Drexel Gomez, retired Anglican Archbishop of the West Indies, argues that “Prayers alone cannot solve the economic and social problems of the Caribbean.” (I am assuming that social is used in its broadest sense to capture the many ills in our society). He made reference to rampant crime amidst the massive debts, as Caribbean countries live beyond their means. He called for leaders who “can be innovative in dealing not only with a crisis, but innovative in the sense of being able to utilise what we have and find ways of adding to what is possible.{{more}}” His hope is that the Almighty provide them with the “intestinal fortitude” to move forward. This is a comment to which we need to pay particular attention, but it is only one side of the story. Vincentian Gospel singer Bridget Blucher hints at the other side and says it best for me when she suggests that Vincentians need to “turn on the searchlight on their own lives.” Very appropriate comments and timely, perhaps!

This matter of examining ourselves, reflecting on who we are, what we do and how we function is one which has been a focus for me. In identifying some of the many problems facing our society, we need to look at ourselves not only for causes, but also for solutions. My concern for a long time has been with our political culture. A lot has changed for us, not necessarily for the better, but we have come to accept them as if there is no other way; as if we are captured in some sort of time slot. We obviously do not reflect as much as we should do and we lack critical thinking skills. In fact, ironically, the persons best equipped with critical thinking skills are not the ones in the society that are most educated, but the ordinary man and woman. This is at a time when our education system is supposed to be highlighting critical thinking. For we live in an era of unprecedented change with the emergence of challenges that we never read about in our school texts. So, one has to be equipped with the skills to handle challenges that are either new or are emerging in a different milieu.

In recent newspaper columns, I have tried to focus on aspects of our culture which we have grown to accept and to expect. I have attempted to use creative ways to capture these issues. In one issue I dreamt that I was Prime Minister for a day. In another I was a former Prime Minister coming to grips with myself. Another was about a young woman experiencing the political culture first-hand. Interestingly, these were not to point to anyone in particular, for although I have used the term Prime Minister, it really applies to politicians generally. As is to be expected, some readers have identified in their own minds individuals whom the cap seems to fit. If it takes that to force some of us to reflect on what is happening around us, then I am quite pleased.

Some of these matters are not new, but what is alarming is that we are beginning to accept them as things over which we have no control, but which we have to accept because that’s just the way things are. In last week’s edition of The Vincentian, ‘Man About Town’ asks: “Does anyone but me feel uncomfortable that the Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit has declared himself a likely candidate in the next general election?” This rhetorical question is a serious one. I have heard no other expression of alarm or concern about this. Isn’t there a conflict of interest here? Isn’t it a moral issue? It is one thing to argue for the rights of public servants as Vincentian citizens to participate in the political process, even as far as contesting elections, but aren’t there some sensitive positions that would make a mockery of things, since the individual is likely to find himself in a compromising position? Shouldn’t persons occupying those positions do the right thing and resign before declaring publicly that they are going to take that step? If readers see nothing wrong with this, then something is obviously wrong with me and with ‘Man About Town’. This is reason again for me to find a Shrink, I will think.

We have, indeed, become sick persons! In last week’s issue of the Searchlight newspaper, a story was carried about Charmaine Bailey, a young lady who in 1994 lost an eye through election violence. I would have thought that regardless of where you stand in the political arena, you would see this as something that had or has to be stamped out and condemned and to sympathise with the young lady; but I was told that she got calls indicating that she deserved it. How can we have joy in the ill-fortunes of others arising in such circumstances? Couldn’t similar ill-fortune befall those who are glorying in the matter?

In times like these I go back to Martin Niemöller:

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a socialist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.