A GUY'S VIEW
“In times of plenty we must be grateful
In times of sorrow we must be strong
In times of joy we must be thankful
Because life really (has) its ups and its downs
In times of disaster we must be ready
To get together and move racism out the way
And if you listen to this watchword from your lover, Black Stalin
Tomorrow would be a better day.”
Black Stalin – In Times
Every so often one has the opportunity to pause and focus on something more important than work or play. In an era of materialism, some may scarcely reflect on anything beyond money.
Greed may drive the person with more than enough to reach for even more, but there are those who focus on money out of share necessity. Need rather than greed, has its own driver. Except one is coming from a place of faith, the needy may be forgiven for being bread-focused. To borrow another line from Black Stalin, sufferers only want to know where the next food coming from.
Unfortunately, we too often judge people because of their circumstances rather than their character. Circumstances may change with one stroke of luck or bad luck, but neither of those realities say anything about the essential quality of a person.
We attach value to people based on their race, gender, religion, nationality, their occupation, their wealth, how they speak, and a host of other things that are really of no essential consequence. In our current silly environment, even political persuasion may be a means of judgement.
In a number of Caribbean countries, the idea of many people, one country is promoted. Yet, the divisions and tensions in many of these countries have not abated. The logical explanation may be the fact that each group continues to maintain certain ideas which prevent them from bridging the gaps between them and others.
In some of our countries, the people who were originally here have been completely wiped out with no trace to be found. In some others, there is barely a trace. And in still others, there are small settlements remaining. In every case, these people have found a place at the bottom of the societies in which they now live.
I recently saw a cultural presentation which traced the development of one of our neighbouring countries. The most obvious take away from that was the obvious beauty that shone in every group. Different does not necessarily mean more than nor less than or better or worse.
Somebody said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Put differently, it is simply our judgement which informs our idea of what is good or bad, right or wrong. Ignorance, however, is not a case of choice. The ignorant is truly ignorant. However, pretending not to see the plight of others is not ignorance. Willful blindness is only feigned ignorance.
The blinkers of judgement prevents us from seeing the potential in people and circumstances. When we do not value people, we close our minds to their ideas and lose the benefit of their contribution. One popular example takes us back to the time when women were barred from participating in decisions, on the sole basis of their gender. In such societies, half of the potential of the population was lost.
This should not be taken as my endorsement of the view that women should be promoted because they are women. That would be as disastrous as keeping them out because they are women. If decisions are made based on ability as well as other genuine measures of suitability, depending on what is needed in a particular situation, the society benefits most.
It was only this year that the movie Hidden Figures revealed to the world the pivotal role which three black women played in the success of America’s space programme. According to the movie and the book on which it was based, even when these women were recruited, they had to work in segregated circumstances. They were kept apart from the facility’s white population, working from an area called West Area Computing. But, as has become the norm, even while drawing on these and other black person’s talents, acknowledgement was withheld. While their talents were valuable, they were not.
Over the past few years, Barbados has been facing economic challenges. This is nothing new. Our model of development makes us dependent on other people, hence, it is inevitable that when those on whom we depend falter, so will we. This is a conscious decision, so there is nothing about it that should surprise us. But we can judge its correctness.
All indicators suggest that we have no intention of changing this, so we tinker with the fringe issues that we think we control and apply plasters to stop the leakage when problems arise. Not surprisingly, we go around in circles, with the occasional slip backwards.
When we sit down to pay particular attention to solutions, we invite the same traditional people to the table. One is left to ponder whether we merely observe form or are really interested in finding solutions to our problems.
This circular behaviour is acceptable only because we do not value the input of those who do not fit the description of those who usually sit at the table of decision. When we discard the ideas of the majority of our people, we reduce our treasure of ideas to merely a fraction of the potential that should be available to us. Although not everyone can come to the literal table, there are ways to solicit wider and novel views.
What is logical in this situation? It could be that it makes sense to turn to those who have been engaged in an activity for generations to seek guidance on how to improve the area of their activity. On the other hand, that same rationale could represent the epitome of irrationalism, simply because if they had the solution we would not have the problem.
Although one would hope that it is obvious, out of abundance of caution let me state that nothing said here is intended to suggest that we should embrace all things and all people. There are some things that will appeal to certain individuals which are simply bad and wrong. Further, during the course of one’s life, one will encounter many toxic people. Some will smile in your face and hug you only to be able to reach your back to plunge a knife into it. If you do not judge in those situations, you will die. The need for discernment in these personal cases, however, does not speak to the value judgements that reinforce our class divisions and rob us of the best that may be available to us. As a small society, we cannot afford to discard or ignore any of our assets.
When we judge, we divide. What brings progress is collaboration. We have to find ways to collaborate better.