Respect, tolerance and diversity

Friday, February 28, 2014    

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JUST over a fortnight ago, I was assigned to do a broadcast from the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) to disseminate information about 'Respect and Tolerance'. A campaign has been initiated across all UTech campuses "to raise the visibility of issues related to respect, tolerance and diversity among university students and faculty, as well as the wider Jamaican society".

This arose from an incident some time ago involving a male student who was physically abused by security guards on the campus, following allegations of improper behaviour. In an age of instant communication, the incident was seen on TV by the nation, as it happened, because film footage went viral even as the guards and a crowd, which had assembled, went to work on battering the young man. That's how it is these days. You can see things happening before they even happen. The incident became a big 'chat-bout', not so much about what the mob did, but what the student was alleged to have done. He was quickly tried and condemned in the court of public opinion.

Were it not for some — a relatively few — onlookers who were horrified at the abuse in which students of a university participated so freely, the incident might have remained just a campus matter. What has happened since to the victim and whatever hopes he had for a career is not known. It is hardly likely that anyone cares. Somewhere, someone is saying, "Why are we wasting time even giving him a thought now? He got what he deserved."

UTech hasn't written off the incident and other acts of violence from the past. It is using them to teach another kind of message. There is now to be emphasis on the campus community being encouraged to move away from some of the ways of the past. The programme's objectives are to "improve attitudes, integrate core values and build awareness".

On the day that I visited the campus, it was Valentine's Day. Peace and love reigned, but beyond that, how is the community dealing with the call for true tolerance? The H-word was never used in our interaction mainly with campus officials and the students who wrote prize-winning essays in defence of tolerance.

UTech is the first of our educational institutions, as far as I know, calling on its community to accept others as they are. There was no call for anyone to convert to anything which is against their beliefs. Tolerance means live and let live. Isn't that what adult education should be about; a mature attitude, not just about passing exams, but respect for others, even when you do not agree

with them.

ELSEWHERE in the society, the debate on family size has not disappeared. It continues to survive like a stubborn weed. The issue of how many children should be in one family inevitably creeps towards disrespect for women. This is reflected in public talk and the letters to the opinion pages of our newspapers, inveighing against "those women who breed in large numbers". There is never a word of condemnation about the men who are the other half of the "breeding conspiracy".

They speaking of women — especially those at the lower end of the social scale — like stray animals foraging in garbage cans or cohabiting with some other stray animal to increase her "breed". This is nothing short of disrespect. If all of this time we haven't learned to have higher regard for ourselves — women and men alike — we shouldn't be surprised that we're producing a new generation of young men who have no respect for their female relatives who are too often subjected to violence.

Bartlett's blast

I'm still awaiting Member of Parliament Ed Bartlett's explanation of what he meant by his description of the work of the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation as "fire station" and "Nanny government". I know colourful language is the fashion for Parliament, but what is the substance?

As one who was given the privilege to serve voluntarily on the Centre's board some time ago, I take pride in the work which has been done there, across the island, for over three decades. I knew of no politics in the Centre's programmes during my tenure.

Everyone served willingly and unselfishly to carry out the mandate of the organisation to provide a new start for young women who missed their way and needed a chance for redemption. There were never enough resources, but the Foundation never gave up. If there is a problem or challenge now, then let's go to work at assisting the organisation in whatever way possible, instead of "tekking dem mek poppyshow".

The irony, from what I've heard, is that the Foundation didn't even have a chance to defend itself in the House of Representatives before it was sneered at. Word is that they will have the opportunity to give their side of the story when the House resumes discussion on it in March. For now, they've been made to look 'fool-fool'. They don't deserve it. Maybe by March the Women's Centre will not only tell its side of the story but get an explanation of the "fire-station" and "Nanny-government" references. This is not a comedy hour,

Mr Minister.

No, Mr Scammer

I'm still thinking on my encounter with a scammer. He called from 'Merica. He knew my name. His story: Someone had died. Urgent cash was needed to start the burial arrangements. He wanted me to supply the "start-up" money which he would repay when he got here. He gave the name and address of a man in St Ann who would collect my contribution as soon as I sent it. He translated US dollars into Jamaican. With the day's exchange rate, it sounded very impressive. He was specific which "cash shop" I should use to transmit it. It dawned on me that I didn't know the man, although he was calling me "Auntie Babs". I came to my senses and hung up. Sorry guy, not me. Not today. Not any day. No give-away of money here. Scammers need not apply.

What struck me is how trusting we are. How many other persons would have obliged my unknown "nephew's" request? Imagine handing over our money to someone whose identity we are not even sure of. Must be the stupidest thing one could do. The ease with which the guy carried on the conversation proved that he was quite experienced in the game. "A fool and his money are soon parted". It's full time we talk about it, sound the alarm, save ourselves. Seniors, especially, are often targeted, from what I hear.





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