A long walk to a moral revolution

Henry J
Lewis

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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I am concerned about the progressive disintegration, tribalisation and continued fragmentation of the Jamaican society. Some will argue that it is the legacy of slavery and our political history which haunt us today. It appears to some that there are no alternatives; you either beat them or join them. But how do we liberate ourselves from the belief that there are no alternatives to the corrupt, dishonest, and immoral values under the weight of which the Jamaican society is collapsing?

What on Earth are our children learning from this culture we call the Jamaican culture? Are we planting enough seeds of fairness, respect, cultural consciousness, love for God and humanity, spiritual sensitivity, and a proper sense of society? Reasonings at school, at home, and on the corner must foster among the youth self-awareness, confidence, an understanding of the world around them, as well as spiritual and moral questions and issues. Our children and youth must develop a set of values, principles and beliefs to inform their perspective on life and their behaviour. They must be able to, through introspection and critical thinking, defend their beliefs, challenge unfairness and all that would constrain their personal growth. They should be able to detect that the political culture and the social order that exist today in Jamaica do not put a great deal of value on them as decent human beings with a purpose. The poor boy down the lane must reject the poverty of aspiration, aggression, greed, injustice, the narrowness of vision and all forms of discrimination.

South African Poet Mongane Wally Seroter remarked: “There is an intense need for self-expression among the oppressed in our country. When I say self-expression, I don't mean people are saying something about themselves. I mean people making history consciously...We neglect the creativity that has made the people able to survive extreme exploitation and oppression. People have survived extreme racism. It means our people have been creative about their lives.”

Since we cannot bend the already grown trees we must ensure that our children (small plants) and youth have this kind of self-expression espoused by Seroter. They must know that they can make history consciously through hard work and honesty and have the faith to believe that anything can be achieved if they put their minds and hearts to it.

For many years I have been inspired by my favourite motivational speaker Les Brown. There is a maxim I could recite every day and every night. It goes like this:

“If you want a thing bad enough to go out and fight for it, to work day and night for it, to give up your time, your peace and sleep for it… If all that you dream and scheme is about it…and life seems useless and worthless without it… if you gladly sweat for it, and fret for it, and plan for it, and lose all your terror of the opposition for it…If you simply go after that thing that you want with all your capacity, strength and sagacity, faith, hope, and confidence, and stern pertinacity…If neither cold, poverty, famine, nor gout, sickness nor pain of body and brain can keep you away from the thing that you want…If dogged and grim you beseech and beset it, with the help of God, you will get it!”

How did we get here?

How did we get to the place where we 'otherise' other people? This 'otherising' or cultural alterity is destroying the very fabric of the society. We bypass the humanity of the 'other' and see just flesh, for example: If you express a different opinion from another person you could be dehumanised in the most undignified way.

I once expressed a view in this same space about the proposed national identification system only to receive a harsh rebuke in my e-mail from someone with a different opinion. His tone was so harsh that I felt as though if I were standing in front of him he would have slapped me in the face while saying, “Wah kinda fool fool article dat?” To him, I was just the 'other' fool. This was his closing paragraph: “I will agree with one thing and one thing only in this perplexing piece you've written, of which I will quote, “What is needed is a comprehensive education programme.”

And, you, Sir, should avail yourself of that programme as soon as it comes online. As the American kids would say, “You bugging out.”

It didn't surprise me that someone who disagreed with me acted as though I had killed his mother (I didn't even mention his mother). It is the 'otherising' of the other as mere property, flesh, and just opposites or enemy that still baffles me. You may be wondering whether I responded. I did. No! I did not 'let him have it'. I simply said: “Dear Sir, Thank you for your feedback. This is what discussion, debate and dialogue are all about. It should never be personal. Thank you for taking the time to send the e-mail.”I am not sure what happened overnight, but surprisingly he responded with these words in his opening paragraph: “I didn't mean to be so harsh, my friend, but this is big — and it gives me hope for Jamaica, and we all must get on board and enlighten the uninformed amongst us.”

And he ended by saying, “We, the people, can transform Jamaica from poverty, despair, hopelessness, murder, and mayhem to peace, tranquillity, stability, and prosperity. But we need intellectuals like yourself to be on board. There is a lot of ignorance out there. Peace and love.”

Couldn't agree with him more. I must confess, though, I gained a tremendous amount of respect for him because it takes a 'real big man' to withdraw his venom for a more conciliatory tone. I was transplanted from the book for 'others' to the 'fren' book.

How did we get to the place where contract killings “a nuh nothing”, where you can just pay $250,000 to $500,000 and have the 'other' subject killed like an annoying fly with a zapper? How did we get to the place where scamming has become a way of life for some, even though it is illegal? How did we get to the place where a man kills six people, including children, then puts up a strong defence in court to save himself from paying for his crime?

A lost sense of conscience

We have lost our social and spiritual conscience; that inner sense of what is right or wrong in one's conduct or motives impelling one toward right action. It is that complex ethical-moral principle that controls or inhibits the actions or thoughts. The conscience cannot be cordoned off with yellow tape or declared to be in a state of emergency; it cannot be policed with men in uniform or arrested.

I agree with Rev Astor Carlyle and others who have echoed the need for a moral revolution; however, we must go further and begin the long walk to this place of moral revolution. It would not happen by writing articles and preaching sermons at prayer breakfasts, it will take real big men and women to step out and make it happen. It will be a long walk to achieve this moral revolution. However, it is a walk worth taking. It is one that will require courage and tenacity, and on the journey, we must say, like Nelson Mandela:

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that, after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

You and I know how Mandela's walk ended. Let's take our walk. Who will take the first step? Count me in!

Henry J Lewis is a lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica, School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Send comments to the Observer or hjlewis@utech.edu.jm.

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