In times like these we really need each other

In times like these we really need each other

Raulston Nembhard

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

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In about a month we would have ended the last year of the second decade of the 21st century. Even the most brilliant mind could not have perceived that it would be ending like this with a pandemic threatening life as we have come to know it, and upending the livelihood of people across the entire planet.

The initial fear of the virus forced the lockdown of national economies to the extent that there is no clear path to when the world will ever return to the buoyancy of the pre-COVID-19 years. Like BC and AD, we may well be looking to a realignment of our dating system in terms of pre-COVID-19 (PC?) and post-COVID-19 (POC?) realities. Just ruminating.

What is clear is that our lives have been changed for good. We have begun to see this in stark ways, such as in how we educate our kids and in the new work-at-home technological realities. What has become abundantly clear to me is that now, more than ever before, we really need each other as we navigate what may be treacherous currents ahead.

The best forecasts of prognosticators fall short and we would be best advised to be humble as to how we may predict the future. In this respect it would be wise to heed words that were attributed to the late American historian and social critic Arthur Schlesinger, that the future outwits all our certitudes.

Humble acknowledgement of our need for each other starts first with the pandemic. If there is ever an event that shows the extent of our dependency upon each other for survival, the novel coronavirus pandemic is it.

As I have said repeatedly in this column, my welfare is bound up in yours in a smuch as yours is in mine. This is the veracity of the social compact that governs all decent and civil societies. It speaks to who we are as human beings.

This is why it is important that collective responsibility in ensuring that the virus is put to rest becomes more than a slogan. The wearing of masks to prevent viral spread comes readily to mind. The more personal responsibility we bring to the virus is the quicker we can bring it under control, effective vaccines notwithstanding.

This is why US President-elect Joe Biden characterises the wearing of masks as a patriotic duty. I will go further to say it is a humanitarian duty contingent upon our status as social beings.

We must gear ourselves for the grievous mental health implications of this pandemic. We are already experiencing the emerging contours of the threat it poses to mental health. My own thinking is that we are looking at the tip of an iceberg and there is worse to come. We were not meant to be socially isolated to the extent that we are under this pandemic. Prolonged isolation breaks the bonds of social interaction that are essential for optimal mental health functioning.

This is particularly important for children. When I talk to my seven-year-old grandson this is what is uppermost in my mind. I know he is getting the best care that his parents can provide, but I am always concerned about his mental health not being able to meet his friends and to touch people. Touch is an important source of solace, not to mention a hug of affirmation from another human being.

It was just recently that it came home forcibly to me that since March I have not touched or hugged another human being except my wife, and one fleeting moment when I met a church member in the supermarket and we did a quick elbow greet. I can handle this isolation as I am fully conscious of what I am dealing with. But I realise that there are more fragile individuals who may be just one step away from indulging life-threatening habits in order to cope. Rising addiction levels have become a serious concern since the pandemic struck.

Work-from-home technology and remote learning tools may be the balm in Gilead for these troubled times, and we must be grateful for them. But what I worry about is that we may grow to see them as ends in themselves and lose that sense of what truly makes us human. The worst aspect of this is that we can become so tethered to these devices, including an array of Internet gaming tools, that we lose perspective of what is truly human and become mere automatons ourselves. We pray for an early effective vaccine which may be the only antidote to this kind of thing spiralling out of control.

Second, we need each other to end the murderous violence that has once again reared its ugly head in the society. Like everybody else, violence producers were dampened by the fear of COVID-19 when it struck in February. But now that people have become more complacent and relaxed, there is a more cavalier attitude toward the virus. The dog-hearted criminals among us have only interpreted this a time to return to their death-dealing ways. The Government and the security forces have been appalled, as have the rest of us, at the gruesome murders that are taking place in the society. Perhaps a partial explanation for this is the binge that follows temporary withdrawal from a behaviour that gives one pleasure.

But here is another sinister aspect to it as was highlighted by Minister of National Security Horace Chang when he spoke to the rise of contract killing becoming an industry. This should frighten the bejesus out of all of us. It means that killers will continue to kill with impunity, and anyone can be “ordered” killed. There are enough “shotters” in the society who will not think twice to snuff out the life of someone even if they are not being paid handsomely for it. Importantly, to the extent that Chang is right, this is a rejection of the rule of law by those who are prepared to hire these goons to do their work. As is becoming too apparent, there are people who will seek to settle their disputes by this methodology, instead of through what they may consider the time-wasting route of the courts.

We should all be worried about this, which, frankly, is not a new phenomenon, but is gaining currency. Minister Chang has spoken of reorganising the capacity of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), modernising the legislative framework, and mainstreaming social intervention methods as priorities to “secure Jamaica” at this critical time. I do not know where better intelligence-gathering belongs in this three-legged stool, but I would suggest that this must be a critical area that needs to be overhauled and modernised. This is where ordinary citizens can be helpful, along with much-needed help from international partners.

The taming of rampant criminality cannot be left to the Government and security forces alone. We are all in this together. Government must seek a greater national resolve in fighting crime. Returning to the use of draconian methods will not work in the context of today's savvy and technology-capable criminal. But critical information for the populace about the movements of gangs and violence producers can be instrumental in the long term to effectively tame the monster. In times like these we really need each other.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the book WEEP: Why President Donald J. Trump Does Not Deserve A Second Term . Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or stead6655@aol.com.


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