Lambert Brown's dangerous gaffeWednesday, May 05, 2021
OVER several decades, Senator Lambert Brown has dedicated his life to public service, mainly as a trade unionist and latterly as a People's National Party (PNP) senator. One admires his dedication to public service and, while one might have had disagreement with him over the years, his tenacious commitment to life as a public servant cannot be denied.
Recently, in the nation's Senate, he made a remark which clearly indicated that he would support vigilante justice in the event of any physical abuse being visited upon any of his female family members. He has since withdrawn the statement, emphasising that the remarks were his own opinion and not that of the party he represents or anyone else.
It is good that he has withdrawn the statement, but one can assume that he still holds the opinion. As a lawmaker, his remarks cannot be easily excused. It is not only a nonsensical statement, but a dangerous one. Brown should know that Jamaica is a violent society and that any statement that even remotely supports vigilante justice or mob rule is bound to reinforce the narrative which is held by too many that jungle justice is an appropriate remedy for disputes.
Most dangerously, it gives succour to the hitman culture that you can ignore the rule of law, take matters into your own hands, and snuff out the life of anyone with whom you disagree, even for the biblical mess of pottage. Ultimately, such intemperate views violate the rule of law, which, as one who sits in the Senate as a legislator, Brown must do everything in his power to defend at all times.
I find it disconcerting, if not disingenuous, when public servants make intemperate and dangerous remarks and then try to cover them under the cloak of a personal opinion. People are viewed through the prism of the professional presence they represent in society. If they hold important offices, such as a senator, the burden on them is heavier to weigh carefully what they are going to say before they utter it.
Words have meaning and consequences for people. I wonder how many people who heard Brown were convinced of his opinion, and who might not have heard his retraction of it. Worse, how many might have been emboldened to act on his words since he uttered it. After all, he is a big man in the people's Parliament, and for some people that has to count for something. Also, for them, he said nothing wrong for which he should be berated. The fact that Brown could not see the error of his ways and offer an immediate retraction in the Senate does not help. I am not sure I heard a robust condemnation of the statement by his Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle when he uttered the statement.
It is not always easy to separate a private opinion from a deeply held belief which may have issue in the formulation of public policy or law. If the pope should say that God is a racist, he would be hard put to characterise this as a mere private opinion. He may really believe this, but he would be advised to think carefully before uttering it, given the possible ramifications of it in the Catholic Church and the rest of Christendom. Many may agree with him and many may not. But would it be wise to say it?
Private opinions are just that, private. If you want to make a public show of them then be willing to accept the consequences that may flow from this. And this does not mean being a coward or having the right or freedom to express your opinions as you feel. Such expressions must be grounded in wisdom.
On another not-too-unrelated matter, Minister of Education Fayval Williams, in her sectoral budget presentation, has indicated that the ministry will soon be including character education in the curriculum for public schools. I applaud this move — which should have come long ago, even before former Prime Minister P J Patterson launched his values and attitudes campaign. But, as they say, better late than never. The contours of this curriculum are yet to be worked out, but whatever is done must have a strong practical component, and not just a theoretical framework.
I suspect that the teacher-training curriculum in our teachers' colleges will be upgraded to accommodate this initiative. I remember back in the day teaching a course at the Church Teachers' College on the foundations of moral development. It was intended to expose teachers to the practical necessities of moral decision-making, character-building and orientation. Many years later I wonder what has become of this course. Now we are considering character education for our children. It can only do good in the framing of young minds for the building of strong, moral foundations which will impact their lives as adults.
But it will not be an easy task in a society that is a petri dish for all kinds of debased and immoral behaviour. The minister has good and noble intentions and this column wishes her and her ministry well in this pursuit.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books: Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life . Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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