Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Caring for society

 There is enormous scope for non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations and private individuals, particularly those in business and the professions, to continue to make the proverbial difference to the negative conditions prevailing in sections of our society.

The tireless good works of all volunteers in service are undoubtedly “a key terrain of strategic action to construct an alternative social order”.

However, it is important to appreciate where those who selflessly offer voluntary assistance to others stand in our Republic at this juncture. We have always been a very small post colonial, uneven, and highly diverse society. Added to that we are now manifesting significant instability and institutional failure, and we are suffering from the negative fall out from political corruption and narco dictation.

We need also to appreciate fully what the negative conditions are and the strength of the undercurrents they produce.  In this regard I can hardly add to what Dr Lennox Bernard, former independent senator and educator, wrote in this newspaper in February of this year before the Dana Seetahal murder woke up some people who were living in a delusion created to justify their good times rolling.

Dr Bernard wrote: “We face negative value frames especially among our youth—low self-esteem, learned helplessness, ambivalent self-regard, hopelessness coupled with anger and rage, impulsivity and lack of empathy—escalating crime and violence, domestic and child abuse, bullying, neglect of the poor and indigent and a general malaise reflecting lack of respect for one another”. Given those negative conditions, we are not dealing merely with poverty, poor living conditions and physical and mental afflictions.

In Jamaica, the Office of the Children’s Advocate, Dr Ganesh Shetty, has reportedly expressed its own concern that “child abuse results in children becoming low achieving, short tempered adults with low self esteem”, who themselves sometimes enter into abusive relationships.

Perhaps our interventions to help the citizens who are disadvantaged by the negative conditions are limited by too narrow a view of what we are up against, timidity in the face of political authority and a lack of co-ordination, sometimes amounting to unhelpful rivalry between those active in seeking to make positive interventions.

In his seminal column entitled The Struggle for Recognition, from which I have quoted above, Dr Bernard emphasised that we need to love the nation’s children.

From my own meanderings in the cultural sector and and other interactions such as those I described in previous columns of mine, like Yetunde’s Theme, it has long been clear to me that there is an urgent need to provide affection and friendship along with material assistance to raise the self-esteem of those to whom we offer caring and it was encouraging to have Dr Bernard set this out so clearly.

Shortly after we met, Yetunde had described the affection gap for me in these words: “Many times we fail to encourage and acknowledge the good in individuals; for many times we only focus on the failures. In the news they mostly show the negative side of youths and the success of the super stars.  

When last have we acknowledged a simple young person for the little they did, even if that was just crossing an old lady across the road?  When last have we told them how much we love them for who they are?  All these things help to develop self-determination in individuals”.

Conditions in the fractured segments of our society are deteriorating so rapidly that there is no longer any time for theoretical discussions about corporate social responsibility and the appropriate boundaries between having and developing individual responsibility and being supported by the care of others.

Whatever voluntary projects are currently operational, reshaped and expanded, voluntary caring may require the following: providing bonds, however slender, of sustainable affection, wider co-operation, examining existing research about our communities, working with evidence based information and recognising that caring is a means of altering behavioural standards.

This column includes the gist of remarks I made last week as a guest speaker at a Rotary installation ceremony where I laid emphasis on the need for a plan for co-operation among business and the professions and those already in the fields in caring for society.

There is support for this in what was reported to be the position of the publisher of the 2013/2014 T&T Corporate Social Responsibility Review, Ms Donna Ramsammy.

The CSR Review is also quoted as warning as follows: “There are social indicators screaming at us.  If we don’t act now we may face a societal implosion from which recovery could prove difficult”.

As I listen to the talk about unleashing the dogs of war against the criminal elements and as the threat of violent confrontation grows, the question arises who will care for the not yet criminalised children in the “war zones” and what is the policy prescription for those children and for those in charge of them?

Have we left it too late?