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Why we have a long way to go

Why we have a long way to go

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Greetings for the New Year! Let’s hope that this one brings lots of peace and many, many blessings to your days.

One thing I am hoping for, have been hoping for, not for me personally, but for us as a people, is a bit more empathy. In particular, I wish for my people to be a bit more compassionate where the most vulnerable members of our society are concerned.

The issue of empathy has always been a concern of mine. I am baffled at how easily folks are quick to condemn, ridicule, or dismiss a person or people whose experiences might not be their own, or whose realities might not line up with what they think is ‘normal’. The reaction is often a testament to where we are as a people, i.e. our emotional awareness and maturity.

Recent events on the ground, and on social media, have brought these thoughts, once more, to mind. A young lady was sent, by the court, for mental health assessment and a lot of folks had much to say. I am less interested in the veracity (or lack thereof) of the claims against her or by her, than I am in how our folks reacted to her.

What some saw as a cry for help, others largely saw as an opportunity to mock and disparage. Alarmingly, the label of mentally unstable was readily attached by various well-trained observers and with that the young lady was dismissed. What will follow, as is usually the case when someone is labelled as mentally unstable in our parts, is the silencing: the locking away in the proverbial attic, and the removal from society, where she can no longer upset the public with her utterances, or force us to confront certain truths about ourselves.

Caribbean women (Olive Senior, Erna Brodber, Zee Edgell) have written about such things for decades, where vulnerable members of society (whether it be because of class, race, age, gender) are shunned or mistreated by a populace willfully ignorant to the harm it has caused. What is ironic, in our case, is that many of us previously expressed solidarity with the #metoo movement, but it is clear that we are somehow blinkered when similar incidents occur close to home. Could it be that we can only do empathy from afar? What does it mean for us?

In the grand scheme of things, we are a young nation. We have a long way to go where being empathetic is concerned. It could all start by asking the question “what if it were me?” Imagine what it would be like to have your credibility, intelligence, or even your right to exist questioned. I’ll wait. It isn’t a pleasant thought, is it?

It should not be too difficult for us; our genetic/ancestral memories of being in the bellies of slavers should be very useful in that regard. We have survived having our voices taken from us for centuries, something that many would argue still happens today; so, empathizing with another who may well be experiencing a localized/particular version of that type of experience shouldn’t be so hard.

The recent events may well have been a reminder. I hope that we do not totally miss the lesson.

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