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Respecting difference, promoting understanding



In her message to mark Commonwealth Day, Monday 12th March, Her Majesty the Queen stressed the need for mutual respect and understanding in the Commonwealth.

Her speech came amidst claims of racism against Commonwealth soldiers in the British military over the past week (see story on page 28). Queen Elizabeth, the head of the Commonwealth, called for diversity to be viewed as a source for celebration rather than conflict.{{more}}

The Queen’s message was based on this year’s theme for Commonwealth Day which is “Respecting Difference, Promoting Understanding”.

How apt not only for the Commonwealth, but for our tiny nation state, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. During this month of March, we not only celebrated Commonwealth Day, but also International Women’s Day on March 8, and of course our own National Heroes Day this past Wednesday, March 14.

How different things would be if we only paid a little more attention to respecting differences and trying to understand each other. When we consider the way in which partisan political tensions threaten to tear us apart; the way lies and half-truths are used to score points, much of the discord could be mitigated if we have a little more respect for each other and accept that in the very same way we hold our opinions and beliefs dear, so too does the next person. Why do we think the other person’s opinion was arrived at because he is “singing for his supper” or because he is “dotish”? Why can’t we disagree and still be respectful?

A full 32 years after International Women’s Year in 1975 when Helen Ready’s anthem “I am woman” inspired millions of girls and women to throw off externally and internally imposed shackles and strive towards goals previously unimagined, the lines in that song that say “I’m still an embryo, with a long, long way to go, until I make my brother understand,” are still relevant.

Despite the remarkable achievements of women all over the world, too many still live in fear and subjugation in their homes and communities. Many times the violence directed at women is as a direct result of emotional ideas about what women can and should do, even when the man’s intellect tells him otherwise.

Even among the visible few who are singled out as examples of how far women have come, many will never attain the very top positions in the boardrooms or cabinets of the world. Several reasons can be suggested as to why this is so, but one which must be considered is that in many cases, women leaders are still regarded with skepticism by both men and women who question their “leadership style” because it is different from that of the average male leader. Rather than respecting that women and men are different and as such will act differently and take different approaches to problem solving, some women leaders are not given a chance to prove their worth by the male power brokers who still hold the real power in the world.

The colonialists did not respect or understand Chatoyer’s sovereignty over this land, nor did they want to. Even we as Vincentians, for a long time, denied the role played by the Callinagoes and Garifuna in shaping this nation. The introduction of National Heroes Day and the abolition of Discovery Day as a public holiday have only come about because gradually over the years, we have come to a greater understanding of our own history. True understanding will only come when we seek out the views of others and listen, really listen as they tell their tale. We must start from a position of basic respect for the other person’s viewpoint. Having a closed mind and only being willing to dialogue with those who share our views cannot benefit either the individual or the nation.

Let us use our differences to the benefit of our community. Let us build on each other’s strengths while striving always to be fair and respectful of each others individuality.