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Time to grow up

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Fri, Oct 22, 2010

Editor: It is not often that I am prompted to put pen to paper for publication in our newspapers. However, I feel compelled to do so at this time because of the extreme partisanship that permeates the political atmosphere in St. Vincent and the Grenadines at this time.{{more}}

I have been a lawyer for the past 14 years and for many, the automatic assumption would be that I am political in one sense or the other, since there is probably no other single profession that has been as transitional a vocation into the realm of politics as the legal profession. That said, politics has been a part of my life from the 1984 general elections when I was an 11-year old Girls’ High School student until the age of 28, several years after I had qualified as a lawyer. Yet I have managed to stay off the political platform and to resist all efforts by friends and acquaintances to draw me into political discourse. That was my choice. There was never a need to say it to those who mattered most; they instinctively knew it, understood it, respected and accepted it without question.

Nonetheless, I have decided to speak out about an unfortunate trend I have noticed on radio and in person; a trend, exhibited by both sides, of intolerance for opposing views and comments. Too often, callers who express opinions contrary to those espoused by the radio talk show hosts are met with derision, ridicule and even abuse. Their contributions are usually denounced as rubbish and the call is then unceremoniously disconnected. I am not here referring to the nuisance calls, the ignorant utterances of the small-minded intent on disrupting the radio program and who are deservedly cut off at the outset. I speak of the worthwhile contributions of those with a different opinion. One would think that each political side would grasp the opportunity to convince those callers of its point of view and thereby win additional votes for its party. However, there seems to be a contentment to preach to the converted only and to discount or silence the rest, but this ignores the possibility that ‘the rest’ just might be the difference between winning and losing an election.

That said, winning cannot be the be all and end all. Beyond the ballot box, facilitating healthy debate among individuals can bridge the divide within the community and throughout the nation as a whole. The impact on the population as a whole might have greater long term benefits in increasing understanding of the issues at hand, broadening our thinking and creating a more open-minded, mature voting population; a population that will not be afraid to criticize a government or opposition that it feels is losing its way, irrespective of political leaning. By the same token, that same population will in time produce more politicians willing to listen to an opposing view, heed constructive criticism and respect the right of every citizen to have an opinion. After all, where would we be if we all had the same ideas and agreed on everything?

A mature voting population not only means a voting population that is willing to listen to opposing views and ideas, but one that will also be independent in its thinking. In our little island, it is often taken for granted that if your parents are affiliated with a particular political party or have always voted in one way or the other you would automatically follow suit. That said, it is not uncommon for all members of a household to vote in the same way. However, one should not do so out of a misguided sense of loyalty or because it is expected, but rather come to an objective decision after careful consideration of the issues and the candidates in question. For the many in this position who will be voting for the first time, filter out the fluff, the political banter, the name-calling, the insults and the faux pas and concentrate on what really matters…where is St. Vincent and the Grenadines right now with respect to the economy, education, social services, health care, infrastructure, sports, culture and the youth; where do we want to go from here and who has the best plans to help us get there…then decide how you are going to cast your vote.

We are about to celebrate our 31st anniversary of Independence. It is time enough for us to grow up: time to stop making fun of the physical appearance of opponents; time to stop bringing a politician’s family members into the mix (they are not fair game); time to end the public exposure of the personal lives of ordinary citizens for political mileage or public humiliation; time to stop criticizing for the sake of criticizing; time to respect each other’s opinion and to acknowledge that as a free and democratic society, we are each entitled to have our own opinion.

Zhinga Horne Edwards

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