“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
I often wondered why our people are able to ‘put down a wine’ at
Carnival but unable to hug or hold hands in public as if the wound goes
too deep for that, why many find it almost impossible to say ‘please’,
‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’, as if they are admissions of humiliation rather
than expressions of civility and warmth.
I wondered at surly service in banks and
restaurants, about the 47-year-old female security guard, the latest
statistic mowed down by a speeding, careless driver. I wondered at the
source of road rage.
I have it too, and was appalled to find
myself recently in deadlock with an older woman on a narrow street. We
were both seething until I gave in. She ‘won’, but I think, maybe I did.
I was less angry.
I think I know why we are turning into a
taciturn, raging, distracted people, why we find it hard simply to be
The murder toll as of December 14 was 466.
That’s up to two murders a day—among the highest globally.
The truth is we are a grieving country.
Fearful (see how we call, text our loved ones on the road, our relief
when they are home, safe, reminding us of our anxiety while they are out
We are raging, impotent and frustrated at
successive governments’ failure to protect us.
The flip side: the mothers of perpetrators
either visit graves to see their gunned down boys or visit their
incarcerated sons locked up for 23 hours a day for a lifetime. They weep
silently for the living and dead.
Their sons have succumbed as easy prey to
drug lords, poverty, illiteracy and neglect, and objects of loathing by
our crime-ravaged society. Governments have failed them, too.
For each of these murderous boys, no
matter how heinous their crime, there are grieving mothers, fathers,
wives, girlfriends, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, friends,
communities, just as there are for victims of crime. Our lives are not
worth more than theirs. We have one thing in common on both sides of the
wall—they are railing, worrying, weeping and loathing the enemy as much
as ‘good citizens’.
The thing is, the enemy is
institutionalised, systemic neglect of every institution and
infrastructure—from health (we are the among the fattest worldwide with
attendant chronic diseases—diabetes, heart disease, hypertension; and
education (one in four of us is functionally illiterate to delayed
justice—(staggering backlog of cases, innocent men in remand for years);
to crumbling infrastructure; to impossible traffic; to plummeting
The frustration is amplified by the fall
in oil prices, the contracting economy, the thousands laid off on both
sides of the wall, from cleaners to executives, from Cepep to the
buckling private and public sectors.
We are, each of us, fighting hard battles,
simply to survive. To give in is suicide, a fatalism that could fell us
like neighbouring Venezuela.
We must develop agency as a people to demand good governance, knowing
nobody is listening.
Resilience is necessary to survival. I
came across an old Harvard Review article that examined resilience by
looking at the qualities of the healthy survivors at Auschwitz at
Hitler’s concentration camps.
They include a shield comprising humour
(we have this); the ability to form attachments to others and,
crucially, ‘the possession of an inner psychological space that
protected the survivors from the intrusions of abusive others’.
It could be that this recession by denying
us the ability to cover up grief with money, could unmask what we have
always wanted: to love and be loved; to uncover lost joy without
electronics, with a book; tell stories to our children or talk to the
people in our lives, really talk; marvel at our lush, ever-changing
landscape of ocean, sky and foliage; to give the needy the ultimate gift
of time; to allow this Christmas to shift us from despair to hope and
agency to fight for our drowning country.