By *Jomo Thomas
(Plain Talk, March 5, 2019)
I am sitting at my desk at the Malmaison Hotel in Oxford, England thinking about my homeland. Oxford is a thinking town, a place for deep and reflective thought. The Malmaison is an interesting place. For more than 300 years, until 1996, it served as a prison. For centuries, its inmates were persons who couldn’t pay their debts. But Since the turn of the century the Malmaison has been turned into a snazzy hotel.
The Organization of American States (OAS) invited me to a conference on Cyber Security and Strengthening the Democratic Process. Among the topics slated for discussion were:
1. Building an Open, Safe and Stable Cyberspace,
2. Threats to Election Technology,
3. OAS and the Commonwealth Experience in Electoral Cooperation
4. Digital Threats to the Democratic Process
5. The Sole of Social Media Manipulation
6. Cyber Security Guidelines for Democratic Processes
7. Issues for Consideration in the Protection of the Democratic Process against Digital Threats.
These are very important topics from which all of the countries in the Americas could learn. Certainly, stakeholders in SVG would do well go onto the OAS website and down load the many presentations.
But I digressed, the Malmaison did not cause me to think of the conference. It caused me to think of fear, jail, punishment, hardship, deprival and even death. Physical death and spiritual death, the loss of meaning as regards everything that is meaningful.
My mind drifted off to the Bible and the powerful refrain in the Book of Mark 8:36:
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” This is a serious question that has real implications in both the religious and secular realm. For truly, what shall it profit anyone of us if we got all that we wanted, but in the end could not really be true to ourselves? Is not it true that in a real sense our good name and character is all that we have got? And don’t we all agree with the ancients when they say, “To thyself be true”?
Why then do we live what WEB Dubois describes in the classic, “The Soul of Black Folks” as double life, or Twoness? I believe the much less recited verse Mark 8:37 offers an answer.
“What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Fear of reprisal and discomfort and disapproval, fear of punishment and social isolation and, most of all, fear of losing the “good life” or aspiration to the good life may offer revealing clues for our action and inaction, silence and acceptance of what we instinctively know to be patently wrong.
Have you ever stopped to think what you would have become or what would become of you if you were very comfortable, had not a trouble in the world, no concern about how your rent or mortgage will be paid or absolutely no responsibility to pay for your schooling or that of your children?
What if, what if, what if? If you were independent of worries would you speak up more for what is right and condemn what is wrong irrespective of whether you stance brought you into conflict with your sibling, parents, boss, representative, political and religious leaders or the state? Comfort, by itself, is not what makes one speak or remain silent. Conscience compels us to take a stance. And in SVG it appears that “dawg eat our conscience”.
We need to wake up from our slumber. These are not the days when information was hidden from us. We don’t have to depend on hearsay to form opinions about our reality. We can be and must become eyewitnesses for truth. Khalid Mahammed commanded us to terrorise our friends and neighbours with the truth. We must become evangelists for truth. Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us that “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Will our job dictate where we stand in times of challenge and controversy? Why place the comfort of ourselves and that of our children ahead of our own decency, or even more importantly the dignity of our nation? Our African ancestors went through more and as Maya Angelo proclaimed “and yet we rise”. They rebelled and died so that we might live. We owe it to those who passed on and to the generations yet unborn to stand up like men and women worthy of the name.
Charlie Houston, an American civil rights titan and founder of Howard University Law School, told the first batch of law students, “A lawyer’s either a social engineer or he’s a parasite on society… A social engineer was a highly skilled, perceptive, sensitive lawyer who understood the Constitution and knew how to explore its uses in the solving of problems of . . . local communities and in bettering conditions of the underprivileged citizens.”
These words ring true today as they did decades ago when Houston uttered them. They have application not just for lawyers, but for anyone serious about the direction of the society in which we all live. No more should we be either conceited or deceitful.
The musical genius Michael Jackson instructed us to “look at the man in the mirror and make that change”. Is it not time that we listen to him? We fail to listen to and heed wisdom to our individual and collective chagrin. The legendary Bob Marley sums up our existence as good as anyone. “Live for self we live in vain. Live for others we live again.”
It is time we answer the call of conscience?
*Jomo Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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