By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Jan. 6, 2023)
Something is vibrationally wrong in our country. There is too much strife, animosity and tribalism. St. Vincent and Grenadines is in urgent need of a kindness revolution. Those profound thoughts were expressed by Aster Barnwell, a retired Vincentian economist and philosopher residing in Toronto, Canada.
Barnwell, who left SVG in 1967 for “the greener pastures” of Canada, believes that Vincentians are “spiritual adolescents”. He urged citizens to transition to spiritual adulthood to give real meaning to their lives.
Speaking on the Voices radio programme last Monday, Barnwell expressed confidence that only a kindness revolution can help us to make a sharp turn to positivity from the dark, bleak abyss into which most of us have fastened our sight and thoughts.
Many persons listening to the discussion may conclude that Barnwell’s recommendation, while meaningful and necessary, was elusive and utopian. We are too far gone. Partisan politics has eaten away at our community and our civility.
The political elite sees victory and domination in a divided population. One side of the political spectrum warns its supporters against befriending those aligned with opposition forces. The other side commands its supporters not to offer monetary and other forms of support to friends and loved ones who exercise a political choice contrary to theirs.
“Why can’t we disagree politically and live in harmony,” counters Aster Barnwell, the patriotic optimist who evidently wants the best for our country.
Barnwell’s ideas are grounded in his deep religious faith. His father was a head pastor in the Lowmans Windward community church where he was born. He claimed that his dad “never turned him away and answered all of his questions” while his mother “seeded his heart with aspiration” and insisted that he gets an education.
He has been practising yoga for decades and is drawn to Eastern Philosophy. He has authored four books: The Meaning of Christ for our Age (1984), The Pilgrim’s Companion (1992), Meditations on the Apocalypse (1992) and Hidden Treasures (2011). There is a forthcoming book entitled Reimagining Christianity.
Barnwell expounded on his philosophical thoughts and urged Vincentians to find their object in life. To him, the object of life was not “the pursuit of happiness, but the pursuit of meaning”. ‘Happiness,” he said, “was elusive. Meaning brings order to what was an otherwise chaotic existence.”
There is much to unpack there because, as Jimmy Cliff says, it’s a “hard road to travel”. From where we are now, we have “a rough, rough way to go”. But as Black Stalin says”we can make it if we try”.
Based on Aster’s religious bend, we are tempted to invoke Mathew 22:14: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” How, then, do we take our country from its dismal place to a land of enlightenment? We must pay close attention and realise that as calypsonian Brother Valentino says, “every brother is not a brother”.
Many outstanding thinkers have offered ideas and suggestions for restoring community and moving society forward. We may not all agree with them, but we should give them a listening ear.
Dr Martin Luther King, the civil rights icon, expounding his commitment to civil rights and justice, said:
“I’ve decided what I’m going to do … And you know what? I don’t care who does not like what I am going to say. I don’t care who criticises me in an editorial. I don’t care who criticises me. I am going to stick with the best. On some questions, cowardice asks, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks, ‘Is it popular? But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’
“There comes a time when a true believer must take that stand that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take that stand because it is right … I am going to stick by the best during these evil times.”
These powerful words, delivered two days before he was assassinated, were part of an address entitled “Why I Oppose the War in Viet Nam”. Dr King’s commitment to service and country should resonate with us.
Chris Hedges, the celebrated American journalist and priest, dismissed by the New York Times for his opposition to the American war on Iraq, speaks thusly to the peril that comes with the opposition to the status quo:
“When one commits to becoming a Christian, he or she, if they are serious, is required to lift up and bear the cross. This is not a rhetorical thing. If you take this call seriously, it means a life in perpetual opposition to power, including the institution of the church itself and a commitment to always stand with the crucified of the earth. It’s a hard and lonely road, one that will see you, if you truly stand with the oppressed, soon you will be treated like the oppressed.”
Hedges pointed to the contradiction where the Catholic Church expelled priests who called for the papacy to accept women as priests. The vociferous opposition was counterposed with the fact that the same church for decades transferred hundreds of priests who had molested young boys rather than expel them.
A similar reality exists here where the power elite offers excuses and justification for the wrongdoing of its clansmen. All the while, those who rise up in righteous indignation against the excesses of the ruling elite are criticised and ostracised.
Confidence, foresight and vision are premium traits necessary to meet the demand of our times. Arundhati Roy, the Indian activist for meaningful and lasting change, suggests a praxis consciousness and liberation:
“Our strategy should not be only to confront empire, but to lay seize to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness — and our ability to tell our own story. Stories from the ones we are being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling — their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their notion of inevitability.”
All of these thinkers offer strategies for making society better. Like Buju Banton, they all remind us that it’s not an easy road. They envisage fierce opposition to ideas and policies intended to take SVG forward. Aster Barnwell’s call for a revolution in kindness is a crucial first step for turning SVG around.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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