Mutual respect

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THERE is no denying that given our diverse experiences, pleasant or unpleasant, and the environment within which groups have had to share the same space, our history has been marked by conflicts, violent and non-violent.

At the same time, Guyanese can be held captive to negative experiences of history only at their choosing. Opportunities always present themselves to use historical experiences, lived or told, to learn from mistakes of the past and build on accomplishments.
This nation seems caught in a vortex somewhere between these two options. Where there continues to be a decided preference to not learn from our mistakes and move on, but rather engage in the continual game of ‘proving’ who was bad or good, how such an attitude serves this nation’s interest is anyone’s guess. Pursuing conversations, calls and actions to dismantle structures, and conduct universally accepted practices places the nation on a tightrope, and utilises the energies of the people in a non-futuristic direction, which is detrimental to the people and society.

A nation cannot be forged with continued efforts to deny the contributions of persons and organisations to society because they are considered bad; neither is it acceptable that those perceived to be good should be attributed the prominence of sole contributor, end-all and be-all for everything. The marking of time, divisive and distasteful features of our politics, have to end, regardless of who practises them.

Forging a nation, whose frame our national anthem acknowledges is that of a “Land of Six Peoples”, to get to the stage where we are truly “united and free” requires integrity, civility and respect for self, others, and the nation’s established mores and institutions. For too long have public discourse and treatment of others been poisoned or praised primarily because of the person’s politics or ethnicity. The only place sanity reigns for those refusing to be caught up in the morass is reliance on history through the perspectives of timeline, context and events.

In looking at forging nationhood, there are some home truths that need to be faced and accepted. Guyana is a diverse society. Diversity is not a curse; it is a blessing, in that it offers different cultural experiences, perspectives on life, skills, interests, solutions, and problem-solving techniques that can work for all. What is required, but keeps escaping attention, is that where there is respect for this and everyone is treated equally and with dignity, such can reduce and eliminate the irascible approach to politics and things political.
There is no need to feel that a person has to be liked to be treated with respect and civility. Such treatment should flow from recognition and appreciation of sharing the same space, which that person is entitled to share equally as having access to the nation’s resources, opportunities, and the protection of its laws. There is no need to prove any point to anyone outside of being civil and treating that person the way you would want to be treated. It requires character to be civil and understand that such is not displayed when engaging in tit-for-tat.

When one knows better, it is expected that one would do better. And when others had engaged in unbecoming conduct when the shoe was on the other foot, civility dictates rising above the boorishness. A person cannot be embarrassed by treating them in the crude manner they had treated others. Neither can a society grow and unite/cohere when persons are caught in this display of misconduct to the other.

The challenges this nation faces at the social and political levels will not be fixed overnight. No one is delusional. However, what is expected is that Guyanese stop and take stock of the manner in which we treat each other, and start now to address the decline in social grace, etiquette, protocol and civility. A heterogeneous society, by its very nature, brings with it conflicts, given competing interests, scarce resources, and diverse cultural outlook and preferences.

Conflict, while it creates the space for animosity and intolerance, also allows for opportunities for bringing together diverse forces to find, arrive at, and work through, consensus. This continues to present a challenge to Guyana, but it is not that Guyanese lack the ability to do so. What is evident is the absence of will to make consensus the guiding principle for engagement, which is important for forging nationhood. Guyanese have to learn to respect and treat self and each other with dignity, or we would perish together as fools.