Honest Labour …
I know the above caption would have captured much attention for one reason or the other. Be not afraid, it is not what you think. I have merely repeated a phrase from President Barack Obama's inauguration speech in January 2013. According to the President,
We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.
We are true to our creed when a little girl [or a little boy] born into the bleakest poverty knows that she [he] has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she [he] is an American, she [he] is free, and she [he] is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.
These are very profound words and expressed in an accessible style. I might just as well have replaced the word American with Dominican because the burden of the argument here is relevant to us also. The brutal truth is that, people treat others the way others treat them. If citizens do not feel valued, or they do not feel they have an equal chance to succeed, like their neighbours (the term is used here in the Biblical or metaphoric sense), then they will not feel committed to their country. They will always feel like outsiders or strangers. Additionally, there is no motivation to produce or even to work in situations where people feel, in spite of their best efforts, they will always fail because the odds are stacked heavily against them or they do not belong to the favoured minority.
Note I have said the favoured minority. This phenomenon is fascinating to me because in reality it is always a minority which benefits from the "conspiracy" of the majority. So when people (supposedly the majority) elect and support a government, it never seems like the said majority benefits or has access to the desirable goods and services (except for the public ones that one cannot possibly deny them of, such as roads and bridges, public hospitals, etc.). It is always an inner circle - sometimes who have not assisted at all in the struggle - which ends up milking the cow (as it were). Hence in an unequal society, it is a chosen, ordained or privileged few lawyers, engineers, medical doctors, big family surnames, professionals, and other acolytes or devotees, who get the big cases, the high earning consultancies, the expensive contracts, and so on.
Such circumstances become real socialization experiences for our younger citizens who then assume a posture of despair, hopelessness and fatalism. These outlooks become endemic in the society. They are often expressed in the saying, "Well, I just taking my blows!" in response to the question, "How are you?" This suggests passivity, apathy, indifference and, quite worrying, submissiveness and tameness. It suggests a broken spirit and it is quite possible that such attributes are the desired outcomes of those who want to control others for their own greedy and insatiable aspirations.
Those of us who profess to be Christians ought to feel that the foregoing is an awkward situation which we must not feel comfortable with. Granted, it may be quite convenient for our immediate needs for us to be treated favourably and to be given an unfair advantage over our "competitors". However, there is no guarantee that our progeny (our children) will be as lucky as ourselves or indeed, will be prepared to do the things that some of us do (what even rodents will balk at) in order to get ahead in life. The question therefore is what are we doing to ensure that our children grow up with dignity, self-respect, self-esteem and good moral values?
The answer does not reside in grovelling, or standing in queues for alms-giving, or in prostituting one's self by engaging in demeaning acts, and so on. The principles of sustainability dictate that we engage our people in productive activity, however small, so that they see a link between their diligence/discipline and a dignified life and sense of independence. Indeed, it is only the "wages of honest labor" which can "liberate families from the brink of hardship". All reasonable people know this to be true and even practical; however, in order to accomplish their own selfish ends and in order to manipulate others, many are satisfied to keep others dependent. This phenomenon is not only restricted to politics and so I must disabuse your mind of this notion in toto. The fact is that some insecure men enslave women in their very homes and do not wish them to work and earn so that they remain domesticated and mere baby mothers. Let me hasten to add that this is not a criticism of the dignity of being a wonderful mother and homemaker. What I do criticize is any attempt to use the apparent dignity of this to subjugate women. The same can be said for situations where the oppressor is the woman.
Times are hard now but this does not signal an opportunity to degrade and humiliate people. While it is absolutely necessary to help the totally helpless, it is far more sustainable and beneficial to the helpless to give them opportunities to become independent in the medium to long term. Simple incentives to agriculture (for example) is a point of departure and in fact, if our people are placed in a situation where they can feed themselves, that in itself is a huge achievement. Tragically, for the self-centred and power-hungry, the thought of empowering others is intimidating and indeed can spell disaster for those whose livelihoods depend on "killing" the people's spirit and having lots, and lots of fun. Thankfully, everything comes to an end one day.
(c) Dr. Francis O. Severin is the Acting Director of the University of the West Indies Open Campus Country Sites.