Letters & Opinion

The More Things Change

The Editor:
This is the penultimate part of the 1980 speech ‘’Education for Civilized Living’’. (As before, the parentheses are mine).

Claudia Johnson continues: It can thus be appreciated that Family Life Education is a dynamic and creative process which needs no further justification in terms of its relevance to our St Lucian society. I am sure that it must be clear to you by now that all of the processes which I have described would involve a serious examination by our society of its value system with a view to defining an ethical framework within which every St Lucian may hope to find genuine self-fulfillment. (Yes, and that type of exercise should have informed any recent attempt at constitutional reform, and probably did, more or less; however we remain at a standstill, frustrated and disrespected, when the results of such a review are cast aside because those who were elected to serve do not happen to like what the people who elected them have had to say).

We do not have to dig too deeply into our cultural and religious backgrounds to discover that we do have positive moral standards and ideals, commonly held by most elements of our society. The standards are there indeed – it is simply that in typical human fashion, they are all too frequently honoured in the breach. Nevertheless, the kind of social ethic which we would seek to build and promote is not by any means a static concept or an obstacle to change or progress, but rather a guide to ‘the Good (St Lucian) Life’.

As the distilled product of the collective wisdom of our people, it would actually facilitate desirable change by investing it with the authority of a moral base once any new measure has passed certain critical tests. In this way a social ethic which is widely established and generally acceptable can play a dynamic role in the political, social and economic development of our country.

In our historical past we looked to our colonial masters to establish legal standards and codes of conduct. Some of these codes were based on sound principles of social organization and have served us well – others less so. Many other customs have been absorbed and adapted to our local circumstances. These have all become an integral part of our own St Lucian way of life which is an amalgam of at least four Old-World cultures: firstly French, followed by British, then West African and lastly East Indian. (The mainland Chinese are a latter-day immigrant group, whose numbers appear to be growing steadily and significantly). Very gradually, over the years, these various elements have been integrated into their New-World setting, have taken root and produced that peculiar quality of ‘St Lucian-ness’ which is a subset of the ‘West Indian Type’.

However, we West Indians, probably because of our basic conditioning during the colonial era, as well as the import-oriented nature of our economy, have developed an unfortunate habit of looking abroad for models, thus earning ourselves the Naipaulian sobriquet of ‘mimic men’.

Glib, facile solutions and pre-packaged remedies that have worked unsatisfactorily elsewhere, are now being foisted on these societies as the panacea for all our ills. The Caribbean has become a hot market for the pedlars of competing brands of cure-all elixirs, attractively and alluringly presented to the naïve and gullible. Fortunately, however, if these alien models have not been adequately examined, assessed, modified and adapted to our own local, cultural environment, then, to borrow a technical term from modern, spare-part surgical jargon, they simply ‘won’t take the transplant’. Unfortunately, in the meantime, the health and well-being of the subject might well be placed in jeopardy.

These instant nostrums, whatever their orientation, are no substitute for the slow, patient process of nation-building: borrowing and trying a little, here and there, more or less, but always working within our society to evolve our own social ethic, our own appropriate methods and systems of management based on our peculiar historical and cultural experience. (Agreed; however today we see our society being subjected to alien and unacceptable ways of conducting the affairs of State, ways and means too often copied by individuals and societal groups, and sadly, fast becoming the new normal for St Lucia, getting us nowhere as we continue to swirl in an eddy of ineffective policies which clearly result in economic contraction, increasing unemployment, poverty and hopelessness among our youth).

Next week, Mrs Johnson talks about community, and what will make us losers if we tread a certain path. She ends her speech on an optimistic note.

–Nahdjla Bailey

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