The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – On Nearing Fifty (iv)
The changing mirror image
“Why should one man have a mirror image of you that you do not want to have of yourself? What kind of society are we striving for? There is no point in striving for Utopia, but you do not realize your potential…” – Mr Errol Barrow (1986)
I am compelled to begin today’s effort with a mea culpa or, in todayspeak, a “my bad”. In last week’s column, “Humpty Dumpty comes to town”, I wrote of the angst of Mr Ralph Williams at hearing Prime Minister Freundel Stuart refer to Barbados as “the freest black nation on earth” at the launch of the 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations earlier this month.
Now, having been provided with, and having perused, a copy of Mr Stuart’s speech at the ceremony, I am satisfied that the Prime Minister made no such claim then or at all, and I should wish to withdraw unreservedly the assertion on my part that he did so. I am further advised that the claim was in fact made in a video presentation at the event that listed a number of the ways in which Barbados has been described over the years. My error is purely to be blamed therefore on what I consider to be regrettably sloppy scholarship on my part -I trusted to faulty recall rather than double-checking the news report. My bad!
Incidentally, Humpty Dumpty has not as yet left town, if we are to judge from one topic of popular discussion this week, that of the incident relating to the punishment of a secondary school girl who refused to follow a teacher’s instruction to pick up from the ground a wrapper of some sort. Here, some contributors to the discussion sought to distinguish, depending on their view, between the toxic “garbage” and the merely untidy “litter”. I suppose that those who would “cavil on the ninth part of a hair” might convince themselves that there is a substantial distinction between the two, although it bears reminder that litter is ultimately placed in a garbage can…or is that a litterbin? Much like the issue whether Hog Food/King Dyal was indeed properly described as an icon or was merely a mascot.
Thirty or so years ago, the Leader of the Opposition as he was then, and imminent Prime Minister to be, now National Hero, the Right Excellent Errol Barrow, inquired of our citizens as to what mirror image we had of ourselves. It is indeed intriguing that this interrogatory preceded the Michael Jackson megahit, “Man in the Mirror”, that was released the following year. For a people not usually much given to introspection, this question resonated significantly, although it appeared that this was more for the allure of maxim than for the message that Mr Barrow intended to convey.
That was then. Clearly, at 20 years of age, the individual may be obsessed with his or her full-length “mirror image” –the unlined face, the pert pectorals, the six-pack abdominals, the firm thighs…Likewise, by analogy, the relatively young nation might have been more concerned then with its physical appearance –the tall buildings, the other material accoutrements, the balance of payments. Now, as we near 50, and as the human being perceives in many cases the encroaching facial lines, the effects of gravity on a once proud chest and the pre-arthritic knees, the mirror image itself becomes less endearing and emphasis is placed rather on the stability and wholesomeness of the structure.
At this stage, regular inspection of the body politic becomes essential for the state as well as for the individual. This suspicious lump here –should it be excised or best left alone? That worrying cough – a mere allergy or something far more sinister? The frequent nocturnal acid reflux –a decreased resistance to spicy foods or…?
Now the state should be concerned more with its fundamental and other obligations to its citizens –Are our people being afforded their basic entitlements in keeping with their rights to dignity, respect and autonomy? Is each individual being empowered to exercise his or her economic, social and cultural rights in addition so as to become a more productive citizen? Do we permit the people to enjoy the benefits of those international obligations to which we have committed ourselves? Has there been an attempt to encourage the mutual trust and confidence that ought to exist between the citizen and the state in a modern progressive democracy?
Equally, the citizen should become more mindful of his or her contribution to the national good, among other things. Does he or she indeed care for the welfare of Barbados or does this vary depending on the colours of the administration? Do we give an honest day’s work as due consideration for a day’s pay? Are our civic obligations being adhered to?
I sub-titled this essay, “The changing mirror-image”. Perhaps it is not that at all… Mirror images may now be passé. It is time now for the report card.