The Secret of a Better Homeland? A Better You

Passing Nassau’s British Colonial Hilton not long ago, I could not help but notice the extensive alterations to that grand old property. One happy change was the clearing away of the tangled, unattractive foliage that had for so long hidden the front of the hotel and the statue of Woodes Rogers, first royal governor of The Bahamas. Now, standing unobscured, poised for action, reaching for his stone pistol, was the daring former privateer who gave the country its first motto “Expulsis Piratis Restituta Commercia” – The Pirates expelled, trade was restored.

Interested in learning more about the sculptor and the restoration efforts, I resorted to Google and searched ‘Woodes Rogers statue’. To my surprise, I came across the following cry for a hero of the ilk of Rogers to rescue the modern Bahamas from its plague of modern predators:

Where is the Bahamian Woodes Rogers? It ain’t Hubert and it sure ain’t Christie. We need someone to restore civility to this little country. Pirates are reeking (sic) havoc in this small society. They’re plundering and pillaging our ordered society. They have encased themselves in our institutions…”

Apart from the misspelling of the word “wreaking”, the statement did contain some valuable truths. There indeed be modern pirates in our country, me hearties! And yes, they have invaded and robbed the ships of state and other essential institutions. They have forced our hopes and aspirations to “walk the plank”.  Problem is, we are looking in the wrong direction for the problem creators and the problem solvers.

While I have great admiration for Rogers and would sign a petition to have him declared a national hero, I believe that, in calling for a new “Terminator”, the writer of that paragraph is making the age-old Bahamian and human mistake—looking for a pirate-hanging, one-size-fits-all, heavy-duty hero. Instead, we, the people of this country, need to first defeat the inclination to piracy in us and develop our inborn potential for community-saving, nation-building, life expanding heroism.

The simple truth is that we are all responsible for the state our society and our economy, either by our actions or inaction, whether beneficial or egregious.  Moreover, the greatest pistol firing, cutlass-wielding pirates have been created by and are a-sail upon the storm-tossed deeps of our pitifully narrow minds and aspirations. We see ourselves as the axis on which the world spins and, for many, their radius of identification seldom extends beyond the castle of their own skin. The wants and needs of others, the neighbour, the community, the country lie forever beyond the range of this withered vision and stingy thought process.

So many are always speaking of rights, including the right to allow this destructive worldview to persist. After all, they say, I have income—why should I be concerned if thousands emerging from school annually can expect to be among the jobless?  I have worked to acquire a home—why should I lose sleep if others are homeless? If my finances are in order, why is anyone else’s debt my problem? It is a dangerous route to take.

If not we do not act out of humanity or empathy for another’s suffering or from a sense of compassion and charity, we must surely care for self-preservation, care to save our own skins. Know that, however often you take circuitous routes to avoid driving through the depressed areas of the town, no matter that you change channels when disaster and want are reported, you should be concerned. Sooner or later, the trouble or its posse will come to your door.

My advice for Bahamians and those of other nationalities who long for a better community, a better homeland, a better world is this: Don’t long for the resurrection of dead heroes—Let positive change begin with you. Be the hero we need to have in this world. Fred Rogers, the late creator and host of the educational children’s television series “Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood”, understood the personal role in betterment and the potential for heroism that resides in all of us. He noted:

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.

So, are you worried about the increasing rate of youth crime and the turnstile that the prison doors become to them, until, heartrendingly, the bullet of a police officer or a rival gang member writes the period of their life sentences? Are you concerned about the children born into a world lacking even a smidgen of love, who are forced to endure abuse and know want as the only abundance in their young lives? You should be. The great British poet W.H. Auden tells us:

I and the public know. / What all schoolchildren learn. / Those to whom evil is done. / Do evil in return.

You can, in small ways and grand, stop what seems to be an inevitable fate for children from certain neighbourhoods and stations in life. As the opening of the school year looms, contribute to meal, uniform and books for children programmes. Give of your time to youth groups, to reading, mentoring and counselling programmes. Express words of caring, instead of pronouncements of worthlessness and condemnation.

Let’s lobby for absentee fathers to take responsibility, either by force of conviction or better laws and enforcement of those laws. On EW News not long ago, a man commented in disgust about the males who shirk responsibility for the children they father, forcing too many mothers to apply to the courts for relief.

I say this: When you males scatter your seed to the four winds and plants spring up and wither for want of your caring, you have nothing to brag about. Tens of children carrying your DNA, but lacking the blessing of your love and your dollars do not make you more of a man, but a deadbeat.

In tandem, let us teach young women that womanhood means far more than producing children before you are fit to become a mother in the truest sense of the word—able to love, feed, clothe and model a worthy example for your children.

A word for you who can’t wait for the church doors to open to let you in to warm your special seat: there will be no stars for your crown, if the doors of your heart and your purse remain tightly closed in the face of suffering you could well have alleviated on earth. Nor should you long for heavenly robes of white among the saints, if you have clothed yourself and others in the filthy rags of hatred and discrimination. Your reach to rescue should be without border of creed, race, colour, gender, sexuality or political allegiance.

On a profounder note, let’s put an end to this pernicious culture of dependency that afflicts our country. Think in terms of building knowledge and skills to rise. Know that rising is more than the possession of a Smart phone and a messaging app. What does it say for you who are able bodied, if there are legless striving to win medals for running, if the disabled become extraordinary employees, professionals, teachers, entrepreneurs or ground-breaking scientists like the late Stephen Hawking?

I leave you who are seeking a new Woodes Rogers with the words of two extraordinary thinkers and humanists:

The ultimate sense of security will be when we come to recognize that we are all part of one human race. Our primary allegiance is to the human race and not to one particular color or border. –Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. –Horace Mann, educational reformer.