WHAT MATTERS MOST: Respect for your elders
The beauty of Barbadian village life is that it taught us meritocracy was the basis of success and not colour or class. The only real distinguishing feature in the village was the type of house in which one lived and, to a much lesser extent, whether or not one’s skin was black or brown.
The ultimate empowering feature was respect for your elders.
It is not accidental that the adage “Success is a journey not a destination” would become extremely appealing to a village boy. In a sense, the journey of upward social mobility was the fascination and not the destination. Indeed, we were not told that we had to be Prime Minister or Governor of the Central Bank. We were instead told that education was the way out.
Since it was impossible to do something about the colour of the skin, the enduring lesson was respect for elders. This never meant that elders could not be challenged on merit but it had to be done respectfully. Indeed, the elders expected that with better education, they would be challenged by the youth eventually. For them, it was a mark of progress and a sign of hope.
The unfortunate reality now is that too many elders do not want to pass the baton. This refusal is justified on their better grounding. It is a misguided belief that somehow the education of yesteryear was superior. The perceived superiority is rooted in classism – knowledge of ancient history, philosophy and literature.
So ingrained was the perception that some of Barbados’ brightest men studied classics before doing medicine. This reflected the period!
The last time I made a parallel observation, I was attacked by two radicals – a political scientist and a left wing lawyer. Oh how we hold on to the convenient vestiges of our colonial past while making a false clamour for its death!
The classism so evident in some of the educated elite would cause one to observe in public, almost a decade ago, that there were only two young politicians capable of leading Barbados. The observer would have had an education that obviously biased his judgment.
The world has changed and is changing daily! So too is education!
Change is especially evident in the village where there is now little or no differentiation in the houses. There ought to be less recognition of the skin colour. And there is certainly less respect for the elders.
Failure to recognize how the village created opportunity out of adversity is the single largest reason why the society has decayed. The identification of education as the way to better housing without too much emphasis on skin colour was pursued on the back of respect for those who laid the foundation.
Respect for the elders was the catalyst for change. It was to be change for the better. The elders never viewed the change with envy. Instead, they took pride in the progress of their offspring. The reputation of the village would be irreparably compromised if successive generations failed to improve on the knowledge of previous generations.
Only a misguided society would believe that understanding its past is more relevant than preparing for its future. This view allows some to prolong their self-worth.
The village embraced change because it was not seeking to maintain its self-worth but rather to improve upon it; it was seeking greater access to progress by increasing the numbers, not restricting them. This embrace was responsible for the swelling of the middle section of the social order.
A similar principle of embrace is being used to swell the ranks of those pursuing tertiary-level education. It is no surprise that there are critics of the process. It is change that increases the quantity of new entrants with some impact on quality.
Unfortunately, some have not reached the point of embrace because it threatens the social order. It creates an environment in which more than two young politicians are regarded as eligible for leadership, not on the basis of their education only, but their social location as well. For some, the latter is equally important!
It is not coincidental that the offspring of the moneyed class are pursuing tertiary-level education in increasing numbers. There, ultimately, is no barrier to success if the basis of it is meritocracy.
Better grounding does not come with the destination; it comes from the journey on merit!
• Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party spokesman on the economy.