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OFF CENTRE: Ebola and diseases of the ‘heart’


Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: Ebola and diseases of the ‘heart’

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MUSLIM HOUSING PROJECT; Ebola isolation centre.

Perhaps they say the same things about us.

Last week in dealing with the proposed housing project being undertaken by members of the Muslim community, I tried to create a space for a nuanced view of the negative responses of many Barbadians – a response of concern, in some cases of suspicion.

My point was that things have to be taken in context, and in the present context of the world certain responses are not simply wild and irresponsible.

In addition, those who respond to the feedback must come with more than their own very logical, rational, probably sincere defence without a shred of engagement of how the opposers could have reasonably reached their concerns and without the necessary “knowing” that you have in some way to show that you deeply understand their concerns.

And before my words could dry on the newsprint good, or the newsprint could get to wrap up some fish, up come Government big-ups responding to negative reaction of the St Ursula’s parents to the location of the isolation centre to be used in the event of person(s) contracting Ebola or other deadly disease.

So, in admittedly a difficult situation, we had cool logic and vacuum-sealed explanations – as big people cried and bit their lips and generally grappled with perplexity and naked fear.

Don’t get me wrong: logic and rationality are high-level marks of our special humanness – not generally to be scoffed at. But so are empathy and sensitivity and other emotions.

It is true, too, that some fears can be allayed with the right doses of information. All the same, you do not show yourself to be wholly human if, in administering those “healing” doses, you leave out of your “bedside manner” an entering into the feelings of others.

Such entering in is like a brotherly embrace. It says, way, way beyond mere comprehension, “I get you”. That deep “I get you” shows a profoundly human understanding of me and my perceptions, not just dismissing them with cold “facts” and reasonings.

There was no “I get you” in the responses I heard and read. Not in the bureaucrats’ response to the St Ursula’s parents’ cries (some literal) or in the Muslim spokesmen’s to Barbadians’ uttered concerns.

To both parties it seemed simply a matter of explaining their own thinking. That is not how we are going to get along, I have to tell you.

I had heard it earlier in Irene Sandiford-Garner’s antiseptic response to the bubbling, spilling over numbers who turned up at the Sandals’ job fair.

“The job situation everywhere in the world is a tough one. You have millions of people being laid off everywhere else in the world so I don’t know that Barbados could be any exception,” she is reported as saying, as she seemingly attempted to downplay the view that the massive turnout reflected negatively on the employment situation in Barbados.

And then we had MP Denis Kellman suggesting in the face of people’s moans, groans and shouts of frustration, dismay and foreboding, “No need to complain – just put your hands to the plough”, that had you instinctively seething at the insensitivity and the self-servingness of it because we know that in better times when he was in the Opposition, he was a strident complainer.

Where the hell are we growing these people? In a political party greenhouse? Without the soil of fellow feeling, a kind of inhuman hydroponics – Hydrofoolishness???

Many of the young, not just older folks like Sandiford-Garner and Kellman, would make me despair too. (The worrisome ones may not be the majority, but I say this for the benefit of those people who feel that yuh en got no point ’bout nuttin bad unless the majority of people doing it: yuh better know that it don’ tek a majority o’ anything to mash up something.)

Yuh see, while we have a plethora of means to acquire information these days and through information knowledge and through knowledge a wider understanding of issues, we don’t seem to be getting the requisite lessening of self-absorption/group absorption and a much-needed increase in empathy.

A lot of the connecting these days is to burgeoning colonies of people who are – in many cases, dangerously – like us.

That always was our tendency, but nowadays we have more chances to indulge our inclination to our own kind. At least previously, sans digital connectors, with constraints on transportation, lots of chores to keep us busy, more ears for (inclining to) our elders’ guidance, less television to disconnect us from them, no telephone or a “corded” (as opposed to cordless) telephone which always threatened to make our conversations family property, there were helpful limits on how much we could simply connect with our own set – and conversely disconnect ourselves from more varied and potentially more developmental influences.

Now the new technologies connect us to everywhere from everywhere.

All sorts of “communities” are springing up, even as the concept of the larger real community is threatened. Online communities abound: chat rooms, forums, discussion boards, blogs, virtual worlds, Facebook, Instagram, Skype, WhatsApp, WeChat, Twitter, Pinterest, Viber, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr . . . .

Yes, we have more opportunity to broaden our minds, but how much chance do we have if we simply link with our own kind? 0Next thing we are a flock, then a herd, and, Oh Lord, a mob. “Wisdom of the flock”, “herd instinct”, “mob mentality” – tek yuh pick. All dangerous to some degree.

Young people leashed to gadgets, older ones chained to the past, politicians tied to a party line, funtionaries tethered to the ways of bureaucracy that sees no human face. And everyone thinking they have reason enough. But where is the emotional intelligence?

With this so-called Ebola centre, if you wanted to satisfactorily deal with both logic and emotion, might it not have been better to place the facility at Paragon, very near to our chief port of entry and some distance away from a fearful population?

• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.

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