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OFF CENTRE: Independence, wha’? Nationhood, people!

Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: Independence, wha’? Nationhood, people!

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For many of the 48 years since Barbados attained Independence, I have been uncomfortable with the fixation on the word independence in our anniversary celebrations. And not because we din fight for it.

For us, it seems to have been hard to wrest the word independence away from the idea of escaping from a previous controller and setting out on your own. Also, it has not, to me, sufficiently drawn attention to the nature of your new responsibilities.

It is one thing to disentangle yourself from oppressive or overbearing or unnecessary control or to feel that you are old enough or mature enough to manage your own way. But it is quite another to plan the way forward with the serious and deeply sober understanding of your future responsibilities.

I prefer the word nationhood.

I find that it fairly bursts with the idea of a task requiring great maturity – and more: there is the idea of a set of people working as a team on certain common goals, an idea that is not inherent in the word independence.

Our celebrations sometimes give the impression of an 18-year-old, mostly focused on being away from home and doing as we please.

No such youngster is likely to remember to judge their independence, for that is predicated primarily, frequently solely, on being out from under the “yoke” of parents.

If they, however, think of self-management, they will be more inclined to judge their financial prudence, work ethic, respect for others, resourcefulness, self-control, healthy familial ties, self-development, healthy eating, charity, trustworthiness, moral fortitude, neighbourliness, community-mindedness, fidelity in committed relationships, honesty in dealings with others – that’s the real business of living after the break(away). A far cry from just independence – escaping control of somebody else; self-determination.

Maybe that’s why our celebration of Independence is mainly a celebration of “we own t’ings”. Like the newly on-his-own youngster showing off, without a trace of self-examination, his apartment, the 52-inch flat-screen smart TV, and his live-in girlfriend and his ten-month old baby, and his shiny car and his iPhone 6 and his 2200-watt sound system.

Oh, he’s living his dream of self-determination, but he has $5 on the bank, is behind on the rent, eats poorly, has been visited by the police because of the neighbours’ complaints about how loudly he plays his music, drops off clothes for mummy to wash, takes his full quota of uncertified sick leave from his tenuous job even though he is not sick and is short on manning up to his responsibilities of being partner and being dad. Focused on independence, not mature management of responsibilities.

Independence from mummy and/or daddy is one thing; responsible adulthood is a completely different thing. So, too, it is with political Independence and nationhood.

Independence was worth talking about for maybe one or two years after 1966. Only people who en really understand what is involved for the long haul keep the focus on their breaking ties and on their new self-expression.

Though including sovereignty, self-expression and management of the various sectors for the adequate provision of goods, services and opportunities – and we haven’t done so badly on these – nationhood is deeper and broader.

Its essence is sophisticated governance and cohesiveness around cherished ideals. You could say it has profound management and psychosocial/psychocommunal implications.

Far more than our heralding of our unshackling and our varied self-expressions, we must make sure that we have a lot to celebrate concerning our governing of governance (things like freedom of expression, freedom of information, frameworks for significant citizen participation in and influence on decision-making, and means for ensuring transparency, accountability and integrity in public office).

And more: concerning the pervasive certain, impartial and timely delivery of justice; social order and discipline; extensive family solidity; our respect for others (their rights, their persons, their property, their peace, their legitimate choices); non-discrimination; our productivity; shared community values.

And these too: our communal social concern (for example, in taking care of the unfortunates); effective management of human resources; resourcefulness; problem solving; charitableness; fellow feeling; responsible citizenship.

Can we hold our heads high in these things? Are we decisively farther along in these matters than we were 48 years ago, or 25 or 15?

I worry that at the individual level while we have much of “What is the Government doing for the country?”, there is so little of “What am I doing for the country?”

There is no widespread sense of social solidarity – individualism, a quite natural tendency of human beings, has not been significantly balanced by personal commitment to the collective good.

As citizens of this nation, we do not – and have not been enculturated so to do – view ourselves critically as rooted within a larger social network, for whose collective good we should be constantly consciously working. That is what nationhood entails. That is what is so easily lost in the word independence.

More broadly, to pull from the above pillars of nationhood, I think it is a severe blot on any country celebrating Independence (nationhood) that there is constant fear of victimisation for speaking what does not please the powers that be (the fear clearly has some source in reality!) and unallayed concerns about other assaults on freedom of expression (take two this year: the Central Bank governor’s ban of the NATION newspaper from events hosted by him as governor and the pursuit of Charles Morris).

Hmmm. A sense of nation is weightier than a sense of being independent. We must understand that and its vital ramifications.

The elements of nationhood don’t emerge as if by magic, nor are they the natural product of our various folkways. They have to be deeply considered and planned for. And they will struggle to grow if we latch our national identity to the frills – “blue, yellow and black” and music and the way we talk and various folkways and artefacts – rather than to the necessary solid groundings inherent in the idea of nation.

We celebrating Independence, immersed in colours and folkways and ceremony. We should be about crafting high-minded nationhood. The two are not quite the same.

Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]