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SHANTAL MUNRO-KNIGHT: Less talk, more action

Shantal Munro-Knight

SHANTAL MUNRO-KNIGHT: Less talk, more action

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I have been thinking very deeply over the last couple of weeks about the issues of child abuse, crime, the educational system, and the general state of our society.

It seems that this year in particular we have been faced with numerous instances which suggest that we are facing some serious societal challenges, as evidenced by bolder, more callous criminals, the apparent increasing disregard for human life and the high levels of abuse of both women and children.

This is compounded by the highlighted  weaknesses in our social services and educational system. It would seem that the challenges which are emerging are symptomatic of a wider breakdown which if not arrested can lead to a deepening chasm. 

I have reflected on this not only in our context but regionally and internationally as well. I have been trying to decipher the trends and emerging solutions, and, most importantly, trying to understand the big question of the why. Of course there is no one academic answer to the question of why things occur the way they do and solutions are all context-specific.

What has been reinforced in my research and reflection is that, unfortunately, most societies respond as a result of crises. Some countries do this better and more comprehensively than others but essentially it is out of crises that new initiatives and social change take place. It means in some cases that there is tremendous disruption and in some cases pain before things can change for the better. 

The acceptance of this reality was important to help me curve my immediate negative reaction to the news conference and solutions proffered by the Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett, in response to the much publicised suspected cases of child abuse.

Essentially two children had to die in cases where child abuse was suspected  and others had to be liberated from years of abuse by a persistent parent in order for us to come to the realisation that things needed to be done differently. The solutions and conclusions made were offered with such gravitas and earnestness that the discerning person would perhaps fail to realise that none of them were necessarily new solutions or challenges. However, as I said we must perhaps come to accept that it is crisis which provides the necessary impetus for change. 

My other important observation as I have been reflecting on how we have been  attempting to tackle the various social problems that are arising, is that I have come to the conclusion that we have a fixation with the oral. We like to talk and talk and then expound some more on the same issues over and over again. This in itself is not necessarily problematic. Sociologists and others who have studied culture would trace this back to our historical traditions and would argue that this is a distinct cultural trait.  Recently, I was watching a programme discussing issues of crime in Barbados. It was entertaining and some very solid points were made. Kudos to those who participated. 

However, as  I watched and listened it reminded me of the dozens of conversations that I heard before and perhaps myself participated in, where the same points were being made, the same things said, the same conclusions drawn. We all know that we need to fix our educational system if we are going to begin to tackle the issues of youth deviance.

We also know that the issue of youth crime is not an individual issue; it is an issue that must also be tackled at the family and community level. It has been said time and time again; we discuss it in our offices, our homes,  the call-in programmes. All of us, perhaps, are experts at some level.  However, all of the discussion is becoming like sounding brass.    

Please do not misunderstand me. Of course discussion and debate are important; it is out of conversations that new things emerge. However, my fear is that we have become so fixated with talking about our problems and hearing ourselves talk about them that we have no energy left to actually implement solutions.  We seem to have become so taken up with the brilliance of conversations on what has gone wrong with our society and why things are not working that we have lost sight of the fact that it also takes action for change to happen. Our problem has never been the diagnosis – we have an overabundance of diagnosticians – the issue has always been the implementation. Perhaps we need to have a conversation about that. Can we get on with fixing, please.

Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. Email [email protected]