Our nation, the Guyanese civilization, this society, exists in language.
We chose to define ourselves, a nation forged under fiery forced labour in the British Empire, through words, names, language. We shook off the shackles of forced labour through our command of language.
Forbes Burnham mastered his legal craft in Britain, and Dr Cheddi Jagan became a prolific writer and thinker studying in the US. Using such competence in language, these leaders led us to shake off the shackles of colonialism, which had imprisoned us when we were unschooled and illiterate, unable to read and write, as slaves and labourers from Africa, Asia and Europe.
Just like Burnham and Jagan freed us as a people through their mastery of language, where they were able to travel to England and state their claim to political independence, we today must see that our future depends on our mastery of language: how we think, write and talk.
‘Guyana’ is but a word that defines who we are as a country, and our motto, national anthem, the Golden Arrowhead, Constitution and declaration of political independence define us, in language, as a unique nation within the ambit of the modern world.
We sit at the United Nations able to vote on global issues simply because we declare ourselves a unique nation on the world stage. When Britain agreed in 1966 to recognize our declaration of independence, we had used the very English language that had enslaved us, to free ourselves.
We freed ourselves within the power of language, not with physical force or erection of a wall around our boundaries.
Our air space, marine territory, land mass and national assets we own because we declared them to be of our nation, and the world agreed to recognize our declaration of ownership.
We must get the value and importance of language. Language defines us, shapes us, makes us. To lack competency in language is to live miserably and socially undeveloped. We exist within the realm of our command of language. This power of language shapes us, moulds us, defines us, makes us.
And so it’s sad and frustrating and frightening that we belittle the value of language to our people.
Today, we see such misunderstanding and verbal wars in Parliament as our leaders debate the National Budget.
They quarrel and scream at each other because they fail to grasp the essence and power of language to shape our nation, the Guyanese civilization. Our society suffers from this failure to see that it’s not what happens, but it’s rather how what happens actually occurs to us.
Our society today places such low value on literature and books. Our radio and TV stations insist on loud pop culture stooped in non-thinking. We see little effort on a national scale to inculcate in our people and leaders this essential love for language, the way we saw with Burnham, Walter Rodney, Cheddi Jagan, and the great Guyanese of old.
Our paucity today in the realm of love for books must be the saddest thing for us as a 21st century society. We simply refuse to value books as a national asset, as a value of who we are as a people.
Dave Logan and Steve Zaphron wrote and published a book in 2011 about how to re-write the future, even as we were in a nasty election campaign with the then President gyrating to lewd lyrics on stage with the nation watching.
The Zaffron-Logan book details the authors’ experiences in “re-writing the future” through reforming how people see and use language.
What kind of future are we creating as a nation?
We look at the Budget as the document, formed of language, that would shape us as a society over the next year.
And this document occurs to the Government as a brilliant plan, unquestioned in its wisdom and perfection. Suffering from that terrible disease that George Orwell, the great writer, called group-think, each one who favours the Government defends the Budget with vehement verbal violence.
Each MP on the Opposition benches returns the favour tit-for-tat, with one Opposition member commenting last week that the Budget would generate “bloody war”, a reference to anticipated verbal violence, even before the Budget details were declared.
Such actions flow from how we occur to each other, how we see each other, how we feel about each other. We look at one another not with the goal of humane understanding and mutual respect and regard, but with suspicion, distrust and disregard.
If we occur to each other in such a way, how could we come together to write the future of the Guyanese nation?
We create our future through language, the way Burnham and Jagan did in their leadership.
Today, we cannot advance unless we elevate our thinking and understanding to these new realms of wisdom.
Life is what it is. But it’s how it occurs to us that matters, for that’s how we see, feel and relate. It’s how it occurs to us that we act upon.
So we drive ourselves not so much by what actually is happening, but by how we see and feel, how the world occurs to our frames of reference, our narrow worldview and mindset.
This comes with a grave danger: we keep repeating our past mistakes, stumbling into a “default future”, a term coined by Zaffron and Logan.
So the 2014 Budget is but a reflection of the 2013 scenario, and the citizen stands dumbfounded, disgusted, downtrodden, depressed, demoralized.
We must transform how we see ourselves as a nation, as a civilization, as a society, so that we are able and competent to re-write the future, to transform our “default future” into a new, dynamic future based not on how things occur to us, but on our aspirations, potential and true gifts and talents as the Guyanese nation.
Overseas, migrated Guyanese re-write their future. We must be the same way in the homeland.
We accomplish this simply with a new respect for the power of language, and what it can accomplish in the human heart.
With words, our leaders cause the heartbeats of the nation.