Not so long on the programme ‘Broadcast to schools’ I heard the good doctor in his role as teacher in one of his lessons dealing with our national symbols – the pledge and anthem –imploring students to cultivate certain things in their character and then exercise these in order to be considered good citizens. Patriotism was a sine qua non. I thought it was timely and fitting in that it coincided with the celebration of our 48th Independence anniversary.
Rule # 4: “We must be brave enough to stand up to people who are disloyal or work against the progress of our country.” Now I can’t imagine any right-thinking Guyanese who would say to the contrary; I doubt if there is any that thick and bold.
But then some thoughts went rambling through my mind: loyalty, patriotism, law-abiding, respect for authority and most of all being a responsible citizen – all very important functions which we need to imbue not only in our young people but in everyone. It should be a complete responsibility and not a lop-sided approach in dispensing civic duties, so that our young people are equally aware of their role when those charges with the responsibility of the nation’s affairs, our affairs, are not working in our interest. Above all they should be brave enough to cultivate the courage, and have that moral fibre to stand on the side of justice.
There is, indeed, a long list of well-documented repressive regimes when people were punished, jailed, persecuted and executed for not adhering to “the law”; or not respecting the ruling authority. This is moreso in instances where that authority has against the people’s will seized the reins of power through various forms of unconstitutional practice and retained control by force – apartheid South Africa comes to mind. Then, why lend legitimacy by showing respectability and thus promoting the authority’s recognition? Conversely we have also had power being wrested from totalitarian regimes through armed struggle by a people’s liberation movement, which is quite a different situation altogether, so shouldn’t this new dispensation be accorded due respect?
Yes, I do agree that laws must be respected; this is what any civilization demands, but people must be taught to examine them carefully and not blindly obey. The cardinal questions must at all times be: is it right? Who do they benefit and serve?
Now let’s face it, it does take some guts to stand up in opposition to any ruling authority, especially a repressive one. So many of us either through self-induced fear remain silent in the face of the most blatant and egregious wrongs and thus by our silence afford a form of support. And it does strike me that we are invariably taught to both respect and fear authority – wittingly/unwittingly – seldom ever to question or challenge it. This brings to mind a contradictory statement I once came across: “Two of the causes for the problems in the world are order and disorder.” It goes without saying that laws which are designed to keep people servile, shackled, and economically stagnated will automatically breed resistance. I recall a story of a man who was labelled an enemy of the state, was denied work, couldn’t earn enough to make a decent living for himself and family, refused to recognise the flag of his country which he described as a piece of cloth fluttering high that commanded more respect than he did, while his civil, human and constitutional rights were brazenly violated. And who would blame him? Why should one pledge allegiance to, salute a flag; stand at attention when the anthem is being played and the motto being said with the architects of his wretchedness who thereafter will return to abusing and denying him what is rightfully his? I guess there must be some merit in the statement: “A man’s respect for law and order exists in precise relationship to the size of his pay check.”
Tell me, which man, as Jamaicans would say “have to box food out ah hog mouth to survive” would we honestly expect to be a decent law-abiding citizen?