As Child Month drew to a close, several issues related to children came to the fore in Barbados. Unfortunately, these issues were not pleasant and again reignited the debate on behaviour, not only of children in our society, but parents, guardians and indeed the extended family –– and even the rest of society.
The sad and tragic events surrounding the death of a young boy in St Lucy, the lewd scene of a young boy gyrating on an adult female at the Christ Church Carnival, the question of whether to beat or not to beat children, and just at the end of May the breaking news of schoolchildren playing a “demonic” game called the Charlie, Charlie Challenge.
Two columns ago, I proffered the suggestion that we should never look at the child in a vacuum. A child’s outlook, character and behaviour are the sum product of several circumstances. We cannot speak about a child’s well-being without speaking about the well-being of the family –– immediate and extended.
And, we can’t seek to address to the well-being of the family without also addressing the well-being of the community and the society around. All these sections come together to form a whole.
In southern Africa there is a lived concept or philosophy termed “ubuntu”. Roughly translated to “human kindness”, it is an idea that means literally “humanness,” and is often translated as “humanity toward others”, but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”. Archbishop Desmond Tutu offered a definition of ubuntu: “A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed”
He further explained ubuntu: “One of the sayings in our country is ubuntu –– the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality –– ubuntu –– you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
The late Nelson Mandela explained ubuntu as follows: “A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him. That is one aspect of ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: are you going
to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”
Since the despicable and heinous crime of slavery, successive generations of Caribbean people have been stripped of their humanity. We have inherited a type of society alien to our inert nature of good, kindness and humaneness to others.
Some have managed to lift themselves above this, and others who moved into the region since slavery have also managed to utilize their religious and cultural practices to safeguard themselves. But modern-day Western civilization with all its material glory hasn’t been kind in this regard.
We continue hastily in self-destruction as we refuse to build up and safeguard those structures and institutions that have long served many communities and ensured their success.
The family, as a structure and an institution, as I suggested, must be central in the upbringing of all children. Where the immediate family is broken, then the extended family must play its role. Along with family playing its role, the society as a whole also has a responsibility. This has been the norm and practice of successful communities throughout time.
The sum parts of any community must work together to ensure the success of all. Ubuntu is one concept that can and should be seriously looked at as a philosophy we can adopt in our teachings. It brings us back to our humanity with love and care of each other as trademarks of our internal being.
Our children must be fostered in an environment of love, care, discipline, respect, moral character, a strong and resilient attitude among so many other noble and lofty characteristics. If our families, communities and wider society fail to provide such an environment and fail to be the living examples of such, then we will forever be discussing the pros and cons of corporal punishment; we will forever be lamenting the lewd behaviour of some of our young ones; and, sadly, we will face more tragic incidents that will jolt us like an earthquake.
Our collective consciousness was riveted last week when a so-called “demon” Charlie was reportedly being summoned by many of our nation’s children. We paid attention then and got involved to protect them from evil.
Many “demons” still exist and, while not the type like Charlie, they still present a clear and present danger and evil for our children. We must pay attention and wake up to the reality that our children today are facing a world so different from the one we grew up in, and the challenges are far greater and more sophisticated.
As an aside, not more than six months ago, in the aftermath of the gruesome attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, hundreds of people across the globe felt the need to promote Je Suis Charlie or I Am Charlie. Now, in an ironic twist saying “I am Charlie” would be considered demonic.
Let us all pledge to work on building up our families. For some this is easy and for others it may be a challenge, but if we all collectively work at it and focus our thoughts on how to achieve such, then our society would be better off.
In closing, I draw inspiration from recently installed vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles. At his installation ceremony last Saturday he made a point during his inaugural address to recognize the role played by his grandmother, father, mother, siblings, wife and children in shaping his life and bringing him to that point –– three generations all included in his journey to academic excellence and success.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)