Independence Address by The Most Rev. Charles Jason Gordon Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Bridgetown
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mk 8:36)
What is our value system today? Fifty-one years ago, our nation had a clear value system: God was first, then came our nation Barbados, then family and finally self. This value system is the philosophical foundation of our national anthem and the foundation of the newly independent Barbados.
However, if we look closely at the value system today, it seems that the order has reversed to self, family, Barbados and finally God. Values and priorities are vital to democracy, to citizenship, to the type of society we want to become.
For fifty-one years we have had the privilege of being independent; the privilege of charting our course and determining our destiny; the privilege of taking ultimate responsibility for our future. If we rise, it is because we have evolved as citizens into taking responsibility for our affairs. This is the deepest significance of independence.
Re-enforcing or returning to our Barbadian value system which made this country ready to become an independent state, is even more critical today. The challenges that small independent countries face today as they seek to build an economy and a society that provide hope for their citizens, especially the young people, can be daunting. What appear initially to be realistic plans, can be complicated with the persistent model of success promoted via the internet by economies of excess.
Without a solid foundation of who we are as a people, and an acceptance of our own model of development, there will be an unrealistic yearning for the ideals and values of other countries; ideals and values which have no place in small developing countries where community, family and a concern for the common good can yield more than a focus on self and personal wealth.
Aristotle warned twenty-three hundred years ago, that a society that puts pleasure, money or self first, will implode into hedonism and violence. Maximising pleasure, power and wealth is a path of destruction.
It appears that Barbados, and in fact the English speaking Caribbean, have unconsciously and unwittingly adopted a different value system from our fore-parents; a value system that puts self first, before God, nation and family; a value system that is unsustainable, and can put our nations in grave danger and contribute to challenges such as rising national debt, and an alarming rise in crime and violence.
A national consciousness for commitment around an appropriate value system for Barbados is needed as a matter of urgency. This requires action at all levels: political leaders, business leaders, civil society, families and the church. This will take the kind of courageous leadership that brought us to independence.
We are at a crossroads. We have to make a choice about our national value system. Which is the ultimate value that we will choose first: God or self? (See Mt 6:33). Do we evolve into mature nationhood taking responsibility for our destiny and living to serve Almighty God, or do we continue in a self-serving lifestyle?
God has given us freedom of choice. This impacts everything we do. It guides our collective will as a People and the decisions we take as a nation. However, this gift of freedom of choice becomes destructive if we reject or forget its giver, Almighty God. How will we use this free will: to choose excellence in the moral life, or to choose the sliding scale of mediocrity with the threat of corruption which so often follows?
The real drama and elegance of independence, is that we take responsibility for the generations that are coming. We owe them deep consideration, since every choice we make today impacts their stability and happiness directly, every decision we make today determines if they will be able to grab the baton, and swiftly move Barbados forward along a sustainable path.
Accountability exists at all levels of society – government, business, church, family, self. Government provides the framework and the rules for society but in order for the citizens to assess accountability, proper tools must be available to them.
Integrity in public life is a hot topic and there have been calls for the 2012 Prevention of Corruption Act that has been passed in Parliament, to be proclaimed or further strengthened, adopting best practices available from our region.
Barbados signed The Inter-American Convention Against Corruption on 29th March, 1996 in Caracas, Venezuela. Only Barbados and Cuba have taken no further action. In 2003 Barbados signed two UN conventions against Corruption; Articles 8 and 9 of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime relating to Corruption was adopted on 29th September and The United Nations Convention Against Corruption was adopted on 31st October. Only Barbados and Syria have taken no further action.
The opportunity for implementing anti-corruption legislation has been on the table since the 1990s. Strong, effective integrity legislation should be promoted and implemented now, as a matter of good governance, complete with the necessary structures around integrity at all levels of society. We have always been a nation which lives the highest ideals of morality
It is up to the citizens of our beloved country to hold everyone who has political aspirations in 2018 to accountability. What is the value system being offered by each aspirant, each political party, as the model for growth for Barbados, for successive generations?
Democracy requires us, the citizens of this beloved land, to stay awake and take our civic responsibility seriously; the citizens need to set and shape the national agenda. To evolve as a people and as a nation, we each need to take responsibility for the future of our nation. Citizens need to examine each promise being made carefully – what are the implications? We need to hold our leaders’ feet to the fire of discipline, the fire of noble aspiration, the fire of nationhood, the fire of values and morality. Responsible citizens are the unshakable foundation of a mature democracy.
Let us enter into a national conversation about the type of nation we want to become. What is our value system? Let this conversation dominate the call in programmes, the water cooler conversations, the bars and rum shops, the living rooms, the gyms, the educational institutions, the barber shops, the hairdressing salons and street corners, until we find consensus.
Over the last few decades, we seem to have bought into the dream that unbridled pursuit of wealth will bring us salvation and happiness. Let us consider this question: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mk 8:36)
May Almighty God give us courage to bravely face the moral choices that are before us, the wisdom to choose and the Grace to build a better Barbados. May God Bless our nation!
✝The Most Rev. Charles Jason Gordon Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Bridgetown