Consequence. This word is defined in one place as “something produced by a cause or necessarily following from a set of conditions.” And in other places as “a result of a particular action or situation”.
For those who did Physics, you would perhaps know that Newton’s third law states: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” I wasn’t that good at Physics so I wouldn’t attempt to speak on Newton’s theories and laws but I would like to venture into the realm of consequences.
Throughout history humankind has witnessed the consequences of its actions. Indeed, we are reminded in scriptures and historical accounts by those who were kind and intelligent enough to research and record history so that later generations can benefit from such lessons, that human beings have done things and faced the consequences, both positive and negative. The faith groups will remind us of the story of the first human beings, Adam and Eve, and how they were tempted to eat of the forbidden fruit, and the results of succumbing to that temptation. Our history can therefore be defined by the consequences of our actions. For some, it can also be defined by the consequences of our inaction.
In our modern world we are constantly reminded of the consequences of what we do as individuals or as a collective. Sadly, many of those messages are lost in the individualistic culture that prevails our psyche.
The spectrum ranges from the many whose tremendous struggle to provide a basic standard of living for their families causes them to blank out the consequences of their actions, to others, whose greed, in its truest form, blinds them to do whatever without thinking of the consequences for the rest of humanity or even the environment.
The attitude of most human beings to do whatever they feel without thinking of the consequences is rooted in a philosophy and mindset cultivated over generations. In some cases, that mindset is premised on the principle that “might is right” and in other cases, on privilege of birth, race, ethnic, religious or gender identity.
Haile Selassie I’s words made popular by Bob Marley in his song War explains the consequences of such evil philosophies:
“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior, and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war. And until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation, until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes; and until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race, there is war. And until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship, rule of international morality, will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained… now everywhere is war.”
The consequences of humankind’s greed and unjust behaviour to others will ever be turmoil. The Holy Quran reminds readers in a very potent verse: “Corruption (evil, mischief) has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned…”
In our past, the consequences of man’s inhumanity to fellow man was witnessed in its ugliest form. Today, while that inhumanity to others still exists in several places of our world, the focus is mainly on man’s destruction of our precious environment. The consequences of unprecedented growth in materialism and the resulting demand for wealth, goods and services have caused humanity to largely ignore the rights and the responsibility we all have to our planet to keep it healthy and sustainable.
We look to others as the culprits and we look to others to find the solutions. We don’t look inward to our actions and the consequences of our own individual behaviours. If each one of us examines what we do to contribute either positively or negatively to the world and its people around us, then we begin the process of healing. If we look objectively at the consequences of our actions, or inaction, with the aim of making ourselves, others and the world better, then we help in our own small way of bringing about a better world.
In recent weeks, the news focused on what was going on at the United Nations regarding climate change and the alarming predictions of catastrophic events impacting us more and more. Barbados’ Prime Minister spoke eloquently and decisively on this subject. For us, as a small island developing state, we have the most to lose in negative climate changes. Extreme heat, devastating hurricanes, sea level rises and drought are among possible impacts we, as a small country, can experience. Sadly, many of us see the problem lying elsewhere and many more see the solutions being the work of others. I prefer to see part of the solution beginning with me. Am I idealistic? Perhaps, but it must begin somewhere and it must be all hands on deck to effect the change that is needed.
A previously unknown Norwegian 16-year-old girl became centre-stage at the United Nations this year because she dared to step up and step out of her box. There are many like her, who, in their own way, have challenged the system to do better, to change, and to understand the consequences of their actions or inaction.
In a discussion I recently had on the use of lighted candles at an event it was felt that the carbon footprint of using these candles was nothing compared to the pollution released into our atmosphere by major industrialized countries. And that is true, but what if everyone made a bold and conscious decision to limit as much as possible their own carbon footprint, wouldn’t the sum total be more positive?
It is like garbage and the issues we face with littering. If we consider the impact and consequences of discarding a tiny wrapper of a sweet or chewing gum the same as dumping an old appliance illegally then we begin to effect change.
I walked for the second time in the recently held annual Walk for the Cure for Breast Cancer. Thousands participated in this noble cause and I was pleased to see people from all backgrounds, especially the many young people involved. However, what I did witness for the second year was the indiscriminate discarding of water bottles and cups alongside the road and in the bushes by hundreds of walkers. The SSA workers did a fantastic job cleaning the route immediately after but I know they didn’t pick up every single discarded plastic bottle or cup.
If we understand the importance of walking for the cause of breast cancer, then we must also understand the importance of not littering. It isn’t rocket science.
In life, if we fully understand and appreciate the consequences of doing or not doing, then we begin to accept that each and every one of us can make a difference, small or big.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace; Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association; Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI and a Childhood Obesity Prevention Champion. Email: [email protected])