One of the most enduring human attributes is our capacity for hope. At our very core, most of us hold an unfailing belief that things can and will get better, regardless of the circumstances or adverse life events that we face. French author, Francois de la Rochefoucauld fitting concludes that, “Hope is the last thing that dies in man; and though it be exceedingly deceitful, yet it is of this good use to us, that while we are travelling through life it conducts us in an easier and more pleasant way to our journey’s end.”
In light of global and national events, we need more than ever to be hopeful. A cursory glance at any media outlet illustrates a world that is rife with adversity ranging from wars and threats of war, to rising migration and the displacement of millions of people, racism and tribalism, a widening of the chasm between the rich and poor, growing populist movements and a corresponding threat to democratic norms.
What follows is our denigration of each other, the escalation of death, destruction and hopelessness. It becomes both urgent and necessary for people all over the world, who share a deep desire for peace, respect of life, and respect for the dignity and worth of every human being, to find ways to begin to reclaim our common humanity.
In the context of Guyana, there is much work ahead of us. Some 50 year post-independence and we are still mired in an unhealthy mix of racism, ethnic distrust, political exploitation of our differences, systemic corruption, slow socio-economic development and the twin malady of ineffective and inefficient governance.
The question is what do we do, as citizens of this great country? Do we continue to be split into ‘us against them camps’? Do we continue to denigrate and malign each other because we have different visions for how this country should be run? What is at stake for all of us, not just our politicians? What kind of people do we want to be, and more importantly, what kind of future do we want to leave for our children?
There are no easy answers to any of these questions, and no one group or political party can rightly claim to have the solutions to any of the challenges that we face. In fact, it’s all of us, Guyanese, working together, talking to each other rather than about each other, that will likely bring us closer to answering these questions.
Talking, both inter-personally and as political opponents is challenging at the best of times. Too often, even the simplest exchange becomes adversarial, and any difference of opinions is met with racially charged denunciations of an entire ethnic group. One wonders then, where is the hope for us, and how do we begin to have the kinds of conversations that are necessary for healing our national collective, building bridges to the future and restoring our common humanity.
This then begs the question, what would have to be different in the way we do life together in Guyana? What behaviors, attitudes and practices would we have to adopt or let go, in order to be the kind of people and country that we want. These questions are not intended to solicit answers mainly from our politicians. Rather, the onus is on all of us to do our own reflection, both as individuals and as a collective in social groups, communities, places of worship, places of learning, and in our offices.
For starters, it might be necessary to create spaces for dialogue where courage is operating and where our ultimate goal is to bring about reconciliation, healing, trust and respect for each other. Author Steven Fulmer explains that in courageous spaces “we have the courage to face a fear, to confront a demon, to respectfully challenge another, to question authority….and to truly live a new day in a new way.” Courageous conversation or dialogue is about building relationships. We enter into these courageous spaces with a willingness to discuss what author Susan Scott calls the ‘undiscussables’. These are the things that are blocking deep, honest and meaningful conversations from occurring.
The risk of being vulnerable is probably the single hardest things anyone can do. In a courageous space, it’s the willingness to tell the truth about who you are and what you want. It also means letting go of the fear of being hurt, judged or criticized. The responsibility of the rest of us is to hear those truths and to acknowledge the risk it took for others to speak up. We don’t have to agree with all that is said, but at the very least we can let the speakers know they were heard.
One of the most important norms of any courageous space is to know that we can disagree respectfully. Political, religious and racial differences should never cause us to denigrate and dehumanize each other. When we engage in such behavior we rob others of their right to respect and the right to be heard. We can have disagreements but still employ deep respect or recognition of the full humanity of each other.
This is an invitation for us to communicate understanding, compassion, and empathy for the speaker. When we listen only to formulate a rebuttal or to argue and defend our beliefs then we shut out any ideas or information that is inconsistent with what we know and believe to be true to us at the time. Listening differently is a call for us to adopt a posture of openness and a willingness to learn.
Reclaiming our humanity through courageous dialogue (courageous spaces) is an opportunity for all Guyanese to begin to consider how we could be different in our relationships with each other. It’s also an opportunity to develop a new respect for our diversity and to honor the dignity and worth of every human. I remain hopeful!
Heal Guyana is a registered, not-for-profit organisation which functions as a civil society platform that focuses on empowering Guyanese and influencing citizens toward positive behavior change.
The views expressed herein are those of the Author; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Heal Guyana or its Executives.