Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Saturday, May 22, 2010

For Zayda: The Strength in Unity

Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won't eat you. (African proverb)

Adinkra symbol for unity in diversity

Dear Zayda,

Many of us talk inside our homes or on the phone with our friends about how Jamaica is to move forward. We have solutions to our problems, but often we talk about what someone else needs to go. For example many people think Bruce Golding should resign as Prime Minister, and then what?

The challenge comes when we need to stop talking among ourselves and act. A lot of us are scared of being punished for acting on what we believe to be true. I saw some of that this week. People told Golding they did not want a leader they could not trust, and he had to say he was sorry even after claiming he had nothing to apologise for. But the next steps looked scary - like insisting that politicians make a habit of listening to the people.

Mostly politicians think they have power over people, but this was one time the people showed their power and the politician had to listen. We can still insist tht our leaders listen to us, but I think people are starting to feel scared of what might happen to them if they go all the way in demanding respect from politicians.

Someone called me to suggest that we have a demonstration to demand that politicians know they have to answer to the people. The idea seemed good, but most people did not want anyone (least of all politicians!) to see them on the side of the road holding up placards. Some may have worried bout what their friends would say about them, especially as better off people in Jamaica almost never take to the streets. The biggest fear, I think, was of violence. Human rights advocates received threats, and a youth activist's car was bombed, apparently because they spoke their minds about Golding's not telling the truth. That fear is real. In fact, all fears are real for those who feel them.

People are not brave because they feel no fear. Mostly they are brave because they act despite their fears. Often their fears make them more alert to possible danger, and so they try to unite with others who think as they do. Fear therefore has a role – it can lead or mislead us.

Right now, a lot of people act as if they want to step back to the bank, after they seemed to be at least putting a toe or two in the water. They may be afraid that the water might be colder and deeper than it looks. They may think people will be unreliable, and might say “I will be there next to you in the crowd crossing the river,” but fail to turn up for the action.

If we really decide to cross the river with crocodiles on the attack, we may need to find others who share our dream. The desire to cross the river will need to be stronger than fear of being eaten. The risk is always going to be there, but if we stay closer together, the crocodile might well swim away to find others who travel alone. And if we keep going, we will be on the other side of the river, rather than always wishing we were there.

Putting action behind our words will not be easy, Zayda. However, if we unite, it will certainly be possible.


Your shangazi


Liz Youngblood said...

Yes, Yvonne, this is all so very true. There is an FB group demanding the PM's resignation that I am a part of, and that was planning a demonstration. Needless to say, the demonstration has been cancelled.
No, I would not want to be seen with a placard either but if I were there I would do it. I don't know what to say or think about Jamaicans and what we will accept from the brown backra. The verandah talk is all we know how to do (and now its FB talk also). But in the end, no one will step up to force his resignation.. What about Gordon House? What would the risk be if a group went in there and just chanted,"resign now" or something?
Oh, the apathy....=-(

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...


Thanks for your comment.

I share your concern. I feel as if we managed to force some response from a Prime Minister, and now we don't know what to do next.

If we won't take risks for ourselves and for what we believe in, who will?

I am heartened by the action of those Argentinian mothers who demonstrated week after week, under a military dictatorship, till they got the results they sought.

Perhaps the time may come when holding up a placard is the least of our risks. That time doesn't have to come if we act now, but I guess the bottom just has not yet dropped out of the bucket.

All the best,



When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

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