Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Monday, July 19, 2010

Replacing fear and hate with courage

This Adinkra symbol is "Akofena". These two swords represent courage.

That which you fear most is likely to occur; the one you hate the most is likely to take over. (Ethiopia)

Dear Zayda,

If this Ethiopian proverb is right (and I think it is), we seem to be building up a lot of trouble in Jamaica right now. Whatever we fear and whomever we hate has power over us. On the other hand, faith and love have power beyond what we can imagine. Our strength comes from the courage to think our way to solutions, rather than simply react to problems.

People in Jamaica seem to fear crime so much that they don’t want to look at it. And if you don’t look at something, you can’t solve it. In fact, looking at something puts you have way toward solving it since you know what you are dealing with. Or at least you are willing to see what the problem is.

So at this moment we have a State of Emergency that has gone on for almost two months. The government is likely to renew this State of Emergency this week, and seem likely to continue renewing it for the rest of the year. The police like it, business people like it, people uptown and downtown seem to like it, and I can think of few people who think it should end now. But sometimes, Zayda, we have to stand up for what we believe even if we are alone or in a small group. It’s not a question if we are right or wrong, it’s a question of being firm in what we are convinced is true.

I can understand the public response to the State of Emergency, because living with crime and fear of crime can make people so stressed out they get sick. Living that way makes many of us prisoners in our homes and in our cars. We feel we must live behind grills and with our windows rolled up and car doors locked all the time. We panic if we hear a sound at night, even if it is just a neighbour’s cat hunting for mice. If the wind rattles a window we might freeze in our beds. Yes, it is that bad to live in a country with a high rate of crime.

So the State of Emergency gives an ease, at least for a while. However, it is like a band-aid over a broken leg. The State of Emergency gives the police huge powers, so every the police cordon and search areas – they surround a community and block it so people can’t just go in and out as they wish, and then they search for bad men and guns. The police can also arrest as many people as they like, and they don’t need to have a reason. Besides, they can hold the people for months, and they don’t need to charge the people with any offences. So crime is down, mainly because the wrongdoers are laying low for a while. The band aid is on, but the broken leg is not fixed.

At some point, the band aid is going to drop off or be taken off, and then what? That which people fear most is likely to return, perhaps all the worse for being allowed to get worse because we feared it so much we would not look at it and try to deal with it directly. The State of Emergency will end, even though I think there are those who would like it to continue indefinitely, so we never have to start healing what is admittedly ugly to look at.
At this time, people are saying how much they hate criminals. Some would like criminals locked up forever, and many say outright that they have no problem with killing criminals. Others compare criminals to cockroaches or other pests that the country needs to get rid of, even if some innocents die in the process. So, if the Ethiopian proverb is correct, the criminals seem likely to take over when the State of Emergency ends – what we hate most is likely to take over. Worse still, if our fears prevented us from solving the problems that were making people do bad things rather than look to what is good for everyone.

We probably can’t help all of Jamaica to turn from fear and hate, but we can help ourselves. So, my grandniece, let us look at life through the eyes of love. Let us look at people, no matter their actions, through the eyes of love. Love doesn’t mean we allow bad things to happen. Love means we try to prevent the bad things from happening. And if the bad things happen, love means we look for ways to prevent them from happening again. And courage means we take steps that may not make us popular.

Our solutions don’t need to be perfect, since we can keep learning how to do things better. What is important is that, no matter our fears, we keep growing. And loving.


Your shangazi

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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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