CULTURE CLASH: Thank God for those unafraid to say ‘no’

By Alicia Wallace

The Arawaks were a peace-loving people, they say. Our history books place the Arawaks in direct opposition to Caribs who, we were taught, were violent. Some books even say they were cannibals.

In recent years, this “knowledge” has been challenged, and we have been asked to think about who wrote our history, the lens they see through and how that directly impacts content and its delivery.

What we have not been asked to do in the same way is the think about the history of this land and how it, just as much as our ancestry, leads us to see, think, and act in particular ways. In fact, even our understandings of history can colour the way we see ourselves and become determinants of the way we behave.

We talk about ourselves as “passive” people. We both celebrate and lament the inaction of the citizenry. On one hand, it is a reflection of patience, faith, or some other godly characteristic. On the other, it is a manifestation of laziness, fear and indecisiveness. It is difficult to go against the grain. It is even more challenging, of course, to do so publicly both in word and deed.

When a part of a group, it is generally expected everyone will agree — or at least pretend to agree — on everything. When disagreement comes up, groups generally look to the “democratic” process which gives power to the majority and silences everyone else. The one person, or few people, to disagree have to accept their colleagues have made a different decision and the group only have one voice. On this particular issue, dissenting voices are silenced.

Building consensus is an arduous process. It is particularly challenging because it requires, at different points, the different groups of people to not only be quiet, but also listen. Many disagreements are not disagreement at all, but misunderstandings. All that is needed in these cases is to clearly articulate what is being proposed, what is understood by the proposal, and parts of the proposal that a subgroup finds unacceptable. This often settles the matter.

Where there is a true disagreement, the parties need to find where they actually agree. For example, every Free National Movement (FNM) Member of Parliament may have agreed the government needed to increase income. They may have even agreed this needed to be done through taxation. It is important to identify the exact point where they disagree which may have been on the increase from 7.5 percent to 12 percent VAT. After finding the point of disagreement, it is possible to offer and consider alternatives. These may have been a different rate, different exemptions, or another form of taxation.

Disagreement is not always negative. It does not necessarily mean a group is falling apart, leadership is weak, or people are being left out of process. These can all be true — as many of us have assumed to be the case with the FNM — but this is not necessarily the case. In a well-functioning group, individuals have the ability to express different points of view. Unfortunately, these are not always represented in the group’s announcement of its decision.

Few groups will make a statement about its new process, rule or implementation of a project that includes the reasons some members disagreed and why the group decided to go ahead with it anyway. It is up to the members to decide whether or not they want to remain part of the group, and to interpret the meaning of that decision, from values to relative power.

Recently, we have seen MPs choose not to tow the party line. Chipman, Robinson, McAlpine, and Miller all, at some point, made the decision to take a position in direct opposition to an action proposed by the FNM administration. This is an unpopular choice to make as it is expected that MPs remain, for the entire five-year term, indebted to the people who nominated them for candidacy and supported their run and part of that is backing the prime minister in every move. Personal integrity is generally not seen as having a place in frontline politics. Politicians are expected to deceive, outmanoeuvre and make play for power. It is simply not expected that this would be done within a party, but from one party against another. It is also almost unheard of for an MP to consult with their constituency and actually represent them in their private meetings and public votes. It looks like we are misinterpreting displays of personal integrity and commitment to represent as a crisis of leadership or party structure or, at the individual level, disrespect and insubordination.

These MPs who dare to stand apart in their criticism of proposals and decisions should have our support, rather than undue scrutiny, or being completely ignored in favour of focusing on the institution and its apparent failings. We need them and their candour. We need them and their willingness to be rebuked. We may not need them to apologize for doing their jobs, but maybe we need them to remain on the inside too.

We deserve representatives who are unafraid to speak and to act on our behalf. We should vote for people with the expectation they will present our interests and champion our causes, even if they become unpopular in the private clubs. Beyond that, we need to become more comfortable with disagreement

It is important we are not all on the same page. We need a variety of ideas. The first one proposed is usually not the best version of itself. It needs to be picked apart, added to, turned inside out, emptied of the unnecessary and reformed with intention. This will not happen in aa room full of people nodding their heads. This will not happen when people are afraid to recognise and talk about imperfection.

We do not have to embody every positive attribute we were taught about the Arawaks in an attempt to distance ourselves from all we were taught about the Caribs. Disagreement is not the enemy of peace. In fact, disagreement is often essential to peace and peace building activity.

What we do need to learn is how to disagree and how to move beyond differences in beliefs and ideas to building consensus based on a shared understanding of desired outcome.


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