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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Big People


Dr. Lester CN Simon

As we approach the noteworthy milestone of 25 years of independence, we may look back to see how far we have come, or we may look ahead to see how far we have to go. The one view is not independent of the other. We all have eyes in the back of our heads; that’s where the vision area of the brain is located.

Independence begins in the mind. It must constantly run through and around our thinking. It should be manifested in our actions. We become an independent nation when the sum total of our individual, independent actions makes us exponentially bigger and better and, ironically, dependent on each other. In short, independence means that we can choose our dependencies.

Reflection on the basic elements of an independent nation requires, firstly, serious consideration of citizenship. This reflection is occurring at a time of collision between seemingly unlimited immigration and emigration and seemingly unlimited demands for salaries and other newly found rights, such as the right to be respected in trade negotiations. This multiple accident is threatening to diffract Antigua and Barbuda into a rainbow of independent and mismatched colours.

Citizenship is firstly about what we owe Antigua and Barbuda; not firstly what Antigua and Barbuda owes us. To be a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, we have to firstly meet a sacred set of obligations to fellow citizens, to the law of the land and to the nation. Any benefits, including education, free school meals, medical benefits, roads unpunctuated by potholes, etc. must come after meeting these obligations. We have to put in to take out. That is why it is better to give than to receive. Simple arithmetic says that receiving is predicated on having given something first.

However, we must be very careful about unequal and unfair practices of giving and receiving, lest we end up with each endeavoring and only some achieving. Worse, an entire nation can become subsumed under the personas of a few or the enigma of a maximum leader. This leads us to the need for a fair and dispassionate consideration of the second most enigmatic citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, the late, premier (as in first) Prime Minister, The Rt. Hon. Sir Vere Conwall Bird Snr.

Tim Hector referred to the phenomenon of V.C. Bird. It would be useful but too lengthy to recount the details of his writings. Those who have Outlet will read and those who do not will either borrow or wait for the library. Tim noted that like all great men of history, there were positive and negative attributes to V.C. Bird. It was written that V.C. Bird was his own worst enemy, his own worst contradiction, and that he negated himself. It is this enigmatic idea, not the persona of V.C. Bird, but the V.C. Code, that we have to come to terms with in order to move on for at least another 25 years.

The concept of role models and national heroes can be a dangerous one unless we accept the V.C. Code. Role models and national heroes are phenomenal figures that show us, or allow us to see and accept their positive and negative attributes. They teach us to accentuate the positive and reject the negative we see in them and try, as only we can try, to do the same with what we see in ourselves.

An economist Professor, Robert Rowthorn observed that a nation is a community of mutual obligation that is based on a shared history. What then does it mean to be an Antiguan and Barbudan? What is our codified set of mutual obligations? It seems that an old nationhood is drifting away and a new one is berthing.

The divisive politics of the past and the present suggest that we look to another medium or institution to
define our evolving, new nationhood. The single most important institution for the guarantee of civil society is the family. We cannot choose our family and there are some family members some of us wish we never had. However, despite all its frailties, marriage is the best institutional context for raising and nurturing children. It should be the nucleus of the extended biological and social family and the simple but profound idea and ideal at the center of nationhood.

Without falling prey to the victim culture of slavery, we, the West Indians, black and white and all races of Antiguan and Barbudan must regard our shared history of transplantation to these lands and the historic decimation of the family. This will lead us to realize that incentives for marriage and maintaining the family should be our foremost priority and the basis of our civil society and nationhood. Many of us were called bastards, stigmatized and ostracized from civil society. As painful as that memory is, we must accept that we too must see that all relationships and all family types are not equal; or at best, some are more equal than others. Rewarding single parentage is a recipe for perpetual fatherlessness and motherlessness.

As we celebrate our silver milestone through our rites of passage to a truly independent nation, we must register and testify our hypocrisies, our paradoxes, our frailties and, most important, our common strengths. We must decipher and understand the V.C. Code to set us on the right path for the next, fiftieth, golden anniversary. At that time we may be ready to use the V.C. Code and other parameters to decipher the foremost enigmatic and exemplar citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, the late master, headmaster and teacher, Leonard Churchill, “Timoshenko” Hector. May his soul rest in peace as the soul of our nation finds the peace for which he struggled all his life.

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