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Monday 11 December 2017
Commentary

Natural disasters and compassion

A disturbing conversation popped up on my Facebook newsfeed as I sat writing this, throwing my mind back to a line that had a profound impact on me at an early stage in my life. The question that led to the comments was whether Trinidad was ready for climate refugees.

One individual apparently had a breakdown. The conversation went the road of racial politics and that the UNC didn’t stand a chance anymore if residents of other Caribbean islands were to be accepted here and that the PNM strategy had always been this importation of voters. And, of course, there was the overarching concern with crime. One voice was willing to accommodate because migrants would be better workers than locals and things might very well get done here. These were all legitimate concerns of course. And they tell a story of us, in a microcosm albeit, but a story anyway.

That line revisited saying, “A child cannot be told to share, if he/she hasn’t known what it means to possess something.” Not in those exact words but that’s the general essence. It comes from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The sentence is important here perhaps for the simple reason, that as citizens of this land, it seems that our battle for space–from the conversation on my Facebook feed–is still unresolved. But this is not news. These views should not be new to any resident of Trinidad and one wonders, really, how ready we are for climate refugees?

In the last two weeks, two hurricanes, in quick succession, hit some of our Caribbean neighbours leaving many homeless, and overnight refugees. But, even before this, the Rohyinga issue in Myanmar was uppermost in my mind (more on that at another date) together with the crime that took the lives of two elderly women in Trinidad. And I thought of the latter that, if this didn’t make citizens begin to form vigilante groups, well then nothing else would.

Well the conclusion is nothing’s going to happen. Pensioners have been robbed, raided, murdered and we stand by. Retrenchments, murders, kidnapping of children, men and women, rise in cost of living – are all issues that we have been trying to cope with and the situation keeps getting worse. Are we hoping that a superhero is going to pop up to do the work–alone–while we cheer and congratulate or in some cases blame him/her for things gone wrong?

Do we not realise that while we may not be able to eradicate some of these issues, that we can at least control them? That all the citizens need to do is quietly, without much fuss or fanfare if they wish, down tools and disrupt the systems, forcing administrators into action.

I read a foolish argument when this type of disruption was suggested that went something like this, “Think about the poor people who need jobs, how can they down tools? They are not privileged like you to have a job…etc etc.”

I thought, “Well, this is the exact reason why nothing is happening. It’s because this thinking prevails that we continue to box ourselves into a seemingly helpless situation. We haven’t as yet recognised, perhaps because we have never known the power of a collective voice.”

Don’t blame the Government when we continue to suffer in silence and fear to the point that now when someone asks if we are ready for climate refugees some of us have meltdowns because our own sense of humanity has been depleted on account of the fact that we ourselves are essentially also trying to survive. Some see these displaced peoples as threats because we as citizens are also helpless. We don’t mind giving aid from afar or even going across to help with the rebuilding, but why accommodate more persons into a space where our own citizens are struggling to make ends meet?

The issue is, how human do we feel when we are constantly on the lookout for the next kidnapper, the next murderer, the next gunman, lying in wait to rob you and also take your life? Do some of us still feel human enough to extend compassion? What is compassion anyway but, as one writer put it, a primal instinct that tells you that this act might very well cover your own back in the future. It has nothing to do with goodness but rather your own survival. So, what do we have to gain from our compassion towards our Caribbean neighbours? Which “citizen” is ready to accommodate someone who is seemingly as dispossessed as he/she is and thus add more heads to the battle for cultural and political space? And so the question on that feed stands: Are we really ready for climate refugees?

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