“The maturity of the gift of understanding is made manifest through consultation” – Bahá‘u’lláh
Perfect peace has no historical antecedents. There has never been a period when the world was not experiencing violent interstate conflicts. More than forty-five (45) or one-quarter of the world’s countries were experiencing wars in 1983 alone, including the small tri-island Caribbean State of Grenada – Carriacou and Petit Martinique. The world’s military budget in 1983 was U.S $ 800 billion, superseding official global development aid forty times over.
The Caribbean is particularly infamous for intrastate violent conflicts. World Bank Economist Jad Channban estimates murder rates in the Caribbean at 30 per 100, 000 of the population annually, the highest in the world. In 2005, Jamaica’s murder rate jumped to 65 per 100, 000, a year in which more than sixteen hundred people died, giving credence to what Jamaican peace activist Horace Levy calls a ‘habituation to violence’.
Community-based and politically fuelled belligerence has thrown Jamaica into a seemingly permanent paroxysm of rage. A wiredrawn web of complexity manifested on a volatile stage of futilitarianism, shadism, classism, obscurantism, provincialism, imperialism, defeatism, mediocrity and accredited idiocy. This is but one facet of the country’s experience, but with eighty per cent (80%) of Jamaicans living without any form of formal certification, it appears to be the major plot in the existential script. Even so Jamaica has historically remained the oxymoronic wonder of the world; concurrently the world’s reject and lighthouse.
The Caribbean is faced with two principal challenges here (as always), first to understand and acknowledge what our historical problems are and second, to devise and implement futuristic recommendations to rectify them. Do we really know where our problems lie? Assuming we do, what can we glean from history about mankind’s appetite for peace and real change?
The problem identification machinery, in every city and hamlet, unfailingly operates at full throttle. It is an undying mindscape, which conventionally lacks fervid intellectual analyses and is marred by a recommendations implementation deficit. Self-interest, avarice, a lack of courage and political will in established ‘change agents’, often result in an aversion to the truth, a studied socio-political posturing, and a non-committal attitude to revolutionary change.
The United Nations (UN), for instance, “envisioned as the peacekeeper of the post World War” II, has been, according to Richard Nixon, “unable to forestall war or to end a war once it has begun”. Of ninety-three (93) major wars between 1946, the year of the UN formation, and 1977, “the UN held limited debate on 40, did not debate at all about fifty-three (53), and did not significantly contribute to the resolution of any” (Nixon, 1983). The UN, arguably, constitutes a confluence of the world’s most advanced minds, and yet a proportion of the population the size of Cyprus died in the Rwandan Genocide under their watch in 1994.
It is apparent that something is amiss; that the signing of peace pacts in war-torn societies, the peace through trade movement, the building of physical infrastructure, the disarmament movement, only provide fugacious and transient relief. The 1922 arms control pacts signed at the Washington Naval Conference between Britain, US and Japan as well as the signed treaty observing the integrity of China for instance, did not prevent Japan from invading China in 1931 and striking Pearl Harbour a decade later in 1941. Neither did it hinder the aggravated US from blasting to bits quarter-million Japanese in Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August 1945.
To answer the first question posed above, ‘do we really know where our problems lie?’ I wish to posit that the ‘where’ is located in the immaterial domain of our minds, and that the first and singularly most important task for peacebuilders is the considered reconstruction of the infrastructure of the minds of those affected by war or the underlining causes of violent behaviour, such as poverty and humiliation.
The majority of Black Jamaicans, for example, feel immense uneasiness in their own country and in their skins, evident in high emigration rates among the Black educated class, prevalent bleaching of the skin among the Black masses, and almost daily protests against public sector institutions and operatives. It is not just about material deprivation of say, the thousands who live in and eat the refuse of Riverton City dump. It is about minds that have been historically robbed of the notion of selfhood, spirits that have been disfigured by the most rancid forms of national cynicism and supremacist doctrines; it is about disempowered citizens making peace with the worst kind of inveterate wretchedness.
How do we influence this majority to think differently? Should we speak about infrastructural development with people experiencing such hellish indignity? No number of high-rise edifices, I assure you, can wear away this solid build-up of defeatism, depression and create any radical way of thinking!
‘Groundings’ is the first step in the creation of this new mindscape. To ‘ground’ is to come together or consult. It is the most natural form of consultation; of free-spirited anthropological dialogical exchange. ‘Grounders’ from the University of the West Indies for instance, would meet with the denizens of Riverton City, on the terms of the latter. In groundings the group with the conceivably greater challenges must be empowered to lead the encounters. All dialogue would be efforts toward understanding individuals on both sides and the characteristics of the social spaces in which they operate – to dispel myths, understand languages, examine the foundations of our beliefs, provide mentorship and support, share anecdotes and resources, and foster cross-border visitations and staycations.
Mature ‘Grounders’ do not engage in harangues or jeremiads, discrimination, impertinence, looks of disapproval or scorn. It is a simple exchange of experiences, language, feelings and aspirations between rich and poor, unschooled and schooled, lecturer and farmer, grad student and teenage mother, ex-convict and convict, the father and the underage prostitute.
The leaders of Jamaica and indeed the world have long known the instrumentality of groundings in firstly reinvigorating a disenchanted people and secondly, inspiring them to aspire to ambitions that are greater than themselves. In 1968, the Hugh L. Shearer led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government, branded Guyanese scholar, Dr. Walter Rodney as persona non grata, preventing him from returning to Jamaica after participating in a conference in Canada. Dr. Rodney, who was lecturer in History at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, became popular among the masses by speaking to and encouraging them wherever there was a possibility of ‘getting together’.
In “The Groundings With My Brothers”, his inaugural book, he wrote: “I was prepared to go anywhere that any group of Black people were prepared to sit down to talk and listen. I have sat on a little oil drum, rusty in the midst of garbage, and some Black Brothers and I have grounded together…we spoke about a lot of things and it was just the talking that was important…I was trying to contribute my experience in travelling, in reading, my analysis, and I was also gaining…”.
Dr. Rodney’s ban by the JLP, led to a popular 1968 uprising in Kingston, known as the Rodney Riots, inspired the influential Black Power Movement in Jamaica, which was led by the very people with whom he grounded. This does not suggest that groundings lead to violence. As I recall, it was during an impromptu ‘grounding session’ with an American soldier that I first accepted my personal worth and individuality, shunned all thoughts of a criminal life and subsequently found in him a lifelong mentor. Grounding empowers the weak and inspires the strong; it eliminates suspicion that arises from ignorance and misunderstandings between divergent social groups.
Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahia Faith, wrote: “Consultation bestows greater awareness and transmutes conjecture into certitude. It is the shining light which, in a dark world, leads the way and guides…The maturity of the gift of understanding is made manifest through consultation”. Earnest consideration must be given to the reality of man’s thoughts, he expressed; “To understand the relevance of this potent reality is also to appreciate the necessity of actualizing its unique value through candid, dispassionate and cordial consultation and of acting upon the results of this process” (To the Peoples of the World Peace, 1986).
Peacebuilding by way of grounding is at once an intellectual activity aimed at breaking down walls of sectarianism and mobilising popular consciousness via a revolutionary consultative ethos. Brazilian educator Paulo Friere expressed that “sectarianism mythicizes and therefore alienates…radicalization criticises and therefore liberates”. Grounding is not a panacea for interstate or even intrastate peace. It is where we begin. It cannot fully address traits such as greed and nefarious human intentions, such as the wish to enslave others. It might, however, inspire resistance in the oppressed. That is its real power, and consequently, resolved opposition to groundings is inevitable. Fundamentally, it deals with the source of all conflicts, the mind, which once stretched by superior reasoning and understanding, cannot return to its original dimension. “Peace cannot be kept by force” Albert Einstein noted, “It can only be achieved by understanding”. In addition to creating a new mindscape of belonging, individuality, erudition, free-though, ambition, self-reliance and self-belief, it closes the social gaps caused by the methodical bifurcation of societies and countries, especially in the so-called Third World. Jamaica has long been seen as ‘two Jamaicas’.
In so doing, it fosters a society of understanding, mitigates the crime of indifference and complicity and reduces suspicion and unwarrantable condemnations by those who make the law and those who are governed by them. In the ‘grounding process’, understanding and identifying the way forward must be the foremost objective; recommendations must entail the fundamental right of each man to attain the fruits of his honest ambitions, to feel and walk comfortably around in his skin and country, to speak his language of choice, and contribute fruitfully to his family and society.
The task here of the serious peacebuilder is to be researcher and historian, sociologist and psychologist, mediator and facilitator, in short, a resolute academician. Lifting minds from the abyss of imperialistic domestication to the acme of mental liberation is his/her most crucial and taxing task. This is a long and arduous process of education, re-education, empowerment, re-acculturation, conflict-resolution, mediation….He/she must therefore begin this grounding journey by studying the unique history and wills of his/her people, as well as living every essence of the following words of James Allen and George Bernard Shaw:
“A man can only rise, conquer, and achieve by lifting his thoughts. He can only remain weak, and abject and miserable, by refusing to lift his thoughts. Before a man can achieve anything, he must lift his thoughts above slavish animal indulgence” J. A
“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will” G. B. S
About the Author
Craig Ghunta Dixon is a Jamaican youth and peace activist who is presently on internship at ChildFund Caribbean in Dominica via the Caribbean Internship Programme (CIP).