Instead Of Drawing Lines, Let Us Draw Circles

February 18, 2015

[Opinion column written by Alex Conyers]

To the unsung heroes and the alias naysayers,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

- Theodore Roosevelt

There are those who believe we are on the brink of collapse. I cannot argue with you. Many years of trouble have been borne within the confines of our watery walls. Many are exhausted. Negativity and discontent breed its own ilk. Still, we fight.

I will give us that. For all the awful things that have transpired, foreign and domestic, we have been incredibly persistent in our pugnaciousness. We have fought for our family. We have fought for our livelihood. Many times, we have simply fought.

Is there a point when we will be too tired to carry on? Will we find a time for contemplation? Is a time for rejuvenation coming? A time when we look around to consider what we fight for.

In our rest, we might sit to watch the fighting continue. But we may also see our children sitting on walls, hardhearted and outcast, or our mothers disconsolate, or our grandparents forlorn.

There are so many issues that stress and grieve us; it is often hard to know which side we stand on. Lines seem to be drawn everywhere. I find myself standing confused, looking at the lines crisscrossing the sand, wondering where I stand. They are drawn through our political parties, through the private and public sector, through our social lives, through the words straight/gay, black/white, PLP/OBA.

This is how it is, I’m told. It is the way things are, I’m told. And then I hear, “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” At this drivel, I’m fed up. Are we cursed to do the same things the same way forever?
Bermuda is unique. There are no other islands in the middle of an ocean 500 miles from the nearest piece of solid land with a GDP of 5.5 billion and a population of 60,000 people.

Let us consider it. The racial division in Bermuda is 54% black, 31% white, and 7% mixed. The religious division is 16% Anglican, 9% African Methodist Episcopal, 7% Seventh Day Adventist, 3.5% Pentecostal, 3% Methodist, 2% Presbyterian, 2% Church of God, 1% Baptist, 1% Salvation Army, 1% Bretheren, 2% other Protestant, 14.5% Roman Catholic, 1% Jehova’s Witness, 9% other Christian, 1% Muslim, 4% other, 6% unspecified, and 18% none. Whew. With all these numbers, how else will I know where to stand if I don’t follow the example of others?

I am a white Anglican, I was told. But lately, I’ve started to do some thinking for myself, to consider whether I should root myself to something just because I was told to. It isn’t that I am ‘un-Christian’. Rather, I believe in Christianity and a number of religions that might have useful lessons to learn from.

As I watch the lines being drawn in the sand, I sometimes feel we stare only at our feet. Do we forget the horizon staring out at us from John Smiths or Shelley Bay? It surrounds us. When we look out there, I remember that the world is not flat. It goes around us.

I know that many dismiss what I say as youthful idealism. It is understandable. The world teaches lessons with swagger sticks, not candy canes, but I hope you will not dismiss me too quickly.

There are many very hard working people in our society. Some are in the private sector. And many are in the public sector. They drive the buses and ferries that take us to work. They collect the trash on our streets. They unload the groceries we put in the cupboards of our kitchens. They teach our children.

Some stay up late at night in official rooms locked away from their families as people shoot criticisms at their character from behind pusillanimous pennames. I know some of us make mistakes. However, I believe the ones we do not hear about are the silent majority that has Bermuda’s interests at heart. They are our unsung heroes. I believe they deserve our thanks.

From the same speech quoted above, Roosevelt went on to say,

“The good citizen will demand liberty for himself, and as a matter of pride he will see to it that others receive liberty which he thus claims as his own. Probably the best test of true love of liberty in any country is the way in which minorities are treated in that country. Not only should there be complete liberty in matters of religion and opinion, but complete liberty for each man to lead his life as he desires, provided only that in so he does not wrong his neighbor. Persecution is bad because it is persecution, and without reference to which side happens at the most to be the persecutor and which the persecuted. Class hatred is bad in just the same way, and without regard to the individual who, at a given time, substitutes loyalty to a class for loyalty to a nation, or substitutes hatred of men because they happen to come in a certain social category, for judgment awarded them according to their conduct.

“Remember always that the same measure of condemnation should be extended to the arrogance which would look down upon or crush any man because he is poor and to envy and hatred which would destroy a man because he is wealthy. The overbearing brutality of the man of wealth or power, and the envious and hateful malice directed against wealth or power, are really at root merely different manifestations of the same quality, merely two sides of the same shield. The man who, if born to wealth and power, exploits and ruins his less fortunate brethren is at heart the same as the greedy and violent demagogue who excites those who have not property to plunder those who have. The gravest wrong upon his country is inflicted by that man, whatever his station, who seeks to make his countrymen divide primarily in the line that separates class from class, occupation from occupation, men of more wealth from men of less wealth, instead of remembering that the only safe standard is that which judges each man on his worth as a man, whether he be rich or whether he be poor, without regard to his profession or to his station in life. Such is the only true democratic test, the only test that can with propriety be applied in a republic.

“There have been many republics in the past, both in what we call antiquity and in what we call the Middle Ages. They fell, and the prime factor in their fall was the fact that the parties tended to divide along the wealth that separates wealth from poverty. It made no difference which side was successful; it made no difference whether the republic fell under the rule of oligarchy or the rule of a mob. In either case, when once loyalty to a class had been substituted for loyalty to the republic, the end of the republic was at hand. There is no greater need to-day than the need to keep ever in mind the fact that the cleavage between right and wrong, between good citizenship and bad citizenship, runs at right angles to, and not parallel with, the lines of cleavage between class and class, between occupation and occupation. Ruin looks us in the face if we judge a man by his position instead of judging him by his conduct in that position.”

I have read this a number of times now. I am still learning what it means. I know what I think it means. I think it means that instead of drawing lines in the sand, let us draw circles. Instead of looking out at what others must do, perhaps we must look within.

Fortitudine vincimus,

- Alex Conyers. Comments/dialogue appreciated. Please contact me at jaconyers@ymail.com

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  1. As written below:
    “In some circumstances, the refusal to be defeated is a refusal to be educated.” -Margaret Halsey, novelist (13 Feb 1910-1997)