We cannot win if we do not like each other

May 6 2018 | Sunday Stabroek | by Ian McDonald.

When I was a schoolboy we had a games-master named Mr. Wilkinson who had served the College for all eternity. I suppose he must have been in his fifties but he seemed ancient to us. He was small and craggy and shrewd. We liked him, called him Wilkie, the wise one. He coached us in football and always accompanied us when we played our matches.

One day we were going to play the final of a competition against another College team boasting a lot of stars. We ourselves were a pretty ordinary bunch so we found it strange how confident the coach was that we would win. As we talked it over just before the game we asked him why he felt so confident. We certainly didn’t feel that way. “Simple,” old Wilkie said, “I’ve seen them. They just don’t like each other. All of you get on well. You’ll see.”

He turned out to be right. They were much better than us really. However, they were selfish and played a bickering, unhappy game. They scored a couple of brilliant, individualistic goals, much better-looking than our bustling, scrappy joint efforts which dribbled into the net, but finally we scrambled a win and embraced in a joyful heap at the end. “What did I tell you?” The coach said afterwards. “Call that a team? They loathed each other. Remember that.”

Well, nearly seventy years later I remember the old coach and his words. In story after story in the media, in countless TV programmes, in letter after letter in the press, I learn of so much suspicion, envy, resentment, mutual bitterness, factional hostility and disputes, complete intolerance of opposing views and unnecessary incivility among people who after all possess the same love of Guyana. One gets so much of this that one feels despair that the country can ever win its way in the world. Feuds fester everywhere. Sullen antagonisms lurk beneath the surface of every situation. Plots are perceived even in gestures of goodwill. No side thinks the other side has any good intention, only insidious purpose. Loathing and contempt divide and ruin the society. The upsurge of brutal criminality, far from bringing us together to oppose a common threat, seems to have deepened divisions and consolidated hatreds. Who can doubt that democracy is diminished and corrupted when it comes to mean merely freedom to hate each other.

How can anything ever be achieved if intemperate division, vicious back-biting and personal animosity run so deep on every side? What chance has the nation got of healing crucial divisions originating in race and class and grass-root politics if in so many fields of activity constant jockeying for position and narrow-minded factionalism are the name of the game? We like to talk of the need for national unity. Not much chance of that when acrimonious dissension breaks out when any idea or initiative not our own is trashed in a reflex action of deep-seated suspicion.

The problem may start at a very personal level. The new world-view is overpowering us. Selfishness has infected us all and spread into our social and political behaviour. The market rules, individual wants are at a premium, personal initiative is what matters most, private enterprise will be the engine of growth and the measure of success: perhaps we have become too obsessed with that guiding ethos which now seems to control our lives and direct our destinies. Unlicensed freedom is giving rise to every-man-for-himself social break-down.

You do not have to be a lover of socialism to realize that achieving a stable society depends to a large extent on submerging selfish and factional ambitions for the sake of the collective good. Deference to the needs and views of others, consensus-seeking through mutual give-and-take, cultivation of the arts of achieving compromise, an ingrained sense that attaining communal objectives is well worth personal self-effacement or even party sacrifice: all these are part of principles of behaviour fast being forgotten. We are living in an era where increasingly the term society itself is becoming meaningless, where social responsibility and commitment to a collective good, and the duties which come with that, are seen simply as drag anchors in the pursuit of personal aggrandisement, private benefit or party power.

Many developments follow. Divisions in society multiply. The rich seek, for instance, to minimize their tax contribution to the collective good. Yet as their wealth increases the rich pay an even higher price for their security and peace of mind as the poor become steadily poorer, more resentful and more criminal. At every level, and in every organization, striving for common goals takes a poor second place to selfishness and suspicion that the other man or party may be getting the upper hand and so may be depriving you of some prize or other of power and prestige. It is not at all surprising that in organizations both big and small, in causes both trivial and important, rancour grows and goodwill disappears. How can anything good be achieved? How can this country stay anything but small-minded, divided, backward, and bereft of hope?

I do not know what truth there may be in that kind of basically rather superficial analysis. What I do know for sure is that my old coach, Wilkie the wise one, would have put it more simply: “Call yourselves a team? You don’t even like each other. You won’t win anything that way. You’ll see.”

last updated may 2018