Public Discourses Are Wilting Into Exchanges Of Intolerance – Lewis Brown Writes Liberians
My Fellow Liberians,
A few weeks ago, I received a WhatsApp Message from a good and dear friend. Said my observant friend, the “eloquence” of my silence was “concerning”. I had not imagined that eloquence was to silence. All along, I had thought it was to speech. However, the message concerned me just the same. I am yet to explain to my trusted friend that more often than not, contemplation is best achieved in silence.
In any case, it is my observation that our society is becoming too noisy, and seemingly, too disagreeable. Civil discourse and common decency are being lost. And with the loss, the character of our politics, rather than uplifting, is becoming increasingly toxic, and plagued with negativity, repudiation and suspicion. Distrust is high, and strangely, friends are too easily settling for enmity.
Our public discourses are wilting into exchanges of intolerance as we grapple with a seeming resort to lawlessness and disrespect to assert a claim. Rather than a search for higher grounds and an appeal to our better selves, we are quickly degenerating into lowering standards of self-destruction, political division and fear. Shockingly, we have seen this play out before, and Liberians have all paid dearly for it.
From places of worship to social media platforms, the increasingly unmistakable impression is to wish the worst for each other, and even worse, to wish the worst for our country. We are quickly losing a sense of shared achievement and common purpose, even for our country. We brazenly exude the impression that for one to win, the other must necessarily lose. What we seem to be accepting is an attitude that pervades the worst, and not the best in each of us, and our country.
I had imagined this to be a temporary phase which was perhaps occasioned by a long and grueling electioneering process that understandably strained our division along lines of political associations. As such, I have tried to still my voice away from it with the hope that it would eventually pass. Unfortunately, it appears to be worsening. We cannot continue this way!
With obvious painful reminders, our experiences have shown that the growing division and enmity we are feeding – consciously or unconsciously – inevitably leads to our collective self-destruction. Against the backdrop of this historical truth, we cannot permit any grievance or discontent to again usher us onto the certain path of our collective self-destruction.
Contentious as the electioneering process may have been, all Liberians need to understand, and accept, that it is over. It is time to move on. Whether we won or lost, the people for whom we ran, and ourselves, are hurting by the challenges to our economy, and the increasing discord in the country. And as if we needed a stark reminder, our projected economic growth has been lowered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This is a wakeup and rally call for all Liberians. Our country is in a difficult place, and the difficulty affects all of us.
Quite simply, opposition and ruling authorities alike ought to demonstrate a level of seriousness about these presenting challenges, and be so deeply engaged with each other in the national search for workable and sustainable solutions from which the country is certain to benefit. This, therefore, cannot be the time to trade blames, foster disunity in the advance of a common purpose, and or lend our thoughts, voices and actions to divisiveness, and ill-will toward each other. This, certainly, is not the time to permit the pursuit of illegal means to achieve political ends. None of us can afford this!
In aiding any serious efforts toward economic recovery, as a prerequisite, our country needs political stability.
Including that of our own, history teaches us that political instability and creeping lawlessness can only worsen economic woes. The same is also true of our history in its harsh reminder that “Us Versus Them” is a certain recipe for our collective failure. It does not really matter if you consider yourself to be “US”, or to be “Them”, we are all in the same battered canoe, battling the rising tides of a tempestuous ocean, and destined to drown, together, on the silliness of our divisions, or sail along on the strength of our unity and commitment to work together.
Therefore, in governing and in opposing, what we must seek to foster, especially at this time, is a deepening sense of “Us AND Them”. As history repeatedly shows, this enables nations to harness the fullness of their potentials, and to successfully tackle and overcome the presenting challenges in bridging differences, and in building more sustainable societies.
Hopefully though, we have a chance to self-reflect, and self-correct.
Recently, I heard of the appointment of Dr. Amos C. Sawyer to lead an effort toward the convening of a national dialogue. Although I am unaware about the details around this, it appears to me to be a right and welcoming thing to do. My hope is that a national dialogue will afford the opportunity for serious, open and broader reflections on the lingering issues of division, and recommit us to those things that ought to unite us.
Indeed, we may not altogether solve the dysfunction of our economy at a national dialogue. However, and hopefully, we can be meaningfully resolved on a sense of shared ownership of our presenting problems, and its solutions. We can march forward, and will ourselves to meet our national difficulties, not as divided as we are but as one people bonded by history and destiny, and knowing that each obstacle to our collective advance affects all of us irrespective of perceived political, religious, gender and tribal differences.
Our simple truth is that a better Liberia – one committed to the rule of law, and unburdened by the colored lenses of partisanships – benefits all Liberians. Ruling and opposition, we must bring ourselves to recommit to the building of that better Liberia for ourselves, and for our children. And by the good examples which ought to attend a national dialogue, we can begin the needed healing to the body politic, and forge the united front we desperately need in tackling our presenting problems.
I know we may not always agree on everything. But surely, we can elevate the national discourse, and even when we disagree, we can do so with respect for one another, and without seeming so disagreeable. We cannot all belong to one political party or work in the administration. But certainly, the variety of Liberian talents and expertise located in the many political parties can somehow be reasonably harnessed and exploited in the building of the country we all so dearly love.
I know we may not all win every time. But surely, we can celebrate one another’s success, and we can share in one another’s loss. This, too, is who we are.
Even in our differences, I know we can be receptive to truth even if it seems to contradict ours. We can be tolerant of one another even when we disagree; and we can be welcoming of ideas even if they seem to clash with, and challenge ours. We can all aspire to higher ideals and actions without willing another Liberian, and our country to fail, or to fall.
Wherever we are, whatever our differences, and in all that we aspire to do for our country, we can all become better, and commit ourselves to doing better. I know we can find our better angels.
And finally, I know that we can write the history of the presenting moment so that succeeding generations will favorably recall that we were not found wanting in the face of challenges to our unity, and in the midst of other compelling national difficulties. We can allow this moment to speak glowingly to how we met each challenge – as we always should – together, and thereby, overcame our difficulties.
We can let this difficult moment stand out in history proudly revealing that rather than our worst, we amplified the best in our Liberian character; and that rather than fell, we rose – and soared – together. We met “the foe with valor unpretending”. And we made Liberia better for the next generation. We can do this.
Perhaps my silence was “eloquent”.
I wish all Liberians all the best.
Sincerely, Lewis G. Brown, II