Civil Society Editorial
Stabroek News
July 23, 2002

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Human beings are multidimensional. They cannot be reduced to one major characteristic though there is a debilitating tendency in ethnically divided societies to do so.

It has been suggested, for example, that Mr Nigel Hughes is an unsuitable person to be a member of a delegation of a civic group seeking to meet President Bharrat Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte because of perceived linkages. Mr Hughes might be expected for ethnic reasons to have sympathies for the People's National Congress. He also frequently appears, as has been noted by his critics, for persons charged with being involved in politically connected violence, perhaps without charging a fee.

But there is more to Mr Hughes than that, that is not the whole man and even those two propositions surely only define him vaguely and leave much scope for individual variation. As a lawyer he has for years taken a considerable interest in human rights matters. He was an active member of the Electoral Assistance Bureau. At the cultural level, he has promoted art and jazz. Mr Hughes, like most people, is a complex person with many interests and different, even conflicting impulses.

Reducing persons to stereotypes is stultifying and intellectually crippling. Taken to its logical conclusion, it might virtually eliminate the possibility of there being a civil society in a small, unsophisticated society like ours. In the context of Guyana today, indeed, claiming membership of civil society is in effect proclaiming in some way one's humanity, saying that one is more than Indian, African or a member of another ethnic group. You are a person with certain convictions that transcend the tribe to which it is assumed you belong.

The reduction or atomising of the personality may perhaps be seen as a legacy of colonialism or the plantation. The acceptance of complexity is vital to our spiritual and intellectual emancipation. We have to get beyond simplistic stereotyping. The fact that people are prepared to invest energy in meeting to craft a civic initiative, whether it fails or not, is itself some evidence of good faith. It is an act of citizenship, a gesture to the health of the nation. From such humble beginnings can that emotional spark of nationhood be kindled. As Mr Hamley Case suggested in his letter last Saturday civil society must be seen as inclusive, a coming together of those who want to overcome extreme divisiveness and the damage that will cause to our society.

We need to break out of these inhuman moulds that threaten to suffocate us. Civil society in our context can be deconstructed as an attempt to achieve this, to create some space in which everyone can breathe more freely. It is a declaration that there is more to our existence than hatred and resentment, that we ourselves wish to be much more than members of a tribe seeking solace for our insecurities in a group identity. We are all victims of our past, the only liberation is to become fully human.