“The person who is brutally honest enjoys the brutality quite as much as the honesty. Possibly more.” ~ Richard J. Needham.
Before we moved to Jamaica, we were advised of a few requirements. Ladies should wear hats and gloves to church (this was in 1963). Parsons should wear a dog collar and robe (in the tropics no less.) My father had to go out and buy the dog collar and black shirt front, and the collarless shirts. His church in the UK had long since dropped the formal attire in favor of plain suits. When it came to manners, they were to be observed meticulously. If asked ‘how do you do?’ you were to reply, ‘very well, thank you’ not ‘OK’, or ‘alright’.
Over the years what I learned was that Jamaicans love words, and though (thankfully) the hats and gloves have gone, and manners will always remain, the words and the language evolve rapidly over time. But Jamaicans were much friendlier than that formal introduction suggested. I soon became on good terms with men and women, princes and paupers, cleaning women and post office workers. Perhaps it was my manners that endeared me to them. Jamaicans tend to have two names. Their proper name, the one found on their birth certificate (aka age paper; aka birt surfiticket), and the one they are called by their immediate family. So Claudette may be known as Ann, or even MissAnn at home. And only childhood friends would know this, for as soon as she started school she would have to answer to the strange Claudette.
In high school, you can be sure that you will receive a nickname which will be different again from your pet name. This one will be bestowed upon you by cruel classmates, who will note the one thing that makes you feel uncomfortable, or a distinguishing feature or deformity, or an incident which embarrassed you, and that will become your nickname. For life! Sometimes the origins of the nickname will be obvious: the boy who has an atrophied limb due to polio as a child, is nicknamed ‘Hoppo’. The child with bilateral ptosis – that partial paralysis of the eyelids that means that you have to tilt your head back to accommodate for the inability to completely open your eyes – his nickname may be ‘Lookup’. I soon learned that Jamaicans tend to confront difference openly, honestly. In polite British society people may avoid asking questions about scars or other deviations from the norm. Where the British avert their gaze, the Jamaican response is to comment loudly and honestly. That response can be disconcerting, or refreshingly honest, depending on your own personality.
There are times when that bluntness, that openness allows for a frank discussion about hurtful truths. When we sweep differences under the carpet, we do not dig deeper to learn about the life of another. Despite the apparent cruelty of a nickname, it can almost become an endearment. By acknowledging that which makes us different, we open the door to acceptance. Of course I speak as one who never had a nickname (that I know of!). Apart from the obvious reference to my skin color (Whitey!). In Jamaica, every person of Chinese descent is Mr (or Miss) Chin. No insult intended, just a recognition of your heritage.
We have had to reflect on concepts of honesty recently. We have at our helm a man who declares himself to be honest as he states facts which can be disputed. I remember learning that you should always be on the lookout for a lie when it is preceded by the words ‘to be honest with you’ or some variation on that theme. But there is that other kind of honesty, when it is declared by someone who is proud to always speak their mind. There can be a refreshing quality to candor, but it may also be delivered in a way that is cruel, is insensitive to the feelings of others. And there are those who do not realize that what they declare as ‘the truth’ is merely their opinion. They arrogantly assume that how they see things is the only way to see things.
This week as I drove to work in the rain, I heard the lyrics ‘walking in the rain with the one I love,’ singing in my mind. And then I saw a man walking in the pouring rain with the minimum of protection, and realized that everything depends upon your point of view. The solar eclipse this week that wowed so many and reminded us of the wonders of the natural world and universe in which we live, can be seen as a dire warning, a scary phenomenon. Everything depends upon your point of view.
As we watch those who are not scared to be different, who decide that taking a stand for something they believe in is more honest that pretending everything is fine, we can continue to be inspired as we watch from the sidelines. One football player who decided to make a stand against racial injustice in this country is threatened to love his livelihood as a result. In a land where the first amendment speaks to the right to speak freely. This morning I awoke with the image of all NFL football players (of every color) deciding to ‘take a knee’ in solidarity with the continued injustice and racial intolerance which pervades this country. I doubt that would happen.
On this Friday morning I challenge you to face the differences and diversity in our society, and confront them honestly, in order to find out more about the life of another. I applaud those people of courage who take the tough stands in order to highlight injustice in this world. May we all see beyond the superficial to those things which we all share, the abundance of similarities of values, desires, and dreams.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!