“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” ~Soren Kierkegaard.
I was once told that researchers can be either bees or butterflies. Either they are attracted to many different topics, and flit from one tempting flower to another, sampling tasty nectar here and there; or they pull together disparate objects, weaving a web of connectivity from one subject to another, until a beautiful pattern emerges. I fear I am a cross between the two. I am easily distracted by a wealth of ideas and possibilities, but there is nothing I like more than seeing patterns emerge, digging deeper to see where the network of connections is hidden.
It happens when I am studying, but it is also likely to happen when I listen to the news. Seychelles has been in the news recently, and I remember the first time I heard of the place. When I was 13, my father went to the UK for a year to begin his studies for his Masters’ degree. My mother, my brother and I (the only 2 kids still under the age of 18) found ourselves uprooted from our beautiful tropical life and transplanted into rainy, grey Birmingham. It was a culture shock for me. One compensation was that the school that I attended (Bourneville Grammar Technical School for Girls) was located upstream from the chocolate factory, and boy those aromas! I was not the only transplant trying to adapt to the British high school rules; the concept of a summer uniform and a winter uniform. They had a rule that you were supposed to wear regulation ‘knickers’ – these were harsh and ugly undergarments (they resembled the ‘training pants’ that toddlers wear), which was very distressing to a teenage girl. Of course I soon learned that no one else wore them, they wore normal teenage underwear and carried the grey pair in their ‘satchel’ in case there was an inspection. Two of us had arrived to join the ‘normal’ girls. I was a big disappointment to them, for they were told I was from Jamaica, and they were quite surprised to find that I was white. The other girl was from the Seychelles, and thankfully she was sufficiently exotic to satisfy the curiosity of the class. We bonded over our strangeness, but soon settled into regular school life.
My earlier transition from England to Jamaica at the age of seven had taught me an important lesson of acculturation: observe and learn; be open to new experiences; be attuned to cues about social behaviors. I may not have attended any seminars or classes in cultural diversity, but I had realized that when you demonstrate respect for the rituals and routines of others, they will welcome you in and teach you all you need to know. And the variety of my childhood and then adult experiences (back to Jamaica to complete high school, back to the UK for nursing school, then South Florida up to the present time) have informed my life, and given me a rich supply of multicolored threads from which to weave my web.
But it is not just cultural diversity that has benefitted me, I have had the good fortune to be alive in a time when I have access to the internet, a forum for my random ramblings. I have a platform from which to espouse my views, and social media in which I can be verbal and vocal about a wide variety of topics. And although I am fully aware that anything that I say could be used in evidence against me, I write on, secure in the knowledge that for the most part I am harmless.
The other day I heard that in Egypt over 60,000 people have been detained or arrested for a variety of crimes, including ‘inciting debauchery’ – as several pop stars have been accused of. Suggestive lyrics and unseemly attire are apparently enough to have musicians imprisoned for a year. The report said that all it takes to get arrested is “…a joke, a prank, a pun or a song” (NPR). I could list a dozen or so of my social media friends (including myself) who would not be walking free on the streets of Egypt! Which is a sharp reminder of all that we must be grateful for, even in these most trying of times in the US.
There are days when life is so strange that you almost can believe the theory that we are all merely players in some space creature’s dream, for some days nothing makes sense. In fact, as the bills pile up, or our list of priority things to do threatens to overwhelm us, we almost wish it was indeed but a dream! For sure the (scary) entertainment coming out of our nation’s capital would not be believed if it were a Hollywood script.
This week I have been visited by my father several times in dreams, and I keep wondering if it’s the powerball numbers he was trying to give me (doubtful, the man wouldn’t even buy a raffle ticket, Christians don’t gamble), why has he been on my mind? But he was a man who also had a forum, and a platform, and messages which he gladly delivered without fear or favor. He too was fascinated by stories from all over the globe, and raised funds and awareness for injustice and disparities anywhere. He and my mother marched for Pacifist causes; participated in many charities, and more than anything else, respected and loved the rich diversity of all of humanity. And whenever possible, they held hands when walking through whichever neighborhood they were in at the time.
On this cool Friday morning, I hope you will forgive my busy bee mind which has been flitting from subject to subject. I hope you have the freedom to speak your truth, but the wisdom to say it in the appropriate place and time, and for goodness sake, if you are visiting a foreign country, try not to make any questionable jokes or puns! Let us cherish our freedom, and enjoy this crazy dream we are living!
One Love, Family!