In Death, We Have No Choice. In Life, We Do: a tribute to the life of my aunt

She was a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a daughter, a niece, a granddaughter, a friend and an aunt. She loved her children and grandchildren fiercely, prepared to do whatever it took to be with them and protect them. She meant something to a lot of people and she was everything to some people….. everything but a pushover.

The youngest of four children, my aunt did not take kindly to anyone who defied her morals and beliefs. She was adored and I think she knew it. She had a particular way of doing things and only accepted a certain kind of behaviour from those around her. She was capable of doing absolutely everything herself and I vividly recall her adversity to accepting help from anyone. All these qualities are what made her special, but they are also what made the end so incredibly difficult.

My aunt loved dogs, especially Rottweilers. I lost count over how many dogs she had over the years a long time ago, but I am sure she never did. Scores of people across Jamaica have also purchased puppies from her and she would probably have been able to name them all if she had to. If you needed advice about raising dogs, my aunt gave it – solicited and unsolicited!

Aunty Jo was the young and fun aunt. Jokes in her country kitchen (a favourite of mine) were often had, and she could tell us some stories that would have us doubled over with laughter on her verandah. It was such a joy to visit her and to have the family together.

One of my earliest memories of my aunt was when my belief in the magic of Christmas wavered one year. We had spent the night at her house, waking Christmas morning to find our stockings at the foot of our beds. The minute I came out with some logical explanation as to why Santa Claus was not real, she nipped this in the bud by telling me she and her son, my older cousin by six months, had spotted Santa, his sleigh and the reindeer in the sky the night before. Just like that, the magic was back! She was convincing.

In life, we have choices, but we also face unpleasantries and traumatic experiences, which we do not choose. I think we have to accept the latter, but I also believe we should use the former wisely. When we lose someone whom we love, it is devastating. We must face that devastation, feel it and live it. We have no choice in the matter. However, we can choose how we want to continue in this world. We can choose to hold on to the family and friends whom we have. We can choose to accept their help and support. We can choose to have them around us. We can choose to let in their love and kindness, so that we won’t feel so alone. In death, we have no choice. In life, we do.

Holding Court, in true Aunty Jo style!

Narcissists Cannot Survive Without Victims

It’s been 20 years, to the day I believe, since my relationship with a narcissist died. I remember lying on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably as my brother held me, grieving for the person I had lost…myself. I had spent 66 months loving someone who, in reality, wasn’t the man whom I thought he was. He had spent 4 years, before this, carving out a sculpture of the man he wanted to portray to me. I can’t tell you if he did this on purpose or subconsciously, but was I partly responsible for the survival of the narcissism?

The definition of a narcissist is: “a person who admires himself or herself too much, especially their appearance”; “a person who has a condition in which they are only interested in themselves and what they want, and have a strong need to be admired and a lack of understanding of other people’s feelings.” (https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/narcissist).

One might wonder why anyone would waste their time on a narcissist. I mean there are hundreds of articles, perhaps even thousands, which have been written about the traits that make up the personality disorder, narcissism, which was named after Narcissus, “the mythological figure who fell in love with his own reflection.” (https://www.britannica.com/science/narcissism). There are also numerous psychologists who discuss narcissism ad nauseam on social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube. So, with all this information literally at our fingertips, why would we fall for a narcissist? Firstly, information about these egomaniacs was not readily available until fairly recently. Secondly, narcissists do not show their true self right away. They are, indeed, quite clever…up to a point.

Looking back, the first ‘red flag’ came when he asked me to mail a job application for him. He did not get this particular job, so blamed me for not sending the document out in time. In true gaslighting form, he managed to convince me that it was my fault why he had not been awarded the position he thought he deserved. Deep down, however, I knew that I had posted the package on the day he had given it to me and that I’d mailed it first class. For five and a half years, he held what was his own failure over my head, casting blame where it did not belong. It was a repeated source of trauma throughout our relationship and I kept it alive by facilitating the narcissism. Of course, I didn’t even know what a narcissist was back then, but I did recognise that something was just not right.

Narcissists are good at isolating their victims. They like to keep you locked away from your friends. After all, someone might figure out what they are doing to you and might call them out on their behaviour. Narcissists do not like to be called out on their behaviour. If you start, they’ll convince you that you’re being paranoid or delusional. They have a better chance of controlling you when they have you all to themselves. Yet, they cannot survive with only your attention. They need the recognition and praise of everyone else in their lives – their family, friends, work colleagues and basically anyone who crosses their path.

Despite the valid skills a narcissist might possess, he or she must invent those he or she does not truly have. He (going with ‘he’ for ease in reading) might be some kind of scientist, for instance, but being recognised for this is simply not enough. He needs to be praised for his acuity in martial arts and music, let’s say. And if he does come across someone who is in fact a master of either of these, he will brag about how skilled he is because he actually believes it! Delusional? Perhaps. Does he care? No. He doesn’t care because he is unaware of the one-way relationship he has formed with himself. He likely prides himself on the multiple ‘incredible’ relationships he believes he has acquired throughout his life and if people leave, it will always be their fault, not his own.

This relationship was not my only encounter with a narcissist. I recently walked away from a situation whereby the narcissist spent almost two years ‘grooming’ my loyalty towards him, under the guise of doing it for the people whom his organisation serves. The difference here is that it was a professional relationship, rather than a personal one, making it a lot easier to see the woods from the trees. Also, social media is now an intricate part of our lives, so there is tangible proof of said narcissistic behaviour through emails, WhatsApp messages and voice notes. Unlike two to three decades ago, I knew for certain that what I believed was taking place was indeed taking place. I had proof.

So, what happens to these narcissists in the end? Do they ever change? Do they ever get their comeuppance?

The story goes that Narcissus, who was mesmerised by his own reflection, could not drag himself away from a pool of water and eventually died from starvation and thirst. How does this relate to real life? Starve the narcissist out. Narcissists cannot survive without victims.

“Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow” – #BreaktheBias

How do we keep going? It’s becoming increasingly difficult to deal with the traumas that we face each day on our planet. The viral disasters, the inhumane way in which some people treat others and the rampant inequalities across regions, religions and race seem never-ending. Personal problems aside for the moment, the public atrocities are just too much to take. One such atrocity is gender bias.

No matter which countries in the world you look at, women have faced gender inequality for millions of years. Why is this? We are, biologically, the bearers of children. We cannot procreate without some form of input from a man, whether through the more popular way of sexual intercourse or through some form of IVF, either using the sperm of our partner or sperm from a Cryobank. Equally, a man is beholden onto a woman in order to become a biological father. You’d think this, at the very least, would be enough incentive to respect and treat us accordingly! So, I ask again, why have we women faced gender inequality since the beginning of humanity?

Humanity – it’s a funny word, isn’t it? Its very definition means: 1. “Understanding and kindness towards other people”; 2. “The condition of being human”. You can read what the first definition says, right? You see the irony, yes?

I could get into all kinds of arguments about the way in which women have been treated, but this debate should be over by now. We ought not to be still fighting in 2022 for each one of us to be heard. Look at where gender inequality has gotten us! This is not sustainable. We cannot continue to ignore the value women are to society, humanity and the universe, frankly. I am quite certain that most of you men are shaking your heads right about now, saying something like, “Of course we value women. Women….” – followed by a long list of amazing things we have done. But what does gender equality really mean?

Do you think that the hundreds of political country leaders across the globe were voted into power with a mindset involving gender equality? Do you believe that Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Kim Jong Un, Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Jair Bolsonaro, Donald Trump, King Abdullah Aziz Al Saud, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Putin and the thousands more men who have ruled and dictated the unwanted outcomes throughout history, were picked through the sentiments of gender equality? Do you suppose that, through these political choices, we have created a sustainable environment in which it is possible for humanity to survive?

All the female artists, scientists, judges, teachers, doctors, bankers, general managers, CIOs, CTOs, CEOs, and the like, in the world do not eradicate gender bias. Policy makers do. Country and global policy makers have the power to transform the world and break biases. Women such as Mia Mottley and Jacinda Ardern are making a difference, but both Barbados and New Zealand are small countries. Larger, more globally influential countries need to make their move. If we want a sustainable tomorrow, which we do actually need, then we must change policies and, in the true sense of the phrase, #BreaktheBias.

Sitting in Pain & Loneliness

These two feelings are hardly things humans strive for: pain and loneliness. Quite the opposite, in fact, because they are unpleasant and often unbearable. Yet there is so much pain and loneliness around us, all the time. It’s even there when we can’t see it, or don’t choose to see it.

In basic terms, pain comes in two forms: physical and psychological. Indeed, one can bring on the other. Many believe that psychological pain manifests in the physical, causing bodily illnesses. Hence one reason why doctors might tell their heart-diseased patients to avoid stress. Some of you might be able to relate to this.

What about physical pain causing psychological pain? When your body is pain, it is maddening. Pain is maddening. I have been there many times. I’ve been in so much physical pain that had a gun been on the hospital bed, I might have been tempted to end my pain. I have cried in pain, wishing a different part of my body was hurting, because I was certain it would still be less pain than I was feeling right then and there. This pain is lonely. Your loved ones see that you are in pain; they want to help you, but they cannot. While you might not be alone, you certainly sit in loneliness with that pain.

I am reading a really good book at the moment – “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman. I was struck by a quote that appeared originally in Olivia Laing’s book “The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone”:

“Loneliness is hallmarked by an intense desire to bring the experience to a close; something which cannot be achieved by sheer willpower, or by simply getting out more, but only by developing intimate connections. This is far easier said than done, especially for people whose loneliness arises from a state of loss or exile or prejudice, who have reason to fear or mistrust as well as long for the society of others….The lonelier a person gets, the less adept they become at navigating social currents. Loneliness grows around them, like mould or fur, a prophylactic that inhibits contact, no matter how badly contact is desired. Loneliness is accretive, extending and perpetuating itself. Once it becomes impacted, it is by no means easy to dislodge.”

What does all of this really mean? Well, let’s look at the first sentence. In order to rid oneself of loneliness, we must create “intimate connections”. We need other people in our lives. Eleanor Oliphant has made it her business to avoid people. However, the book explores the breakdown of this loneliness, as someone comes along and pulls her into very small social situations and away from the very “prophylactic that inhibits contact”: Loss.

Most of us, if not all, have felt loss, in varying degrees. When my grandparents passed away, my cousins, siblings and I felt it. Our parents felt this even more intensely, as they had now lost their own parents. However, two of my grandparents had known the worst kind of loss there is. Their daughter, my aunt, a sister to my Dad and my other aunts, had passed away decades before. Losing a child is a suffocating pain and living in this pain is lonely. This loneliness is “accretive” – such a pertinent word, as the pain is indeed cumulative and never-ending. It is next to impossible to “dislodge” and we shouldn’t be so arrogant to believe that we can remove this pain from ourselves, nor anyone else for that matter. A few weeks ago, I told a friend that I wish I could take away her pain. “It’s my pain,” she replied. Of course, it really is. All the wishing in the world is not going to take away the pain.

So, if you can’t remove the pain, what can you do? You can sit next to those who sit in their pain and loneliness. Just be there for them….always. No matter how helpless you might feel. It’s not about you. It’s their loneliness and it’s their pain.

emmadaltonbrown@gmail.com

Education: Good for Productivity & Success

As my eldest heads into school today for the first time this academic year, I thought I’d touch on the subject of education. Well, when I say “touch”, I really mean I’m going to ramble, and then I’m going to invite my readers to engage in conversation in the comments below or on social media.

In the last twenty months, the big child has had exactly five days in face to face learning; today will make six days in total. My youngest has been more fortunate, as he went to school for six weeks last academic year and, thus far, has had eight weeks this term. My children are among some of the lucky ones. There are tens of thousands of students who have not seen a physical classroom since March 12, 2020 – the day our Prime Minister announced he was closing schools, effectively immediately. I recall the afternoon vividly: picking up my kids and telling them to ensure that they had packed every last book belonging to them. I knew they would not be going back for a very long time. There are also tens of thousands of students who have never been able to get online for school due to disparity issues preventing them from having internet access, let alone having an electronic device on which to do school work. It is truly a travesty.

Our Prime Minister, the Most Honourable Andrew Holness, and his government seem to have been working tirelessly at rectifying these issues, all while dealing with the dire situation of three devastating Covid-19 infection ‘waves’, the rising crime, and the pre-existing problems within the education system. However, according to the Ministry of Education, more than 120,000 school children were unaccounted for last academic year. To say this is worrying would be an understatement.

Growing up, there was never a question of whether my siblings and I would complete sixth form or not. We didn’t have a choice. In fact, I assumed it was mandatory for all. Call this naive or ‘living in a bubble’, it was what it was. Education was the main priority in our home. So, when it was announced a few weeks ago that the Ministry of Education would be implementing a mandatory seven year programme within high school, I didn’t raise my eyebrows in dismay. That said, I have subsequently listened to people who are not in favour of this development.

In a recent interview with the Leader of the Opposition, the interviewer (a 2nd Form Campion College student) posed a question to Mark Golding regarding the new seven year programme for high school: “What would you say to not only the young children, but to the families, that are worried about this programme?”

Mr. Golding replied, “I don’t think that it has been well thought through, so to have everybody going into sixth form now is going to require significant resources to make that work. The classrooms, the teachers to support it and all the infrastructure around sixth form and the different pathways that have been identified – none of that is in place.” He mentioned that the majority of Jamaican children do not do sixth form – the expense alone makes it prohibitive to many. He thinks that the government has rushed their decision, without having sufficient consultations with teachers, principals and parents across the island. Golding believes that the priority and focus right now should be on helping the children, who have been left behind in the last twenty months, to get back to a positive position within their learning.

I do not disagree, but at some point in the future, I do believe all children should be in high school for the full seven years. The same interviewer, as mentioned above, brought up a pertinent problem in Jamaica: crime. He suggested that keeping the kids in school could help to prevent them from “getting involved with the wrong company, eventually leading to crime.” Once again, I do not disagree. I also believe that some sort of tertiary education, whether academic based, vocational or a technical skill, is beneficial to everyone. Asides from being good for the person doing it, it would be good for the overall productivity and success of our country.

Please leave your comments on these issues either here or on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Let’s get a conversation going! Thanks, Emma.

How about a ‘NO’ to sharing the foolishness!

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Have you ever seen those quizzes on social media – the ones that ask you a bunch of seemingly lighthearted questions? “What was the name of your favourite teacher?”; “What was the first city you lived in?”; “What’s your favourite meal?” OR you see a post that says, “Your stage name is a combination of the name of your first pet and your grandmother’s maiden name.” Thousands of people across the globe give their answers for thousands more people to see. What’s worrying is that the intention, which is behind asking these questions to the unsuspecting public, is less than innocent and lighthearted.

While I was teaching one of my cyber safety classes the other day, someone admitted that he had received a message on social media offering him money to answer a bunch of questions. The only catch was that he had to give his bank details, in order to get paid. He was a teenager without his own bank account, so he decided to go ahead and give one of his parent’s bank details, along with all his answers to the quiz. Guess what?! He actually got paid. Pretty cool, eh?!

NO. NO. NO. NOT COOL AT ALL. This is one of many online scams.

Here is what actually happens. The person behind the scam takes those bank details, along with your answers, and then calls your bank pretending to be you. This person has all those answers to the frivolous questions, remember! These are typically the very security questions that banks ask us, in order to prove we are indeed who we say we are. So why would the scammer bother giving you a little money in the first place? Well, it locks you into a false sense of security – the offer must be legit! What do you do when you believe an offer is real? You post it on your social media pages and you pass it on to all your contacts in your phone. You are serving the scammer so well that you don’t even realise you’re essentially helping the scammer to scam hundreds of other people, or more, as the chain will simply keep going and going.

What about when you are signing up for a new online account? What details do you give? Your email, your phone number, or a third party account with which to sign in? With these options available, which sounds safer? The third party sign in option is usually with your Facebook or Google account. Sounds pretty simple. You won’t have to give out your email, nor phone number, and you won’t have yet another username and password to remember. Before you know it, you are signing in to all these wonderfully useful platforms through your Facebook and/or Google accounts. What a breeze, eh?!

NO. NO. NO. NOT A BREEZE AT ALL. You have now connected all your new accounts to the big accounts you depend on for many of your online needs.

Has your Instagram account ever been hacked? You couldn’t get into it because someone literally took it over? It’s concerning, of course, but at least it’s only one account. But is it only one account? NO.

Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook are all owned by the same people. These are connected. Remember you have been signing into all those other online accounts through your Facebook login? Now someone has hacked into your Instagram. So, what do you think the potential outcome of this could be? NOT GOOD.

If this does happen to you, go into your Facebook account immediately and change the password in settings (How to keep your account secure). Go into every single one of your other settings and make everything private, or choose the “Only Me” option. Ensure that you go into data settings and remove every app and website, which you’ve signed in with Facebook, or any that you have recently used. Just delete all of them. To be on the safe side, go into your Google account and change your password. If any family member’s account is connected to yours, change those passwords as well. Pick passwords that are long phrases, which are easy for you to remember, but ensure you use a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, as well as numbers and symbols.

There are countless more ways in which people online can trick us all. We must each be vigilant and, when we see offers, ask ourselves if we know the person or company that is making the offer. Scams are vague and usually get passed down through a long chain of ‘forwards’. Scams do not identify with a reputable and known company. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. If it looks like a fun and frivolous questionnaire, seemingly harmless, it is HARMFUL. Don’t let these scammers take you for a fool. Don’t participate in these scams. Don’t ‘share’ these scams. How about a ‘NO’ to sharing the foolishness.

When Someone Shows You the Stairs, Climb Them

I am going to tell a personal story today. It’s about opportunity.

When I was a very little girl, I wanted to be an air hostess. I simply loved the restaurant lounge that looked over the runway at Norman Manley International Airport. Within a couple years, I had changed my mind. I wanted to be an actress. However, my Dad asked me how I expected to look after myself in that line of work. At which point, the youngest of my brothers piped up, “I’ll look after you.” Sweet, eh! In many ways, he actually has always looked after me and looked out for me, like all my siblings. Sometime before I turned ten, I decided on another career and this one stuck for the rest of my childhood and teen years. I was going to be a criminal lawyer.

Growing up, great importance was given to the value of education. I was treated no differently to my brothers when it came to academics. We had to do well. I don’t recall conversations pertaining to this exactly, but it was something we just knew we had to do. This came easily to us all, as did the various sports we chose, but it was not easy being away from home. We each had to find a coping mechanism that suited our individual personalities, and we had to build a resilience to loneliness. Don’t get me wrong, strong friendships with our school peers were formed by each of us, but there are times, like bedtime, when you are laying there wishing you could have that last conversation with your family, not a bunch of strange children lying on the other beds in a dormitory. I am fairly certain most of the other kids felt the same. Alas, exhaustion from our busy day would take over and the next thing to worry about would be:”How on earth do I get out from under my warm duvet on this freezing morning?!” Mandatory-timed breakfast, that’s how! Another busy day started and the goal remained the same: excel at what you do.

So, what happened with my plan to be a lawyer? Well, I did my A Levels (again, academic-focused) in sixth form, then took a year off to work and backpack around Australia, New Zealand and Fiji with one of my closest friends from school. Following this, I got my Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy at the LSE, then went straight to the Leith’s School of Food & Wine. I had had enough of academia. I don’t know if this was spurred on by the arrogance of my peers, who studied the same discipline, or if there had always been a creative side of me waiting to burst out. In school, I had hated arts & craft and home economics, and all of my 10 GCSEs had been academic subjects. One did not do the “arts” in our family!!

With my degree in philosophy and my diploma in food and wine, I began working in all kinds of kitchens at all kinds of places. I loved it. London was on fire with brilliant restaurants. The English were finally making great waves when it came to getting rid of their long-time reputation of having crap food. The private chef business was also booming and I soon found that I fitted really well into this niche. If you were a chef, people were impressed. It was right around the time when chefs like Jamie Oliver were being discovered. Cooking shows were all over the television, and cable TV was a new thing.

One day, I got a call from my agent at the chef agency I worked through. She wanted me to apply for this great gig at the BBC Good Food show. She said I’d be perfect for it. So, I went to the interview, knowing very little about the job, by the way. I sat across from this television producer, who wanted to figure out a way to promote BBC’s brand new cable food channel. All he told me was that they had a food truck to utilise and he had a vague vision of an American diner. Off the cuff, I came up with the idea of cooking mini portions of diner-style food, with a twist, and serving these to customers as they sat in the ‘diner’ to watch video clips from their new channel. At the show, patrons were not only watching the video clips, they were also watching me cook. I am pretty sure my mini burgers in mini coco breads did the trick! Before I knew it, along with my other freelance chef work, I spent the next couple years being a guest chef on their live TV show, Good Food Live. In fact, they even brought me back home to Jamaica to film a series of short inserts, of me cooking across the island, for the live show. It was incredible.

As time went on, I found myself writing for various magazines, like BBC Good Food, and developing recipes. I was good at it, so went to New York to take a diploma in Journalism. Here began my long transition into becoming a full-time freelance writer. You see, I moved back to Jamaica and got roped into teaching cooking. Two years later, I took the plunge and sent an idea for a ‘Single in the City’ column to the Gleaner. They hired me to be a freelance writer and, over the next five years, I took on several columns and a couple different aliases. I had found another career about which I was passionate. During this time, the Observer’s Lifestyle section was really taking off. I wanted to be a part of the action, so I wrote and asked them to hire me. I spent almost three years writing for them. I had a phenomenal editor, who pushed me to write about things I would never have thought of before. She made me a better writer and did not accept anything less than her required standards, which were high! This, in turn, gave me a very valuable skill: the skill of editing. If you wanted your work published in full, you had better learn how to edit your own work with excellence! I wrote for a few magazines while doing all of this, but, of course, the print world began losing out to online media. Times were changing, so jobs were changing. It was time to write a novel.

I self-published my first novel on Amazon three years ago and I am currently sitting on my second, which is, essentially, finished. But, the pandemic happened and happenstance, along with my niece, threw me in the direction of a nonprofit organisation, Cornerstone Jamaica, for which I have been volunteering as a CyberSafety Specialist for over a year. Throughout my life, I have met all kinds of people and one of them has been the founder of a successful nonprofit organisation called CyberSafe Kids, in Ireland. They have educated more than 25,000 children on CyberSafety in the last six years. This organisation trained me in CyberSafety, so that I could start doing the same for Jamaican children. I spearheaded, designed and wrote a CyberSafety programme for Cornerstone Jamaica, called CyberSafe Yuhself. Between the last school term, and the current one, I have given live and interactive online CyberSafety workshops to almost 1800 children and 150 of their teachers, in Westmoreland, Hanover, Clarendon and St. Mary. I truly believe that every human being, who goes online, should be versed in CyberSafety.

In the midst of my volunteer work, something extraordinary has occurred. Many of you must know LinkedIn, right? Well, I’ve been a member for a good while now, but I have not been so active on it. In the last few months, however, I noticed that there has been more activity on my page, so I updated my profile in mid-October. No sooner had I done that, when someone reached out to me and, figuratively, showed me the stairway to a career I would never have chosen for myself. You see, I have always trained for particular niches – cooking, writing, CyberSafety. Don’t ask me about the Philosophy part when it comes to careers, but I have actually used it in much of my writing. Anyway, I have never been formally trained for the work offered before me. That said, what if all my experiences and skills, acquired along the way, were indeed leading me right into this job? What if I am supposed to do this? Well, yesterday I started to officially climb those stairs!

Altruism or Egoism: Which sits better?

What does it take to be a giving person? Quite simply, kindness.

My mum has always told me to “kill them with kindness”, and goodness knows, it is deeply gratifying to rise above the bullshit and keep being kind. However, life tests us all, pushing us to different and particular breaking points. We each draw the line somewhere and this line is determined by so many moving variables that it would be virtually impossible to figure out where, when, how and why one individual’s limit is at ‘x’ point today and at ‘y’ point next week, let alone the limits of every single person. Perhaps some people do not even have limits when it comes to their kindness.

Auguste Comte, the French philosopher who founded Positivism, coined the term ‘altruism’, whereby one must “live for others”. Comte believed that we each have a moral obligation to serve, help or benefit other people, even if it means sacrificing our own needs and interests. Indeed, there are some truly altruistic people in the world, but what’s in it for them? That’s the point – there isn’t supposed to be anything “in it” for them. There are many times when I have acted with altruism, but the truth is, it is not continuously sustainable.

I have been fortunate throughout my life when it comes to making friends. I do so easily. Some have come and gone, others have remained steadfast in their love, loyalty, empathy and selflessness. I am mostly drawn to people who have altruistic tendencies, and this has become more apparent in latter years. I have witnessed some of my friends giving and giving to people whom they know, and to those whom they have never met. However, while there is immense virtue in altruism, is it virtuous to give so much of yourself, that you end up in physical and psychological burnout? I don’t think Friedrich Nietzsche believed it was so virtuous. This German philosopher claimed that treating everyone else as if they were more important than yourself is, in fact, demeaning and an act of self-degradation, leaving you unable to pursue your own skills and creativity. If an altruistic person is left in this state, can she or he continue to “live for others”and “give to others”? Surely the burnout will prevent this?

Let’s back up a bit and assume an altruist can keep giving completely without burning out. After all, one can surely keep giving kindness without it causing self-degradation, right? Well, in essence, yes. However, there is something that can hinder this: another person; more specifically, another person whose moral philosophy is based on egoism – the pursuit of one’s own self-interest. I must point out that egoism does not require one to ignore or go against another person’s well-being. It simply holds that the self-interest of the egoist be put first. The act of said egoist can be neutral, detrimental or even beneficial to others, and it can even be at his or her own short-term sacrifice, provided his or her long-term interest is facilitated. Ergo, when a person pursues life with egoism and works alongside a person who pursues a life of altruism, the latter either burns out or bows out. Even if the egoist and altruist have a similar goal of, let’s say, giving charitably to children, the egoist’s motivations are so vastly different from those of the altruist that the egoist will eventually get in the way of the altruist’s mission. Indeed, one might then question the egoist’s original and apparent intentions.

We could philosophise all day and find justifications for every action within Philosophy, but life’s second by second decisions do not allow for this in practicality. Sometimes we have ample time to make choices, other times we have to make them off the cuff. We just do not have the privilege to philosophise on every action we take. Simplistically, however, I do believe that we should and are able to figure out which sits better within ourselves: altruism or egoism?

Covid Vaccines: Greatest Good for the Greatest Number of People

Here are some reasons for the majority of the population to remain unvaccinated:

Oh wait, there are no reasons for the majority of the population to remain unvaccinated.

Covid 19 vaccines have been available in Jamaica for about seven months. If you scroll down on my main page, you’ll see that it’s been nearly that amount of time since I last wrote on my Blog. I spent months working on articles for a nonprofit organisation (have a look at what I wrote: https://cornerstonejamaica.org/insight/).

Alas, I digress. The penultimate post before this one, which was made on March 21, is titled: ‘A Utilitarian View of Jumping the Vaccine Line’. How ironic it is that seven months ago some younger people were scrambling to get their vaccines before the elderly, leaving the elderly to be turned away because the vaccine supply for the day had run out, yet now our Prime Minister is having to plead with most Jamaicans to get vaccinated. What’s even more ironic is my said post highlighted the need for younger people to wait their turn, not jump the line and allow the elderly to get theirs first, yet this post is going to be about “begging” everyone to get vaccinated now.

One could try and argue that I have changed my mind about who should get vaccinated and about the application of my utilitarian view, but this is not the case at all. I have always believed that everyone should take the Covid 19 vaccine and I remain steadfast in my utilitarian view of the world. To quote from my own blog: Jeremy Bentham believed in “The greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people”. This is the essence of Classical Utilitarianism, which relies on each person promoting the overall good. Bentham thought that an action was bad when it led to unhappiness, without any redeeming happiness. It had no utility. “If a law or an action doesn’t do any good, then it isn’t any good.” Seven months ago, the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people did mean that first responders and the elderly should be vaccinated before everyone else. Now, with many more vaccine doses available and many more sites where Jamaicans can get vaccinated, the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people will be achieved if Jamaicans become fully vaccinated. Of course, children under 12 years old have not yet been approved and those 12-17 years old can only take the Pfizer vaccine when the second batch arrives in Jamaica. That said, the rest of you should get vaccinated now!

Here is why a utilitarian philosophy should apply. I’m pretty sure you’ve all heard of the variants Delta and Mu (real pains up the backside!), to name a few. Anyway, viruses mutate, so it’s not surprising these variants are spreading rampant across the world. Viruses get a chance to mutate and spread when they have hosts. That’s us! To be more specific, they are much more likely to mutate and spread in an unvaccinated host. That’s you, you unvaccinated person! Unless the majority of the world population is fully vaccinated with the Covid 19 vaccine, the Covid 19 virus will continue to spread and mutate, spread some more and mutate again. Yes, even the fully vaccinated people can catch Covid, BUT they are less likely to get sick, less likely to be hospitalised and significantly less likely to die. Their bodies’ viral loading is lower if they get Covid, however, they too are potential hosts and can spread the virus. This right here confuses many, particularly those who are unvaccinated. Why should I get the vaccine when I could still get Covid after taking the vaccine? I’ll tell you why. You don’t want to die!

The only way to draw brakes on a pandemic such as this is for the vast majority of the world’s population to be fully vaccinated as quickly as possible. Yes, the speed at which we get vaccinated matters. When there is a slow uptake of the vaccine, the virus still has millions of unvaccinated hosts, billions if you look worldwide. When the covid vaccines were developed and tested, Delta and Mu didn’t exist. Had the vast majority of the population been vaccinated in an expeditious way, Delta and Mu are most likely not to have come into being. Sure, vaccine supply has prevented millions of people, particularly in the African and South American continents, from taking vaccines, but we in Jamaica have the vaccines and there is no reasonable reason why so many thousands within our population are flatly refusing to take the vaccine. Our government recently had to throw away 60,000 expired doses of AstraZeneca, due to vaccine illiteracy (yes, I just called you unvaccinated people vaccine illiterate!), and there is a considerable chance that they will be in the same position very soon. What’s going to happen if you continue to remain unvaccinated? You give the virus a greater chance to mutate! Then, these mutations spread and, what could potentially happen, if the majority remain unvaccinated, is the virus mutates so many times that the vaccines, which the rest of us have taken, will become ineffective. So, getting fully vaccinated within the quickest time possible is our chance to put a halt to this pandemic. It is our chance to save our people. It is our chance to save the world population. It will indeed produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Say Their Names: Jamaican Women’s Lives Matter

Jasmine Dean, Khanice Jackson, Tamika Richards, Nevia Sinclair, Kim Johnson, Ananda Dean and many more. Jamaican women and girls are being abducted, murdered and disposed in ways that go beyond brutal, leaving their families and friends in a spin of devastation. Jamaican women and girls are being sexually harassed, sexually assaulted and raped, leaving them scarred for years, if not for the remainder of their lives, but more often than not there are no physical scars to show for the psychological damage that has been done.

Pre-Covid, I was a volunteer in a mentor programme for high school students. One of the workshops I planned for the children entailed each child anonymously writing down three things they did not like being done to them. I collected responses from more than 150 students. These were statements, verbatim, from some of them:

“Don’t like to see children getting abuse.”; “I don’t like rape.”; “I do not like when people touch me on my bottom.”; “I don’t like when people touch me on my breast.”; “I don’t like when people touch me up when they are talking to me.”; “I don’t like when people touch me in a certain way.”; “I don’t like when older men stare at me and talk to me about sex or adult stuff.”; “One elder male in my community always wants to give me money so I can have sex with him, but I’m smart enough not to.”; “I don’t like when girls get abused.”

As I unfolded each piece of paper to read their words, I realised that they were all saying the same thing. These young teenagers, boys and girls, know that sexual abuse is wrong. They do not like it. Their instincts are in tact, yet this is not enough to stop the predators. Predators have power and they use this power to do harm.

So if children can feel that it’s wrong to be abused, why do some grow up to become predators? Have they been desensitised to the crime and why? Is the language used by men to speak to women and girls, and about them, breaking down the goodness inside the boys from when they are young? Is pressure coming from men for their sons to treat women as sexual objects at their disposal? If so, then by the time the boys become men, it’s no wonder that some seek to be violent towards girls and women.

On April 15, 2017, a man, whom my family and I trusted, overstepped and did something that could possibly have been forgiven had he stood up and taken responsibility for his unjustifiable actions towards me. But he didn’t, so we didn’t. Instead, I was shunned for “causing trouble”, accused of “shaking his marriage” and blamed for “rocking the boat” in general. I was threatened by several friends who are no longer in my stratosphere. I stood up and spoke up against sexual abuse because I needed to see change in Jamaica. If I didn’t stand up and speak up, who would?

I have had immense support from my family, numerous friends and acquaintances. The positive power of social media also came through for me during this time, only to be even more asserted exactly six months later, on October 15, 2017, when Alyssa Milano tweeted: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” She added this at the bottom of the same tweet: “Me Too. Suggested by a friend: if all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Having been originally founded by Tarana Burke in 2006, the #MeToo movement blew up the internet. The world wanted to change. Women needed the world to change. Those of us who posted about our numerous #MeToo moments were hopeful. The end of 2017 marked the start of a new era, surely.

Going into 2018, celebrities were speaking out more and more, #TimesUp came into fruition, black was worn at the Golden Globes in solidarity for the survivors of rape and sexual abuse, sexual harassment laws were reviewed and improved in several countries, and famous men were beginning to pay for their abusive actions towards girls and women. Time was up. I even bought a #timesup T-shirt and wore it often. I still do. Alas, few seemed to notice and even fewer cared. It was disappointing to see so many women in Jamaica accept the status quo. They still do. It is disappointing to hear men and women still saying things like, “She had on a tight tank top and short skirt, so she shouldn’t have worn that,” or “why she walking around by herself anyway?”

Victim blaming is common, but it has to stop. We could push for laws to be enforced and, frankly, we should, but what we need to do is get to the root of the problem. We have to humanise and nurture every single one of our fellow citizens. We have to do this from their birth. We owe it to our children, to the babies who have just been born and to the ones who will be born in the future. Women’s and girls’ lives matter. Say their names.