EMPATHY OF PURPOSE NEEDED MORE THAN EVER FROM SIERRA LEONE POLITICIANS
By Mahmud Tim Kargbo
What will you do next to help repair Sierra Leone?
For many, this has been gut-wrenching weeks. People are struggling with how to make sense of the current price hike on essential commodities in Sierra Leone. The main opposition party, the All People’s Congress is grappling in the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone with its internal challenges to take their political party to their national delegates conference in preparation for the 2023 general elections (though this is a huge sea change), but also for us in Sierra Leone escalating, senseless violence hearsay across the country, threats to voices of reasoning, the spread of fake news, massive sycophancy and bootlicking to further deepening divide between the political class and the ordinary people, and a creeping sense of dread as events begin to seem out of our control.
There’s a lot for people to digest. Sierra Leone can seem a cruel and barbaric place. Political – love of humankind — can seem elusive.
Yet it’s right here. In each of us.
As my visiting friend Tara Sophia Mohr wrote:
“… remember that every cell in your body knows how to love and weave good deeds, to meet injustice with acts of service and everyday rebellion, right there with the people in front of you. Let’s stay connected to love and to each other.”
This is a time when we truly must stay connected. Through making a choice — to pay attention to, rather than ignore. Through listening. Through empathy. Through putting ourselves in each other’s shoes.
This week, celebrate tolerance.
All this week, we celebrate the United Nations International Day for Tolerance. While it may seem we haven’t much to celebrate right now, the reverse is true.
We have each other. Because for every tribal bigot, politically supported neocolonial oppression, or deceptive politician who rises up, 100 more will rise up against them. And soon it will be 1,000 more. Then 10,000 more.
Humanity has the will to survive — through caring.
Not just the will to survive, but in fact, the need. For throughout history the civilizations that have survived have been those which banded together to care for their brethren.
Sure, we’ve all heard about “survival of the fittest, especially in present-day Sierra Leone.” But did you know that was not Darwin’s idea? He never meant to imply that civilization would survive by the strongest killing the weakest. Though the concept is attributed to him, it really comes from the philosopher Herbert Spencer. And it is widely misunderstood.
In one-to-one battles, the fittest may survive. But in the end, it’s not about individuals. It’s about groups, tribes, communities, regions, and countries. Darwin actually posited “survival of the most empathic.”
Empathy, per Anita Nowak of McGill University, is the only human emotion that expresses equality between humans. She notes:
Society needs to undergo an empathic revolution if we are to survive as a species… we must engage with empathy; not as spectators, but as fully involved participants. [The state of society today in Sierra Leone makes] the moral imperative to act explicit. We are facing a set of social and environmental crises that are unprecedented… we are beset by wicked man-made problems in Sierra Leone.
The nonprofit sector is also called “civil society.” And they have an important role to play in times like these. We must remind each other what survival really is about and how to avoid violence to save further suffering and loss of human lives and property.
Civilizations that survive are the most empathic, cooperative, and compassionate.
This week, let’s commit to cooperation and standing together.
Even in the wild, it’s not every animal for itself. Cooperation turns out to be the most successful survival strategy. Complex cells evolved from cooperating simple cells. Multicellular organisms are made up of cooperating complex cells. Superorganisms such as bee or ant colonies consist of cooperating individuals, in a condition biologists call eusociality.
In Sierra Leone, we know the Individual selection of the majority in our social positions of trust tends to favour selfish behaviour. In the eusocial group, however, members perform altruistic acts, sometimes against their own personal interests, to benefit their group.
When cooperation breaks down, the results can be disastrous.
For example, when cells in our bodies turn rogue the result is cancer. A single cell can break free from the pack and create something monstrous. In my neighbour’s teenage daughter’s lingo, letting the demons loose makes the world totally cray-cray.
This is what makes the civil sector so important.
Nonprofit staff, volunteers, and donors make a critically important choice. To act altruistically. To stand united against cruelty, intolerance, and injustice.
As individuals, families, and communities we choose to act with compassion and honour. To stand up to horror, hatred, inhumanity, and senseless destruction.
This message from the U.N. Secretary-General is timely:
“Let us not be provoked or play into the hands of those who thrive on hatred and instill fear in our societies. Today’s global challenges should compel us to reject the failed mindset of “us” versus “them”. Let us see the world and all its possibilities through the prism of “we the people”.
There can be no time like the present to begin to say “No More.”
This week, politicians need to truly commit to taking a step towards repairing Sierra Leone and prevent the people from further suffering before the numbers of untimely death dominate our statistical data in Sierra Leone.