Kaieteur News – As late as the early 1970s, when night fell, dinner was consumed, the children completed their homework, members of the household would usually sit either in the sitting room or on the verandah and discuss various matters, but mainly the events of the day.
In those days there was no television and for news we relied upon the radio. But that was not the only source of information.
Those members of the household who worked would return with their own stories and the tidbits of information they had picked up.
Even the housewives who went to the market would also return with stories they had heard.
At nights, families would sit together and share these stories. They would also find some time to read or play cards before retiring. These activities tended to bond the household and provided an environment in which everyone looked out for his or her own family.
Sometimes while chatting on the verandah, you would look over and see your neighbour and his family doing the same. And you would exchange greetings and even discuss matters without having to leave your home.
That was one of the benefits of living in a traditional society. Everyone within a street knew each other.
And within the home there were hardly any secrets and even when there was the odd dispute there was no shortage of people to bring the two disputants together.
There was also a great deal of communal support. In any village, everyone got to know the other. Even within the towns, it was unusual for a resident not to know the households on the streets in which he lived. Thus, if someone had a problem he could always appeal to his neighbours for support which was almost always forthcoming.
Such, also, were the benefits of living in a traditional society.
There are many reasons why Guyanese survived the hard times of the late seventies and eighties. One of those reasons was due to the free exchange of information that took place within communities.
If for example, the then Guyana Stores would be selling cooking oil the following day and someone in the street got wind of this, that person would not keep this information to himself but would pass it on to their neighbour.
And if one member was short of a scarce commodity and another had, you could bet the latter would share with the person in need. This was the sort of support system that helped to sustain Guyanese during the hard guava season.
With economic liberalisation, things began to change. Liberalism is underpinned by the philosophy of personal initiative: that a man or a woman can become whatever he or she wants through his own effort.
Economic liberalism placed the interests of the community as secondary to the individual and what we had developing was a rat race whereby everyone tried to improve his or her own lot without regard to the overall benefit of the community.
In the process, social and communal ties which had helped to sustain us for so long, began to fall apart. Communities became highly impersonal. And with this impersonality, residents have become strangers in their own villages.
People do not mix as before and they also do not lend that degree of support that once existed.
And this is one of the main reasons why each day, we can pick up the newspaper and be horrified at what we read.
Each day we read about fights within villages, about one person stabbing another over a $500 bet, of a husband forcing rat poison down the throat of his wife, of neighbour breaking into the home of neighbour and of friends betraying the trust of each other.
Attempts can be made to reverse these negative trends through strengthening community ties, but this task will always remain difficult if liberalisation continues to be the guiding philosophy within the country.
Everything cannot be left to the invisible hand of the market.
We have got to return to those values which existed in an earlier time. A time before television when family members sat together and shared their experiences, their dreams and their fears. A time when a neighbour would come running to your rescue without being asked and a time when having more than what your neighbour had was not as important as it is today.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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