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Changing our narrative

magic open book of fantasy stories

When he saw the large catch he and the other fishermen had obtained at Christ’s bidding, Simon Peter fell to his knees recognising His power, and said “Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:9). Christ’s response was level and comforting: “Do not be afraid…”.

It is interesting that Simon Peter’s first response should be one of self-recrimination and not gratitude—a sense of unworthiness immediately emerges. ‘Unworthiness’ is an unacknowledged sentiment that can frequently be seen surfacing in national discourse whenever Trinidadians speak of themselves.

There are memes on social media with the tag, ‘Trinidad is not a real place’ which in the usual humorous fashion, capture the oddities, idiosyncrasies and dysfunctionalities in local behaviour and our public systems. It is something that is accepted of ourselves: we are witty, and ‘giving fatigue’ is an everyday facet of casual conversation and part of our cultural outlook.

An issue emerges however when this wit is used in a destructive manner and negative speak becomes the go-to response to any given public issue or situation which emerges. There appears to be an unbridled glee in decrying local individuals and groups as though we ourselves are untainted by the behaviours of others.

The savagery of commentary begs the question of from where it comes. Why are we content to rest in destructive observation and negative speak? Can it be that at some level we ourselves feel unworthy and the commentary is rooted in a degree of self-hatred? We are after all a part of the country, its values, its functioning.

The easiest response is a critical one but an unforeseen effect is embedded helplessness. An observation was made that perhaps this is why there is a feeling of ‘what can we do?’ because there are constant and consistent critical stories and opinions shaped as intellectual thought pieces.

The narrative of Trinidad and Tobago is largely made up of all the threads of why we are ‘unworthy’—we pollute and cause flooding; our politicians and institutions are corrupt; our public service is slack and disorganised; our young people are sexualised and violent; our men are non-committal and indifferent fathers; criminals come from single-mom homes.

The narrative keeps us in an active mind trap of seeing only the ways we are unworthy of better. We cannot envision anything more for ourselves and we drive a solution-oriented, salvific manner of thinking, and acting, away.

Simon Peter’s “I am a sinful man” thus echoes all the areas of unworthiness in our individual and national lives, but in the simple dialogue with Christ, several things are revealed.

First, acknowledgement of ‘sinfulness’ is key, but within this confession is the possibility for change and rehabilitation. It becomes a plea for something different, for something more and better. Peter kneels before Christ and His response becomes the pivot for the enactment of more and better.

Christ responds with “Do not be afraid…”. He invites Simon Peter to move beyond entrapment in sentiments of unworthiness; indeed, He does not seem to see Peter in the same manner that Peter sees himself. He invites him instead to mission, to follow Him and be a fisher of men.

The time is ripe now to change these narratives of unworthiness we tell ourselves and fashion a different society and ways of thinking.

Do not be afraid…