Q: Archbishop J, how do we build a culture of care?
I hope that in 2021, we can work together to build a culture of care in our families, parishes, workplaces, and our national community—extreme hospitality. That would be my major hope for this new year.
I believe it is vital for us in Trinidad and Tobago. While we have been extremely generous in our response to crisis, we can sometimes be brutal to one another in our families and amongst our friends, and this state of affairs is crippling our people and hindering true progress in our nation.
The soul wound
Just as individuals have negative areas of their life that keep recurring despite their best efforts, so too, nations have patterns of behaviour that betray the deep pain and trauma of the society.
I call this manifestation the ‘soul wound’. It is persistent; it undermines in the most pernicious ways; it is the dark underbelly that we do not see easily, neither do we understand its destructive powers. An individual or a nation in the grip of its soul wound is on a path of destruction.
When I look at Trinidad and Tobago, I see an enormous, devastating wound that undermines us at many turns. It is revealed in how we relate to each other in the home and family settings, by our jokes and cutting humour, passing somehow as an expression of “love and care”. It breeds discontent in our own skin and perpetuates a deep sense of inferiority.
Have you ever witnessed the way we correct children? We call them names and point out with great effectiveness their faults and shortcomings. The unexpressed theory is that shaming a child will cause him or her to be a better child: “If I can get him to publicly acknowledge his faults and shortcomings he will get better”.
The flip side of this is also evident: even if children are doing really badly, they must be protected from the truth. They are lied to and their potential exaggerated, setting them up for failure because they are given a false sense of self.
These two, the undermining and the over exaggeration, are a lethal cocktail. In this way the family is undermined and, ultimately, the next generation.
Both the hyper-critical and the exaggerated inflation undermine a child, a family, and the nation. The family is supposed to give the child the core values and that inner sense of stability to know his or her place in the world, to experience what it is to be at home in one’s own skin.
When this is achieved, the nation will flourish because its citizens are at home in their skin and thus can stretch further for the sake of the other. This is what is necessary for human flourishing and for giving this sense of care to others who are most in need.
Why is corruption so rife in our nation? Why are we so hungry for attention and social acceptability? Why is our sexual energy so out of control so early in adolescence? These are signs of a deep soul wound.
While it is expressed at the level of the individual, it is lived out in a collective way on the national stage—just look at what has happened to Carnival. These are all signs of the deep father wound that exists in our nation.
Building a culture of care
In his message for World Day of Peace 2021, Pope Francis uses the theme of building a culture of care. I believe this can be a great approach for us in our families.
When the family has a culture of care that is passed from generation to generation, we will change the great wound in our national life.
At one point in his text, the Holy Father takes us to the Book of Genesis and the mandate to Adam. The Holy Father says:
In the Bible, the Book of Genesis shows from its very first pages the importance of care or protection in God’s plan for humanity. It highlights the relationship between man (’adam) and the earth (’adamah), and among ourselves as brothers and sisters. In the biblical account of creation, God entrusts the garden “planted in Eden” (cf. Gen 2:8) to Adam’s care, to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15) …The verbs “till” and “keep” describe Adam’s relationship to his garden home, but also the trust God placed in him by making him master and guardian of all creation.
This is Adam’s task—to till and keep! To “till” is to engage in husbandry. It evokes intense attention to the cultivation and nurturing of the garden; a knowledge of just what crop to plant, where and just how to ensure all plants in the garden flourish in an integral ecosystem. This speaks about wisdom and learning from experiments and from experience.
This is a father’s task, to “till” the family, creating an integral ecosystem where each member is getting just the nurturing and pruning that is appropriate in the right time.
This speaks to a culture of care at the heart of the family. A culture that is the task of mother and father. We often think that it is only the mother’s role to nurture. The father is called to nurture and cultivate the earth and the family.
To “keep” is a protective task; it is to guard and ensure boundaries are secure, to make safe and secure from harm. It is to ensure the family is protected from the predators of lust, greed, and pride. It is to ensure the children and the spouse is completely at home in their skin and at home in God.
In psychology it is said: mum gives the fluid of the soul, and dad gives the container—boundaries (keep). Men, we need to step up to the task of Adam—to “till and keep” the family. Then the family will have the container, addictive living will be no more, and we will be content with what we have, and corruption will die away.
The container dad gives, will give right expression to our sexual energies, which will build chastity in our families and our nation and we will be a people who will do what is right because it is right, regardless of what others think or say.
Without a culture of care in our family we will continue the ancient wound of slavery and indentureship that continually undermines the generation leading us to be a lesser version of our self.
Ask St Joseph in this special year to intercede for your family and ensure we till and keep effectively. He did this for Jesus.