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Progress and its unrealised fears

No community, and certainly no political or social system, is ever complete — they are always continuous works in progress. To survive, all societies must evolve in response to changing needs and circumstances.

And, as is the case in the natural world, it is not always the strongest or most powerful communities that do survive.

Rather, it is the ones best able to adapt and adjust to the changing environments in which they find themselves that thrive.

Bermuda has demonstrated a talent for adaptation in recent times.

After a protracted period of arrested constitutional and social development, with the Island opting to remain an outpost of antiquated Edwardian values well into the atomic age, change eventually did come to Bermuda: change that ultimately transformed this society beyond all expectations and, some would argue, beyond all recognition.

Sometimes that change was grudging. Often, it was long overdue. At best, those in the vanguard of change in Bermuda tended to be patted on the head and patronised by those who initially demonstrated themselves resistant to even the most obvious and necessary social development. At worst, they were met with suspicion or outright hostility.

But in every instance, change could be delayed but not, ultimately, stopped or denied. Indeed, the drive for change in Bermuda took on an increasingly heightened urgency in recent decades and attained a near-irresistible momentum.

And the apprehensions of those who feared their way of life or values would be threatened by change have never once been borne out by experience.

Those advocating change have, after all, only ever been asking that others be permitted to enjoy what the diehards have demanded for themselves: an equal chance to share in the rewards of Bermudian life.

The whole sweep of our experience since 1959, that watershed year when the barriers of racial segregation came down and the barriers in our minds began to be dismantled, shows each successive group advocating for change, as it has emerged, has been met by those who argued even minor tinkering with the Bermuda status quo would be both inappropriate and potentially damaging.

And each time they have been proved wrong.

The future has, after all, never belonged to those who were content with the commonplace assumptions and certainties of their times, indifferent to the struggles of others and anxious in the face of new ideas, new practices and newly emerging social norms.

Rather, it has always belonged to those who were able to bring passion tempered by pragmatism, reason and courage to Bermuda's public arena

And it will continue to belong to those who understand that innovation and progress can result only from challenging existing assumptions and beliefs, from a forthright but respectful exchange of sometimes opposing views and from highlighting problems that simply will not go away if they continue to go ignored.

Progress, tremendous progress, has been made across the racial and social spectrum.

However, prejudice and discrimination still remain everyday realities for marginalised groups and individuals in latter-day Bermuda, as do frustrated expectations and dashed hopes.

And, just as importantly, the awareness of these injustices and the passion to end them are also intractable realities.

“No force in the world can wish these facts out of existence or abolish them,” said American statesman Robert F. Kennedy, reflecting on the sea change that society in the United States began to undergo in the 1960s.

“Thus, we only have one choice. We can face our difficulties and strive to overcome them. Or we can turn away, bringing repression and leaving problems of far more terrifying and grievous dimensions to our children.”

Bermuda has only one choice, too.

We must face our remaining social and cultural difficulties, and strive to overcome them because equality is not divisible and the rights of all Bermuda residents are diminished when the rights of even a single individual are threatened.

There's a growing realisation that the struggles of individual groups who pressed for change in this community, whether black or Portuguese Bermudians, suffragettes or workers, were undertaken not just to serve a sectarian end, but to advance the common good.

In tiny Bermuda, our tragedies and failings have always been common tragedies and common failings. They have hampered not just those directly affected by the denial of such reasonable expectations as equality before the law and equality of opportunity, dignity and fairness, but hindered us all.

Similarly, the accomplishments of those who fought against such injustices have always bestowed common blessings.

We need to bear in mind these lessons from recent history as efforts continue to ensure that Bermuda's social development remains a work in progress — and that meaningful progress is indeed made.

The times they are a-changin': Bermuda has demonstrated a talent for adaptation in recent times. Sometimes change has been grudging, often it was long overdue. But in every instance, change could not be stopped or denied, and the apprehensions of those who feared their way of life or values would be threatened by change have never once been borne out by experience (File photograph)

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Published December 03, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 03, 2015 at 12:22 am)

Progress and its unrealised fears

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