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Patience: a necessity as well as a virtue

Taking direct action: March saw mass street protests when the Government attempted to introduce wholesale immigration reforms with a woeful lack of sensitivity and forethought as to the potential consequences

Technically, a recession of unprecedented length and severity came to an end in Bermuda last year.

That was when the island finally recorded two consecutive quarters of modest, but measurable, growth in our gross domestic product.

In practice, however, the cultural aftershocks of a Bermudian economic implosion, which predated the global economic convulsions of 2008 by a year or more and lasted far longer than that crisis did in most countries, are still being felt.

And we will continue to experience them for many years to come, even if the anaemic growth we are now experiencing does ultimately develop into a full-blown economic recovery.

One sobering consequence of the protracted economic downturn is precisely the same “collective sense of acute frustration” among Bermudians, which can be seen manifesting itself in many countries around the world.

People displaced by the recession increasingly are finding at least temporary release in populist political causes that serve as a combination of catharsis and pressure valve for their accumulated frustrations.

And make no mistake, it’s “not despair, or revolt, or resignation — but frustration,” as Anglo-American commentator Andrew Sullivan has noted of the rise of populist political movements in recent times.

In Bermuda, those energies increasingly have been channelled into direct action such as the mass protests seen in March when the Government attempted to introduce wholesale immigration reforms with a woeful lack of sensitivity and forethought as to the potential consequences.

“Mass movements [rarely] arise when oppression or misery is at its worst (say, 2009); they tend to appear when the worst is behind us but the future seems not so much better (say, 2016),” Mr Sullivan recently pointed out. “It is when a recovery finally gathers speed and some improvement is tangible but not yet widespread that the anger begins to rise.

“After the suffering of recession or unemployment, and despite hard work with stagnant or dwindling pay, the future stretches ahead with relief just out of reach.”

Bermuda’s Pathways to Status initiative, an otherwise sensible attempt to rationalise a near-incoherent Bermuda immigration policy, suffered far more from wretchedly poor salesmanship rather than bad government intentions.

Those who slipped down the rungs of Bermuda’s economic and social ladders during the recession believed themselves to be afterthoughts on a policy agenda that appeared to place the interests of long-term residents or foreign investors ahead of their own.

They were bound to feel aggrieved. And this unhappiness was bound to lead to an equal and opposite reaction to what was widely perceived as a high-handed and unfeeling action on the Government’s part.

The most vulnerable among us, those who witnessed the seemingly unlimited promise of Bermuda’s unprecedented 1990s prosperity turn to ashes in the early years of the 21st century, feel they have not only been left behind economically but are also being culturally marginalised as well.

Demographic and generational changes here as elsewhere have resulted in once seemingly unimaginable shifts in social mores. Movements seeking to promote gender equality and LGBT rights, for instance, are quickly gaining traction in traditionally hidebound Bermuda. Efforts to decriminalise and regulate cannabis have also attracted thousands of supporters.

Proponents of such reforms seek to create a more inclusive and less judgmental Bermudian society. But they are sometimes overly condemnatory of those who have seen both their economic and cultural landscapes upended in recent years, those who may be ten or 15 minutes behind whatever the latest activist lines are on a whole range of complex issues.

Some of the shriller voices espousing diversity and inclusion actually draw the line at extending inclusivity — or even basic civility — to those who otherwise may be open to persuasion when it comes to whatever cause they are championing.

No one likes to be written off as a stiff-necked reactionary or, even worse, an outright bigot. No one likes to have their longstanding beliefs and values openly ridiculed or to have the social orthodoxies they grew up with condemned outright as instruments of oppression.

Tolerance is a two-way street, after all, and those seeking it should be the last to deny a degree of understanding to those whose only sin it was to have come of age when different set of standards prevailed.

Social evolution is always a long-term process. It tends to occur in a staggered, fits-and-starts manner — and it is actually proceeding here at a faster clip than many might have once thought possible. Bermuda is very much a society in transition, but opinions will not be more easily shifted by insulting those who disagree with you.

History moves to its own clock. The hands cannot be forced forward by those in the vanguard of change any more than they can be held back ultimately by those who are disconcerted by the prospect of change.

So patience isn’t just a virtue, it’s an absolute necessity when a society is both in a state of flux and just beginning to recover from the protracted trauma of an extended recession. There are obviously some unreconstructed zealots among us who will never be reconciled to the nature of the changes that are taking place around us. But their numbers are relatively small. Many, many other Bermudians have been simply overwhelmed by the pace and extent of that change. They have been left reeling by a kind of cultural whiplash — something only to be expected in any society that undergoes such rapid and very transformative change.

Frankly, we need to demonstrate more patience with one another rather than see further examples of the type of exasperated impatience that has occasionally coloured the language and actions of some people at the more progressive end of the cultural spectrum.

This type of name-calling and finger-pointing only hardens positions in our own small-scale culture wars — and makes the collective sense of frustration felt by so many who already feel disoriented in post-recessionary Bermuda all the more acute.