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What is this war mindset?

Somerset Primary School (File photograph)

I’m gonna lay down my sword and Shield

Down by the riverside

And study war no more

These lyrics were passed down from our ancestors.

What is their deeper meaning? They arguably offer all of us advice on addressing 21st-century challenges, such as leveraging the best for all of our children.

These lyrics seem to address the “war mindset”, rather than just physical conflict. Those enslaved ancestors appreciated that tribal wars, commonly practised globally, made them more vulnerable to European raiders, who profited from the brutal Atlantic slave trade.

What is this “war mindset”?

The philosopher Eckhart Tolle explains that this approach arises when relationships are seen as “competitive” rather than “collaborative”. Hence, Mao described “politics” as “war without bloodshed”. This is evident, with Americans preparing for November’s presidential election, the Westminster system and consumerist culture promoting “us and them” polarisation and intolerance of varying perspectives.

I was blessed with a background appreciating the need to “lift every voice”, so when I joined the Black Beret Cadre, I supported their community-enhancing programmes, but opted out of wearing a uniform, which was accepted. However, many groups foster intolerance: Malcolm X, MLK when he opposed the Vietnam War and Roy Wilkins’s attitude towards the student movement.

A “war mindset” grows out of a lack of vision. I recognised this in myself when I once focused on what I was “against”, rather than what I was “for”. For a time, I refused to attend formerly segregated venues such as BAA field or events at the major hotels. However, I began to “see” differently when organising the defence fund for Erskine Burrows and Larry Tacklyn, along with late friends Bobby Durham and Clint “Amos” Smith. We were pleasantly surprised when the group Fame — the main band at Hamilton Princess — volunteered to play at a fundraiser with their members including two White musicians.

This shift away from “us and them” was reinforced when returning to school. In London in late November 1977, I was summoned by a group of members of the House of Lords to a meeting at Westminster, days before the pair’s hanging and while their efforts to stay the hangman came too late, it demonstrated the potential of shifting away from the “war mindset” to one that promoted collaboration.

Nelson Mandela and his many imprisoned comrades mindfully avoided the “war mindset“. This was evident during their decades at Robben Island. They fostered a learning community — promoting always learning. They refused to fall into the trap of ”us and them“ and positively engaged the prison guards. (Of Mandela’s two special guests for his presidential inauguration — one was his daughter and the other a prison warden.)

As we look to the transformation of the local school system — notably the parish primaries — there appears to be an approach that reveals being entrapped in the “war mindset“. This pertains to two schools that were formerly segregated, Somerset Primary and St George’s Prep. Both schools that have been long liberated by the people’s movement that began with the Theatre Boycott, 65 years ago.

Of course, the system ensured that the segregated schools had the best venues. Let’s now ensure that current and future generations make full use of those venues and any benefits that accrue.

The question remains: would Rosa Parks have considered continuing the boycott after the people’s victory of December 1956?

Making full use of the “liberated” venues and facilities is the least that we can do to honour the legacy of those on whose shoulders we stand. Those who are currently driving the bus could reflect on the vision; appreciating the labour of so many that got us this far and act with courage to ensure that current generations have the best available for negotiating these challenging times.

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Published April 15, 2024 at 7:58 am (Updated April 15, 2024 at 7:00 am)

What is this war mindset?

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