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Unwise to look a gift horse in the mouth

A few years ago, my wife and I received a call from our daughter, telling us the surprising news that she was pregnant. Initially, I had some concerns because of the circumstances, but within a short time I caught myself, realising that my wonderful daughter and our family were being offered a “gift” — the miracle of new life.

One of the challenges of being human is our tendency to react to life's circumstances rather than respond, potentially missing our “gifts”. It is evident that the planet, including Bermuda, is at a crossroads with many challenges. This makes addressing our gifts that much more important.

It is in this context that I reflect on a conversation with a group of friends this past Saturday evening. We were discussing whether the America's Cup would benefit the island. I suggested that it had potential for rebooting our visitor industry. One person responded that it seemed like the Government wanted Bermuda to “only become the playground of the rich and this would only move us back into a condition of servitude”. This reaction brought up the matter of “gifts” for me.

Appreciating “gifts” is central to life's journey. In Genesis, one story has Abraham and his “infertile” wife camping in the hostile desert when two strangers pass by. Overcoming his initial resistance, Abraham “caught himself” and offered these strangers hospitality, and subsequently the elderly couple received the gift of a baby son — a miracle.

When the Sea Venture was hit by a hurricane in 1609, the shipwreck would have initially had those travellers feeling like victims. However, they were able to see the gifts offered, regrouped on the “Rock” and eventually built two new ships. They were even able to assist settlers in Virginia.

Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to co-operate with the inhumane policy of segregation. Her story has her overcoming initial apprehension, as she recognised the gift in that challenging situation and went on to inspire a movement that transformed not only Montgomery, but the most powerful country in the world.

In September 1959, two months after the success of the peaceful Theatre Boycott, dockworkers, led by “Pork Chop” Mills, initiated the first successful comprehensive local strike of a shipping company. However, circumstances led to a situation that the protesters considered very unfair, and their resultant anger resulted in unprecedented violence.

However, a group of mediators, including Leonard Bascome, then president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, and the 23-year-old Reverend Vernon Byrd, who had only recently settled in the island, helped cooler heads to prevail. Out of initial disappointment, patience from all sides led to a process that eventually established the gift of a system of industrial relations that benefited not only dockworkers, but all employees.

The staging of the America's Cup, like life, has some potential downsides. However, it potentially offers a gift. As far as our visitor industry becoming a niche for “rich people” and the implications that this will foster a sense of “servitude” in residents, history offers another perspective.

One of my mentors, Wilfred “Mose” Allen, a confidant to E.F. Gordon and a mentor to Dame Lois Browne-Evans was perhaps the most militant advocate for rights in 20th-century Bermuda. In Mose's view, Bermudian hospitality set an example to the globe in providing good service without being servile. When we access our best selves, Bermudians engage visitors as “equals”, regardless of their background. You have seen this demonstrated for decades by the doorman at Hamilton Princess, Carvel Van Putten. Carvel provides service without being servile. Michael Douglas referred to this spirit in his recent interview on The Today Show.

Other evidence of this traditional approach to service is that a number of hospitality employees often spend holidays in the homes of their guests. Sister “Molly” Burgess, of the BIU, proudly tells the story of how she still visits a guest that she served 40 years ago. Our visitor industry had been in decline for the past 30 years. International business, while a crucial leg of our economy, can accommodate only a limited number of Bermudians as employees, based on its complex nature. We are being called to stage a renaissance of the industry rooted in the island and inclusive across our workforce.

The America's Cup offers the gift of a stepping stone towards that reboot.

Let's pull together and just do it.

Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

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Published May 27, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated May 27, 2017 at 1:00 am)

Unwise to look a gift horse in the mouth

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