By Baba Galleh Jallow
As 2018 floats into the past and 2019 arrives, there is little doubt that all Gambians want a happy New Gambia. And although no single thing can create that happy New Gambia by itself, there are many little things that we can do to make our national culture much healthier and therefore our society much happier. One such thing is recognizing what unites us – what renders us the same as human beings, as people of faith, and as Gambians – and trying to actualize that sameness in our dealings and interactions with one another. That is one good way of generating the positive national energy we need to build a happy New Gambia in 2019 and beyond.
To build a happy New Gambia, we must recognize that we are inextricably united by our humanity and the reality of our mortality: the fact that we are alive, that we feel pain, that we fall sick, and that we all will die one day. The fact that we all seek self-preservation and peace of mind, that we all dislike being insulted or demeaned, that we all get angry sometimes and happy sometimes, that we all feel joy sometimes and sorrow sometimes, and that we all want to be loved and respected is testimony to the unity of our humanity, to the sameness of our fate as human beings. Our humanity unites us like nothing else. Recognizing our common nature and fate as human beings can help create a culture of mutual respect and appreciation that is invaluable to our efforts at building a happy New Gambia.
Yet, despite our common nature and fate as human beings, we habitually do to our fellow human beings things that we do not want done to us. We do not want to be disrespected, yet we disrespect others. We do not want to be humiliated, yet we humiliate others. We do not want to be falsely accused of wrongdoing, yet we falsely accuse others of wrongdoing. We do not want to be judged by others, yet we judge others. We want to be accepted for who we are, yet we do not want to accept others for what they are. We need to move away from these unhealthy tendencies and habits as a matter of personal choice. If we must build happy lives for ourselves and in the process build a happy New Gambia, we must embrace the unity of our humanity and express that unity in our attitudes and actions towards each other. We can do this by observing the golden rule of doing and saying unto others only as we would like others to say or do unto us. Or, put another way: never say or do to others what you would not like others to say or do to you.
Whether Christian, Muslim or adherents of other monotheistic faiths, the great majority of Gambians are also united by our belief in a Benevolent and All Mighty God who created us and prescribes certain norms by which we must live our lives. These are often norms we profess to be happy to live our lives by. Yet, all too often, we find ourselves saying or doing things to our fellow human beings that totally contradict the norms decreed by the God we worship every day. Where our religion says you shall not demean your fellow human beings, we demean our fellow human beings even as we claim to be followers of that religion and faithful worshippers of God. We profess to believe our religions’ teaching that we are all created equal and from one source, yet we find ourselves ascribing ugly and inhuman peculiarities to our fellow human beings. We want our religion to be respected, yet we disrespect other people’s religions. All major religions practiced in this country teach respect for other people’s faiths. Respecting the teachings of our religions will help us treat each other with the respect we all deserve and therefore promote social harmony and cohesion in our dear country. Only God knows who is best among us.
In order to build a happy New Gambia, we must align our words and actions with our professed religious beliefs. It is common knowledge that religion is a way of life; but all too often, our attitudes and actions towards our fellow human beings distort that very way of live we profess to be living. We assume convenient truths in order to have our say or get our way and deliberately ignore the fact that religious ritual is only meaningful when matched by appropriate attitudes and actions towards our fellow human beings. We waste our time and engage in mere ritual when we kneel down and pray for peace only to stand up and propagate conflict and hatred against others. That is surely a sign that our prayers for peace are not being answered because if they were, there would be no conflict and hatred in our hearts to propagate. It helps to understand that whatever we share or throw at other people actually comes from within us. So if we hurl insults at others, the insults come within from us. If we shower blessings on others, the blessings come from within us. If we propagate peace, that peace comes from within us. And if we propagate hatred, that hatred comes from within us too. It helps to understand that when we affirm the humanity and dignity of other people, we affirm our own humanity and dignity. And if we negate the humanity and dignity of other people, we negate our own humanity and dignity. These things cannot be faked. They are inviolable laws of nature.
And then apart from our humanity and our religion, Gambians are united in our love of country. We all dearly love our country. No Gambian can claim more love of country than another. And we would be hard pressed to find a Gambian who can say in all honesty that they hate this country. That will be tantamount to self-hatred, a sign of severe mental derangement or psychosis. Our challenge is to translate that universal love of country into a universal respect for our fellow Gambians. We cannot all love each other, but we can all agree that we love Gambia and want the best for Gambia. And since Gambia is one indivisible entity, Gambians are one indivisible entity too – one body politic.
Of course, we must embrace the healthy differences between us. That is the only sure way to national progress. But we must consciously manage and actively diminish the unhealthy divisions between and among us – whether political, ethnic, religious or otherwise – because they are manifestations of anomalies, aberrations, and sicknesses within the Gambian body politic, within Gambian society. They therefore need to be recognized for what they are and remedied as matter of urgency. And they are not at all difficult to remedy: We only need to recognize that we are all united by our humanity, our religion and our love of country: the country within which we are embedded, to which we belong, and without which we cannot imagine our identities or our future. We can build a happy New Gambia if, in spite of our differences, we respect each other and treat each other as we would like to be treated at all times. You might not be able to love thy neighbor as thyself, but you certainly can respect thy neighbor as thyself.
Happy New Year to all Gambians. God bless all Gambians, and God bless your families, relatives, friends and loved ones everywhere. May God abundantly bless The Gambia in 2019 and beyond.