Next Wednesday, we will celebrate Valentine’s Day and like previous years, most Guyanese would exchange tokens and expressions of affection and love with others, especially couples.
Valentine’s Day has its origins as a Christian feast day, which honours one or two early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine and, through later folk tradition, has become a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and love in many regions of the world.
But how is our relations to each other as Guyanese? Some days, especially in the public sphere, some of our relations are characterised by rancour and bitterness, precipitated by those emotions dominating our political relations.
We would like to remind all Guyanese of a message we first offered during the Jubilee Year of our independence. Our country is our mother and going forward, it is hoped all of us will spare her a thought and act in a manner that expresses some “love and affection” for her. What can we do? Having achieved independence from Britain 57 years ago – there cannot be a Guyanese who has not recited the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag, the Golden Arrowhead. We have all taken, therefore, the following vow, with our hands across our breasts to emphasise our seriousness about the words recited:
“I pledge myself to honour always the flag of Guyana/ and to be loyal to my country;/ to be obedient to the laws of Guyana; to love my fellow citizens and to dedicate my energies towards/ the happiness and prosperity of Guyana.”
Today, as Valentine’s Day nears, let us repeat and try to put into effect our promises in our “National Pledge”.
There is that promise to “honour always” our flag – which, of course, is a symbol of our nation. In making the promise, we are asserting that Guyana must be honoured and as such, we must never let its flag be sullied. In the end, we would only be allowing our individual selves to be dishonoured. We are not sure that enough has been done to inculcate into our citizens the respect of flag and country that, for instance, was insisted on in reference to the Union Jack of Britain during the colonial era.
The prior question is whether Guyanese citizens have a deep sense of loyalty to their country – which is the second promise. Would they react positively to JFK’s famous exhortation: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”? While one cannot speak conclusively on this issue, anecdotal evidence suggests that it does not take much for Guyanese to “bad-mouth” their country and even to “shake the dust off their feet” from it. We are reminded of some Guyanese who would actually advise investors to avoid our country.
Obeying the laws of a country is the sine qua non of peace and stability, and is summarised in the phrase, “rule of law” which exhorts all that they are “under” the law equally. There are troubling signs that this is being violated. But equality of treatment under the law is one of the most important practices that must be adhered to if the country is to be honoured and inspire loyalty. And since we have taken an oath to obey the laws, we must help in insuring that others also do the same. This does not mean that there may not be “bad” laws, but that the law itself would encompass procedures that would allow the people to deliberate on and change them if that is the general consensus.
And we arrive at our promise to love each other as citizens. That is an important distinction: we have not promised to love someone in general, but as “citizens”. We Guyanese are all citizens of this country and as such, are endowed with particular rights and responsibilities towards each other and the country. To “love” another citizen, we each have to ensure that we do not infringe on their rights and that we assist them to fulfil their obligations. In that sense, we are our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers.
The final promise is that we do all within our power towards “the happiness and prosperity of Guyana”. We recommend this to all our politicians, officials, legislators, and all our office bearers.