WATCHING THE MOVIE Amazing Grace about the life and work of William Wilberforce made me curious to learn more.
So I turned to Wikipedia and was struck by a brief summary of his life philosophy - “Wilberforce was convinced of the importance of religion, morality and education.”
Wilberforce of course was instrumental in the abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain. What a life: to be convinced of an ideal and to pursue it despite the backlash and threat of being ostracised from society.
But there were other things about my own country that I gleaned from this movie.
1. Wilberforce was a good man but he required challenge and support to do the right thing
Wilberforce was an impressionable young man with good intentions. He had a moral conscience and wanted to do the right thing.
He was pushed to use his position and influence for the greater good of society by the influence of an old school teacher, John Newton, and also, when Wilberforce became a parliamentarian, by various associates who believed strongly in causes such as abolition of the slave trade, education and the humane treatment of animals.
John Newton himself is known as the writer of arguably the most famous hymn on earth, Amazing Grace. He had captained a ship involved in the slave trade and later in life was converted.
He influenced Wilberforce in his formative college years, to make him aware of the moral wrongs committed by society. Although Wilberforce was aware and felt bad about the slave trade, he did not believe he could do anything about it.
However he was challenged and became convinced to do something; others were willing to stand with him and support him to do the right thing.
Reflecting on the situation in Papua New Guinea, there is a lot of talk and assessing of leaders in various government bodies from the National Parliament right down to the local level government.
But, when it comes time to do the work, a lot of sage advice is given from the sidelines to the leaders without commitment of time, finance or other resources to help them. When they fail, criticism is heaped upon them and knowing nods and looks exchanged about how we just knew they couldn’t make it.
As I am writing this, good young leaders like Garry Juffa come to mind as well as our three women leaders, Loujaya Tony, Delilah Gore and Julie Soso. We recognise in them the willingness and drive to get the work done and to do it right.
The onus is now upon us as groups and individuals within the electorate (and the greater society) in which they are operating to lend our support and services in order for them to create policies and protocols that can be respected and followed.
If we are serious about gender equity gaining momentum, we will help support our women leaders in any way we can so that they are successful in what they do.
If we are serious about transparency and accountability we will come out in support of issues raised in parliament by Garry Juffa and write to him and let him know he is not alone.
We need to garner support around them etc. Individuals who can do something must go ahead and do it and support our leaders so that they can go on to do greater things for our electorates, province and country.
All this cannot happen if we as individuals and agencies are not convinced about the issues they are raising. We must be convinced of an issue and then pursue the achievement of this issue. We cannot expect our leaders to find us but must make ourselves available to them.
Should they refuse our help we continue what we are doing and hope to find another who can take up our cause if they choose to work with us we must be committed and give our all so that goals and ideals are realised.
2. In his pursuit of what he believed was right, Wilberforce was willing to face the contempt of his contemporaries and society
What impresses and challenges me about Wilberforce is the fact he took up the cause at the risk of being ostracised by his own people and best friends - even risking his life. He was young, just 21, he was wealthy, he was in the higher echelon of society; he could have just enjoyed his life yet, when he was convinced, he pursued his convictions.
Sometimes Papua New Guineans worst enemies are those within. Those that are educated and can make a difference and have the means but just don’t care or are so encumbered by the expectations of their culture that it disarms or even stomps out every good intention.
Almost everyone you meet will state emphatically that they have religion, morality and education and value its importance; however very few will be convinced to the point of risking their lives or risk being ostracised by family and clan to pursue their ideals.
So there is a lot of talk, but very few people in PNG can make a moral decision and stick with it when it is pitted against the goliath of custom and culture.
The time is coming when individuals will have to take a stand. The burning of a young mother last month highlights the reality of what can be at stake should one choose to do the right thing. Pursuing one’s conviction can call for a high level of moral and physical courage.
In a society where fear and lack of education create powerful emotional responses, one has to be convinced of an issue in order to stand up against the status quo.
Governments can enact laws but this does not necessarily equate with respect and adherence in those whom it’s meant to regulate.
To attain lasting change, individuals must be persuaded to challenge the cultural norms which prevent the growth of a healthy society.
This must be done in the realisation that decisions made will not only reflect upon the individual but the family, clan and tribe. The cost must be spelt out and each person made aware of the consequence of the decisions.
If like-minded people can get together from each clan it would be a start in addressing some of our current social issues.
My grandmother roamed free upon her land
My mother frolicked without a care upon her land
I need security, I fear to tread alone upon my land
My grandmother had open access to her land
My mother needed no protection to walk her land
I ‘m fenced in and cautiously creep upon my land
If I ever have a daughter upon you my land
How will she fare, will you love her my land?
Will she be free or held in captivity my land?