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Fostering Human Development Part 2
Today I will conclude sharing with you my address to the recently concluded 14th International Conference on Penal Abolition held here in T&T June 12–15. In concluding Part 1, I noted: “There is room for all of us to become better and more responsible human beings if only we can bring out the human goodness that is innate within us. The problem we have is that many among us do not believe that this is so and in their ignorance see punishment as the only real option for dealing with the wrongdoers in our prisons or wherever we find them in our society. It is this ignorance of the noble nature of our humanity that continues to dominate the operational policy of our penal institutions. We can end up brutalising our fellow human beings such that they display less human behaviour.” Today, I continue: I believe that if we treat people like animals they will end up behaving like animals and wreck even greater havoc on society when they are released. It is well known that our penal system results in many leaving prison with greater criminal intent than when they entered.
If you believe that as human beings we all have a core of human goodness, then you are more likely to work to help others to become better. Again, it is Nelson Mandela who reminded us that: “Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished. Our real challenge is in finding creative ways to touch the hearts of those who have gone wrong, such that their innate human goodness is released. The biggest obstacle to helping others to change is the belief that we have the power to impose change on others when we do not. Real change takes place from the inside out. People change only when they themselves want to change and are ready to change. When we have power over others we can get so taken-up with ourselves that we lose sight of our own limitations and can end up abusing others in the false belief that we can change them. You can beat human beings into submission but that does not mean that you have changed them. In fact, you usually end up making a bad situation worse.
It is only when you can awaken an individual to the power that lies within him/her that the inherent goodness of that individual can be released. You do not have the power to make other people good. You can only help them to discover the goodness that is already in them. Similarly, you do not give people morality; you can only help them come alive to their inherent moral nature. Also, you do not teach people to be of good character; but rather you help them to live in keeping with the good character that they desire for themselves. In other words, personal development can only come through a self-discovery process. Your job is to help trigger that process in others. It is the only way to foster the human development process to bring the change that we desire as societies. We have to move away from just restraining negative behaviours to fostering the development of more positive behaviours both within our penal system and in the wider society. As a postscript to this article, I close today’s column with an introspective note I wrote in June 2003 when I had cause to ponder on the noble nature of our humanity:
This thing called the human being
Always in search of happiness
Comes equipped for greatness
A greatness that can only be expressed through being
But, in a world that continuously seeks to suppress that greatness
A greatness most times hidden from you, the beholder
Waiting to be discovered
You have to know that greatness exists
Before you can search for it
Belief, awareness, consciousness of purpose
Fuels the search
Being is the outcome
It is a journey of exploration
Involves, risks, failures, disappointments
And moments of elation
The creative spirit silently resides
It is restless
Disruptive, challenging, questioning, strong-willed, disorderly
Society seeks to control it
In the interest of order and predictability
Why the suppression?
Why this contradiction?
Why this paradox?
What is happiness?
We are still to fully understand most of life’s mysteries.
The inmates within our penal system are human beings who have gone wrong. As fellow human beings we have a spiritual responsibility to reach out and to help them to discover in themselves the noble nature and purpose of their existence. In so doing, they will place themselves on a path to becoming more responsible human beings when they are released back into society.
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