Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Wednesday | November 14, 2012
Home : Health
Could you love someone who is different?
By Wendel Abel

Think about that question for a while. I am reflecting on several experiences I have had over the years. An African doctor told me he went to examine a patient in hospital once. The patient chased him away. She stated, "I do not want any African to treat me."

A mother had a disabled child. She abandoned her baby in hospital. The baby was different and the mother did not like her own baby.

A patient of mine who is mentally ill was almost killed by his neighbours. They beat her and were about to throw her into a gully. This person is mentally ill and different from the rest of us, and so the thinking is that it is OK to harm and, possibly, kill her.

In 1976, on the day of the general elections, I remember a teacher who lived in my community was driving around. She was an activist for her political party. The police stopped her and she was beaten and humiliated in public. She had a different political belief. She was different, and so she was beaten.

A Jehovah's Witness lady knocked at my neighbour's door. The neighbour gave her a 'proper cursing' and slammed the door in her face. This lady had a different religious belief. Then there was the Rastaman who lived in another community. He was attacked and his house burnt down. He was a Rastaman, and is different from the rest of us.

Remember our motto

These stories have one thing in common: they highlight how we sometimes treat people whom we see as different. These stories highlight hatred and intolerance. Intolerance is about our inability to accept people who are different. Because of this intolerance, we treat people differently because of their political and religious beliefs, their colour, sexual orientation, age, physical ability and race. Jamaica has become an intolerant society.

This goes against our motto, 'Out of Many, One People'. Our motto suggests that we recognise that we are all one people, despite who we are.

We are now challenged to become a more tolerant country and recognise that everyone has rights. We may not agree with each other, but we are challenged to learn to accept and respect each other despite the differences.

UTECH student beaten

There was a well-publicised incident at the University of Technology (UTech) in which a student was beaten by security guards and mobbed by other students. This, of course, was a cause for great concern, especially since we generally expect students at the university level to engage in more critical thinking, and they are our future leaders. It is frightening, especially for those of us on the retirement stretch, that this is the society we have created.

This is not only a discussion for mental-health professionals but one for wider discussion. Because, for example, UTech (and other tertiary institutions) is trying to position itself as an international university and wanting to recruit students from all over the world. But how are parents looking on from overseas going to feel about sending their children to this institution and to Jamaica? Even from this narrow economic point of view, we are challenged in this country to review our attitudes towards difference and diversity.

Dr Wendel Abel is a consultant psychiatrist and head, Section of Psychiatry, Dept of Community Health and Psychiatry, University of the West Indies; email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com.


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