It is scary to observe in oneself or others, the free flow of strong emotions like anger, bitterness, cynicism, irony, indifference, resentment, vengeance, inflexibility and hate. It also feels like hopeless when people refuse to engage in a dialogue because they are sure, know better, have seen, have been there, have done it all…
What is driving me to this direction of reflection is my perception on the reaction of some Brazilians about the making of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, coupled by a presidential election year, that has spiced up the mood over there.
There are two camps: one that demonstrates their dissatisfaction in the streets, on social media, and newspapers, or opportunistically went on strike of essential public services like metro, police, etc.
There are others, from politicians to citizens, who criticize them.
I am Brazilian, but as I have been living abroad for 20 years, I don’t rate me as well informed enough to provide in-depth views about the country’s social, political and economical developments, as opposed to those who live there and seem to know better. I am still able though to do a better job than many international correspondents, who currently are there providing superficial reports, portraying an old and biased image of football, samba, beautiful women, happy people, and chanty towns or ‘favelas’, as being the key things to describe the country.
This is a very complex country and subject that doesn’t deserve a narrow-minded and misinformed analysis.
I will focus on just one staggering point. Why are Brazilians of diverse social and educational backgrounds (excluding politicians for that matter) attacking each other with such radicalism and aggression on social media, newspapers and on the streets? Am I missing something here?
Let me revisit some events.
The announcement in 2007, of the decision to host the World Cup 2014 and the Olympics 2016, was greeted with happiness by many people. Football is a national passion and pride – justified by countless achievements. At that time, countrymen felt like a glorious and growing BRIC country, one of the ‘global boys’ at the world’s table, proud to be one of the 6th global economies, not anymore being looked down as a developing nation.
It looked like a big mindset change, because I grew up in a country with a dictatorship (1964-1985), no free press, a closed economy, and an abhorrent national image of inferiority towards Americans, the Europeans and the rest of the developed world.
As an young adult, I saw democracy being restored, and voted for president for the first time in my life. I also witnessed an impeachment of a democratic president in 1992 and the construction of a new era of democracy and economic development with perhaps slow progress but more freedom and stability.
The country developed and improved in the last 25 years, but as inconvenient as the truth may be, it hasn’t been enough to tackle its structural problems. It is undeniable that the social discrepancies are still abyssal, and many Brazilians still live below the poverty line despite some progress on eradicating poverty via social programs. The middle class is also under pressure and losing economic power. Inflation, the great enemy, is silently showing up to spoil the party.
The truth is, poor or rich, no one has access to decent and reliable public services – which would be the basic rights of any tax payer – in the areas of education, health, transport, housing, general infrastructure, and security, to say the least. Those who can, afford the use of private schools, health services, etc. However, in this society the social classes are not to be divided into exclusive layers of a pyramid, but more as a ‘social onion’, because although the ‘have-nots’ are excluded from access to private services, the lack of good infrastructure and security though, is the strong factor that makes equals, all Brazilians of all social layers.
There is agreement on the decrepit state of public services, where no sustainable investment has been made by the governments in many years, whereas the making of the World cup has cost the country $11.3 billion (25.8 billion reais) with no apparent benefit to the country but FIFA, and to the ones who allegedly benefited from overpriced stadium renovations and new constructions.
People cannot tolerate anymore a political class, which works ethics is known to be based on corruption and self serving practices. Their salaries and benefits are self legislated and they ensure to themselves enough perks, never to use any public service in the country. These endemic practices and corruption scandals are unfortunate daily news (not anymore a surprise), served on every breakfast, lunch and dinner table, to families who grew tired and angry of the chronic habit of politicians on overspending, kickbacks and incompetent public administration.
Wouldn’t all of that described here, although in very thin lines, be enough to bring a whole nation proudly together in one camp, cheering not only for the national football team to win the World Cup, but also united to change the country for the better?
What I read on the news and social media is different. There is instead a paradoxical talk of the Southeast against the Northeast, the poor against the rich, the political party of the current government acting as victims of the rich and white, and accusing those opposing it, and vice-versa. In every single word I read, everyone feels…right.
I am concerned and scared. It is not people’s emotional reactions, intrinsically, who scare me, but this:
a) the unwillingness to accept differences of opinions and the lack of awareness of the potential radicalism and indoctrination of their thinking.
b) the lack of awareness of using the same attitudes, and mindsets that they oppose and criticize, to accuse and attack each other.
c) the lack of sufficient factual information to support arguments, as opposed to the abundant use of personal beliefs and opinions. Passionate remarks and little objectivity.
d) worse than all above, is that this righteousness is filled with hate.
It is understandable and acceptable to be angry. I am angry too. There are more than enough facts to prove the point. My question is: does anyone know of any example in human history where people were able to convince each other, negotiate and rally together for change, by the use of force, violence and aggression of any form, being it physical or verbal? If yes, I rest my case.
I want to continue believing in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are born equals, capable of doing good, and cannot be judged by the color of our skin, place we are born, language, accent, political party, culture, religion, sexual preferences, etc. and last but not least, by our personal opinions and beliefs.
There needs to be a time for understanding and even for forgiveness.
Understanding… that differences are not only allowed but welcome, because when everyone thinks in the same way, nothing can ever been questioned nor changed. Dogmatism and fanaticism serve well in football but not in nation building.
Forgiveness… for mistakes made, intentionally or not, and willingness to sit at the table, despite the differences, towards reconciliation. Trying to be bigger than ourselves (our interests and beliefs), look forward, broadening our views on the people, and of the world around us, proposing solutions for the greater good of the society instead of only attacking and criticizing each other.
Above all, taking ownership for the situation, engaging in small actions for change, instead of being brave from the couch, or the computer screen, grounded on the false and paralyzing belief that the country has no hope, its politicians (and the people who are not agreeing with you) are no good and that you have nothing to do with it and no role to play.
We don’t need to wait for politicians to make big changes before anything can happen. It starts with simple and small actions that we can take everyday. A good start could be to change the tone of voice when we write posts on social media, having a well informed exchange of viewpoints, listening to others’ ideas, and replying objectively, with the old good manners that we learned at home from our parents, as opposed to going head on to personal offenses and low level words. Never forgetting to ask why and trying to see beyond own references and interests.
I strongly believe that there is more common ground than differences. That makes the whole situation contradictory and bizarre.
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…” can not be the only option. It will not help bringing any citizen nor any country any further. It never did. Removing the eye patches and behaving as adults, rationally, objectively, and with mutual trust and respect, can bring about change.
Let’s exercise our ‘active’ role as citizens, who have rights… and also responsibilities. Rich or poor, from the north or the south, one can choose to be a victim, and become part of the problem.
Instead, join the ones who are already there contributing to actively change one’s own destiny, by taking part in the solutions. Make your choice. You, We, and Our Country, deserve no yellow card.