Published in The Fiji Times: Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan, Wednesday 30th June, 2010
Some time ago I was asked to give some advice to a person who had come to Fiji to do some voluntary work.
This person had some rather large hopes and plans on what they wished to achieve during their one year stint in Fiji.
The only advice I could give was that in Fiji, as in most of the Pacific, a person would most likely find themselves spending eight-five percent of their time building relationships and fifteen percent of the time getting the work done.
The point for this particular volunteer was that one can get more done through cooperation than coercion.
I was not sure whether my thought was worth the proverbial penny (or in our case 5cents) to the newcomer at the time.
However the point I was making is a well known yet rarely articulated truth for many of us.
Relationships and issues cannot be dealt with in isolation. The extent we can collaborate with, share with and struggle together with someone on an issue is usually based not on the importance of the issue but the strength and nature of the relationship we have with that person.
Often the message, regardless how important or true, is rejected because of the relationship we have with the messenger.
In Fiji, with a myriad of levels of relationship, this could appear to the outsider to make things very complicated.
At the one end of the spectrum you could find people with different ideologies having quite strong disagreements which would put them on opposite sides of the table. v
Then you could find the same people sitting around a tanoa together at a function because they are from the same province, island, school or family.
In Fiji we have a habit of building relationships which I believe is one of the most endearing qualities about us. When we meet someone we often try and find something in common with that person - where they are from (kaivata, naita, tauvu), who they are related to (I believe it is quite possible to be related to half of the 800,000 plus population of Fiji while being married to someone who is related to the other half!), where you were brought up, right to which team you support in the Soccer World Cup.
A complete stranger, even from half a world away can become part of the family (perhaps extended) or a good friend in a matter of minutes.
What is it within us that drives us to forge bonds to build relationships with one another?
Perhaps it is true that we simply like to be friendly. Or maybe it is that we define ourselves, our identity in terms of our relationship with others. Perhaps it makes good business sense.
I am of the view that somewhere deep inside, our soul yearns to join with other fragments of the divine image.
What we share about ourselves is part of a process that helps us learn about others.
The more we learn about each other, the more we begin to realise that as we peel back the layers and look deep down within, we are all the same - the same needs, the same hopes, the same fears.
What is different is the way we articulate or express our needs, hopes and fears.
It is that difference in expression that has been manipulated in the past so that instead of seeing beyond our differences, we focus on those differences and ignore the commonalities.
This week I have been discussing with the final-year diploma students at Davuilevu Theological College, the inherent human dignity that each man, woman and child has.
The course I am facilitating for them (titled Christian Men and Women in Church and Society) includes discussion on and the Church's response to issues of gender discrimination, violence, violence against women, as well as HIV and AIDS.
This week we are discussing the issues of power and control and human rights within issue of domestic violence (based on an excellent course-book prepared by WEAVERS: Women in Theological Education of the South Pacific Association of Theological Schools, who incidentally have a course book on the Church and HIV and AIDS).
The basis of understanding (and teaching) human rights from a Christian perspective lies in the story of creation.
When God created humanity, they were meant to be free and equal in dignity and rights, "So God created humankind in His/Her image, in the image of God He/She created them; male and female He/She created them." (Genesis 1:27 - from WEAVERS VAW Course Book).
The deepest roots of human rights are found in the biblical conception of life.
According to Max Stackhouse, while the words "human rights" do not, to be sure, appear in the Bible, the themes that provide the basis of human rights do.
The Bible speaks about God's concern for people's rights (Job 36:5-6; Psalm 82:3-4; Proverbs 31:4-5,8-9; Ecclesiastes 5-8; Isaiah 10:1-2; Jeremiah 5:27-28; Lamentations 3:35; and Exodus 21:9-10).
All these point to that fact that we are to respect and value each other's humanity rather than personality.
It means treating others with respect regardless of your opinions about their race, gender, status or beliefs. It is recognising that every man is someone's son, brother, father and every woman is someone's daughter, sister, mother.
When we do this, we are able to have a right relationship with each other.
When we have a right relationship with each other, we are able to build partnerships based on trust, equality and mutual accountability and a common vision for a peaceful and just society.
May the rest of your week be blessed with simplicity, serenity and spontaneity and the desire to have a right relationship with those you encounter.
* Rev. J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email:padrejamesgmail.com