Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Michael Abrahams | Give a s*** and do something!

Published:Monday | September 18, 2017 | 12:25 AMMichael Abrahams

Our society is broken.

Crime, violence and corruption are taking a formidable toll on us. If you are a Jamaican living in Jamaica and have never been a victim of a violent crime, it is almost a certainty that you know people who have. We complain about injustice and take to social media to gripe about our issues, and moan about how dreadful the situation has become on our island. But how many of us are seriously willing to do something?

The abuse of our children continues unabated. Our kids are emotionally, physically and sexually abused, and neglected, at alarming rates. The maltreatment not only injures the victims, but also has the potential to negatively affect those close to them. The psychopathological sequelae of childhood abuse often complicate intimate relationships, and the dysfunction can affect the relationships between survivors and their offspring as well. Ironically, people abused as children are at an elevated risk to become abusers themselves. Child abuse, therefore, sets up a vicious cycle of torment and grief.

Unknown to many Jamaicans, there is a toll-free number one can call to report child abuse. The number is 1-888-PROTECT (1-888-776-8328). Child abuse is an issue about which I am passionate, and one of the ways to fight it is to inform the public of ways in which it can be reported.

So, I came up with an idea: posting the number on my Facebook page and asking people to share it. The post was as follows: "BREAK THE SILENCE! If you know of, or suspect, any cases of child abuse, call 1-888-PROTECT (1-888-776-8328)." Above the post I wrote, "Please post/share/tweet this as much as you can. Everybody in Jamaica should know this number." I tagged several of my Facebook friends with the post. Thirty-eight people acknowledged it (clicked ‘like’, ‘love’ or some other reaction), nine commented, and 52 shared it.

I was grateful for those who shared the information, including a Christian friend who clashes with me on matters of religion, but responded by making at least three memes with the numbers and sharing them with me on my page and via my inbox. But I was also cognisant of the fact that the engagement could have been much better.

My Facebook page is very active. The number of friends has maxed out at 5,000 and almost twice as many people follow me. Also, access to my page is not restricted to friends and followers, as it is open and anyone can view my posts and comment on them.

The recognition of the relatively poor engagement occurred to me more than a week after my post, 11 days to be exact, when I realised that I had inadvertently conducted a social experiment of sorts. Earlier that day, I had posted a statement on my page about the popular American fantasy drama television series ‘Game of Thrones’. The post was a meme that stated, "I belong to the one per cent of the population that has never seen an episode of Game of Thrones” and I asked if anyone else could relate to that statement. I did not tag anyone, or ask friends, followers or visitors to share the meme.

However, the post was acknowledged by more than 1,200 people, attracted 571 comments, and was shared 106 times. In other words, even though no one was tagged or asked to repost the statements, twice as many people did, when compared with the plea to spread valuable information regarding the reporting of children being assaulted. The post acknowledgement was also more than 30 times that of the child abuse post, and it attracted more than 60 times the number of comments.

The observation left me pondering the reasons for this apparent apathy and misplacement of priorities. It takes only two clicks to share a post on Facebook, and this information could potentially save a life. I do not have all the answers, but I believe that many of us have adopted the attitude that there is not much we can do to change the situation in our country. We blame our leaders for our issues, and expect the Government, the security forces, the Church and the private sector to repair the damage.

But we must understand that the power to change our situation resides in us. There are thousands of politicians, police, clergy and business people, but millions of Jamaican citizens. As Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who helped to spearhead the Egyptian revolution in 2011, said, “The power of the people is much stronger than the people in power.” He is correct.

What our country requires is progressive cultural change. Many of us rationalise negative and harmful beliefs and practices by stating that they are ‘part of our culture’. But culture can be changed. We need to develop a culture of empathy and social responsibility. We need to understand that, collectively, we have the power to change the course of the future of our country and the fates of its people. We need to introspect and own our apathy, laziness and self-centredness. We need to understand that social media can be a powerful tool for change and not just a virtual gallery for our selfies.

We need to give a s***!

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams