Give me the other side: a view of public expression

A basic problem facing Jamaica is that major issues are not discussed from anything like the same view-point. Last night, I watched a very informative discussion on TVJ’s All Angles, about recent revelations on video of teenagers engaging in sexual activity (sometimes, with adults). The studio audience included a head boy and head girl from two well-known and prestigious Kingston schools, plus a student from the University of the West Indies, plus some adults with expertise in the field of child counselling, etc. What struck me was how this discussion went on with much intelligence and understanding of what issues teens may be facing, yet had no representative of the ‘target’ group (I’m struggling for a word).

Those who do not have the behavioural problem being discussed can air their views, but they may well be talking past those who appear to have a problem. I yearned to hear from a young girl or boy who had engaged in the sexual behaviour. Clearly, when society is looking at what it has called deviant behaviour–and I use the term with no moral judgment, but just to position the argument–it can be difficult to get the deviant people to express themselves in a way that clearly exposes themselves. Much deviant behaviour is done out of sight, usually in the hope that it will not be exposed. Many people, however, get to hear or see the behaviour because attention is often sought, as part of the ‘fun’. But, we still need to try.

In our televisual age, we expect to see everything. I would be content, however, if I could hear (or even have someone read a testimonial) from those being discussed. The speculation about the whys and hows would then have more validity. The head boy telling us that he tries to be a role model is laudable, but clearly others have found and followed role models who are not ‘head boy material’. Do those people know or care about the so-called good role models?

We’ve put out many ideas and images that suggest that certain adult lifestyles can be part of ‘living the life’, but for many children it’s not clear that much of society disapproves. (I listen to the radio, and even on stations which state that they are about ‘consciousness’ and ‘good attitude’ put out music with messages about youths engaging in sexual activity.) So, when certain acts or words are part of popular culture, and easily accessible, how will young people know that society wants a line drawn that excludes children from copying such behaviour? Talking about the need for better parenting is all well and good, but it’s not going to happen because a panel of well-educated, articulate, and (let’s say) well-adjusted persons tell us that it’s needed. If some people are doing it because they feel it is a road to something worthwhile, I’d like to hear that. If parents are procuring their children in sexual activity to put money on the table, there may be embarrassment of shame involved in sharing that information, but we need to know those circumstances. It’s not about trying to justify, but to better understand.

I think it will be hard to get the target group to stand up or sit down and talk with the same freedom, not least because they have to believe that exposure will not lead to total condemnation. If they enjoy and value what they are doing, we really need to understand from them what is driving them toward what the rest of us think is the wrong direction. Second- or third-hand views don’t do that.