A Case of the Peter Pan Syndrome

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted July 12, 2002

In November of last year, I wrote an article entitled: “Liberians in the Diaspora: We Must Unite”. In that piece, I took the ULAA leadership, the presidential aspirants for the up-coming 2003 elections as well as the general leadership of the various community associations to task for our state of complacency. I intend to reexamine and reiterate the issues I raised in that article. My main focus now, however, is the Liberian general public in these United States.

It was my view then and now that what contributes mainly to our state of affairs is the complacent nature of Liberians in the Diaspora. Strangely, it seems we are sending the message that once we have physically left the devastation of war and displacement and the dirty politics of our homeland, it becomes somebody else’s problem. It must be somebody else’s responsibility to find the solution to Liberia’s problem. How such a ridiculous idea took shape in our psyche is mind-boggling.

A particular incident comes to mind: ULAA organized and hosted a series of activities to reflect, discuss and debate the issues facing Liberia. The auditorium of the prestigious Georgetown University was procured to host the symposium. A prominent group of Liberians served as panelists. One of the panelists was the distinguished journalist Kenneth Best. Serving, as the chief moderator was none other than Counselor Vannie Sherman, purported to be one of the most outstanding legal minds of our time.

A demonstration on the US Capitol was also planned and some congressmen were invited to speak. Sadly, these events were so poorly attended; the only way to describe it is pathetic and pitiful.

Some of the congressmen that were scheduled to appear stayed in their offices peeped out and saw this very small group of people demonstrating for Liberia. Knowing that thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of Liberians reside in the DC Metropolis alone – decided to cancel their appearances. It just didn’t seem to be worth it. The numbers did not justify the trouble. After all as the say in Washington, “It’s a numbers game.”

However, after the formal programs ended the second day, an Independence Day Ball was scheduled for the final evening. It turned out that not one but several such events were staged simultaneously. The official ball was staged under the auspices of ULAA, the organizers of the main events. The Liberian Community Association of Washington, DC also staged another and yet another was held in Silver spring, MD. Not to be outdone, the Liberian Community Association of Baltimore held theirs and several others in between.

If you guessed that these balls were all well attended in pomp and style, you are absolutely correct. Liberians all over this area danced, ate and drank the night away under the guise of celebrating independence while the brutal crises in Liberia reached unprecedented heights of misery. Yes, we danced while our brothers and sisters in the homeland suffered tremendous pain and losses.

Was it Emperor Nero who was said to have fiddled while Rome burned? Well we have taken a page out of his play -book. We dance while the country dies.

Meanwhile that very weekend in Trenton, NJ the famous IE and Barrolle soccer clubs staged their annual football match to commemorate the very same occasion - Liberia’s independence. Tens of thousands of our countrymen and women showed up from all over the United States to witness their favorite stars play ball while they drank beer, played music, danced and had good times – seemingly oblivious to the crises occurring back home. Did they not realize that their country was dying while they celebrated football?

Returning home from the game from Trenton, NJ an unfortunate accident occurred on the highway. One of the former outstanding stars of Liberian football lost his life in a car crash. The news spread like wild fire in the Liberian communities. The very following weekend funeral services were held and Liberians, once again from far and wide showed up in droves to bury the fallen star. The estimated number of mourners and well-wishers was put to over ten thousand!

That’s where I become dumbfounded. Our country is dying. The most vicious, dirty, greedy and idiotic group steers the country into antiquity and the brink of utter destruction. Less than two hundred folks can find the time to show up for a planned demonstration, far less than a hundred show up for a formal symposium, yet ten thousand show up to bury a former football star! I just don’t get it. This is not to downplay the importance of football players or to speak evil of the dead. But what about the country, does anyone cry for her? Where are our sympathy, our love and our conviction? Will there ever be any stars if these parasites succeed in bleeding our country to death?

There is an age-old riddle that poses the question: “What came first, the chicken or the egg”? The relevant question that comes to my mind is: Are we (the Liberian populace) unmoved and unmotivated because our politicians and other leaders do such a poor job of raising our consciousness or is it the other way around? Are our politicians doomed to fail because the general public is so pathetically lazy, unconcerned and complacent?

I had previously concluded that: Although blame lies with the general public for their lack of interest, more blame goes to professional politicians for this state of complacency. I do believe that the presidential aspirants do have a responsibility to get their message to the people consistently and aggressively. You have a responsibility to convince the people why you ought to be their next leader.

Well, recent events have made me rethink my previous position. Does more blame lie with the prospective leaders to come up with ideas and reasons to motivate us, or do we have the ultimate responsibility to show interest in our own affairs - the affairs of our country? It is now my position that in a democracy, the people have a responsibility to be active participants in the processes that lead to change.

I have done a number of (unscientific) studies lately and I have been very disappointed to realize that the vast majority of the public is more interested in dancing, partying and watching football (soccer) games than they are in discussing or listening to the issues that affect Liberia. This is very disheartening.

In my own community of Cleveland, Ohio we had planned to have elaborate programs to commemorate the 155th Independence Day Anniversary. Although we planned months in advance and invited our fellow citizens residing in neighboring cities, in the end, we had to cancel all formal programs because of a lack of interest and participation.

Hardly anyone seems to care that we canceled the formal ceremonies but everyone insists that we must do ‘something’. Well, that ‘something’ turns out to be a football match and a dance. The Liberian community of Cleveland simply wants to dance!

My question is why all this interest in watching football and partying? Unfortunately, this is not just a Cleveland problem. Communities all across America are hosting football games and dances. All one has to do is turn on the Internet and there the announcements are – from Oklahoma City to Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Boston and Atlanta – everyone is playing and watching soccer. What is this obsession with soccer?

Too many Liberians are sitting back, doing nothing but to blame Charles Taylor and other professional politicians for the fate of our country. The question becomes what are you doing? Why do you think these few people have all the responsibility to fix your country up for you? We must remember that in a democracy, the people have a responsibility to chart their own courses. The initiative must come from the people. That is what Abraham Lincoln meant when he coined the phrase ‘a government of the people, for the people, by the people’. We are the people!

Again, it is not the responsibility of a self-chosen few to deliver us. We must actively do our share. Celebrating our great national holiday by playing soccer and partying reminds me of the legend of Peter Pan. He was a boy who was so afraid of adult responsibility that he spent his time dreaming and scheming of ways to remain young forever. He simply avoided growing up, hence the Peter Pan Syndrome. As much as I would like to put an optimistic spin on my observations, it is difficult not to conclude that what affects many of my countrymen and women is a serious case of the Peter Pan Syndrome. Watching soccer games is a way of reminding themselves of the good old days!

It is appropriate to end this piece with a great quotation by another great American president, John F. Kennedy, who said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” What can you do for Liberia? Simply join a Liberian Community Association and go to meetings regularly. Participate in the process. It is your duty, too.

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