*Photo by Antoine Hunt
*Photo by Antoine Hunt

The Bermuda Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints about public services and the administration of Government.

As an independent figure, Arlene Brock has to weigh up both sides of the story and find a resolution.

Ms Brock explained how important it was to not accept things blindly, but to keep asking questions.

In the 1970’s she was among a group of Berkeley Institute students who campaigned to get local black history classes into schools. This involved trawling through microfilms and other research.

At a dinner party 30 years ago, as a new employee at a Toronto law firm, she was engaged in a conversation about slavery in Bermuda.

She was suddenly “tut-tutted” by another Bermudian at the same table.

She said: “If I didn’t know any better I would have been utterly embarrassed and scolded in front of my new colleagues.”

But she did, and was able to “answer as an equal at that table and teach people something new”.

She told the TEDx conference: “I am stunned at how much important decisions get made for our country based on opinion or whim, or some sort of personal agenda.

“That dinner table conversation taught me how important it was to see through our own eyes, not (that) of others, and to get the facts.”

She likened her work to tackling a 3D puzzle where she has to “gather up the puzzle pieces”.

One example was a complaint by the family of a patient moved from a US hospital to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

The family complained about the man’s treatment, but the hospital said they were the most demanding family they had encountered.

Ms Brock contacted the US hospital, where staff described the family as “role models”. However, as the man was “extremely vulnerable”, the family was “hyper-vigilant”.

“Armed with the facts and the information, I was able to explain the family to the (Bermuda) hospital, and the hospital to the family,” said Ms Brock.

“After a couple of interventions, the relationship has completely changed.”

In her investigations, she said, “emotion and intuition have their place, and facts have their place”.

“What happens when you have the facts, and people distrust them for their own political agenda? We see this all over the public sphere.

“In our public sphere of politics, maybe we should prioritize the asking of questions for the purpose of understanding, instead of thumping everybody with our own point of view.

“Whenever there is a risk of injustice… and especially when you think you know it all, that’s the time to stop and ask, ‘Is there one more question I can ask?’

“Probably there is one more piece of the puzzle.

“If we reality-check ourselves, and ask if our own wishful thinking, our wants or cynicism is affecting our interpretation of facts, then maybe we can find the gem that is the truth.”

Ms Brock ended with a quote by Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State: “Tell me what you know. Tell me what you don’t know. Then tell me what you think. Always distinguish which is which.”