Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Fixing our civility problem


New buildings, tall buildings, however well designed or properly maintained are no real guarantee that civil behaviour will come from the occupants.
I take my lead from a conversation that I had recently with a concerned citizen who complained about the lack of civility that has become the norm in Trinidad and Tobago. My fellow citizen reminded me that the dictionary’s definition of civility was “courtesy, polite behaviour and consideration for others”.
We were discussing the statements made by the Prime Minister when the Government Campus Plaza was opened recently. Dr Rowley said he hoped the new premises would lead to an improvement in the productivity and behaviour of the public servants. By that reference to “behaviour” I took it to mean civil behaviour.
The Government Campus Plaza will house a number of key agencies including the Board of Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise Division of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of National Security’s Immigration Division Building and Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Tower.
The state of the buildings is not the problem. Lack of civility has become a norm in Trinidad and Tobago. If we take a casual look around us we will observe that a lot of uncivil behaviour takes place whenever or wherever people have to deal with government officials at the police stations, hospitals, health centres and social welfare offices, even when the buildings are well appointed.
Look at what happened recently with the Muslim woman who reported that she would not be given a job at a firm because she was wearing a hijab.
So are we then going to rely on the physical conditions in the several buildings that house these departments in order to get civil behaviour?
Or are we going to task our various national leaders themselves to take the lead in guiding the population toward more civility?
I am not unique. I came across a letter from Winston Rudder of Petit Valley published on April 28, 2016. The headline was “Striving for civility where disrespect reigns”. He looked at the politicians, noting “Polarisation between the major political parties has deepened dramatically in recent years”. And he added, “Concurrently, civility has waned. Demonising opponents and trading abusive remarks are regular fare on radio talk show programmes and in the press. Under the cloak of anonymity, social media is also fully recruited in the cause”.
In addition to the uncivil behaviour at public offices there is also a crisis of civility in the education system. As the country is aware, no level of schooling, from primary to tertiary, is free from incidents of violence and bullying.
Mr Rudder suggests a two-fold solution. He wrote: “… our education system must be reformed. A key goal must be the holistic development of a more mindful, rounded and selfless citizenry in T&T as the linchpin for creating a harmonious society”.
“Additionally, we need to rebalance power relations between citizen and politician to restore and maintain vibrancy in our democracy”.
I agree with him.
Aiyegoro Ome
Mt Lambert