Now that the hype surrounding the recent Olympic Games has subsided a bit, it may be useful to look back and see what are some of the important lessons to be learned not only about sport but about Trinidad and Tobago. More than 50 years ago the great CLR James wrote a classic called Beyond a Boundary in which he described the connection between society and sport. In his book James used cricket to analyse the social stratification of T&T at the time and it proved to be an accurate barometer that is still very relevant.
Today, sport reflects much of what is good about Trinidad and Tobago but also some of what is wrong. On the plus side, sport continues to dispel the fallacy that there is a "lost generation" of youth in Trinidad and Tobago. Keshorn Walcott, Lalonde Gordon et al are all members of this generation and they certainly were not lost among the world's elite athletes in London. For sure there are many young men and women who are involved in violent criminal activity but they are mere pawns in an international crime network supported by adults who live right here among us.
On the negative side the society still tends to view sport in the same superficial manner with which it views other aspects of daily life. Complex issues are often approached with trite slogans and empty platitudes while efforts at serious thought and analysis are frowned upon. Taking time to think things through is seen as needless procrastination and so we plunge ahead, hurriedly putting plans in place only to change them back soon after. Perhaps it is this phenomenon that prompted His Excellency President Richards to remark in a recent speech that "we are making too much room for non-thinkers". "Non-thinking" is bad enough but when it is compounded by a primitive 'eat a food' mentality then the nation is poised precariously on the edge of the abyss. Archbishop Joseph Harris has added his voice to the chorus of concern, suggesting that "something has gone terribly wrong". Both men are right because what may have "gone terribly wrong" is a reluctance to go beyond the glib and the superficial and to elevate "non-thinking" into standard operating practice. As a result, longstanding problems like crime, flooding and vagrancy continue to plague the society despite millions of dollars spent annually to alleviate them. Solving these problems requires sustained and thoughtful interventions that integrate the work of state agencies, the business sector, community groups and workers' representatives. The focus cannot be only on publicity and tomorrow's headlines while ignoring the intellectual rigour and collaborative effort that is necessary. It is certainly not beyond our capabilities.
If it is one thing that the recent jubilee celebrations should remind us is that Trinidad Tobago is capable of doing much better. In the past 50 years and even before we have produced outstanding citizens in many walks of life-academia, politics, labour, literature, sport and culture. People who were able to rise above mediocrity and use their considerable intellectual and/or physical prowess to achieve excellence. Whether it was the speed of a Hasely Crawford or the literary genius of a Vidia Naipaul, they have all helped to show us how great we can be.
One of the more rewarding experiences of the recent celebrations was the re-broadcast of some of the speeches and debates that took place at the time. In fact they also underscored the stark difference between the celebrations of 2012 and those of 1962. I listened in particular to the statement by Dr Williams on Independence Day and the response by Dr Capildeo and one could not help but admire the elegant use of language and the overall civility of the discourse. Dr Williams' words have transcended the decades especially when he outlined the key elements of "Our Democracy". He advised citizens that "the first responsibility that devolves upon you is the protection and promotion of your democracy", adding that "democracy means the responsibility of the Government to its citizens, the protection of the citizens from the exercise of arbitrary power and the violation of human freedoms and individual rights". And he concluded with a powerful reminder that "democracy, finally, rests on a higher power than Parliament. It rests on an informed, cultivated and alert public opinion". "Non-thinking" is neither informed nor cultivated.
A major challenge for the next 50 years would be to pay greater attention to those in our midst who have achieved and continue to achieve. And we must seek them in communities throughout Trinidad and Tobago where many of them exist largely ignored and unheralded. At the same time the society must eschew those who have no greater vision than greed, corruption and self-aggrandisement.
In a television interview just a few days before Independence members of the popular rapso group 3Canal were asked to identify the T&T personality they felt was the most influential during the past 50 years. One said Dr Williams, another highlighted Peter Minshall and the third said Mighty Sparrow. They all agreed it was a difficult choice especially since they were not given much time to think about it. One member of the group emphasised that choosing a single outstanding personality was very challenging because "this is a land of giants". Indeed it is.