The other day I went to a shop in Scarborough. A young woman was just ahead of me, and pushed the door open; I thought she was going to enter. But she didn't; she held the door and turned and looked at me. "Please go ahead," I said, wondering what she was doing. She continued to hold the door open and look at me. "Go ahead," I said again, still not understanding. And then she replied, "I was holding the door for you."
I was taken aback, but my generation was strictly brought up on the "ladies first" principle, and so I stood rooted to the spot until she turned, slowly, and preceded me into the shop. I imagine she must have thought me impolite, whereas my concept of politeness in such situations, learned many decades before she was born, was rather different from hers.
The incident was still fresh in my mind when the Denesh Ramdin event occurred. Ramdin, in an obviously premeditated move, held up his message, with its quaintly Biblical "yea", for all to see. He then for good measure, if my understanding of the relevant videotape is good, appeared to use an "f" word. Remember, he was representing us — you and me and the region — on the world stage. Some representation. He let us down. And himself.
It is claimed, by way of defence of his actions, that he was angry at sharp comments by Viv Richards on his performance, or underperformance, for some time before the Test match. But Richards was absolutely correct: Ramdin's recent record had in fact been somewhat less than stellar, and we knew he was capable of much better. Richards' words may have upset him, yes, but if they goaded him into improving his concentration and his batting, he should be thanking the former captain, not sneering at him.
Astoundingly, some commentators have rushed to mollycoddle Ramdin and pin blame on Richards for being too harsh; naughty man, he hurt poor Denesh's feelings. And who was Richards to talk? Hadn't he verbally abused an English journalist in 1990? Further, all Ramdin was doing was exercising his right to freedom of speech. Well, I never. But Darren Sammy has had to endure much worse, an unending drumbeat of vilification from nearly all and sundry; Brian Lara had it from all and sundry. Compare their responses with those of Ramdin.
Then came Nalini Dial, described as "an animal rights activist", who equated the apparent murder of a young and well-liked human being with the electrocution of stray dogs, even enlisting a vengeful God in her wholly inappropriate parallel. At least Ramdin, so it is reported, apologised (to whom?) for what he did. Ms Dial, by contrast, brandished defiance: members of the Congress of the People who wanted to discipline her were hypocritical and deceitful; she was exercising her right of free speech; and in any case she had the support of other animal rights activists (which for her was perhaps the clinching argument).
Dr David Hinds of Arizona State University has placed Ramdin's behaviour in a socio-cultural-historical context. "The empty simplistic celebration-deification and assassination-demonisation of our cricketers and administrators," he wrote in a recent article, "have become the substitute for sober reflection, deep analysis and intellectual and cultural production."
It isn't only about our cricketers and administrators, however; the flight from thought is now pervasive. Nearly 50 years ago Eric Williams deplored the anti-intellectualism of the West Indian tradition. Today, as T&T and Jamaica are about to reach the 50th anniversary of their political independence, the decline of the Caribbean mind and ethos is all too frighteningly evident.
Superficiality is exalted. Issues are trivialised, personalised and politicised, and invective heaped on the messenger while the message lies neglected; heat trumps light any day. One's responsibility is avoided like the plague, while finger-pointing at others flourishes. Hitherto indispensable standards and structures are dismissed as a nuisance, and "good governance" threatens to become a term of abuse. Ethics and values are in rapidly declining supply. Santayana's caution that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" disappears into the void. What past, anyway?
And with the decline has come a coarsening of dialogue and discourse, and of empathy; civilised human interaction is at a premium. Emphasis on the solitudes of self and group prevails, to the virtual exclusion of the polity of which, ironically, self and group are an inescapable part. The welfare of the whole is subsumed in the sentiments and cravings of the special or individual interest; the wood cannot be seen for the trees. Denesh Ramdin, Nalini Dial and their apologists may wish to ponder that, and to bear in mind also that "freedom" does not mean "licence". And that there is such a thing as common sense.
But all is not lost. The young woman who held the door open for me was being courteous to an old person. A gesture like that is so rare in this time of navel-gazing and plain bad manners that I didn't at once appreciate it. I may never see her again, and I doubt I would recognise her if I did. But I thank her. We old people are often scathing about the youth. Now look.
All is not lost.
• Reginald Dumas is a former ambassador and former head of the Public Service