"Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannise their teachers."
—Socrates (469–399 BC)
It is right that each new generation should challenge the authority of the incumbent. And it is quite in order for the incoming generation to demand to see our bona fides for setting the rules by which they will be required to play as new comers on the stage of history.
Why should we expect the youth to take our word for it? Why should they concede to our authority and accept that simply because we're older, we are therefore wiser and know better?
It is perfectly reasonable that all leaders should be tested and made to demonstrate their fitness and moral authority to lead.
As the above quote, generally attributed to Socrates but itself not without dispute, shows, the youth have been giving 'em hell for a long, long time. The fact that in 21st century T&T we feel particularly under siege by them may have more to do with our lack of bona fides than with any lack on their part.
For, what is there in today's generation of leaders, from politics to cricket and everywhere in between, to inspire an incoming generation to rise to the height of its powers and, in so doing, to exalt its nation to a place beyond where the lifted eye can see? Not much, actually.
From the little they see of us, today's youth recognise that the generation of leaders with which they've been saddled is a bunch driven to cynicism by their impotence and inability to bring ideals to life. They persuade not by the power of ideas, programmes and example, but by bribery and the fear of imagined ghosts and invented enemies.
Under the cloak of authority stitched together by office, title, money and other signifiers of importance, the youth can discern the panic inside its generation of lost leaders, and so they push hard, bent on forcing either confession and surrender, or evidence of the mettle to lead.
From classroom to boardroom, cabinet to kitchen, parliament to playground, police to priest, T&T's leadership class is buckling under the pressure of being tested, fuelling social collapse as our youth fail to find pillars sturdy enough on which to hang their hopes and dreams.
For this, today's young people would have to go back in time, way back to earlier generations of leaders who had patiently and so very surreptitiously built a path to the future, until one terrible and joyful morning when they could leap straight out of the chains of their history into a future of infinite possibilities. There were many such mornings along the way, bequeathed to us by men and women, many of whose names have not even survived history.
But some have. Cipriani, Rienzi, Elma Francois, Butler are but a few of the standout figures of a more recent generation that had taken the baton and ridden the momentum to deliver us to the other side of history.
If we could introduce today's youth to the generation of young people who came of age between the two world wars in the first half of the last century, we might yet be able to inspire a nation into being.
In that generation were the thousands of unlettered men and women, living in barrack rooms with their ten and 12 children, existing in a world under the whip and without cash while dreaming, conspiring and plotting a different future for the generations due to come.
If they could look into the eyes of that early generation our youth will find what they're looking for: the confidence to change the world and live to tell the tale.
But in our collective paranoia about the past and our anxiety to cover our own tracks to the present, we deny the ancestors, hide them in history and claim their contribution as our own. In turn, we damn our youth, telling them to stop dreaming and to get real, settle down and accept the world as it is, unchangeable and unyielding, hoping that they will never discover that ours is the generation that poisoned the chalice they now hold in their hands.
Who will deny that ours, inheritors of the independence movement, is the most dis-empowered of all the generations? Without oil money to grease our way in the world and our path to power, who among us could rally anyone to change the course of history this Sunday morning? The real recession of our time is the political recession designed to kill our self-confidence and return us to the chains of total dependency.
These are the questions that arise today as we peer down the tunnel of our own past, travelling back 75 years to June 19, 1937, the day the labour movement was born, forever changing the course of Trinidad and Tobago.
If our great grandparents weren't members of the plantation elite or expatriate community, chances are they were, at the very least, spiritually with the mass of humanity surging against the tide of history that day, intent on forcing open the door of opportunity on our behalf.
Under the combined weight of the much-maligned masses, one wall of history collapsed that evening as Charlie King, an accessible representative of authoritarian power, lay burning on the ground, having fallen to the vengeance of the people flushed with a new sense of their own power.
Those were the days when "the people" and "workers" were the same.
Thanks to the door flung open that June day, the people have been graduating steadily upward ever since, leaving the ranks of the labouring masses as they take their seats among the privileged and powerful.
If nothing else, the elevated view provides a vantage point for looking down on the speck of labouring humanity below who, from the distant perch of a jaundiced perspective, would appear to have neither the ambition, the ideas or the ethic to elevate themselves to something better.
How quickly we forget and how easily we damn the bridge just crossed, as we hustle to outrun the past, unaware that it lives inside us, just waiting to leap out and greet us around the next corner.
• Sunity Maharaj is the editor of the
T&T Review and director of the
Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies