A father ushers his three children into the back seat of a taxi. They, two girls and a boy, appear to range in age between three, five and seven. The father gets in beside them and the first thing he says is: “Did you all say ‘good morning’?” The children smile sheepishly and chorus: “Good morning.”
And, sitting in the front seat next to the driver, I tell myself: this is how, when and where the training in good manners starts.
An elderly man is crossing the top of Charlotte Street when he suddenly appears to drift and stumble. An elderly woman rushes up to him, grabs him by the arm and escorts him safely to the pavement opposite.
And I tell myself: compassion is a reflex action with some of us. Like the courtesy I so often see extended by drivers who stop their cars to allow a mother with children to cross the street.
Like the girl, seemingly about eight or nine years old, who is standing by a taxi stand sobbing. A woman, a complete stranger, goes up to her and asks: “What’s wrong?” The girl stammeringly explains that she has lost her taxi fare to get home. The woman asks her for her address. Then she flags down a taxi, talks to the driver, pays him the fare and escorts the girl, now brimful of gratitude, into the car.
Yes, there’s a lot of crime in this country. And undoubtedly a lot of corruption. Which gets a lot of daily coverage in the mass media. But on a daily basis I also witness many more positive attributes of our better selves and I think it would do us well to focus more regularly on this, if only to encourage and uplift others that, yes, there is a lot to be said for being Trini-to-the-bone.
Listening to some of our current public discourse can be very distressing. For example, when a woman, a casual acquaintance, asked me in passing on the street last week: “So what you think about our politics?”
“Oh God!” was my immediate response. “Oh God! Oh God!”
“I know what you mean,” she said, laughing derisively,
It really is depressing. Politicians, it seems to me, should be about making us feel better about ourselves and the society we live in. But that’s not what we’ve been getting for some time now. It almost seems like a competition to prove, or at least claim, who’s more corrupt, who’s more hypocritical, who’s more likely to betray the public trust, who’s setting up all kinds of deals to improve the lot of their friends and family and to hell with the public good. The whole lot keep coming across like a gang of cutthroats, the only difference with the actual murderous gangs out there being that they all dress in suit and tie and drive expensive cars.
Is this really the best that we can offer our people? Aren’t we in fact letting down ourselves badly and dragging the society down with us?
It makes me wonder if we wouldn’t do a lot better if we simply hire a group of professional people, with varying skills, and pay them to manage our affairs. Let the Public Service Commission or some other reliable national institution advertise for skilled managers in various fields and then simply hire them on a contract/performance basis.
I was struck this week by comments made by former public service head Reginald Dumas, quoting Cuban President Raul Castro, lamenting the indiscipline, slackness, increasing vulgarity and “deterioration of (our) rectitude and good manners”. If this can happen in Cuba, a rigidly state-controlled society, I suppose we should consider ourselves fortunate that we haven’t yet gone entirely over the edge. I also think we should all pay very serious attention to the comments made in a letter written by one Kenrick Raymond of Florida, which was also published in the Express on Monday.
Mr Raymond raised some very serious constitutional issues and questions, beginning with: “Why do we need ministers?”
As he noted: “Ministries are fortified with technocrats led by permanent secretaries, who are in reality charged with the responsibility of executing government policies and should be accountable to the Parliament, not a minister.”
In fact, he goes on to argue, I think very justifiably: “Our present legal and physical structure of government is a prescription for corruption, nepotism and cronyism.”
Mr Raymond is advocating, to my mind, absolutely necessary amendments to our Constitution, an exercise we are supposedly examining right now anyway. I think it is high time we stop talking about making these fundamental changes and actually get around to implementing them. Otherwise all we will continue doing is spinning top in mud while the old system, inherited from our not-so-distant colonial past, continues to bedevil us and work against our potential to give expression to our better selves.
I seriously think we owe it to future generations to make the intervention now, in the interest of lifting ourselves out of this decaying swamp. We can do better. Let us make the investment in the grander vision of what it means to be Trini-to-the-bone! Mark my word!