WITH little to inspire here, it is good that we can connect emotionally with two giants of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Bapu has long gone and Madiba approaches the inevitable. Our great misfortune is that we have never been blessed with such largeness of leadership. All we have known is Machiavellianism and worse: greed, selfishness, incompetence and pedestrian preoccupations. Lloyd Best often lamented the absence of poetry in our politics.
As the Member for San Fernando West in 1995, I asserted that no responsibility is more critical than leadership: “A leader must be large in heart and mind; a nation is crippled with smallness at the top.” But you cannot pretend largeness. It must come from within. We must be able to identify with all life: trees, birds, beasts and crawling creatures.
We must feel every human being, black, brown, yellow, white, as part of our very self. No other way can we become large and free, to bring light wherever we are in this ever-darkening world. This is our principal responsibility, our challenge as individuals and human society: to attain a vastness of mind, a magnificence of spirit. Without it there is neither love nor charity; justice nor equality; beauty nor refinement; spirituality nor holiness. That largeness is within the reach of all; for it is to be found only in the human heart.
Clearly such thoughts do not occupy our leaders’ minds. Every utterance exposes smallness. Hardly is any speech grounded in the larger context, a wholeness of insight. It is the reason for the Government’s trite Budget presentation and the Opposition Leader’s loose and haphazard response, both bereft of philosophical moorings. No politician today seems capable of understanding the whole, far less embracing it. This has been our plight for so long. Think of the psychological shrinkage inflicted on generations of youth by the absence of grandeur at the top.
Leaders have a special responsibility to be large. But our education continues to deny us the grounding that inculcates the unshakeable commitment to a society woven from interconnectedness, inclusiveness and wholeness which are the foundation for the justice and equality that so many mouth without knowing the source of the concepts. It is mere sloganeering for most, like political parties campaigning and saying, “we care”.
Mandela and Gandhi were not political careerists, but leaders and liberators. They left swampland politics to lesser mortals. Such politics and largeness do not mix; they are in constant conflict; and very often, the worse wins. Had vastness prevailed, humanity would have avoided wars that killed hundreds of millions for race, religion and ideology; nor would we have destroyed the natural environment, pushing species to extinction, and bringing the planet to the brink of environmental Armageddon. “Civilised” man has little appreciation for the obvious interdependence of all life.
All we know is exploitation. But we die with every death. Just think of those who have gone from your life and feel the loss, the bewildering vacancy, gnawing within, without your even knowing it. Then imagine the consequences when whole cultures and species disappear. Be wary of the progress that brings fleeting comfort, but permanent impoverishment.
The least leaders should do is strive for largeness, sending a message that this should be at the heart of our purpose as nation and society, inspiring the young, seeding the emergence of a profound generation and the incubation of capaciousness in all spheres. What greater responsibility for leadership? But no leader in Trinidad and Tobago has demonstrated any sense of that ultimate requirement. Despite talent, a soullessness eventually derailed them all, leaving Trinidad and Tobago undefined, superficial, drifting.
Our leaders never truly walked the talk. Had our primeval politics not always triumphed, with our human and natural wealth, we would have had deeper harmony in our diversity; a culture of enlightenment; a dynamic sustainable economy that would have significantly reduced or completely eliminated poverty and produced continuing opportunity for the young; and a natural habitat preserved for future generations. This place would have been a paradise. Instead, we are heading for the precipice. Yet look at those in Parliament today. What are their concerns? Where do they want to lead us? None seems to know. None has even begun to articulate a vision for the sustainable future of Trinidad and Tobago, one that brings into creative harmony, the diversity of people and natural life with which this small nation has been blessed.
The sad truth is that throughout history, except for a handful, humanity has lived without ever achieving the largeness. Most people, notwithstanding education, move from innocence to an ever-increasing inner shrinkage that finds them alienated from most of life except perhaps from those near, like children, parents, pets and the front lawn or garden; a limited circle. And even here, there is always potential for conflict and further diminution until you become alone and frightened by your inability to embrace what is to come: your departure from the vastness that consciousness revealed, of which you were a part and which you had the opportunity and responsibility to experience and consequently evolve into that extraordinary state some call divine.
Ultimately, there is really only one journey: inwards. Without it we shrink with time, never gaining the wisdom that should come from knowledge and experience. We live and die in the dark.
Only largeness can bring the light. Our problem is that we never had magnificence here, never experienced it through any public figure who attained the height and transmitted it to us, giving us an idea of what constitutes true heroism and grandeur. Worse still, after 50 years, we are not even aware of the largeness we lack.
• Ralph Maraj is a playwright and former government minister