We are all in this together
We spend an inordinate amount of time in this country complaining about the state of our affairs, blaming amorphous “others” for what are in truth our failings and shortcomings, and doing nothing or precious little about our concerns. “Where are our exemplars?” many ask. “Who is going to rescue us? ” Ask others. But have we tried setting good examples ourselves in our everyday lives? And do we seriously believe that a knight on a white charger—a white knight, I expect—will suddenly materialise to pluck us from the dungeon of our querulous inaction?
Can we not understand that it is we, and we alone, who must pull up our socks and pantyhose if we are to make the progress that we could and should make, and that we endlessly say we want? Can we not understand that with the rights we always brandish go concomitant responsibilities?
I recently gave a speech in which, inter alia, I spoke about these things and about the need for civics and values education in our schools. Within that context, I paid tribute to the late Tajmool Hosein for having introduced me to the Teachers’ Handbook on Education in Human Values, published by the EHV Society of Trinidad and Tobago. According to the handbook, the EHV programme “is founded on the belief that (a widespread) renewal of individual commitment to an active moral life is possible.” (I prefer the word “ethical” myself.)
The programme—I wonder if the Education Ministry knows about it—aims to impart values to the growing personalities of children, enabling them, and the society around them, to extract maximum potential for the benefit of all. Accordingly, it sets out a plan of education designed to help children learn and practise the basic values deemed essential to civilisation. Five such values are identified: truth, right action, peace, love and non-violence.
At the time I wrote my speech I was not aware of another speech, delivered nearly three weeks before mine, in which a foreign Head of State made some scathing remarks about the social behaviour of many of his compatriots.
He said: “We have perceived with pain...the growing deterioration of moral and civic values, such as honesty, decency, modesty, decorum, honor and sensitivity to others’ problems...
“Thus, part of society has come to see theft from the state as normal. There has been a propagation of illegal constructions with relative impunity, moreover in inappropriate sites; non-authorized occupation of housing;..non-fulfilment of working hours;...participation in games outside the law;...the accepting of bribes and privileges; (and) preying on tourism...”
He went on: “Conduct...such as shouting at the top of one’s voice in the street (and) the indiscriminate use of obscene language and vulgar talk has become incorporated into the conduct of more than a few citizens, independently of their educational level or age.
“Perceptions related to citizens’ duty in the face of misdeeds have been affected and it is tolerated as something natural to throw garbage in the street; to relieve ones physical needs in streets and parks;...to consume alcohol in inappropriate public places and to drive under the influence of alcohol; disrespect for neighbours’ rights is not confronted; loud music affecting people’s rest is rampant...”
He wasn’t finished: “Likewise...the most elementary standards of...respect for the elderly,... women with small children and people with disabilities are being ignored. All of this is happening under our noses, without arousing any aversion or confrontation by citizens.
“The same thing is taking place at the different levels of education, where...certain teachers conduct classes inappropriately dressed, and there are cases of teachers and family members participating in acts of academic fraud.
“It is known that home and school comprise the sacred binominal for the formation of individuals as part of society and these acts not only represent social damage, but serious cracks of a family and educational nature.
“In our classrooms, such conduct is doubly incompatible because, in addition to indiscipline in itself, one must take into account that the family and school must instil respect for the rules of society from early childhood.
“The most sensitive aspect is the deterioration—real and in image—of (our) rectitude and good manners. It is unacceptable to identify vulgarity with modernity, or vulgar talk and impudence with progress; in the first place, living in society involves assuming norms which preserve respect for others’ rights and decency...
“The loss of ethical values and disrespect for good habits can be reversed through the combined action of all social actors, beginning with the family and school at an early age and the promotion of culture, seen in its all-embracing context, which will lead everyone to a conscious rectification of their conduct. This, however, is a complex process which will take quite some time.”
All this sound familiar? Who was the Head of State speaking? Raúl Castro Ruz, and he was speaking about his country, Cuba. “Regimented” Cuba! What then may we expect of “freedom-loving” T&T, where indiscipline and disrespect for rules are the current normal? Who are the “they” and the “them” we always so readily point fingers at and castigate, if not “we” and “us”?
What about this from an article of August 2 in The Hindu, a South India newspaper? “(We) have collectively ignored,...to our great disadvantage as a nation, that the rites of citizenship entail rights and privileges as well as duties and obligations (my emphasis)...We have definitely neglected the task of society-building and of nurturing habits and attitudes which enjoin every citizen to do his bit for the larger good, enhancing social capital and collective wellbeing.”
And this: “Instead of stressing the importance of collective and individual responsibility for looking after our schools, neighbourhoods, public transport, rivers and forests, we insist on searching for a great transformer who will magically fix every broken pipe and fill every pothole. ” Sound familiar?
Yes, Cuba and India have the same problems as we. But what are we doing about ours?