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Challenge Renewed

Friday, December 30, 2011

Last week I shared with you the life story of Simone. I emphasise the words “life” and “story” because what she wrote represents the sum total of her life experiences—poverty, a dysfunctional home, an aborted education and brutal sexual exploitation at the hands of her biological father. Her writing suggests that she has a brilliant mind and if given the opportunity she could excel. She is now 20 years old and if she is not rescued soon she will, more than likely, end up as one of the many of our young people—boys and girls—who have “gone through,” as we commonly say. Simone’s life story is symbolic  of the social rot that is eating away at the foundation of the T&T society. I am told that there are thousands of male and female “Simones” out there, experiencing deep emotional and physical pain and feeling alone, hopeless and helpless. The don’t-care-a-damn attitude of the youth has its origin in the parental neglect and abuse that many of our young people experience in their homes. There are many who cannot even claim to have a home and many who see the school environment as an extension of their brutish home environment.


These young people become the antisocial elements in our society and against whom we “declare war” which is, in reality, just an extension of the abuse to the societal and state level as we unleash the forces of the law to forcefully break into homes, beat, shoot, detain and arrest—very often to release those detained because of the absence of any real evidence. The poor and the powerless are those who feel the brunt of this approach. The likely consequences are that resentment for authority (parent, teacher, police, judge and politician) grows and the anti-social gang culture and its associated violence and crime escalates. What is the solution? How do we go forward to build the society of peace and harmony that we all desire? Is it by putting in place programmes that will help us to grow better human beings so that our young people will grow in a more nurturing and caring society? Or is it by seeking to forcefully control the behaviours of those who are indisciplined and without a sense of responsibility? The continuing emphasis during 2011 seems to have been on the latter, including the declaration of a state of emergency, which allowed the State to use extreme measures against its own citizens. We must ask ourselves if the continuing use of force is the solution to the problem. It may have brought a temporary respite, but has it touched the hearts of the antisocial elements such that there is a change of behaviour for the better? Or has it hardened hearts such that the situation is even more dangerous?


Is there a lesson to be learned as we move into the New Year? The French military and political leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, was forced to learn a lesson when he wrote: “Do you know what amazes me more than anything else—the impotence of force to organise anything. There are only two powers in the world; the spirit and the sword; and in the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.” It is time that we learn the lesson so that we can move into 2012 with a message of hope for a better T&T and a commitment to build a society in which the spirit trumps the sword. I believe that we have the potential to build a truly great society of responsible men and women. I see our racial, religious and cultural diversity as an opportunity to learn to live in harmony despite these differences. Together we   can discover our human commonality around which we can coalesce into a more harmonious society that can become the envy of the world. As long as we have that potential, making it happen remains within the realm of possibility. We need leadership with the moral fortitude to lead us in that direction. We need leadership that will awaken the spirit of togetherness that will better help us to see the common spiritual nature of our human existence. We need leaders who will have the courage to step away from the stultifying power of racism and cliquism which leaves them operating as “high class gangs,” with minds no different from the “lower class gangs” of our troubled communities. They are both trapped in a world of inflated egos, obsessed with power, greedy, corrupt and violently protective of their political and/or physical turf. They readily go to war with their perceived opponents.


We need leaders who will genuinely work in the interest of all the people, not just their perceived supporters. It is time to break the cycle of tit for tat in what seems to be a common refrain, “they did it to us, so we can do it to them.” In fact, failure to take the moral high ground in response to a moral wrong leaves you even more morally wanting. It is only by putting in place programmes that can help people come to grips with their humanity that they can have a better sense of their individual potential and thus strive for a better quality of life. Too many of our young people only know hopelessness and despair. They have little sense of self and how to seek self-fulfilment. The result is that they become money-obsessed and seek to acquire it as quickly as they can and at any price. I close this article with a direct quote from my article of December 3 last year in which I wrote: “We cannot continue to deal with this national scourge by just trying to restrain the negative behaviours of people, which is the remit of the police and the criminal justice system. We have to become serious about growing the positives in our citizenry. It is only by raising the next generation to be disciplined and responsible individuals that we can begin to address the problem at its source. The cry for greater leadership to accomplish this goal is deafening. “I challenge the powers that be to adopt a simple policy—for every dollar allocated to restraining the negative—police, defence forces, criminal justice system, etc—to allocate an equivalent amount to growing the positives in our citizens.” Today, I wish to renew that challenge for the New Year that is on us.


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