The man in the mirror


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Category: Reflections 08 Jan 12


In the lengthy replies I saw that a raw nerve had been touched. It wasn’t because I was saying anything exceptional or new. It was because I was saying what everyone was thinking. If I did anything at all, it was talk about the elephant in the room which I don’t need to define to any of us because we live with it every day. Grieving, disappointment, incompetence and brutality are our constant companions. It would be great if these were just words. But they are not. They are bullets, dead men, illiterate adults, boys who with one look can get five dollars out of you because you know life is cheap and everyone knows nobody can get at the people who have power to change everything because they are busy playing to the gallery to the masses eager for escape from reality.

The responses online and on blogs showed that people have, like me, like you, like us all been going over the same old ground for many years so when the floodgates were opened the words came flying out. I hate to see words die. I hate to see words scattered about meaninglessly. This week I present the readers who mirror our nation starting with Vik: “No Ira, if you want to lay blame for the current situation on anyone, blame the people who look in the mirror every day. They were the ones who elected the slick talkers, who decried those who preached restraint and the merits of earning your way rather than living on credit.

The ‘faceless men in suits;’ did what they could to make things better by trying to improve things and yes, some did line their own pockets, but the true bosses, the people themselves, were the ones who really are to blame. They are the ones who would ‘pull a ting’ to get something for nothing, to rip off the system, to call in sick and make a beach lime and if anyone tried to call them on it they would cuss them out and dare them to fire them and take on the union. Why was sugar kept on, draining the country of money for as long as it was? Remember way back when the ‘Rampersad plan’ was floated to split up the big estates and give land to small farmers? Remember who fought it tooth and nail? The union leaders, the politicians and the voters are the ones who got us here. The ‘faceless men in suits’ just jumped on the wagon and went along for the ride.”

We did this to ourselves

Before I continue with reader comments I looked in the mirror. I have to say I don’t teach, market, buy, sell, own a company, employ, run an NGO, or produce goods or services. But I can be a sliver of your mirror. I can re-tell the story of a young girl from humble background in the east-west corridor who prised the door to the world with her own brilliance by placing first in Common Entrance exam. She had her world taken away again because two maxi taxi drivers (now walking free in her area, looking straight at her limping frame without shame) decided one day while she innocently sat in a taxi to school to have an ugly face off, leading to a smash up and injury of passengers. The drivers are okay. They keep driving their maxis. The accident left her permanently disabled with steel instead of bone in her body and in constant pain. The saddest thing about it is nobody expects justice for her. Even sadder—none of us is surprised by this story.

The comments on us having lost or never found a centre of dignity, self respect, or work ethic were visceral. The deluge made me think of a tiny nation of people being kicked in the teeth, punched in the stomach, having its hands tied behind its back, being stabbed in the back and remaining helpless. Its clownishly sad. One reader wrote: “One of the main problems, Ira, is we like to do what the old folks bemoaned; we want to live light and weigh heavy. After independence we felt like a new people but the so-called professors and politicians, for their own egotistic reasons and political schemes to walk in the corridors of power, used their ruse of equating us with countries that had/have real racial problems. Being the copy-cat, mimic men that we Trinidadians are, we swallowed hook, line and sinker and to this day the two major races in this beloved land look at each other ‘cokey eye’ with suspicion.

“This country abounds with courses/programmes for all young people to uplift themselves. School doors are open to all. Unless the mothers and fathers in our land instil values, principles and precepts of rule and integrity, discipline, respect for all—starting with the simplest of all—‘please, thank you, excuse me’ in the homes, from birth to adulthood, we will forever wallow in the uncultured mire we have chosen. Instead neglected youths drop out of school, have sexual escapades starting from primary school, lime, go to every fete, but don’t take the trouble to work for the money deciding ‘make a hustle’ or ‘put dong a wuk’ and ‘we good to go, after all, dis is we corntree and we is black/Indian peepol and dem had we as slaves/indentured labourers.”

Finally, this reader’s comment blew me away: “I am old enough to remember a better, kinder, gentler Trinidad—if living under colonialism can be described as such—the difference was we were so to each other maybe due to the fact that we knew the common enemy: the British. “The enemy now is us and our access to easy money: the treasury via oil and gas wealth. Charlatans have figured that they can gain access to power and wealth through politics and they arranged it so that the Constitution enshrines this corrupting power: The PM is literally God and no dog bark. “Here is how the system really works: If you are relatively poor, lazy, egotistical, really ambitious but have no entrepreneurial skills you enter politics. Cynical? yes but my observation of the past 40 years bears this out.

“To be elected you need funds, lots of it, so you strike a Faustian bargain with the corporate sponsors, big fishes, and other assorted rich folk who naturally want much in return. You weaken the nation’s institutions via ignorance, arrogance, stupidity and benign neglect: law enforcement, health, justice, education. “You become an elected official and dare not pass any legislation that impinges on the unfettered ability of your financial backers to make money; be they lawyers, doctors, bankers, businessmen, etc. If your backers or cohorts break the law you look the other way. “In the meantime you keep the masses hungry and dependent (starting a business is fraught with red tape and hassles by banks and lawyers and the colonial laws that are still on the books permit this travesty). You also have access to the treasury to finance giveaways the better to keep the masses happy and divided via political patronage.

“The masses become wise and figure they can’t beat the system so they join them by utilising the weaknesses in the system to cut corners, ‘get through’ an ‘eat a food.’ If you insist on working hard, being honest and doing things the right way you are looked upon as a fool. The system has no need for you as you cannot be trusted. I scratch your back and you mine.” The commentary on the blogs echoed the Web site with one blogger asking this: “With everyone acknowledging that a coherent value system and cultural transformation are necessary for the way forward, why is it so difficult to find support for projects that address this need?”

That question hangs uncomfortably in the air for us all. Overwhelmingly people are also saying even if there are state and institutional fissures, let’s do our part, and perhaps in a generation or two, the values we give our toddlers today will create fine leaders of tomorrow. Today is lost. Tomorrow is still in the hands of every parent, neighbour, community, corporate citizen in this country.


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