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RESISTANCE TO CHANGE
I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better. —Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799) At a Christmas party some years ago, a retired PS told me that civil servants were “afraid of making decisions,” in case they made a wrong decision. What would happen to them was not made clear but at the very least they would be exposed to criticism and held up to ridicule and, apparently, senior civil servants in a small island with large egos would not be able to bear this. If correct, this would explain in great part our baffling inability to ever be able to do anything. For it is true we are great talkers (listen to any radio talk show) and writers (read the letters to the editor) and we are full of ideas (go to any forum and the typical Trini loudmouth knows what to do to straighten out any problem we have, sometimes with astonishing solutions). But to actually do something? There seems to be this belief inherent in the culture that if you talk about a problem, the problem goes away.
That talk itself is a solution. So many times one is in a meeting and one hears brilliant expositions of a problem, various people intervene, cross-talk is hot, egos are stroked, satisfying solutions are offered and then, suddenly, mysteriously the process is abandoned without a decision being made. A new idea is introduced and the entire process is happily repeated. At the end of two hours, numerous topics have been discussed and everyone leaves the room happy like pappy. But nothing has been decided! And if one dares to say at some point in the proceedings, “Eh look nuh, what is it we jess decide to do?” one is looked at scornfully, steups are heard throughout the room and mutterings of “Wha’ happen to he?” or “He feel he better than we?” or “Going back to that? We eh juss finish talking about that?” Is this why Trinis have difficulty in making decisions, in doing things? The morbid fear of failure, of being pointed out, of giving the macos fodder for their mouth? Is this why we are afraid of change, because change means taking decisions and acting on them? Is this why so many people are against the changes in traffic flow just instituted in Woodbrook and St James? I’ve heard all sorts of reasons given why the changes won’t work.
The very first morning it was tried, there was a back-up of traffic coming out of Deigo Martin. Immediately I heard it was the fault of the change. Turned out there was an accident just after the Cocorite flyover. Jogging around the Savannah on Wednesday evening, the usual traffic tie-up at the Casuals corner, I passed two young girls waling and chatting away like the parrots that fly overhead at dusk. “Yuh see dat, yuh see dat! Is de Roxy roundabout that cause dat! Dey close it down and de traffic backing up St Clair Avenue!” As far as the eye could see there was the usual six o'clock traffic jam around the Savannah, caused by too many cars, narrow potholed roads and poor driving. At the QRC roundabout, St Clair Avenue was clear down to the Oval, not a car in sight. Trinis walk around the Savannah the way they drive. Twisting and turning. Always looking around to see who watching them, to catch them watching and to watch them back. It’s bad enough running behind them on the pitchwalk. As one comes up to a group (three is a group in Trinidad, the amount of talk and gesticulating that goes on) and work out that there is space to pass on the right, it’s closed down, by an unexpected movement from the fellow on the left, just as you attempt to pass.
Driving is the same. If Trinis spent as much time watching the road as they did watching each other and imagining defects in the roadway to avoid that are not there, everyone would arrive much sooner and with less stress. In a word, driving in Trinidad stinks. Yet when someone at last takes a decision to try to improve the circulation of traffic in the city, there’s a hue and cry, moans and groans, the end of the world, as we know it is nigh and we’ll all be sorry in a while. Who that person or people are I don’t know, but they deserve a medal for trying. And give the Government of the day credit for going ahead with the plan. The Manning administration would never have, the PNM credo being at best, “take no decisions; if it working, leave it to rot.” If the changes do not work then we can go back to the old way and try and try again until we get it right. This philosophy may just be the most important thing to come out of this Government.
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