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Restoring shattered peace and goodwill
Once again, it’s the season of peace and goodwill. The country is abuzz with preparations for the traditional year-end festivities, many already contemplating their resolutions for the New Year. At this time, a collective sense of hope usually inspires belief that, despite our problems, better days are ahead. Sadly today, feelings of despair cast a shadow over the land. And it is not merely the state of the economy!
Pervasive, mindless aggression and violence erupt with uncomfortable regularity. Many citizens are traumatised. The default emotion of anger allows no space for reason, dialogue and harmony. It is the involuntary response of individuals and communities alike, reacting to actions perceived to be demeaning, threatening or uncaring. Unfortunately, too often this degenerates into belligerent, combative, destructive behaviour, with consequences that are damaging and frightening.
Communication and conversation are a lost art; screaming and shouting being the new normal. There is a surge in road rage, violence in homes and schools and a jarring bitterness in industrial relations. The frequent, horrific murders leave us numb! Are these symptoms of a deeper societal malaise?
Trinidad and Tobago is not immune to the rapid, unpredictable global changes which shape the language of public discourse, where anger and animosity have fast replaced inquiry, curiosity and empathy. But we need to find ways to effectively manage anger, a normal human emotion, so that it does not easily deteriorate into the outrageous aggression and violence that scar our country.
Surely, we have the creativity and intelligence to deliver alternative narratives which challenge the threats and fear, so frequently used as social mobilisation strategies to manipulate public opinion and legitimise the views of the discontented? Society must have the capacity to create messages which actively promote courtesy and self-control and demonstrate how these can be applied, even under provocation. We must equally take stock of how we deal with issues of social justice and equity.
Increasingly, and frighteningly, we are witnessing situations where crowds easily turn into mobs; order replaced with chaos. Experience informs that, in these circumstances, the conventional policy of enforcing order through authoritarianism is ineffective. We need to explore ways to negotiate and compromise without loss of face, or surrender to lawlessness. Inflexible confrontation is definitely not the only, or best, strategy available for resolving long simmering social conflict. What is required is intelligent recourse to a judicious mix of evidence-informed approaches, including, as appropriate, application of law and order.
The current situation is challenging, but not hopeless. It demands wisdom and willingness to adopt alternative strategies, and meaningful involvement of citizens and communities. Our education system has a critical role in leading society to the humanism, cooperation and responsibility that facilitate cultivation of shared cultural and democratic values. Lack of these is at the core of our current dilemma.
But we, the people, cannot remain disinterested bystanders while society disintegrates. We must become partners in restoring the shattered peace and goodwill and forging a participatory democracy.
May the spirit of the season infuse us with hope and galvanise us to action!
Winston R Rudder