My article today is the first part of an excerpt of the feature address I delivered on Tuesday at the prize-giving ceremony for students of the Faculty of Science and Agriculture.I take this opportunity to thank the dean of the faculty, Professor Dyer Narinesingh, deputy deans, heads of department, academic and support staff for considering me fit and proper to make the presentation.Today I undertake a great challenge-to market to all of you a product, ethical thinking, which I firmly believe is much needed in a country-and region- that seeks to brand itself as a forerunner in achieving global recognition for developed status.I daresay, my product is a hard sell in a country that often times shows little or no respect for what is right and those who seek to be righteous.But I love challenges and so I hope to engage you in a meaningful discourse which will encourage all, especially the young people and graduates among us, to introduce as a meaningful part of their everyday lives-ethical thinking.
Thinking it through
It is lamentable that in order to determine if the behaviour or conduct of an individual is acceptable, the law is the only benchmark used. In other words, as long as the action is not illegal, in that it is not in violation of any written or unwritten law of the land, then it is acceptable.This in my view has made it even more difficult to convince people that ethical thinking is indeed the right way to go because our society has almost waived its right to demand the highest standards of ethical behaviour from all who claim to serve the public interest.
Forward to the past
I pose the question: where in our history did we not get it right in the development, promotion or cultivation of ethical thinking? Discipline, Production and Tolerance-these are the national watchwords of Trinidad and Tobago but perhaps the reason that ethical behaviour is not given prominence, far less adherence, is due to the restrictive interpretation of the word discipline.According to the Oxford dictionary, the word "discipline" means the training of people to obey rules or a code of behaviour; so by its very definition ethics is included. Maybe it ought to be viewed in this perspective-Discipline, Production and Tolerance, these three, but the greatest of these is discipline.Reference is made to a speech which I consider most brilliant and which undeniably spelt out in clear and explicit terms the words which were meant to provide the framework of operation for our then soon to be independent nation.
The first Prime Minister of T&T, the late Dr Eric Eustace Williams, stated in his address at the independence youth rally at the Queen's Park Oval on August 30, 1962:"I have given to the nation as its watchwords, Discipline, Production and Tolerance. They apply as much to you the young people as to your parents. The discipline is both individual and national. The individual cannot be allowed to seek his personal interest and gratify his personal ambitions at the expense of the nation." It was very clear therefore from the outset that at the birth of our independent nation, we were expected to be a disciplined and ethical people.But somehow the message got lost and what obtains is a general disrespect for laws and codes of conduct.
We have had outstanding ethical drivers in the past. For example, the late Sir Ellis Clarke, who in 1962 was appointed ambassador to the USA and permanent representative to the United Nations and who in that capacity in his inaugural speech to the UN stated:"Our Constitution begins with an affirmation of our belief in spiritual values and divine assistance. Guided by these values and inspired by that assistance, we look forward to our future role." More recently, we lost yet another ethical driver in the name of Rev Cyril Paul, who should have received a national award during his lifetime for his patriotism, commitment and dedication to nation building. As I listened to all who spoke in genuine, glowing terms of this patriotic son of the soil, I remain confident that his good work, words and actions were not in vain.Rev Paul often opined: "The problem in T&T is a pop psychology-me, my needs and my fulfilment." Rev Paul urged people to be less self-centered and less individualistic and to take bold stands, as he did, whatever the repercussions, in the name of God and country.
And mention must be made of Sir Hugh Wooding, who was born in 1904 in Trinidad of Barbadian heritage and was our first Chief Justice. Sir Hugh was a man of indisputable integrity and honesty. This regional intellect, on the occasion of the conferment on him of the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, by our university stated:"Without principles, institutions would totter and procedures will be in vain." He was convinced that for the maintenance of the principles inherent in a democratic society, a spirit of humanity and humaneness was necessary.All these intellects of the past had a golden thread that ran through their utterances-the need for us to be ethical.
We are very fortunate in that we still have many ethical drivers who continue to direct us as to what we ought to be doing in order to lift our standard of human compassion and understanding. These include Leroy Calliste, the Black Stalin, whose social and political commentaries point to areas of slippage and, more importantly, what needs to be done to prevent further damage. Fr Clyde Harvey, a recipient of a national award this year, has always preached "that we may come from many tribes but we are one people, one spirit."And then there is John Reginald Dumas, a worthy recipient of the honorary Doctor of Laws from UWI and who has had a distinguished career as a public servant, diplomat and consultant to governments and the United Nations. Dumas continues to promote the highest standards of accountability and transparency from all who hold high office.With such a powerful pool of people and with many others who preach from the same page of ethics, I ask the question: why are so few people listening?
Next week: Part 2