If we are to agree that Discipline, Tolerance and Production are intended to be our core values/watch words, as Trinbagonians we must appreciate that simply being born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago does not make one a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago in the purest and most holistic sense of the word. There must be the buy in of the society to these core values. That buy in is manifested in how we find commonality in the behaviours associated with our watchwords.
Of heightened relevance in this post-election period (and particularly in light of the recent explosion of expressions of prejudice, vitriol and hatred on social media) is the core value of Tolerance. What is tolerance? Because of its nature, the very definition of the word is highly subjective. As a result, in the absence of a set and articulated national standard, it may mean different things to different people. In this regard I wish to quote an excerpt from Rivka Witenberg’s paper entitled ‘Do Unto Others: Toward Understanding Racial Tolerance and Acceptance’, in which it is explained inter alia as follows:
“The ultimate, practical objective of understanding both prejudice and tolerance is to reduce discrimination. Nowhere is this more important than in diverse societies where differences exist in culture, colour and creed. Tolerance is only necessary when difference or diversity is present and entails endurance at the most basic level and acceptance at its best……….
Tolerance involves a conscious rejection of prejudiced attitudes, beliefs and responses. That is, one’s own negative stereotypes are recognised, judged against experiential knowledge or value systems, and rejected” (Robinson et al., 2000, p. 4). Recognising and rejecting prejudicial views moves a person from simply being “a narrow-minded bigot who shows restraint” (Burwood and Wyeth, 1998, p. 469) to a person who is tolerant both in judgements and conduct. Perhaps the strongest and most ideal way to think of tolerance hinges on full acceptance of others whilst differences between the “others” and oneself are recognised. This involves a conscious rejection of biased beliefs and behaviour and the valuing of others irrespective of their colour or creed. Acceptance of differences and diversity also entails “enthusiastic endorsement of difference”
Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago must first understand what tolerance means to this country before they are able to accept and embrace their individual and collective responsibility to be tolerant. They must then make a conscious effort to understand and accept the cultural differences which separate us in this multi-cultured society of ours. What is our definition of tolerant? I am partial to the emboldened definition above but is this what Trinidad and Tobago wants?
I recall watching former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in 2012, greeting the President of India by touching his feet.
At first instance I thought a greeting of that nature to be inappropriate for our head of Government. It was only when I began to understand some of the traditions of Hindu culture that I was able to appreciate that our then Prime Minister had done nothing inappropriate. It was only then that I was able to reevaluate my views and to be tolerant.
As we undergo the process of healing following the General Election I urge all individuals who call themselves Trinbagonians to strive to be citizens within the purest definition of the word.
We must all make an effort to understand the cultural differences which exist in our society. We must reevaluate our views, as deep seated as they may be, and we must adhere to the core value of Tolerance.
We as a country have to collectively decide what it means to be tolerant and to engrain that core value into the fabric of our society via the behaviours that we agree as a society are acceptable.
This process must be undergone for all of our watch words. This is the hard but necessary task of nation building.
We have missed a step in our development in that regard and we must now take measures to recreate that step, failing which our dream of building a country will remain just that.
The work of moving from spectators to citizens needs to start now
It is never too late to start the process.
Happy Independence Trinidad and Tobago!