With the official opening of the long awaited San Fernando Centre for Displaced Persons in San Fernando yesterday, homeless people in the southern city now have a place to go for meals, hair cuts...
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Compromise is not a cop out!
These are restive times. Uncertainty stalks the land; people are unhappy and afraid. We are not coping well with the stresses and strains of living in Trinidad and Tobago today, where civility has given way to violence. There is too, an insidious, pervasive poisoning of relations among our diverse identities, depleting the social trust, sapping the foundational strength of society. Citizens no longer believe that our institutions function in the interest of all, repelling exclusion and creating a sense of rootedness.
The relative social cohesion formerly characterising our cultural landscape has dissipated. A once shared hopeful vision of Trinidad and Tobago as a diverse people living in harmony seems a fading dream! Some blame the adversarial nature of the politics inherent in the Westminster parliamentary model, claiming it unsuited to our circumstances.
Decades ago, a note commentator explained the persistent socio-politico-cultural problems of our plural society, with its distinct cultural identities, as deriving from nine distinct “tribes” in the country. Each group, he posited, has “…different allegiances to the body politic.”
The “…inability to absorb these various tendencies smoothly into the society” inevitably spawns feelings of “no-whereness”: symptoms of a stunted sense of belonging to Trinidad and Tobago. Nationhood, therefore, remains an elusive aspiration; the several competing groups believing themselves victims of discrimination and disrespect. Each views itself in opposition to some other group(s). Another commentator observed: “… the main axis of conflict becomes concentrated between the two dominant ethnic communities …”
In this quagmire, we all lose out. For levels of social capital are as significant determinants of national development outcomes and economic growth as financial and physical capital. Social trust also influences important non-economic outcomes; being a measure of well-being, reflective of the mood of society, satisfactory relations with others and an ability to cope with daily life. Additionally, it is an index of a favourable attitude about life as a whole. There is no comfort or joy living in a low-trust society, having to constantly watch over our shoulder or lawyer up for every transaction.
The ensuing struggle for national survival engenders many false prophets–fundamentalists and charlatans lurking, spewing venom, fomenting discontent, and waiting to pounce in the anticipated vacuum. We must be vigilant and wise, and commit to educate ourselves out of this crisis by seeking inspiration in our history.
This entails researching and documenting our past so that we and our children may better understand who and what we/they are. The aim is to penetrate the dense fog of ignorance engulfing the country—wellspring of the suspicion undermining social trust—with knowledge. Let us also restore and embrace the values of diversity which defined who we are, countering hatred and intolerance by standing together in support of our common humanity, with dignity.
We, the people, and not merely the politicians, must trust in ourselves and each other; confident in our ability to work inclusively, intelligently and urgently in developing consensually determined solutions to overhaul our institutions and governance arrangements. Compromise is not a cop out!
The clock is ticking!
Winston R Rudder