Manners is described as polite or well-bred behaviour. And judging from the numerous letter-writers and commentaries, most recently from Archbishop Jason Gordon, DOMA president Gregory Aboud, Dr David Bratt and ethicist Dr Errol Benjamin, disrespect, abuse and expressed hatred now seem to be a widespread, hurtful menace in the society.
This does not sound pleasant in our 57th year of independence. But like corruption, such post-Independence bad manners started many years ago. Will things get better?
Prof Selwyn Ryan and I were Sunday columnists from the late 1970s. Noting the civic and infrastructural decay embraced by the “do nothing about it syndrome,” Ryan wrote a 1978 column headlined A nation of sheep. Vernon Khelawan among others, wrote about the “culture of corruption” – all hoping then for a better tomorrow. Two of my 1978 columns were respectively headlined A pothole state filled with bad manners and A nation without a conscience.
Six hundred and four of my columns (1977-1990) were published in three volumes, kindly funded by businessman Gerry Hadeed in memory of the civic work of his father, Aziz Elias Hadeed. These columns examined issues of race, education, culture, crime, justice, youth, politics, democracy and the required reforms. The following are edited excerpts from the two columns to help compare today with yesterday.
First, the 1978 column, A pothole state filled with bad manners:
“As our countless potholes get bigger and bigger with neglect, so too our bad manners are spreading. This conspiracy against human decency is becoming an epidemic. You can call a demonstration against potholes, but when offended by bad manners you are often in no position to do anything except to retaliate with a little bit of the malicious stuff yourself. In fact, your complaint about somebody’s bad manners could bring further vengeance upon you. Bad manners often come through the ugly display of inconsideration for other people’s feelings, that deliberate, snobbish tone or that blatant unwillingness to deliver a scheduled service with required courtesy and efficiency.
“The connection between the bewildering breakdown in our physical amenities and the ugly upsurge of bad manners needs to be seriously looked at. No matter how carefully you drive, there is always some mean-looking, ill-mannered hustler cutting in and rudely squeezing his car against yours. Accidents proliferate with faded white lines, potholes and no proper road signs. The ugly state of our roads helps loosen the constraints of good manners. And soon you become like those you scorn, doing it first to them before they do it to you.
“Bad manners disseminate their own jungle laws, rapidly creating a dog eat dog society. The continued proliferation of gaping potholes is an indication of how those in authority think about you taxpayers. There is, however, still some hope with those prepared to fight it out with respect, tolerance and good example. After all, individual responsibility is an integral part of democracy. At the same time, though, for a democracy to prosper, it needs a proper supply of essential services and a healthy physical environment. If not, with top-heavy wealth and pomp, the society degenerates into the realm of vulgar prosperity and rebellion.”
That was in 1978. In the other 1978 column, A nation without a conscience, I cited the views of numerous letter-writers who bitterly complained about the loss of the nation’s conscience and inefficient public service. For example, a citizen, signing as Conscience asked in April 1978: “What is really happening to our dear little country? We should all now drop down on our knees and ask forgiveness for our evil ways and amend them.”
I continued: “When good conscience goes, the difference between right and wrong also goes. Complaining again about disrespect and inefficient public service, a lady wrote, ‘It was so bad that I started to cry.’
“For many, civic participation depends on the extent to which they could be made to hate ‘the other side.’ Hate politics destroys a nation’s conscience. As the nation loses its conscience, it enters a sinister era where nobody is anybody’s keeper.”
That was in 1978. So from 1962, as governments came and went, are things better today?