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Sunday 26 January 2020
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Towards a more meaningful life

The city of Port of Spain.
The city of Port of Spain.

KENNETH AQUAN-ASSEE

I AM PROUD to be a citizen of TT, an area of “darkness” with a vibrant culture, mainly brown, black, white, and yellow skin tones, which Naipaul’s Eurocentic eyes and introverted personality saw as an area of deficit rather than of achievement. If only he could have seen the cultural dynamism beneath its “shining waters and lovely sand” his undoubted talent might have produced more dynamic writing.

For the truth is that the concept of culture refers simply to the many forms of adaptation any human group establishes with a given physical environment to promote its survival – not merely the grand achievements of imperialism that hypnotised him.

Culture encompasses the food, containers, clothing, housing, transportation, music, entertainment, speech, settlement of disputes, sports, symbols, and on. It is the many ways in which a given group of people adapts to its climatic and physical environment to ensure its survival. Even in prison given groups and their sub-cultures may be distinguished by their values, speech, behaviour, tattoos, and crimes.

And the striking features of our culture is our stimulating human interaction, our rich sense of humour, the rhythm of the drum, high level of education, very fast speaking skills, sensitivity to real or imagined insults, a rich vocabulary of cuss words, kindness to a fault, a penchant for liming away one’s spare time in humour and ole talk, a Carnival where participants project their unconscious fantasies and hopes in costume, colour, and dance, and yield with abandon to the hypnotic drum and feel of human bodies.

So there is much more to culture than Naipaul saw.

While TT is slowly treading the path of stability and progress there are areas which command our attention: Our family system, our educational system, our continuing commitment to democracy, law, and human rights, the continuing commitment of our people to their chosen forms of spiritual and philosophical development.

The transformation of a baby into an emotionally stable and progressively developing chid is assured when parents can respond to its cries of insecurity with warm and instant cuddling, hugs, and kisses.

Similarly, the insecurities of adolescents may/may not be visibly expressed, but they exist sometimes in frightening forms. And knowledgeable parents will always be on hand with words of comfort, reassurance, and praise. In particular, effective parents will always monitor the activities of their adolescents, their choice of friends, their use of spare time, and their particular pleasures, in liquid, capsule, or powder form.

The adolescent’s neocortex – the brain organ responsible for reasonable, rational, and moral behaviour – does not usually develop until the late 20s. An immature neocortex in adolescents is recognised by the narcissistic, self-centred, risky, dangerous, weird, and violent behaviour typical of this age group. Our stability as a country depends on values like courtesy, rationality, loving care, compassion, and kindness.

Dangers to the neocortex, essentially brain damage, come from many sources. For example, falls, blows to the head, rough sport play, incessant negative insults, threats, and beatings, abandonment as a chid, child abuse. In our age it is vitally important that expectant parents know how to care for their child. And our government provides a variety of prenatal and postnatal care and knowledge for parents. Make use of it.

Our educational system aspires to high academic goals. It is essential for our political and economic stability and progress. It is a source of pride that we have produced a native-born Nobel Prize winner. In fact, the West Indies has produced three. Sir Arthur Lewis (St Lucia, economics), Derek Walcott (St Lucia, poetry), Sir Vidia Naipaul (TT, literature).

You, too, reader, have the ability to achieve highly. It will require incessant practice, self-discipline, and humility on your part. Are you willing to explore and develop your potential?

Our principals and classroom teachers must be of the highest calibre in their knowledge, training, skills, and caring for students. They must be in touch with the latest research on education and administration. Thus, the Ministry of Education itself must embody the higher standard of educational administration, classroom teaching, strategies for effective student learning, and for the empowering of students to be self-disciplined and sensitive to human rights violations.

We are fortunate in having inherited from Britain a parliamentary system, a legal system, and a framework of human rights that facilitate our development of democracy – free and regular elections, an advanced legal system to protect our rights and civil liberties, and an expanding system of human rights to strengthen and protect our democracy and our status as citizens.

Our legal system defines and protects our rights. This includes the right to life, liberty, and security of our person. Moreover, one cannot be deprived of these rights unless the principles of fundamental justice have been followed. Equally, unreasonable searches and seizures are prohibited as well as the use of excessive force by law enforcement. We also have the right to be told without delay why we are arrested, and to consult a lawyer to determine if the detention is lawful. Most important is our right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.

Rights like these are undermined when extensive crime exists in our society. We all pay heavily in anxiety and monetary terms for the crimes of a few. The structure of law enforcement that protects our nation is weakened. Gang warfare frightens our citizens and destabilises our country. Endemic criminal activity really constitutes an enemy force within our borders, a political, military, and economic threat to our survival.

Do such criminals forfeit their right to live among us? Can we co-exist with enemies who are pledged to destroy our country? Is it practicable to live with your enemies?

Religion and the wisdom of our elders have been a source of strength and stability at different times and in different situations. Those sellers of fruits and vegetables downtown are not only a vibrant part of our tropical culture; they are also inspiring examples for others of patience, courtesy, self-discipline, and group co-operation.

Human qualities like these develop when an individual follows a path of spiritual development, be it religion or a philosophy of some kind. It seems to me that everyone benefits from regular introspections, meditations, or readings that inspire kindness and compassion to others.

In the final analysis, it is not what you know or have that is important, but how you live your life. Our life becomes more meaningful only when we have the courage to share it with others.

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