War of words

Photo courtesy Pixabay
Photo courtesy Pixabay

It was a week of escalating rhetoric deployed to describe a surge in violence after police officers and protesters met in an uneven clash on the streets of Port of Spain and in incidents scattered around the country.

National Security Minister Stuart Young accused the protesters of being paid to express their anger over police killings.

Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, asked again about his use of the word “cockroaches” to describe suspected criminals, remained unrepentant.

“My comments have been instrumental in saving lives,” he told Newsday.

Rhetoric begets rhetoric, and the UNC’s candidate for Tunapuna, David Nakhid quickly back-pedalled a post on his Facebook page in which he described the police service as “the enemy.”

The fractious and bruising exchanges in Parliament are now matched by explosive and often slanderous and libellous posts on social media which grow ever more vicious and divisive, cutting sharply across political, social and ethnic lines and proceeding with increasing frequency to the courts.

The escalation from picong to bad skylark to cruelty is a national tradition that must find more measured expression in the nation’s leadership.

The country’s political, business and institutional leadership must act with the awareness that vicious words lead inexorably to savage actions and re-evaluate their roles as guides in the form as well as the function of their office.

Studies at the University of Michigan in 2010 suggest strongly that the style of language used in public speaking and advertising during elections plays a strong role in the response of listeners to otherwise neutral information.

Such studies have found hard grounding in reality in the tweet storms of US President Donald Trump and the responses they encourage.

Was the outrage expressed last week better described as protests or riots?

These defining words orient opinion, urging a quick slide from discussion to conclusion.

The continued use of combative language by TT leaders on the eve of a general election will lead us away from empathy and concern when sober consideration of difficult issues should be the order of the day.

Political leaders should be able to persuade voters of the value of their approach through reason and fact-based persuasion without stooping to demonising their opponents.

Institutional leaders, of whom the Police Commissioner is only one, should recognise the considerable power already at their disposal and sheath iron hands in velvet gloves.

Indelicate and ill-considered use of language creates deeper rifts in a society that is already wounded and hurting.

Healing will not come from verbal conflict.

True concern for the present and future interests of the country demands that leaders grasp the reins of office, demonstrate the value of listening, lower the volume and raise the tone of public discourse.

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