As they lead, so shall they follow

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -

RECENTLY I was parked in a spot in front of a business place to take care of some errands, as you do. On returning to my car I noticed there was a large truck blocking my exit. After asking around I discovered the driver was nearby wolfing down doubles. I asked that he move his truck so I could get out.

At first, he made some wild hand gestures, presumably intended as instructions on how I could manoeuvre my escape. I've seen these gestures, or versions of them, before. They come directly from the "you cyar pass dey?" playbook. I wasn't having any of it. "So you park directly behind me and you telling me how to drive around it?" This was his response: "I nut moving now. I eatin' my brekkfoss." That was followed up with, "Daiz nut my prubblemme...I park on de road. You ha' to wait."

It's easy to dismiss his attitude and reasoning as a textbook example of trademark Trini stupidity in motion. Nothing about this country, though, is that simple – as simple as we may seem.

Such incidents never surprise, yet still they rankle. No one wants to be surrounded by degenerate, inconsiderate cave trolls. However, it got me to thinking about the pathology of such repugnant behaviour. Why do these anti-social encounters seem more the norm than the exception?

In analysing the doubles-slurping dullard's justification for blocking me, I extrapolated from his response an understanding of all similar affronts I've endured and the perverse ethos running through them all.

In a society defined by dysfunction, corruption, and nepotism, people mostly look out for themselves in relation to others who are, in turn, absorbed by their own interests. Attitudes, actions and behaviours are shaped by a belief that everyone else is “getting tru” whichever way they can – so must I.

As such, many Trinis are governed by atavistic impulses that are anathema to a harmonious society but ideally suited to a widespread dog-eat-dog dogma. Many citizens do what they want because the perception is that's how everyone else lives. Doing otherwise is akin to self-sabotage or taking on needless suffering.

Corruption is always singled out as a cancer in society. It's more instructive to think of ubiquitous skulduggery as an antibody fighting deeply embedded societal dysfunction. Bribes are paid, contacts called upon, and political connections are nourished because nothing is fair, equitable, or functional. You need to know someone to get medical treatment/a passport/goods cleared/a job. People without connections and resources must either bear their crosses with dignity or forge parallel worlds where the only rules are survive and “get tru;” a nation within a nation whose watchwords are “who vex lorse.”

Speaking recently on amendments to the procurement legislation, Independent Senator Paul Richards said "people think there is a disconnect between lawlessness at one level and lawlessness at another, but they are all connected." These remarks strike directly at the heart of an oft-repeated statement by Fixin' T&T's Kirk Waithe: "Leadership creates culture."

Ordinary people take their cues from questionable practices and the machinations of the fix-up network at the very top. It goes further – the absence of accountability in our leadership has a devastating trickle-down effect. Politicians love to needle the population for their poor work ethic and abysmal productivity. Yet the state apparatus is famously flimsy on delivery, efficiency, and results. Why should the rest of the population be any different?

A gang of labourers has been working on a modest culvert in my area for more than a month now. Every morning a small crew would show up and make a bit of a racket and plenty of small talk. By 9.30 am or 10 they've vanished.

No accountability at the top means no accountability anywhere. In the absence of supervisors, workers happily set their own productivity parameters. Indifferent sales clerks in business places can't be bothered to show more interest than the absentee business owner. Big sawatees have lavish covid19 weddings while zessers are expected to zess at home in their vests. Everyone has daggers for DSS while ignoring the bitter irony that our entire governance structure is a massive pyramid scheme.

A man going to work on Sunday parks behind me because everything is unfair. Fairness can only be restored if others are victimised by that unfairness too.

As above, so below – our worst proclivities are influenced, in no small measure, by the culture at the very top.


"As they lead, so shall they follow"

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