“The potential to soothe the savage beasts of the nation whenever they appear in your communities and to put disagreement into less destructive modes. That is a challenge to which you must all rise.
“Meeting that challenge must be prefaced by a search for self-esteem. I say this is the preface because I discern that self esteem is lacking in our society and that this lack of self esteem contributes significantly to the brutish aspect of Trini life.”
The following piece is an adaptation of attorney Martin Daly SC’s keynote address to the graduating classes of COSTAATT:
I gave a keynote address last Sunday to one of the graduating classes at the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago and (COSTAATT) at the invitation of Dr Gillian Paul, COSTAATT’s President.
My remarks might be useful to a wider audience at a time when, in the process of a current local government election campaign, some platform speakers are lining up to dive into our already deep gutters and to deepen them some more.
At the graduation I posed the question how does each of the graduates become a constructive member of a fractured, divided and increasingly violent society. A central theme of my talk was to encourage them to seek to attain self-esteem.
An excerpt from the address follows with appropriate editing:
“The threads of the social fabric that bind us together are unravelling. This unravelling has some intense manifestations from which none of us can escape. A worrying number of our citizens turn to violence the moment there is disagreement. Reacting in kind, or worse, is now a fatal affliction in Trinidad and Tobago. Violence is also the stock-in-trade of the soldiers doing the bidding of those in control of the drug and human trafficking trades.
“As a result, anyone of us at random, might find ourselves dead or wounded or left bearing the grief of such an incident. Thousands have already died and lives of thousands are bearing the grief and dislocation.
“However, let us gratefully acknowledge that the vast majority of our citizens are not potential killers; nor do they belong to gangs. That is where you come in. Armed with the education you have received you have the potential to soothe the savage beasts of the nation whenever they appear in your communities and to put disagreement into less destructive modes. That is a challenge to which you must all rise.
“Meeting that challenge must be prefaced by a search for self-esteem. I say this is the preface because I discern that self-esteem is lacking in our society and that this lack of self-esteem contributes significantly to the brutish aspect of Trini life.
“As members of a still insecure post colonial society, the attainment of self-esteem is difficult but it is a challenge to which you, this evening’s graduates, must rise. You must restrain within yourself the self-pity which afflicts members of societies like ours.
“This condition of self-pity is justifiably attributed to some brutal historic reasons but we must fight it as best we can. I emphasise we are fully justified in taking those brutal historical events into account when assessing the state of our social fabric.
“There is no pill or magic potion that delivers self-esteem. Make no mistake: self-esteem can be attained only through development as an individual, by each of you establishing what is your true self and your true worth, sensitive always to the relationships which you have.
“On some other occasion, with reference to the sensitivity required in relationships, I will delineate my belief that large groups of us suffer from identity crisis and that there is need to practice informed tolerance of each other. For today, let’s focus on the attainment of self-esteem which may of itself make you more tolerant.
“In the course of preparing these remarks, my attention was drawn to the story of Kung Fu Panda. There is in this cartoon deep and enduring messages about self-esteem, including the assertion: ‘There is no secret ingredient. It’s just you’.
“That is an important message, particularly when the lack of self-esteem, which is a major contributor to violence and dislocation in our society, is linked to what I assert is the grave and long prevailing leadership crisis in our country.
“Our leadership has not been progressive. It has been exploitative of our self-doubt and plays upon the divisive aspects of race and perceived class.
“Let me emphasize that the leadership failure is not only a failure of political leadership. There has been leadership failure in many sectors, particularly in the professions and business and on the part of individuals with clout.”
My address went on to give what I hoped was useful advice, elaborated on the messages contained in Kung Fu Panda and concluded with an interactive recitation.
For the purpose of this column today I add that the essence of the leadership crisis is that a precious few are willing to stand up when unimagined abuses of power occur. By silence, inaction and startling greed, sections of our society have condoned and therefore encouraged the abuses, which have led to alarming breakdowns in the face of murder and banditry.
We are now in a situation in which, for more than a decade, the organs of constitutional government are barely holding on to control of the maintenance of obedience to the laws of the land.