Vaneisa: The Unseen and the Unspoken—and the need to fix “us”

EPL Infrafred Sauna

When I started what I thought could be a series on cricket and our Caribbean societies seven columns ago, I imagined separating it into two elements: internal and external.

My intention was to try to grasp the factors that affect the way our young people process thoughts and information. I have been using cricket as a point of reference simply because it is one of the arenas where we can see ourselves within a framework that is not too unwieldy.

Another West Indies wicket falls…

I am hopeful that whatever I say can be applied to every other aspect of life. I feel we would benefit from learning to see the skein that connects everything: actions and consequences, plans, goals, and so on.

We can’t pretend that we have not reached an alarming and depressing state globally. The evidence is too overwhelming.

Last Monday, Joanne Paul’s column was a chilling reminder that our situation is dire, and it baffles me that we continue to remain preoccupied with inane political antics.

I won’t get into that; my intention is to try to look at some of the strands that go into threading our special weaves.

Language—that continuously evolving mode of expression—has been throwing up many words and phrases to describe current social behaviours and trends. At their core, none of it is new, not really. Humans have essentially behaved the same way forever and ever, with varying degrees of openness.

Photo: An angry mob.

Stigmas and taboos have produced a wild backlash that generates an unhealthy vehemence about lifestyle choices. It is, I think, one of the unfortunate burdens of our times.

Think about this. Homosexuality is not new. How come, in more than a century of West Indian cricket, there has never been any acknowledgement of homosexual players?

CLR James had written of the colonial codes, the stiff upper lip, and so on. Bullying was rampant, but reporting it was to snitch—a word that implied an underhand action.

Do real men cry?

Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “to secretly tell someone in authority that someone else has done something bad, often in order to cause trouble”. That’s why so many adults are able to get away with abusing children.

In our culture of machismo, many male youngsters—especially in a sporting environment, on the streets, in their homes—would have had to either suppress this part of themselves or take it very deep underground.

The true self faces daily conflict, anxiety and fear. Have we thought about the effect of this? We don’t discuss these things, do we? Not openly, or without judgment.

Former MCC president Stephen Fry.

It is one of the unspoken factors that affect human behaviours. Stephen Fry’s Cowdrey lecture is an excellent account of its impact.

Something else that I feel has escaped attention in assessments of human behaviour (outside of academia) is the prevalence of conditions that I imagine have always existed but without study and identification.

I am talking about Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), neurodivergence and bipolarity, among a host of other clinically-defined issues, such as depression and anxiety.

A child dealing with ADHD.

The spectrum is so wide that it is not easily diagnosed, but there are markers, and it is possible to discern characteristics. Those of us who have witnessed and experienced it first-hand know that understanding is key to managing lifestyles.

Unfortunately, our education and health systems are ill-equipped to either treat or manage these conditions. Limited resources have traditionally been invested in other areas. These conditions have been deemed to affect only a small percentage of our regional populations, but they are far more prevalent than we know.

It is bad enough that help is not readily available from these sources—mental health care is expensive and requires continuity; schools that address special learning needs are rare and expensive. What makes things worse is that generally, people are unaware of the signs and symptoms.

Image: A father “disciplines” his sons.

Do you know how many hapless children get licks for being restless, “harden” and inattentive? Can you imagine what it must be like to be told every day that you do not try hard enough, you’re lazy, and you are good for nothing?

I know there is no hope that in the near future there will be a genuine attempt to do the things we can do to institutionalise supportive systems.

But we can change our perspective: look at what kind of role models we have been, try to understand the behavioural patterns in children, not just beat them for aberrations in what we have been taught is “normal”, and encourage them to talk about what’s going on inside their heads.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

T&T’s Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley, asked citizens to pose some personal and philosophical questions to themselves in his Independence Day message. Among existential ones, the Express reported that he asked:

“What ethical principles do we embrace daily? How do we determine right from wrong? Where does integrity reside in our personal life?

“As a citizen, do I show respect for others and the law and its regulations? Do I respect the rights of my neighbours and others? Do I give an honest day’s work?”

A fireworks display in Port of Spain on Independence Day.
(Copyright CPop Designs/ Flickr)

He talked about accepting responsibility for many things that we feel somebody else should fix. I believe that we have strayed in that regard.

It’s easy to blame others, but it is more useful to ask ourselves what roles we have played in achieving a mess, and work on what we can do to help fix it.

To be continued.

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About Vaneisa Baksh

Vaneisa Baksh
Vaneisa Baksh is a columnist with the Trinidad Express, an editor and a cricket historian. She is currently working on a biography of Sir Frank Worrell.

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