Our Prime Minister Keith Rowley made a splendid speech on the occasion of the state funeral of former Prime Minister, Patrick Manning. Dr Rowley kept it light and anecdotal, with reminders that he was his own man in the course of his rocky relationship with his deceased former “chief”.
In addition to the content, which might be described as gracious despite memories of former fire, it is always pleasing to see our current Prime Minister displaying his softer side.
I write this assessment because I believe that the Prime Minister’s speech was a highlight, and its appreciation was buried under the saccharine praise from others of how well the country carried off this particular State funeral.
By contrast, the Prime Minister of our neighbour St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves may have let his emotions run a little high in defence of his deceased close friend. That did not disturb me unduly because I knew first hand that, when he was blasting those critical of Mr Manning, Dr Gonsalves did not have in mind commentators for whom he has respect.
I believe Dr Gonsalves was after those he perceived as turncoats and political grasshoppers.
In 2012, I received a phone call from Dr Gonsalves and subsequently a letter of encouragement and special commendation for “my writings and reflections” in this newspaper, despite his stated disagreement with my “pre-2010 assessments” of his “friend Patrick Manning”.
I reveal this interaction to illustrate one of my experiences that some of the politicians and other public figures in what we once deprecatingly called “the small islands” seem to remain more “real” and in touch regardless of what they get up to. I think it “real” that an incumbent Prime Minister would speak from the heart rather than in dull, conventional funereal platitudes.
Perhaps our neighbours do not have tall enough buildings, over-sized, over-fed entourages and fanfares to induce hubris and keep them far away from the people they serve. And the result is that they remain, for instance, pleased to walk into a parlour with a set of dominoes and take on the patrons.
After the speeches, what? Now that the pomp and ceremony and speeches are over, do we not remain “a society bent out of shape by officially condoned gangs and gangsters, and by devils in jacket and tie and other bourgeois disguises trading guns and dope with the foot-soldiers of crime?”
I put the latter words in quotation marks because they were actually contained in a column of mine published in November 2008.
As some waxed lyrical on the occasion of Mr Manning’s death about “a golden age” recently passed, and copious benefits—some of which in fact evolved into colossal waste and just plain freeness—we should recognise that “while enjoying our money wildly”, our Governments for more than two decades have “put the criminals on a winning path”. Those are more words from 2008.
We cannot spend too much time patting ourselves on the back over our chequered past. The social fabric of our nation is badly torn. In some aspects it resembles buss-up-shirt. As I have repeatedly suggested, we seem to shrug this condition off.
Keenly aware of our torn social fabric, I kept in mind that speeches could not make us care. Dr Gonsalves is a well-read man and I benefitted from my brief interaction with him, not least of all because he declared himself “a Despers man”.
He had drawn to my attention a remark of Albert Camus: “Style, like fine silk, often hides eczema.” Ironically it seemed to apply to our reverence for the style of a state funeral.
In the course of some recent reading about challenges to the social fabric of societies all over the world, I came across an amazing summary of what is lacking when citizens withdraw from social responsibility and become dependent on institutions and third parties to care for them.
An emeritus Professor of Education and an author of several books on community relationships has strenuously declared that communities are the sites at which the primary work of a caring society must be done. John Mc Knight author of “The Careless Society” wrote this:
“Care is the consenting commitment of citizens to one another. Care cannot be produced, provided, managed, organised, administered or commodified. Care is the only thing a system cannot produce.”
But we do need institutional backup when primary care fails. Without our diligent non-governmental organisations we would have already fallen further apart.
I recently took in on television, evidence given to a joint select committee of Parliament by some renowned representatives of NGOs, which described the facilities required to support NGO work.
Suffice it to say that just the money wasted in the period of prosperity now gone could have taken care of substantial repairs to our torn social fabric.
Can we finally stop the waste and invest in those repairs urgently?