Bitter medicine and sugary platitudes

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”I ask you to be mindful in your use of “I language remembering that a soft answer often turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger and that pleasant speech increases one’s persuasiveness.

When we have the inevitable differences of opinion we can do so without the savagery, the ad hominem attacks, the gratuitous insults.”

Those were the words of our President given at her Inauguration Speech on March 19, 2018.

Last Sunday, however, that same President in what can only be described as a “bouff”, likened our national mindset as “somewhat schizophrenic in nature.” She diagnosed us as collectively suffering from a serious mental health disorder with reference to its “classic dictionary definition.”

Whatever else she did say in that address about national unity was unfortunately lost or devalued by that remark.

The Head of State is supposed to represent a united nation. The office in theory exists to embody in one person the hopes and aspirations of a society and for that person to be an exemplar above the cutand thrust of partisan affairs. The holder of our highest office has a voice of considerable authority, but not a voice to be abused or to be abusive.

Things may not have changed much here since the cholera epidemic of 1854.

At that time sanitation in the city of Portof-Spain was described as deplorable, and piped water was only being supplied to the Governor’s cottage in St Ann’s (Guardian, October 19, 2014).

In the National Archives there is a clipping of a newspaper piece published during the epidemic, with these instructions for treating symptoms of cholera: “For slight sickness at the stomach or rumbling of the bowels, drop upon a little lump of sugar, and dissolve in a spoonful of water–drink it, and keep quiet.”

It is easy to sit in a mansion in St Ann’s and dispense “tough love” followed by a sugary call for national unity. It is nice to get dressed up and groomed to address the nation when you have a maid, butler, chauffeur and groundsman at your disposal.

Those who have no choice but to mask up and risk infection when they travel on public transportation to get to work, those who live in cramped conditions with many others, those who work shift in a grocery or simply hustle on the street to make a living–those people would all feel disconnected and alienated from what the President had to say.

The pandemic has cut through the fabric of our society, leaving gaps between the salaried and the self-employed, the lucky ones living of the fat of the land and the others who try daily to make enough for food and shelter.

People are suffering and people are dying. It is one thing to denounce irresponsible behaviour. It is another to label those engaging in it as suffering from a serious mental health issue.

We were presented with bitter medicine followed by sugary platitudes. Are we in 2021 expected to drink it and keep quiet?

DAVID LALLA