Return to good manners

By Raffique Shah
December 04, 2023

Raffique ShahIf the crime situation were worse than it is today—and that is hard to imagine—one can easily see the bulk of the population reduced to spasms of laughter as we watch politicians, police and public officers offer lame excuses for us being in a virtual stage of siege, imposed by the criminals in the country who are the only people who seem to have some control over their turf.

For example, the daily dosage of murders appears to be under the total control of gangsters, with the police incapable of doing anything to decrease the numbers. The wider population, held spellbound by the ease with which crime has become almost an industry, offer a mishmash of solutions every Monday morning on media shows. Before the week is over their prognoses become irrelevant. They must once again dip into their magic boxes to churn out some new tricks for the next week.

We in the media are little different to the mainstream comedians who must at least sound as if the know what they are talking about. The police tell us exactly how many gangs there are at any point in time. Yet, in spite of this supposedly accurate information, gangs continue to operate in full flight, in a manner of speaking, and the murders, home invasions (as they are now called), robberies and violence continue unabated.

We, and here I refer to members of the public, who base our perception or evaluation of what is happening on the ground mostly on television crime shows and reports in print and electronic media that could be so misleading, we are virtually setting up ourselves to be killed.

Last week, a Barrackpore farmer and I spoke for some minutes, as has been customary, and he asked if I knew about certain homes being robbed. I confessed, I did not.

He said in the wider Barrackpore-Penal commercial centres there are violent robberies almost every day, and most days there are several. The media do not report them because they are not newsworthy. People are very scared for their lives, and it seems to them that the police will not risk their lives in defence of citizenry.

Talking with people I have known over many years, they remind me how I used to stress to them the importance of old values—good manners, honesty, productivity, and respect for elders… indeed, respect for each other. Many such people who live in districts as dispersed as Belmont, Maraval, Penal and Couva, to name just a handful, believe the old values we treasured back then are as important today as they were then.

For decades such people have lamented the erosion of simple greetings such as “Good morning/afternoon”, pleasantries such as “Have a good day” and gratitude such as “Thank you”. Their return, starting at the preschool and primary school levels, normalising them once more just might bring about the change we wish to see in our youths.

Lack of good manners back in my day would have resulted in “licks” or for the least, a stern warning/bouff. Now to have to consider their reintroduction, which necessarily must begin at home, not school, is like taking us into a near prehistoric world, climbing slowly from the faecal mess we have managed to put ourselves in and possibly never emerging from it, sanitised.

In other words, having spent billions of dollars in modernising the anti-crime machinery—forensic science, DNA testing, CCTV cameras, numerous vehicles, and armour, hell we deploy armies of soldiers and police officers using ultra-modern means only to have to return to, “Good day, Sir” and respect for people and their properties.

Do you see the stupidity that runs so deep in our society? Do you see where and how the breakdown began? And, how we now have to return with hammers and nails to pound into the youths and many adults post 1980, what we should never have forgotten to teach them in the first place?

I have noticed that what used to be “good” Indian homes because my generation and the next thought it compulsory that our offspring learn and practise straight good manners, have degenerated into ghetto-like behaviour, no manners, no courtesy, no damn respect. Even the Afro-Trinidadian population, who used to practise good manners and took their civic responsibilities seriously, have collapsed into the unholy mess we are mired in today.

Personally in my wider family circle, I am fortunate to see most among the new generation remain respectful to their elders and peers alike. However, I cannot vouch for their manners beyond the family circle.

Manners may not impact the crime tsunami with the urgency we expect from any such initiative. But it will begin to restore the civility we have lost big-time over the past three to four decades.