The synergy of political petulance and debasing dialogue
It is a remarkable irony that a very public undertaking with the potential to energize and empower is mired in a bog of controversy and sometimes slick, sometimes jagged representations. Where there should be openness and enlightenment, there is only unharnessed political pique saturated with debasing dialogue and cultivated arrogance. Amidst the prejudices and passions of the moment, there is place for neither measured speech nor balanced temperament; only the vicious and eviscerating.
This much is gathered from public pronouncements of political bosses in Guyana, and the fury that characterizes the tone and pitch of ventilations. First, there was refusal to answer any questions or explain anything to the Guyanese people. This was followed by the swaggering bellicosity embedded in “we don’t need anyone’s approval for this; we don’t need anyone’s approval” and “I don’t care.” In street language, this translates to a two word sentence consisting of a verb and preposition (off); and symptomatic of an unstatesmanlike inclination to brawling.
Next, there was the blast of, “…they have not decolonized their minds.” This is particularly offensive when one recalls the PPP Macaulay’s Children who elevated someone foreign-born to lead this nation. If that action speaks not of a colonial mentality, then nothing else does. Interestingly, the age of the fair at that time of convenient mental re-colonization did not matter then or now; for the records – years more numerous than the “five old men” shelled in continual political harangues.
Here is high level taunting through the rip of “five bitter, old men.” Is it really necessary to sink to this level? To excoriate men as bitter and old for speaking out; in reality damned for their sagacity in correcting prodigals. If relative youth is the barometer of political acumen, it certainly sparkles with intolerance for an old guard whose sin is revealing unwelcome truth. An old guard guided by MLK: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
If this nation’s future salvation resides in youth – and silence – then Guyanese should be frightened by some harrowing examples of the arrogance of the younger and the consequences of silence: Enron (Swilling, Fastow, and poverty for many); and Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe (too many and wrenching global pain). Most of these sweet birds of youth were not yet fifty but succumbed to hubris, a bruising unhinging, and eventual fall. They all believed that the future belonged to only them; yet look at the incalculable damage left behind.
But communication standards are not limited to the merely offensive; there is place for the clever, too. It is when there are public statements that the Synergy decision was influenced by input from the technical experts; the natural follow-up would be with the same technical evaluators to ascertain the bases of their recommendations. Now when the evaluators – public servants – are abruptly muzzled, the credibility of the highest office in the land becomes subject to powerful skepticism. Certainly, there can only be worrying questions as to whether the nation was bamboozled through orchestrated misdirection. Was a smoky red herring served up, or a dirty little white something else, given this emphasis on the coy, instead of the facts?
As all of this is considered, it is instructive as to the amount of effort and resources spent by the government – president, ministers, and ranking officials – to deny, defend, and attack in dialogue and action suffused with gamesmanship, brinksmanship, and showmanship.
How much more persuasive and constructive it would have been to table everything publicly and dare the naysayers, the critical, and the bitter, to sift through and analyze to their hearts’ content. Yes, dare them to uncover the flawed or disputatious. Challenge them all knowing that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” (Justice Brandeis). This is the high road and workings of open, honest government. It does not muzzle the supposedly involved after statements are made that they were part of the basis for decision-making. It does not result in self-imposed ministerial silence of, “I have nothing to say.” It does not lead to the spectacle of a barge scurrying to Linden, and media sleuths following the murky wake in a ducks and drakes chase.
There should not be the private secreting away of public matters, interrupted only by bombastic broadsides with a commander as the leading shock trooper. This only stimulates others in the official domain to likewise abuse trust, with truth as the inevitable casualty.
It must be said that there is place for real candour, but little for insults, none for evasion.
There is a time to be sharp and blunt, but it does not have to decapitate or disrespect; this way there is minimum acrimony and mutual courtesy. It is when captains abstain from the cacophony of – dare it be said – the rum shops. No one asks for the Ciceronian, only a modicum of self respect befitting national leaders through refraining from words that darken the panorama of discourse and sully all.
How much more civil and statesmanlike to say: “We will not be unduly influenced by external forces or pressure.” And, “There is the wisdom of age amongst us, it can be chronically unfriendly, and grows tart and fleeting with time.” Surely, this cannot be asking too much, or is beyond those at the helm.
Similarly, those who set themselves afire over national concerns should guard against imitating a peevish political directorate. Avoid the gnashing of teeth, and inflammation of gum through unstable rants; do not fear drilling down. Instead, absorb the luminous gem of this mother tongue, and appreciate the pearls shared with those wise enough to understand their intricacies, and learned enough to unravel their mysteries.
All in all, whether leaders or private citizens, there should be no expectation of the gravitas of 10 Downing Street; only refrain from sinking to the ugliness of 12 Camp Street. Let the shrill and boorish fade from national conversations, if only to arrest the descent to the antagonistic swill of the trough.