Columns

Manners and civility

Barbara
Gloudon

Friday, November 29, 2019

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When did we lose our civility? Once upon a time, the greatest compliment that could be paid was to be thought of as “mannersable”. Now it seems that, in the hustle and bustle of the new and modern world, manners has been left behind.

The other evening traffic on Tom Redcam Drive came to an absolute standstill. The lines stretched down past “Duppy Gate” in the south to Emancipation Park in the west. This time, the cause wasn't the roadworks. (National Works Agency, you can take a breath, this wasn't your doing.) One so-so car had broken down, and that made life a complete misery for hundreds of other motorists. I remember when learning to drive I was taught if your car broke down you find a way to move it out of the flow of traffic. Now you see it all the time. A car comes to a stop in the middle of an intersection or on a blind corner, the driver flips on their hazard lights and walks away, and the other motorists suck salt through wooden spoon. No care for those who are left dealing with the inconvenience.

Another instance of 'lost civility' was seen in the video which has been circulating of a teacher who threatened a student in her class. The teacher goes on a tirade, ranting and raging and issuing the threat and promises of harm to the student. In discussion with a friend who is in the school system, we spoke about the matter. My friend said, “While I would try not to get so angry and stressed and end up in a state of mind where I am threatening a student, there is another factor to think about.” It was revealed in a voicenote from the teacher in question that the class was an all-boys class. He went on to tell me that if some students see you as “soft, you better believe they will see how far they can push you. You will have to hold your ground or they will run right over you”.

The explanation is not to be used as an excuse for what was clearly abhorrent behaviour on the teacher's part. We will have to face the larger societal problem that a hoggish approach is all some of our children know. Some of our children have only been exposed to shouting and threats to get them to comply. In the homes, parents will be heard threatening at the top of their voice: “If you nuh go do what I say I going do you something!”

In this callous world, our children and adults have had to toughen up like old leather. It will take a lot of effort to bring back the shine and softness.

Where has the civility gone? Will it ever return? We embrace harsh treatment as the answer to our problems. “Who don't hear going feel.” And we want them to feel it from the top of their head to the tip of their toe. The average Jamaican rolls their eye when they're told about the “naughty corner” or “time out” as tools of disciplining children. Big kiss teet. “Di bwoy ears hard; if you nuh bawl after him or gi him two lick him won't hear.”

We carry that attitude into all other areas of our interpersonal actions. If the police stops you for a traffic stop, there is hardly a “Good afternoon, Officer.” We go on the defensive. We screw up our faces and snarl, “Wha mi do? Why yuh nuh go ketch tief?” But we still expect those in the service areas to respond with civility. Teachers, nurses, and police are overworked and underpaid and suffering from stress and burnout. They are not the only ones, but we must find that little kernel of compassion. We must water it and make it grow if we are to have a better society, a gentler society, a more civil Jamaica.

Where is the compassion? I read with interest a story in Wednesday's edition of the Jamaica Observer under the headline 'Reporting HIV discrimination and seeking redress'. As part of a series on HIV/AIDS in the lead up to World AIDS Day, which will be recognised on December 1, the article highlighted the difficulties that people living with HIV/AIDS face and how some organisations are trying to give them support and help. The news story included an anecdote about a couple who wanted to have children. The woman was living with HIV. Health professionals called her “wicked” and discouraged the couple from starting their family.

As a lay person looking on from the outside, I am aware of treatments that can be given to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS. Where was the compassion for this couple? No doubt you would have to discuss the risks and challenges that the pregnancy would have, and let them decide if they were willing to take on the journey. Surely such a callous response will do nothing more than drive other cases underground.

If being open about your status results in stigma and discrimination, how will the numbers of affected change? I think we all want to reduce the rates of infection to ensure we have a healthy population. Stigma and discrimination doesn't help. The same thing goes for other areas where illness or misfortune is held against the individual who is already going through more than we will ever know. Let's do better. Put yourself in their shoes.

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or gloudonb@gmail.com


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