Mirrors, Reflections and the 2010 Election

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I am 20 pounds overweight, and have been for a while. Well, that’s according to the bathroom scale at my parents’ house. The bathroom scale at my apartment, however, has been saying I am 23.3 pounds overweight. It’s digital, so I figured it probably was made somewhere in North Korea in an antiquated production facility in a backwater province, with poor supervision and no quality control. I am sure they eat steamed rice all day, and play Jenga instead of doing proper product testing. I mean it had to be the case. So, I quite logically stopped using it because of its malfunctioning circuitry, and I only weigh myself when I visit my parents; theirs isn’t digital thank God.

The reality though is that my being overweight isn’t a sudden occurrence. Certainly I’ve been gradually packing on the pounds due to my love for Haagen Dazs and my sedentary lifestyle. It took me a little while before I accepted that I had a weight problem and I realize that I had a few accomplices leading me to believe I didn’t have a problem at all. The first was my mother. You see I’ve learnt that the loyalty of a mother’s love of their child often betrays their objectivity. The mother on TV6 news saying “Meh son have he ways but he is a good chile” while he is being carted off to remand yard immediately comes to mind.

I found that each time I visited my parents’ home, despite the scale clearly suggesting something different, she would say “yuh looking thin boy!”. Only recently she gave into the truth and said, “yeah boy, dat belly givin’ some trouble and yuh need to do something about it”. I guess my pudge became too noticeable, even for her. My father on the other hand called it like was, and kept asking me where I got these trendy new t-shirts with the added padding in them because he wanted one in medium.

The other accomplices were my mind and the mirror. That damn mirror! This damn mind! I would get up in the morning, and go into the bathroom to hit the shower, being very careful of course not to touch that malfunctioning scale for fear of damaging it even more. Just before getting into the shower, I would peek at myself in the mirror, look down, take a side view and give my pudge a little rub, like we all do. Looking at the side view, I would usually pull it in for a second, the way you do to make it appear smaller, look up and often times give myself a wink, and make that clicking sound with my mouth, as if to say “yeah I’m hot!”. I would then get on with my morning routine.

This past week, though, I capitulated for I could no longer ignore the truth. I took a longer than usual look in the mirror, and I couldn’t move past the side view because despite my many attempts to pull in the pudge, it wasn’t going away. I was forced there and then to accept that I wasn’t as thin as I thought. There was no way of hiding it. And like the unfaithful boyfriend begging for forgiveness, I looked down at the scale and promised I wouldn’t doubt her again. I promised I would listen to what she was saying to me. I was finally ready to listen. And while it may take a while for me to stop sucking in my pudge, as I look in the mirror, I finally accepted the extent of the problem. I was finally ready to see and accept the truth. Of course you may be wondering what this story has to with our upcoming general elections. Perhaps everything!

 

“As a nation we find ourselves stuck in front of the mirror, looking at the side profile of our pudgy politics, this social democratic politics of near-blind loyalty, driven by race and religion, which has only given us arrogant maladjusted leaders, maladministration of resources, corruption and a general disregard for all of the institutions that are meant to maintain checks and balances.”

 

You see, as a nation we find ourselves stuck in front of the mirror, looking at the side profile of our pudgy politics, this social democratic politics of near-blind loyalty, driven by race and religion, which has only given us arrogant maladjusted leaders, maladministration of resources, corruption and a general disregard for all of the institutions that are meant to maintain checks and balances. We find ourselves staring at our society, and in so doing we are finding that we are staring at ourselves, our culture, our values, our character.

We are now confronted with an image of ourselves which, if we are honest, we have been seeing for a long time, but each time we passed in front of the mirror we simply sucked in our pudge, winked, and made the clicking noise saying “TnT sweet … this is just the way it is …. We have carnival and roti … We’re hot!” We weren’t ready to be honest about the reflection in the mirror.

Our leaders have traditionally surrounded themselves with the loyalists who see nothing wrong in the way they have done things, and have in effect kept saying to them “Yuh looking thin boy!” – just like my mother told me despite my growing bulge. The loyalist’s love has blinded their objectivity, much like it did my mother’s, and the pleas of those who could see the problems, were dismissed much like I dismissed my father’s jokes about my padded t-shirt.

In the meantime the unsightly bulge has grown. Drug fuelled crime, a burgeoning welfare-dependant class, an economy too dependent on the energy sector, corruption at seemingly every level of the society, profligate state spending on ego soothing projects and the continued emasculation of constitutionally established institutions to facilitate developmental goals have become so commonplace that we’ve been desensitized to them. And what about our bathroom scales? We discredited the scales, which said that things were getting worse. We chose to look at those that told us we were only 20 pounds overweight, and set aside those which said otherwise. This suited our ambition and comforted us to believe that we were doing well or that things weren’t “that” bad.

The metrics that painted a picture of deterioration like the Corruption Perception Index, the Global Competitiveness Index, the inflation rate, the murder rate and the like were sidelined in favour of those that told us that we didn’t have a pudge at all. We instead fixated on import cover, LNG exports to the US, and unemployment, and ignored qualitative reports like Dorn Townsend’s report on “Gangs, Guns and Governance in Trinidad and Tobago”. In fact, if we are honest, there were times we didn’t even look at the scale. We ignored all of the writings on the wall. We sidelined economists and environmentalist and labeled them as being politically motivated. We weren’t ready to listen.

 

“This is the society that we have built over four decades, and the leaders that have emerged, regardless of the party to which they belong, will remain a reflection of us as a people.”

 

It’s important that we make one thing clear. I didn’t start eating Haagen Dazs last week, and, equally, where we find ourselves as a nation today didn’t start with the current administration taking up office in 2007 or 2002 for that matter. This has been developing for some time and started as far back as Independence. This is the society that we have built over four decades, and the leaders that have emerged, regardless of the party to which they belong, will remain a reflection of us as a people. That they are arrogant, aloof, corrupt, profligate and self-serving does not serve as an indictment against them as individuals. Instead it is an indictment against us as a society for they are simply the reflection in the mirror. We have given them the authority, and have not held them accountable. Consequently, we are dealing with the pain and shame that comes with the realization that the politics we are critical of is simply an image in the mirror. This is the pain and shame I felt when I came to the realization that I was the fat guy staring back.

Coming to this realization is a good outcome for us as a nation. It is a necessary part of our development, and as we mature, this reawakening of our consciousness will surely benefit us. Already the political debates have started and you can hear the inner turmoil we are going through as a people as the discussions rage on. We are being forced to accept that if we defend the status quo, we will be hypocrites of the worst kind. Now that both major political parties have demonstrated to us that they are in fact equally fallible, we have begun to discuss the issues, as opposed to the customary old talk. We are now forced to confront our own values, and character, and find new criteria for selection other than race or the fear of political retribution.

Many of the people who can’t accept this have taken the easy route out, and are saying that they will be abstaining from elections. To them it is better not to vote than to deal with the feeling of “disloyalty” required to effect change. This puts the election in greater context for me. I am not expecting sweeping changes to the government, despite all the elements for this to happen being present. However, I do expect that our level of tolerance will change as we will demand more from those who govern us. It is my hope that now, and well into the future we will hold our leaders to a higher standard of integrity and duty. As painful as it will be, we must begin to dismantle the concept of “we is PNM/UNC till we dead”.

I wouldn’t dare say who you should or shouldn’t vote for. That is a choice for you to make, and hopefully you’ll do so after considering the issues and seeking the truth. However, in choosing, be satisfied that you have looked at the real image in the mirror before you make up your mind. Look at the scale, and not just the one that tells you what you want to hear. We need to be ready to listen, and willing to see. In the meantime, I am off to Haagen Dazs!

 

Ryan Chaitram is an oil and gas professional by day and the perpetual student and dreamer at night. He began writing and blogging as a way to gather his many thoughts while living in Scotland, and while he does not consider himself to be a journalist that doesn’t stop him from expressing his point of view. He has reconnected with his love for music and film and his audiovisual work can be found at http://vimeo.com/user3003028 and at http://www.youtube.com/user/itchywow. He recently established The Love Tree Foundation to catalogue and promote the history and heritage of Trinidad and Tobago, and is working on some video projects, which, with some luck, he believes can find their way into the T&T Film Festival. You can follow him on twitter @ryanchaitram.

4 Comments

  1. Anthony

    April 19, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    a perfect depiction of our imperfect world

  2. Gabrielle

    April 20, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    This was a very well written article. I enjoyed it very much. From my little survey it seems that many young people know they want a change but not sure change to what. It is time for both parties to lay their cards on the table and let the people know if they win what we can expect. The PNM must address the UDECOTT scandal and squash the rumors and the UNC/COP/TOP/NJAC must state definitively what is their united policy for a way forward. Let us hear something other than name calling etc. so that we can make an educated decision come election day.

  3. undecided

    April 20, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    I truly enjoyed this article. We’ve stood by so long allowing the demise of our nation. Like an accident on the highway, we slow down long enough to catch a glimpse of the corpse, but then keep on trudging along! Folks take it so personally when told to look at our own home first! We are the ones responsible for the state of “sweet sweet T&T”, we must now get off our laurels and be responsible for preserving the rights of our legacy. Again, excellent job!

  4. Robert

    April 21, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    As i said on your fb page, your sense of responsibility to yourself and your countrymen should be admired and followed.

    However I disagree with one of your points.
    You said;- “That they are arrogant, aloof, corrupt, profligate and self-serving does not serve as an indictment against them as individuals. Instead it is an indictment against us as a society for they are simply the reflection in the mirror. We have given them the authority, and have not held them accountable. Consequently, we are dealing with the pain and shame that comes with the realization that the politics we are critical of is simply an image in the mirror. This is the pain and shame I felt when I came to the realization that I was the fat guy staring back.”

    My response:- If indeed you are saying that generally our ways are like those of the politicians, I believe that this is not necessarily the case. There are many ppl in society that are not arrogant, aloof and so on. However I agree that they lack the will to try to do something about these ills. I believe our problem is one that follows the proverb, “evil men prosper when good men set back and do nothing”. Many of us are aware of these issues, albeit we are not all able to draw such relevant analogies and use literary eloquence (I’m not speaking about myself here… haha), however we lack the will to do something positive until a positive result is achieved (Unfortunately, I include myself here). This is what I believe to be one of our major issues as citizens of T&T, but this is slowly changing.

    Also, as discussed, I believe that the tone of the ending is not in line with your message, it suggests that we cannot or will not change and that we will continue repeat 4 century old mistakes. This is not what I know you wanted to achieve.

    I must end by saying thanks again for taking the time to write this and thanks for all your other efforts to tactfully raise awareness of the political issues facing the country. God bless!

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