The nation cannot forget the compelling headline of the Trinidad Guardian, July 21 – ‘The Breaking Point.’ This was followed by Archbishop Gordon’s July 28 column entitled ‘A culture of disrespect’.
Respect is the lowest common denominator of social interaction, not love. People can hate each other but still come around the mediation table, provided they follow the principle of respect for the other as laid down by the mediation process. Only by abiding in respect are people able to have, as His Grace mentioned, “the difficult conversations”.
Disrespect operates at several levels: we see it in the way parents relate to children and children to parents; how MPs regard their constituents and they their MPs; how employers treat employees and they their employers; in the road rage and bad customer service; in the airport as we wait in vain for information on a departing flight or the awful treatment people say they receive at parish offices.
We see it in the culture of government: the beehive of activity in anticipation of elections – which has already begun – and in our own disrespect of ourselves by accepting it without protestation.
Disrespect in return breeds class discrimination for which this twin island is infamous: the “validating elite” as Lloyd Best called them, are the beneficiaries of efficient crime detection and prosecution, reliable water supply, good roads and the best SEA placements. The rest are left to fend for themselves, hapless victims of a mill that grinds slowly. This inequality and injustice in turn fuel violent crime.
Our present predicament is first of all a spiritual crisis, not a moral one. A nation is on the way to losing its soul. For Christianity, and religion in general, the moral sense ultimately emerges from the religious sense.
If the religious sense is numbed, moral sensitivity is deadened. This religious sense begins within but it is not for self; it is for others. It is the stirring of love in the depths of the human spirit that seeks the best for the other and engages in concrete and sustained action to bring it about.
It results in “a new sociology” through the Spirit “which has given us our belief in the dignity of the human person, and our civil customs, and which above all leads us to resolutely rise above all divisions and conflicts between humans, and to form humanity into a single family of the children of God, free and fraternal” (Pope Paul VI, Pentecost 1970).
Jesus says in today’s gospel, “Do not take your seat in the place of honour.” There is no shortcut to “places of honour”. Political leaders must take note: you have to walk the talk; there is no “wedding banquet”, no credibility, unless we have gained the respect of the run-of-the-mill people; the poor and the peripheralised.
This demands we feel their pain, the “collateral damage” from which they have not recovered. It demands taking mental illness seriously and doing something about that embarrassing exterior that reads ‘St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital’.
It will be a small contribution to our nation’s 57th anniversary of Independence and a sign that we are committed to the birth of a new sociology in the Spirit.