Saving our youths
May 11, 2022
‘Final Easter’
May 11, 2022

The first stone

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Directed by Robert Mulligan Shown in front, from left: Gregory Peck, Brock Peters

By Matthew Woolford

Harper Lee once wrote, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy… That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

I also think that it is a sin to ask children to apologise for who they are in circumstances which they did not create.

Making my way to the Priority Bus Route along El Dorado Road, a young man stopped me to inquire about my interest in purchasing kurma, plum and other assortment of preservatives from his selection.

I declined the invitation, but he responded in the most professional of manners, thanking me for listening to him and wishing me a great day. It was the best customer service I ever received! What made it so special was that this particular ‘angel’ was differently abled in body and noticeably strained in speech, yet his spirit was alive, and his heart full of empathy!

Empathy, I learned at the School of Business and Computer Sciences, Port of Spain Campus, is at the heart of good customer service. To use some more of Harper Lee’s words from To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Earlier that morning, I was watching ‘Life on The Rock’ on EWTN where Fr Mark and Br John were dissecting the recently released film, Father Stu, starring Hollywood actors Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson.

Fr Stuart Long was a boxer-turned-actor-turned priest whose eventually paralysed body gave way to an indomitable spirit.

People flocked from near and far to visit Fr Stu at the nursing home to have him hear their confession. He even walked on crutches into prisons to spread the Gospel of our Resurrected Lord, telling of the only Man capable of loving us more than we could ever love ourselves. And therein lies my concern with the discussion surrounding the mitigation of violence within our schools. On April 28, 2022, the Ministry of Education’s website advised that students who commit acts of violence within or outside of the school compound will be reported to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service for further investigation and action.

But is this going to solve the problem?

Pope St John Paul II, in his Letter to Families, wrote:

“The development of contemporary civilization is linked to a scientific and technological progress which is often achieved in a one-sided way, and thus appears purely positivistic. Positivism, as we know, results in agnosticism in theory and utilitarianism in practice and ethics. Utilitarianism is a civilization of production and of use, a civilization of things and not of persons, a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things are used.”

And there is one-sidedness evident in our society:

  • The murder rate in Trinidad and Tobago is such a runaway horse, that when the numbers fall below 400, as happened in 2020, many breathe a sigh of relief.
  • The Ministry of Education’s Report on Existing Systems to Reduce Indiscipline and Violence in Schools, has identified some 15 to 16 secondary schools which may be described as high risk. Is this the end or just the beginning of a downward spiral? And is this point linked to the one above?

In John 8:7–9, Jesus said: “Let anyone among you who has no sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And He bent down again, writing on the ground. As a result of these words, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before Him.

I do not know what Jesus wrote, but St John does leave some remarkable indicators:

  • They went away one by one, beginning with the elders. Management without leadership is probably a social sin. Management loves procedures but they are only useful in a utilitarian context, bringing consistency to otherwise complex issues. Leadership will always be about people and the empathy they require.
  • She was left standing alone before Him. I only have great memories of standing before the Blessed Sacrament and can empathise with the relief this woman felt in the Real Presence. She had probably only known condemnation her entire life; now she also knew forgiveness: from God and from herself!
  • Adultery. The supposed crime of the woman (Jn 8:3). The Pontifical Council for the Family advised ‘that for education to correspond to the objective needs of true love, parents should provide this education within their own autonomous responsibility.’ Yet marriage, the sacrament upon which family life is built, is still under-discussed within our society.

I personally believe that violence emerges wherever justice is expelled, and we are left literally fighting for our survival. This was graphically depicted by William Golding in his magnum opus, Lord of the Flies.

Peter Tosh chanted poetically that “Everyone was crying out for peace…none was crying out for justice”. This was a beautiful reminder that if there is to be any peace on earth, it may have to begin with me.