We are a nation of whiners

Cassandra's Candid Corner
Stabroek News
February 6, 2000

At every public and private meeting, large audience or small-scale, we hear our politicians and our business leaders, and all those who feel the urge to speak, telling us how human resources are our country's most important assets.

Well, I am beginning to disagree with that thesis. Our nation is made up of disenchanted people who whine all the time. Imagine a country whose every citizen is a nattering nabob of nihilism, as Spiro Agnew once dubbed the American version of constant complainers. This fixation with grumbling speeds our descent into the maelstrom of apathy. We individually and collectively are engulfed in a torpor of our own making. We blame others for our lethargy; our malcontentment results in more self-belittling and more physical and mental indolence.

I suppose that bright ones among you will educate me that this is nothing new. Well this recognition is new to me and was precipitated only quite recently. Three incidents occurred one after the other which led me to create a larger thought as to the reasons behind our national inertia. Let me share with you these three episodes.

The first blow came from a colleague whom I asked for some data which his department compiles. I had asked him some time ago to provide the information, so my request was really just a reminder. My good colleague, then spent the next ten minutes explaining why it was not his job to share with me the collected material. Had he gone to the file and extracted the data (or, God forbid, had he given me the file), the entire exertion would have lasted 30 seconds. Now, this comrade is a senior civil servant and a leader of a team. Of course, I can't fire the bastard on the spot. The game rules (a good talking to, three letters and a suspension prior to a firing) don't allow me to remove this obstacle with one decisive swoop. But you know, it is exactly this worker who walks around with a constant sourness on his face, who always can tell you how and why he is passed over and his contribution not recognised. He, like so many other of our human resources, weighs himself down with self-pity and has become a permanent complainer. Yet I knew him once as an energetic workaholic.

The second incident had to do with the callousness of a medico. I use the word callous to mean unwillingness to make an extra step to ensure some degree of painless comfort to a sick, helpless geriatric. Now, I know that we have established that a medical degree does not necessarily a caring individual make. Alter all, we have been beleaguered by the odious posturings of one of our (self-promoted) leading physicians in his distasteful (by any standards) letters to the press. But this instance had to do with a young doctor, really just commencing his healing art. I am equating his uncaringness with the same national apathy which I was describing earlier on.

And then came the icing on the cake a few days later. We were invited to a workshop at which there was a demonstration. At the end, the chronic complainer next to me posited, "wha is dee use we lernin all a dat. We ent gat dee meens to reproduce dat." It never once occurred to this comrade that it was he and members of his profession who were to produce the "meens" to make something happen. He just felt that the "Government" should provide the wherewithal.

That, dear readers, is what confronted me in the space of a single week. Exemplars of the Civil Service, the professionals and the business community were proving Mr. Euclid right. (Euclid was a Greek geometer who expounded that that which is characteristic of the part is characteristic of the whole). Every one of us can replicate these or similar experiences, day in, day out. Practically every member of this nation feels that manna will somehow fall from heaven and he/she doesn't need to get up and get and make something happen. The languor, the passivity, to which I referred, is all-pervasive. It robs us of the human desire to be vibrant and innovative, it stultifies our imagination and our creativity. Our human resources, by and large, have enveloped themselves in a cocoon of inexcitability, irresolution, slothfulness and non-vitality. How can such human resources be assets to Guyana?

Have I proven my point? Now, don't go listing names of people who don't fall into this groove. I will not accept individual names of prominent (or even invisible) persons who are productive and truly valuable elements. These are singular individuals, the exceptions. And be careful which names you use as examples of assets and great human resources. Under intense scrutiny, they might be found wanting (or worse, they might prove to be parasitic liabilities). No, let us address the masses of Guyanese. In fact, I even will allow any counter argument to my thesis to dwell on specific classes and social strata, like professionals, craftsmen, businessmen, politicians, religious and civic leaders, etc. Prove to me that they don't constantly "bitch" about why things can't be done, using the most superficial irritants as overwhelming and insurmountable impediments.

I suppose the real question is whether this condition has become irreversible. At least two generations have succumbed, and it seems that even the present crop of children are infected. The other day I admonished a group of youths who were skating dangerously on Duncan Street. One brainiac promptly retorted why dee Government don't provide more playing facilities. It did not even occur to him that their parents could have co-operatively developed the five playing areas in Lamaha Gardens and Bel Air Park, just off Duncan Street.

For us to be really useful, we have to experience a radical make-over. This entails a conscious effort to re-invent ourselves. First and foremost we will have to agree that the three-headed monster of apathy/excuses/finding fault exists. An alcoholic cannot go for a cure, if he does not first accept the fact of his deficiency. Then let us examine why we became like this. Recognition of the obstacle is a major step in removing it. If we find that the decades of state control, which has regimented our lives and bludgeoned us into stupefaction, is the genesis of our malaise, then we must "free-up, free-up", while ensuring that the regulatory functions are there to protect the environment and defend the weak and vulnerable.