The need for standards Editorial
Stabroek News
March 7, 2002

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Writing in his diary at the age of sixteen Kenneth Tynan, the former theatre critic, wrote that the "characterising feature of hell is not that it is immoral, but that it has no standards at all". Living in Georgetown, one knows exactly what he meant. Consider for a moment a truck filled with dirt from a construction site with no back dripping a trail of earth as it proceeds along city roads, with no policeman stopping and charging the driver. Consider the common occurrence of boxes and cups being thrown out of minibuses to litter the streets and often in the path of other vehicles. Consider persons appropriating and building on city parapets in flagrant breach of the law.

One can easily think of many other visible examples of the anarchy that increasingly seems endemic. But what about the lawyers who take their clients' money and don't prepare their cases properly and in a few cases don't turn up in court or the judges who take three years to write a decision. What about the doctors who don't take the trouble to keep up to date with their discipline, thus being unable to offer their patients the benefit of modern medicine. What about the politicians who make no effort to do research on legislation that is coming up for debate in the National Assembly thus making a useless contribution. What about the media person who does not prepare an interview thus asking trivial or irrelevant questions. What about the athlete who trains in a half hearted manner, the actor who is content to give uninspiring performances, the poet who does not seek to broaden his reading and become aware of what has been achieved.

Where there are no standards nothing is really good and nothing is really bad, everyone gets by and anything goes. Whether we know it or not this can be profoundly distressing to our psyche which craves some sense of order and discipline and achievement. The anomie, the formlessness can lead to a deep alienation, to a lack of a sense of purpose. It can, to use the words of Mr Tynan, be a kind of hell.

What can one do about it? Well, if one is brave enough or confident enough or determined to be a good citizen one can speak out against some of these abuses, perhaps even to those who commit them. One can report the truck owner with the dripping earth to the police and offer to testify in any prosecution that follows. Consumer Associations can extend their reach and take on board complaints about poor service and shoddy standards. Young lawyers can undertake public interest litigation. We can all try to raise the level of civic and environmental consciousness. A city littered with rubbish is a kind of public indication that the citizens have given up, lost hope or accepted mediocrity. Ultimately, it can open the door to an authoritarian reaction.

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Each citizen can consult him or herself as to how he or she can make a contribution, however small. With a sense of purpose little things can be done and they all add up. If even a few people try to set the highest standards the ripple effect can be enormous.