Civility on the campaign trail

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THE past week has been turbulent, in large part stemming from the uncivil manner in which some Opposition members have behaved on the campaign trail led by their leader, Bharrat Jagdeo. This, sadly, has become a trend.

The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) has, rightfully, condemned in the strongest of terms, the vile attacks by Jagdeo and known PPP activists on the health of President David Granger. On Friday, following the handing over of his party’s nomination papers, Jagdeo was asked by a journalist what would be his position if the party’s Presidential Candidate Irfaan Ali, who is facing 19 criminal charges, is convicted of the fraud. Jagdeo sought to brush aside the issue, but answered, “What is APNU’s plan if Granger gets a relapse and can’t continue for the elections…” Minutes after, known PPP activist Edward Layne, in a most disgusting post on Facebook, and obviously following the lead of the Opposition Leader, described the President in very disparaging terms. Jagdeo also went on to say, “What if somebody drops dead on the other side.” There continues to be similar vile attacks from other Opposition supporters on social media.

It is instructive that the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), perhaps unnerved by these remarks, issued a statement over the weekend calling on citizens, particularly politicians, to promote messages of peace and harmony, and eschew incidents of abuse and intimidation during the current elections campaign.

The ERC said it remains mindful of the various incidents of intimidation, abuse and assault on Guyanese while they were engaged in activities to sensitise on political messages reflective of the parties they represent. “Such acts, which are counterproductive to the valiant efforts being made for the fostering of unity and harmony, have no place in society, and must be condemned,” the body said, adding: “In doing so, the Commission wishes to reiterate sentiments it repeatedly expressed in the past for the periods prior and post of the March 2, 2020 General and Regional elections, be free of hate, violence and racial or any other form of incitement.”

What has been most instructive in this period is how much civility has been disregarded in our public sphere. Guyanese were known for and took great pride in being a civil people. Respect shown for others was not singularly due to familial relations, but also for the office persons held. There were ethics, nurtured and ingrained from infancy, such as “manners maketh Man.” Ethics, according to the Online dictionary, “is synonymous with moral code, morals, morality, values, rights and wrongs, principles, ideals, standards (of behaviour), value system, virtues, dictates of conscience.”

It is this universal culture that sets the tone for acceptable standards, norms and practices by which persons are judged, accepted or rejected. The blurring of lines or unconcern to retain these values did not start yesterday, but instead of making determined efforts to halt the erosion, there is a sense that such values are no longer considered important. There was a time when adults, particularly those in public and influential offices, were ever so mindful of how society sees and judges them, often feeling compelled by such observation and critique to be on their best behavior, or put their best foot forward. Equally of value was not to disgrace the family, or do anything that would cause children, including theirs, to see them in a less than positive light. When these values are no longer considered sacred, or are being discarded, condemnation of any untoward behaviour of the younger generation becomes hypocritical.

Children learn what they see and model themselves after their elders/seniors. Society bemoans the fall in the standard of education, and expresses concern about school drop-outs, functional illiteracy, rising illiteracy and juvenile delinquency, attributing these dysfunctions to the Education System. Learning is holistic, i.e. formal and environmental. Even with the best of educators/teachers, and full complement of teaching aids, best techniques and physical environment, children are not insulated from what happens outside of the classroom.

When persons holding offices of esteem behave undignified, their decisions and actions impact children, including theirs, in deciphering right and wrong behaviours. In this school or university of life, this creates confusion in the minds. Some will emulate, while others will reject, setting in train clashes of influences, re-defining new ‘norms’ and ‘ethics,’ invariably contributing to the lowering of standards in society by making unacceptable behaviour acceptable. Of concern, too, is the seeming or determined behaviour of being unable to separate ‘not liking’ the leaders to respecting their offices and right to discharge their responsibilities. Correspondingly, leaders have a responsibility to conduct themselves in a respectful manner, given that uncivil behaviour lowers ethical standards, bringing shame and disrepute to the office they hold.

Public and influential office holders play a very significant role in society, and it would help should they reflect on their importance and live up to society’s expectations of them. They are not only there to serve the public good, but also be role models for others. And where civility is losing its pre-eminence in society, our children suffer, given that they can only be what they learn, see and are exposed to.