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Saturday 24 March 2018

Lean back, keep your lash

No, not boxing advice, just a description of two of the most pernicious aspects of Trini culture. Read on and see if you recognise them.

Take a look at the people in your next staff meeting, company presentation, conference etc. Notice the pre-dominance of distracted, disinterested looks, sullen or timid faces, folded arms, and of course people physically slouching and leaning back.

Interesting that these are the same bright and alive faces, that jump and wine for two full days at Carnival.

A person’s posture, how they hold themselves in any given situation is a good predictor of how well they will cope with that situation. Olympic athletes demonstrate this all of the time, whether it be in the martial arts, swimming or track and field. At the start of a race, if your posture is not in an appropriate position to respond when the gun fires you will lose.

So goes it with life. Posture determines the quality of your life. Lean forward and you are in a position to engage, and create. Leaning back may seem comfortable, but it removes your capacity to cope and adapt to change.

When you choose to lean back you are literally side-lined by life. Typically, persons who lean back don’t even recognise that they are doing it and that leaning back is their choice so they blame their circumstance on others and life itself.

The only time many (or is it most) of us lean forward is at Carnival time.

The consequence of a lean back posture is that people don’t step up to help. They don’t take responsibility because they don’t think they can make a difference or they fear being blamed. And this fear of being blamed feeds this next aspect of our culture.

Keep your lash: Kids learn that submission to any perceived attack is a sign of weakness and that the appropriate response is to retaliate immediately and in kind with “Keep yuh lash.” (For non-Trinis “keep yuh lash” is often literally what children say — or used to say when I was growing up — when an aggressor’s blow is returned. It’s our way of saying you shouldn’t have hit me in the first place, so here you get it back). Not a bad anti-bully tactic except that somehow it gets extended to criticism. We take even the mildest form of criticism as a personal attack and respond to it as such, regardless of the criticism’s merit.

Indeed, this is why the “keep your lash” culture persists: because we don’t teach our young people how to take and give constructive criticism.

Children see adults practise “keep your lash” — versus turn the other cheek — in conversation and public discourse. One minister, board member, trade union leader makes a statement about a particular issue and the most critical statement about another person is taken out of context and placed in the newspaper headlines. The next day, the “keep your lash” response of the “attacked” person is placed in the headlines. The apology DEMAND soon follows. Jeeez! We’re like children in a schoolyard.

Trinis don’t practise constructive criticism. We don’t know how. As a people we would prefer not to criticise, and when received we tend to take it personally and we react with an aggressive (or passive aggressive) “keep yuh lash” response.

We have created a nation of overly sensitive little princes and princesses who are beyond reproach, who perceive any criticism, feedback, or correction as an attack on their personal identity and respond with “keep yuh lash.” Increasingly with violence.

The consequence of a “keep your lash” culture, is that it imposes a needless, unaffordable premium on our individual and collective growth, and we spend our days navigating a multitude of unnecessary teacup tempests, instead of discussing solutions and genuinely negotiating shared costs.

We focus our efforts on trying to punish and humiliate real and imagined aggressors instead of on affecting behaviour and the outcomes we say we care about.

This robs us of human potential by making people afraid to engage fully, or even engage at all, because they would rather do nothing than risk being criticised or blamed. It reinforces a lean-back culture.

As always, education is the best place to begin injecting the antidote. It’s great that we begin to give our young people lessons in character, morality and manners, but I hope we’re not teaching kids to parrot “Good morning” and “Beg pardon” in response to sunrise and cut-eye respectively. That will only a superficial difference make.

In addition to designing and experimenting with effective ways to nurture our children’s natural sense of wonder, and to teach them to anticipate consequence and how/why to make choices that benefit not only themselves; we would be wise to solicit help to teach our children that it’s more interesting to try to change behaviour than to punish offenders; more rewarding personally, professionally and societally. We would be very wise to teach our very young people how and why to give and take criticism constructively; how not to take any of it personally, and to seek criticism as a guiding force in their growth and development. I speculate that if we were successful at educating our children in this way, that they would grow up leaning forward into their work and careers the way that we now do for carnival.

And if we are successful in teaching our kids to lean forward into their work and careers as well as to seek and appreciate feedback — instead of reacting to every challenge and criticism with “keep yuh lash” — this country would become such a productive, enjoyable paradise that first-world countries might be discussing their 2020 plans to become like Trinidad and Tobago.

PeterAnthonyGales @thePracticeOfYourLife.com



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Jugmohan, 62, has been attending her trial on a stretcher and she is now unable