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Raffique Shah


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Coping with the generation gap

By Raffique Shah
May 17, 2015

If you allow yourself to be consumed by politicking that more so in the run-up to elections, is a deafening cacophony that can distract you to death, you miss out on not-too-subtle changes that are altering the landscape fundamentally.

I am in my 70th year, and while some aspects of aging are catching up with me, I remain mentally alert, capable of digesting many of the exciting advances in technology that, for better or for worse, have opened up new horizons that we must learn to live with or find ourselves buried in the sands of time.

More importantly, people of my generation must accept that while some of us may still have the energy and drive to make contributions to our communities and country, those who hold the reins of power-in politics, industry, education and so on-are years, sometimes decades, younger than us.

And as we grow older, if we live on, the generational gap will grow wider.

In Trinidad, the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, commanders of the armed forces and protective services, captains of industry and commerce, unionists, educators, are much younger than us.

Across the region, except for a few hardy souls (St Vincentís Ralph Gonsalves and Cubaís Raul Castro come to mind), leaders in their 40s and 50s are in charge.

Hell, David Cameron, who was re-elected Prime Minister of Britain recently, was born in October 1966: at that time, I had just graduated from Sandhurst at age twenty, and was attending two other courses before returning home to take up duties as a platoon commander.

US President Barack Obama was born in 1961, when I was a pupil preparing to write exams at Presentation College, Chaguanas.

When people of my generation go to the bank or shop at a store, when we conduct business at Government offices, we interact with people who could be our children or grandchildren.

Last week, I visited my local EBC office to apply for a new identification card.

The old one I took with me had expired in 1981. You should see the expressions on the faces of those who tried to make sense of this relic I tendered.

Most of them had not been born then. Luckily, anticipating that I would encounter some difficulties, I had taken some other documents, and the head of the office (she must be in her 40s) agreed to issue me a new card.

Personally, I have long come to terms with this generational gap. It wasnít something that suddenly struck me at age 60. Being actively involved in athletics from my 40s until I was 65, I had the pleasure of interacting with hundreds of very young people, helping to mould many of them into decent, responsible adults, and creating opportunities for them to move up and on with their lives.

More than that, as someone who assumed leadership roles from my teens, who was trained in leadership before I was 21, and who served in many leadership positions as I matured, I can relate to and identify with young people who are seeking their place in the sun: all power to them!

I make these points at a time when many young persons in their 20s to 40s are offering themselves as candidates to contest the upcoming general election. Not that we have not had young persons in Parliament in the distant past. One name that comes to mind is Hans Hanoomansingh (DLP) who won a seat in 1966 when he would have been just over 20. I am sure there were others before him, just as I know of others afterwards (in 1976, Ian Anthony, 21, PNM, and Haffezar Khan, 24, ULF).

In the current Parliament, there are many senators and MPs who can be considered young, meaning being between 20 and 40.

And I note that many more are offering themselves as candidates for the upcoming election, which I applaud.

But being young, by itself, does not mean a thing, except, perhaps, having more energy than the older geezers around you.

Young politicians and activists should bring to the offices they hold qualities that the older goats seem to have dispensed with.

First, they must reject corruption that, over decades, has feasted on the public purse, siphoning billions of dollars that could have been used to make our country a better place. They must have the courage to speak out against banditry, especially if itís happening in their own party.

Second, they must stand up against the evils of racism and nepotism that, for far too long, have haunted this cosmopolitan country, preventing it from realising its full potential. If you sit in a government (or opposition) that reeks of these negatives and you fail to speak out against them, then you are as guilty as the perpetrators.

Most importantly, young politicians must assert themselves by refusing to be mere decorations, mannequins nodding their heads in approval of every lie that comes out of the mouths of their leaders.

Be prepared to sacrifice your seat in pursuit of keeping your integrity intact.

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but in the process lose his own soul....

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