Words are powerful.
That caution handed down from mothers and grandmothers that if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all, was fair warning to all.
These days it’s better to be safe than sorry when tempted to say what you like, when you like, where you like and how you like – with Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and a host of other so-called social media at our fingertips.
Anything you say, write, like, follow and re-post can be scrutinized by millions for a picture, a silly prank, or an off-colour comment.
Who among us haven’t yet a bewildering range of emotions – shock, disgust, or approval – of Donald Trump for his frequent, unpresidential ramblings by Twitter?
All over the news this week were at least two glaring examples of saying things that perhaps should best be left unsaid, in breach of our ancestor’s maternal protocol.
West Indies fast bowler Shannon Gabriel paid a high price – a four-game suspension and 75 per cent of his match fee – after he accepted the charge that he breached article 2.13 the ICC Code of Conduct which relates to “personal abuse of a player” during an international match.
Subsequent revelations today from Gabriel as to what he actually said, now raises serious questions about the severe punitive action he received, but that merits separate comment.
What demands even greater attention in our view was a blistering verbal attack by a man on two tourists that went viral on social media.
Anger, profanity and loud threats laced the irate rant.
It was not a leading Caribbean tourism destination’s finest hour, which seemed to give lie to repeat visitors’ praise for having some of the friendliest people anywhere on the globe.
We accept that here, too, there may be extenuating circumstances that could have led to the incident but no one – visitor or homegrown stranger – merits that treatment.
Even more importantly, human beings regardless of nationality, colour or creed must learn to be civil in any circumstance, win or lose.
Therefore, we support the stance of Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds who aptly addressed the matter yesterday, saying the video shows “a display of incivility that went beyond that which is reasonable”.
The deeper lesson we suspect, lies in Symmonds’ view that the incident was a reflection of declining civility.
Said Symmonds: “I believe that what we are dealing with is a situation that goes beyond just how you treat a tourist. This strikes at the heart of how we as Barbadians treat ourselves and how we interact with each other.
“If the snocone vendor puts the wrong colour syrup in a snocone he is likely to be greeted with a similar type of torrent of abuse, or if the bread vendor has a dispute with his client that that, too, will happen.
“It goes right up the scale. I have heard of these types of displays between lawyer and client and doctor and patient and the problem in Barbados is that we have to learn to disagree without being disagreeable in the process. I think that is really where the process begins.”
Too much incivility abounds. In schools, bullying thrives; in the workplace, employees are more stressed out by peers and bosses than their tasks; on the highways, road rage maims and kills and on social media trolls delight in daily character assassination.
Most of us grew up being taught that manners maketh man and woman.
Civility simply means thinking before acting, or being deliberate and logical about how to conduct oneself in the face of discomfort, adversity or challenges to one’s well-being.
When we cannot learn to disagree civilly or show respect to another, then it’s time to look at ourselves and ask if we are setting the examples of the people we want to live in this country.
For, at the heart of good manners and mindfulness is the Golden Rule, found in the beating heart of religions and cultures everywhere: to treat others as we would have them treat us.
Good manners and good conduct, then, are not chivalrous, frivolous anachronisms.
In times such as these, we need these precepts more than ever today.