T&T must free collective imagination beyond ‘lower-level basic needs’

Originally published on wired868 Tuesday 23 February 2021.

Crime and the lack of personal security have featured in calypso through the years.  For example Caruso’s ‘Gun Slingers’ (1959) celebrates ‘beating them [criminals] with the cat’ while Sparrow’s ‘Royal Jail’ (1961) is about revenge as captured in the line ‘licks for them criminals’.

If calypso is the people’s commentator, the quality has evolved as has the nature of our problems. Unfortunately, the recurrent themes of crime and personal security are still present in today’s media headlines with the following added: water scarcity, a poor economy, rising food prices and inadequate transportation. 

Photo: Sparrow (right) looks to be in trouble in a memorable Guardian Life ad, inspired by his hit calypso ‘Ten to One is Murder’.

It’s almost as if nothing has changed in decades regarding these important facets of life. Interestingly these facets are almost exactly listed as the those described in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

His theory is that for us to thrive our basic needs must be met and having satisfied them we are able to set goals and move on to other higher level needs and ultimately to self actualisation. Our continued focus on these lower-level basic needs prevents us individually and as a collective from striving to look upwards or outwards.

The mother who is struggling to make ends meet is focused on the next dollar and unable to be her best self and sometimes not even able to think beyond the next hour. The small business person is worried about which predator is waiting as he opens his business and there are several other scenarios outlining our focus on our basic needs.

As a collective, the more we focus on safety, security, our poor economic outlook and all the negatives of our society, the less time and energy we direct towards our growth needs.  

In our separate corners, some try to look away from these deficiency needs and look towards growth but it is difficult in this chaotic and uninspiring environment; and more importantly, we feel that nobody is listening or cares.

Image: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Think of how our collective imagination would work if we did not have to worry about a possible home invasion, whether there will be water when the tap is turned on or what the traffic will be like as we traverse the streets and highways.  

Once we are able to free ourselves from focusing on these basic things, we’ll have the mind space to be more productive and imaginative. The trouble is that these small things are not simple, they are the little things which make a big difference to our quality of life. They are also the issues which require collaborative efforts to solve; and that concept of collaboration is extremely challenging for us.

The seismic event of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic should have brought home the reality that, as island people, we need to develop the systems and structures to ensure our collective survival.  

It should have brought to the forefront conversations about sustainability, climate change and our psychological health. We should be having conversations about how to collaborate to thrive; how we should share our scarce resources for our collective benefit.  

We should be having conversations which take us to another level of existence and thinking.  

Photo: A resident speaks during a town meeting in Arima.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

Maybe it is happening on small scales in individual bubbles, but if the space is to change we need big conversations about our future and how we plan to get there.  

I am reminded of the African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’  

It is now urgent that Trinidad and Tobago focuses on going far and therefore going together.

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