A Plea for Humility & Equanimity
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 28, 2020
"The work of the desireless doer can rightly be expected to be better than that of one driven by desire for the fruit."
—The Gita According to Gandhi
At the beginning of last week, a disturbing video began to circulate on social media. It shows about a dozen school children dancing while music played in the background. These children seem to be "holding and drinking what appeared to be alcoholic beverages." In the video, a woman is heard to be saying to another adult, "Is that what you have the children doing?" (Guardian, September 25).
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 outbreak has had a disastrous, almost crippling, effect on all of us, regardless of our professions or previous ways of doing things. It has also placed overwhelming challenges on parents, our children, our teachers and their supervisors. Education Minister Gadsby-Dolly, the person in charge of our educational system and these students, called the behavior of the children unacceptable.
The ravages of this pandemic have placed the safety of the entire society at risk. There can be no room for stars or mavericks demanding their way or the highway. Nor can there be any baying about one's independence when that very independence depends upon collaboration and the integrity of the system in the first place. Indeed, shared responsibility, cooperation, accountability, and trusting one another are the hallmarks of good citizenry in general and the maintenance of profession in particular.
These are some of the reasons why I was so disturbed when Justice Frank Seepersad took "serious issue with the practice direction's interference with my independence, case management, decision-making as well the removal of my discretion to determine if I should conduct a safe in-person trial at this time." It was as if Seepersad existed in a bubble of his own.
It was bad enough that the letter he sent to the CJ was copied to other judges; it was even more regrettable that it "mysteriously" appeared in the newspapers. Even more disrespectful and unprofessional was having his secretary email his letter to the CJ. As a professional, I could not dream of a more contemptuous act than having the administrative assistant of my department email such an important letter to the dean, provost or president of my college. It is the deepest form of disrespect one can show for someone who has been placed in administrative authority.
The CJ told Seepersad that he did not have the authority to determine how, where, and when he met with judges, nor how he administers his office. He reminded Seepersad that he worked "in a State-funded and a regulated organization that has rules, policies, procedures and norms to which you are expected to adhere." Such a reminder seemed appropriate.
The CJ was incensed further by Seepersad's disrespect for him in his private capacity, his role as "chief" justice, and as his superior. The CJ noted, "You may choose to like me or not nor to wish me to be the Chief Justice .…However, at this time, I am Chief Justice and constitutionally charged." Such personal poison at the heart of the legal system should be upsetting to all of us.
A member of the legal profession is a part of a fraternity whose legitimacy depends upon courtesies and civility that its members extend to one another. One would have thought that Seepersad would have been more circumspect in his communication with a senior colleague. A conscientious public servant would not have wanted to bring the organization in which he serves into disrepute.
Seepersad seems to be a likeable and smart guy. With that comes the burden of being super ambitious and a feeling that your superiors are irrelevant to your professional advancement. Having planted his staff in the House of the Righteous (he is a pastor) and in the courts of Law (he is a justice of the courts) he believes he has divine permission to blaspheme whenever it seems to be to his advantage.
I fault the CJ on one thing only. No matter how righteous his cause, he should not have allowed his emotions to get the better of him. It is what Gandhi called the virtue of equanimity. Gandhi said: "A man who renounces the fruits of his actions is totally absorbed in his work and his outlook is broad, tolerant and balanced." The CJ should not be concerned unduly with what others say about him.
Both of these men should remember that they are role models to whom our youth look for direction. No matter how heated things get, they should conduct themselves in ways that bring respect to their offices. Without such circumspection, one cannot tell a twelve-year-old how he to behave in public when the behavior of justices leaves so much to be desired.
The Bible says that to whom much is given much is required in return. When the Commissioner of Police disrespects the Prime Minister and a Justice of the Court disrespects his administrative boss in public, then they hold up the system to public scorn and rebuke. Throw race and color into the mix and we are setting up ourselves for an explosive problem.
A few days ago we celebrated the 44th year of our republican form of government and many laudatory things were said. But a republic is a self-governing entity. Only we, the citizens, can destroy our country by our behavior. However, we expect those in charge to lead by example. Each of us must assume the responsibility for our actions.
Let us never ask, as the woman asked the adult viewing the children's misbehavior, "Is that what you have the children doing?"
Prof. Cudjoe's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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