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OFF CENTRE: Loose tongues – with a free pass

Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: Loose tongues – with a free pass

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If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time – or at least come close. Cute. I added the last part to the Zig Ziglar quote.
An election campaign, multitudes have said, is not a Sunday School picnic.
What is the connection between these two quotations? The latter is a case of aiming at nothing. And if you go to the political meetings and read the reports in the newspaper, you know what we hitting.
Okay. We have imposed an upper boundary. So what is the lower one?
Silence. No answer.
If you aim at nothing . . .
Is it, then, a free-for-all and anything goes? How loose can you acceptably allow your tongue to be?
We apparently know that we don’t want an election campaign to be very clean. But we don’t know how dirty we want it to be.
Now I know why people in Parliament can take aim at yuh mudda or yuh fahda – after all, the road that took you there was no Sunday School picnic!
The few religious types who make this call for our election campaigns to be clean are greeted with that specially Bajan dismissive tolerance.
(A few years ago, I was flying back to Barbados and had the good pleasure to be seated next to a certain female who wasn’t born here but has lived here for many years and is in the upper echelons of her profession here. In the course of our conversation she remarked that other Caribbean people misread Barbadians as docile. And using our once pervasive “paling” as symbolic of us, she said we Barbadians are standing firm on something when we are saying nothing and appearing not to disagree. We got we paling and we mark off our territory.)
So the church people talked and Barbadians didn’t fret. But they marked off their territory: an election campaign is not a Sunday School picnic. And the thousands who lap up the nightly crassness without a stupse are your evidence.
If all we do in characterizing our expectations of the behavioural aspect of the world of political campaigning is say that it is not a Sunday School picnic (or apply some similar phrase), but do not identify a lower limit, how are we to respond when one of the candidates in this world uses some words that you wouldn’t find in the song Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam or I’ve Got The Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down In My Heart to describe someone who has an opposing view. On what grounds would we then see it as out of line, as (scurrilous? opprobrious? contumelious? vituperative? – learn some words, nuh.) When we are running so fast away from the very thought of being considered prudish for putting a cut-off lower end for rudeness, boorishness, personal abuse and the like, when we don’t want anybody to smell on us the faintest whiff of being too queasy about bad behaviour, how can we respond?
When all we did in preparation for a contest was tell the competitors that we don’t expect them to go too high, what do we do when they start to limbo? If we upbraid them, how do we get past the mirror with a straight face?
On what basis, having defined the turf as only not a Sunday School pasture, do you then cut them off when somebody hustling in the hustings or stamping on a stamping ground (that is actually the original – 1786 – and still correct expression) starts talking about somebody’s panties and their sex life and referring to people that look like men as women?
We put ourselves in a bind, giving the impression that it is all right to let people loose at campaign time, but when they do, we then want to behave like choir boys and girls.
We already live in the days of loose talk. It’s all around us. Bars and the Internet you can understand – the former because you have been loosened up; the latter gives you anonymity and the comfort of not having to look someone in the eye. Wayward talk in these places is at least understandable – if not excusable.
But, lo and behold, we seem willing to let politicians get away with low-class behaviour in full view of many thousands in person and many more online.
Hmmmnnn. It en a Sunday School picnic, right?
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.

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