A couple of weeks ago, a group of concerned citizens organized a national day of courtesy on the road. Its objectives were evident: travelling has become such a taxing experience that drivers and passengers alike are becoming increasingly irritable and abusive towards each other. This only contributes to making our roads even more stressful. So, by making it a point of being polite, we can make our journeys a little more pleasant. A laudable initiative, to be sure. Without wanting to rain on their parade though, it has as much chance of taking on as a lead balloon has of wafting to the top of Pieter Both. Perhaps it’s the wrong approach altogether, perhaps what we really need is a national day of verbal abuse. Only then will we learn how to be nice to each other.
Now, I know exactly what you’re going to say: every day is pretty much a national day of verbal abuse already. But I’m not talking about the throwaway swearword or timid tirades that peter out soon after being uttered. No, dear readers. What I have in mind is a sort of shock and awe of insults, a nationwide outpouring of bile that would allow all Mauritians to cleanse themselves of all their pent up rage and frustration. Naturally, precautions would have to be taken to ensure that the event doesn’t fall on a Tuesday our parliamentarians would be at a complete loss if asked to indulge in anything else than exalted prose, witty repartee and impeccable manners. It might even result in spontaneous combustion.
The benefits of a national day of verbal abuse would be myriad: by making anti-social behaviour banal and even something to be encouraged, Mauritians everywhere would be rid of the urge to insult each other. Employees would give their employers a piece of their mind, waiters and maids would tell tourists what they really think of them and teachers would have an opportunity of getting even with annoying students. It’d be a way of knocking the cosmos back into kilter and the next day everyone would, by default, resort to politeness, safe in the comfort that it’s only a question of time until they get to legally vent their spleen again. So, rather than ask people to be polite, perhaps we should demand that they be horrid, at least once a year.
In reality, there are as much chances of a national day of verbal use happening as there of everyone being courteous on our roads. There is however something to be learnt here: we’ve spent so long trying not to offend each other’s sensitivities that we’ve lost our ability to dispense and accept constructive criticism. Sure, we bitch and gossip like there’s no tomorrow, but we’re rarely, if ever allowed to express how we really feel about each other’s cultures, idiosyncrasies and foibles. That might explain why we’re so prone to flying off the handle at the merest hint of provocation.
We are, in other words, riddled with all sorts of complexes. For a long time, this was a side-effect of the painstaking task of nation building. In today’s world however, we might need to go beyond inane political correctness and hollow slogans of the unity-in-diversity variety, to finally accept that it’s our differences as much as our similarities that define who we are. Only then will we truly be able appreciate our common wealth and tap into our potential.