By PAT DIAL
One of Prof. Ivelaw Griffith’s Renaissance aims for the University of Guyana is for it to make itself immediately relevant to the life of the Guyanese Community. The Turkeyen and Tain Lectures is one such example; the University is now being brought to the public. Both the younger and older generations have come to look forward to these lectures not merely as an intellectual treat but as something that is raising public awareness of important societal problems and giving pointers to their solutions.
The recent lecture on “Youth, Crime and Violence” was very topical and in the presentations of the various speakers as well as in the audience discussion, various thought-provoking reasons and solutions were proffered as to why Guyanese youth were being drawn into a whirlpool of crime and violence.
All reasons and solutions put forward by presenters as well as the audience had much validity but none was all-encompassing. The various solutions were reminiscent of the ancient story of six blind men who were brought to an elephant and were then asked what an elephant was.
The first one touched the trunk and he concluded that an elephant was a tube; the next touched the tusks and decided that the elephant was a kind of spear; the next touched the legs and believed that the elephant was a column; the fifth touched the side of the animal and said an elephant was a wall; and the last touched the ear and concluded that an elephant was a kind of large flat fan.
The first presenter was the Khemraj Ramjattan, Minister of Public Security. He avoided putting forward any specific solutions as he could have done but instead referred to the various reports on the subject which covered a great number of solutions. Among the solutions which surfaced during the evening was that youth should be kept away from drugs and alcohol; that poverty was a major cause of youth crime and this has to be addressed by creating more jobs and teaching various skills to youth so that they could become self-employed; having healthier TV, radio and press since the media have oftentimes stimulated youth crime; youth crime and violence often become ingrained in Society because of the emergence of criminal youth gangs. These gangs could be changed or even dissolved if such gangs are in contact with sincere and understanding men of God and religious bodies.
Many youth feel alienated and are drawn into criminal anti-social behaviour because they feel society is run by the old and as such they have no stake in it.
Promoting youth into more decision-making roles in society would help in ending alienation and diminish youth crime. Several participants felt that the State, through an active, imaginative and creative Ministry of Youth could do a great deal for young people and greatly diminish youth crime and violence.
Many consumer societies such as the Committee of the Guyana Consumers’ Association take a slightly different approach towards the elimination or containment of youth crime and violence:
In the first place, we feel that greater importance and stress should be given to religion in society. This implies that though we feel that the metaphysical teachings of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity should be taught and made known, by far the main focus should be on the moral and ethical teachings of Religion.
The moral and ethical teachings of all religions are much the same and such would bring about greater solidarity among people of Faith in socializing parents and their children in a moral and ethical life.
Two or three generations ago, people in the villages of Guyana and even in the city were far more God-fearing than to-day; youth crime and violence were almost unknown.
Suicide is today an important element of youth crime. If young persons have a strong religious background, they would not be suicidal since they would understand that it is a privilege to have a human body and that the body is the source of both material as well as spiritual joy.
If one becomes overwhelmed in suffering and unhappiness and one is aware of the basic religious teaching that pleasure and pain are not permanent states of being, one would never feel that one could escape from pain and suffering by destroying one’s body since suffering and unhappiness are temporary states which will pass away.
In addition to religion, the secular education system could help to socialize children and youth into law-abiding members of Society. And this should start from the primary schools. Two or three generations ago, there were textbooks like the Royal Readers which inculcated moral virtues such as obedience to parents and familial solidarity, belief in and respect for religion, serving and even sacrificing for society, empathizing with the sufferings of other human beings and love and respect for animals.
Today’s textbooks are mainly concerned with teaching the skills of reading and writing, and not with the content of the written word as was the case of the Royal Readers. Accordingly, today’s textbooks need to be supplemented with reading matter inculcating moral values and behaviour. Two or three generations ago, the textbooks helped to produce law-abiding and constructive youth and if we resuscitate the method, it would work again.
A third approach towards youth crime and violence is to strengthen the family by having parents know the value of bringing up their children as law-abiding citizens and also to give them an understanding of how much more profitable it is to be moral rather than unmoral.
Other virtues parents, and so eventually children, will have to be exposed to is to live within one’s means. Clothes, for example, should be made to go their fullest usage before discarded and food should be wholesome and not fast foods which are more expensive.
Parents should help their children and encourage them in their studies and encourage reading, using the public library facilities. Closer familial contact would lead to stronger families and such inhibits juvenile delinquency and youth crime and violence.
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