Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Brian-Paul Welsh | Channeling our natural ingenuity

Published:Monday | August 29, 2016 | 8:00 AM

This little island of Jamaica, with its unique race of people, is home to what has become an iconic culture in this epoch. This as a result of the collective greatness of its inhabitants as evinced by our many amazing feats, but also due to our shared notoriety, which we delight in demonstrating with peculiar habits and frequently shocking behaviour.

Jamaican culture is simultaneously responsible for our defiance of the odds against our success, as well as our defiance for the rule of law itself. It would seem by our very nature we have an aversion to being ruled, especially in our expression, and this generation's storyteller, Popcaan, has effectively captured that unyielding nature in his 'unruly' musical movement; but truth be told, in Jamaica even the most pious among us are known to be rebels with a cause.

Our ability to elevate ourselves to dizzying heights of adulation with seemingly effortless proficiency is sharply contrasted with our propensity to routinely embarrass ourselves with stubborn irreverence for widely accepted standards of decency.

In any given week on this paradise, we can expect a paradoxical news cycle with inspiring stories of Jamaican ingenuity punctuated by terrifying tales of Jamaican indiscipline. While one set of travelling ambassadors salutes our flag with the world watching in awe and envy, we continue hearing reports that some of our endemic 'leggo beasts' have been disturbing the peace and marauding shopping malls, instead of being industrious while on sojourn in the land of the free.

This has led to a blanket reduction in the number of Jamaican candidates for some foreign work programmes, and a simultaneous shift to increasingly recruit candidates cultured in Eastern obedience. Similar national dishonour came with Romeo's not-so-loving assault on the pitch, and more recently when some chose to cloud a moment of national triumph with displays of petty prejudice.

Many have lamented that if we could harness our energies and steer them constructively, we would begin to maximise returns on our human capital. Usain Bolt and his contemporaries therefore symbolise the gold standard for the actualisation of dormant potential among Jamaican youth, but can the enthusiasm for success that we concentrate within the field of athletics be used to catapult our people to excellence in other fields?

 

NATURAL ADVANTAGE

 

We express amazement when we learn of the accomplishments of our fellow Jamaicans and their descendants in faraway lands, and often contemplate whether they would have seen such success had they been chilling in the West Indies with the rest of us. But can this current cultural environment facilitate and sustain the kind of excellence we take so much pride in claiming as our own?

This most recent staging of the Olympics revealed to the world the abundance of athletic talent domiciled on this island but also, and perhaps more interestingly, it demonstrated the natural advantage of Jamaican heritage in producing performers of exceptional quality in a variety of disciplines.

As the world watches our most prodigious sons and daughters display their extraordinary abilities, bred and nurtured in an unlikely environment such as this, we beam with pride when fellow residents of this third-tier district are lauded as examples of the best to be found among humanity. We claim that identity as our own and vociferously defend it from scrutiny because to do otherwise would mean accepting inferiority.

Given the scarcity of opportunities for ordinary Jamaicans to manifest their dreams of success, we are inspired and energised whenever someone from our tribe transcends their circumstances and elevates to the status of greatness. We feel excellence is our birthright, and nowadays have become accustomed to only accepting the highest standards in certain fields, while continuously settling for mediocrity in others.

Jamaicans have inherited a spark of genius that pushes us beyond the things we should be able to accomplish. Because of this we hold ourselves in very high esteem, seemingly having the ability to manipulate any system to our advantage. With our legendary abilities at bridging electrical circuits and our world-renowned skill for scamming the elderly by telephone, we should be leaders in technological innovation and development by now, but we are not. We have become so good at being bad, ironically even while remaining excellent in that which deserves commendation.

The retention of the spirit of clever Anansi ensured the survival of our ancestors, but that ingenuity must find purpose in order for it to be useful in this new world. As we have seen, our task is therefore to channel our natural ability towards noble pursuits so that Jamaica can increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity.

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com and on social media @islandcynic