Editorial | Of heroes and national awards
When the Government yesterday released the names of this year's recipients of national honours and awards, not unexpectedly, the list did not include any person designated national hero. The consideration of such an award wouldn't have been done lightly and would have been the subject of public debate.
The majority of Jamaicans - 55 per cent, according to a recent poll conducted for this newspaper - agree that there is no need, at this time, to add to the seven national heroes. Even those Jamaicans willing to embrace new national heroes couldn't readily identify anyone worthy of joining the rank.
Indeed, only the long-dead reggae star, Bob Marley (17 per cent), who is among the limited membership of the Order of Merit, and track athlete Usain Bolt (16 per cent), who is a member of the Order of Jamaica, received any noticeable support for elevation. In the event, the existing heroes couldn't be blamed if they objected to new membership of their club unless there is an upgrading of National Heroes Park, the home of their shrines, and the wider National Heroes Circle.
The poll findings are an opportunity for a national dialogue about why we have heroes and how we should treat them, as well as the approach to giving other national awards.
People and countries choose as national heroes persons whose achievements they perceive to be so seminal and inspiring that they represent ideals the society can use as guiding light in perpetuity. Such decisions are not to be made lightly and those so named are expected to be held in, if not in reverence, something close thereto.
This newspaper does not believe that Jamaica sufficiently adheres to this notion of celebrating heroes - neither with regard to public education about their achievements and ideas nor in maintenance of the physical spaces that should be sacred to their memories.
UNKEMPT DUST BOWL
The specific areas of the monuments to the heroes at the park may be half-decently kept. But the adjacent lands, over whose development there is a long and ongoing debate, are an unkempt dust bowl. Failure to resolve the question of whether the area should be a recreational space or house a Parliament and a museum oughtn't to mean that its verges remain ungroomed for long periods and garbage allowed to pile up in the area.
Maintaining the park should be an inexpensive and mostly low-skilled enterprise, whose greatest demand is consistent effort. But that requires a belief in the worth of the idea of national heroes; and, if there is that belief, will.
The survey finding suggests that Jamaicans are not inclined to throwing around the designation of national hero. Its attainment should be for actions and behaviour that are extraordinarily profound in their impact on national life. We believe that it should be the same for other national honours.
We are in no position, as yet, to comment on those who were unveiled yesterday, but have, in the past, believed that the decision-making process has been insufficiently rigorous and robust, raising the danger of diminishing the value of the national honours as things to aspire to and cherish, but exceedingly difficult to attain. We might begin by reducing the numbers given each year and be willing not to make admitting new members to the orders if there are no high-value candidates.