Thu | Jan 17, 2019

JaRistotle’s Jottings | Discipline and civility

Published:Friday | March 16, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Listening to the news and various public commentaries over the past few weeks, I lost count of the number of times the word 'discipline' was used. Sadly, in all cases, reference to the word was in the context of a lack of discipline or the need for discipline to be instilled.

The many examples cited in the various discussions spoke overwhelmingly to reckless driving, crass behaviour in public spaces, and overall disregard for other people. Some commentators alluded to low levels of education as the overarching reason for indiscipline, while others attributed blame to poor parenting and lowlife politics.

In reflecting on the subject, I looked towards the Jamaica Defence Force, perhaps our most disciplined national organisation, for their interpretation of discipline. According to its core values, discipline is "that value that provides motivation, esprit de corps and morale". That was not saying much to me, although the import of the value was not lost.

In looking further afield, I first drew upon the Oxford Dictionary, wherein discipline is inextricably linked to the imposition of rules and laws, the exercise of control over people and of punishment for disobedience. Still did not hit the mark, and then Eureka!

According to Field Marshal Earl Wavell, discipline refers to "teaching which makes a man do what he would not normally do because he had learnt that it was the right, the proper thing to do; actions inspired by pride, at worst through fear of punishment". Amen. Discipline is a philosophy centred around doing things because they are the right and proper things to do, and doing them out of pride.

In the context of modern-day Jamaica, many questions arise. With respect to pride, disciplined behaviour and doing the right thing, have we lost a segment of the citizenry? Where should we concentrate our teachings, as against achieving compliance through fear of punishment?


Laws, Control and Punishment


Although Wavell speaks to doing the right thing based on pride, he did not rule out the fear of punishment. I maintain that our laws must be so crafted and enforced that there is minimal wiggle room for offenders to escape punishment. Not only should the sanctions be severe, there must be a certainty of being punished.

However, I believe that prevention is a more powerful and sustainable approach. Instilling a philosophy of 'rightness' across the society is key to achieving discipline, more so without the friction associated with punitive approaches.

Last week, I went to the movies with my family. During the playing of the national anthem, a bunch of 'buttus' chose to remain seated. Just imagine the message that would have been sent if the theatre operators had called them outside, refunded their money, and asked them to leave. No one would have complained about delays. Doing the right thing gets support from the right-thinking among us.

Think of the inconveniences and perils associated with reckless driving and overladen trucks during rush-hour traffic. In disciplined societies, such debacles would be non-existent, given the primacy their politicians place on protecting their citizens and their proclivity in enforcing their laws. Citizens are schooled to understand the benefits of compliance and hence make it a way of life. Discipline: doing the right thing because it is the right and proper thing to do.

Sadly, here in Jamaica the thirst for the almighty vote blinds politicians to the painful realities of indiscipline, and the police take little pride in their job of serving and protecting the people.

Regardless of how much we think we have progressed as a society, if we lack discipline, we are merely a people without a purpose. As the JDF's value espouses, discipline has a direct correlation on motivation, togetherness and morale.

The oft crass behaviour of our parliamentarians makes a mockery of the highest and most important system in the country, that of governance. If they find it appropriate to conduct our affairs in such an undignified manner, what are we to expect from lesser mortals?

When we get the man out of the bush, that is repositioning. When we get the bush out of the man, that is discipline.

Discipline underscores everything. Without it, we are lost.

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