Tue | Jan 26, 2021

Garth Rattray | Open arms prevent open palms

Published:Monday | November 30, 2020 | 12:06 AM

I often quip that the Jamaican salute is represented by an upward-facing, open palm – a supine hand with extended digits. That’s how most street people and windshield washers approach us and how a lot of constituents approach their political representatives. Their favourite phrases are, “Beg yuh supp’n”, “Let off supp’n nuh?” or “Leave supp’n wid mi nuh?”

The upward-facing, open palm is also the way that many unemployed, underemployed, idle, disenfranchised youth approach their family members, relatives and friends, and how they spend their days on the street corner, kneading the cannabis plant before rolling a spliff. Sadly, it is also the posture assumed when receiving guns (tools) from their suppliers or employers or gang leaders so that they can go out to rob, maim, murder and terrorise.

The number of upward-facing, open palms reveals a lot about individuals, families, communities and the wider society. The more that you see, the worst off the society. The more that you see, the more likely there is to be corruption, crime and murders. The more that you see, the more likely it is that that country is approaching its tipping point; the point of no moral, fiscal or sovereign return. The more people you see with upward-facing, open palms on the streets, the more the entire country has to face the international community with a metaphorical upward-facing, open palm – the unofficial international symbol for extreme need or mendicancy.

The gross domestic product and unemployment rate are used to gauge how well a country is doing. However, the real measure of a country’s success is how the least fortunate among its citizens are taken care of. Another measure is how the children, the future generation, is cared for and groomed to take over in time.

Many children growing up in unfortunate circumstances are either rarely or never exposed to open arms – to hugs, to emotional support, to warmth, to love, or to respect. Many of them are exposed to open palms – to brutal physical slapping (abuse), to the emotional slapping of crass remarks, verbal abuse and hate-filled, denigrating and cruel words.

I vividly recall my days preparing for the Common Entrance examination; at that time, the results were published in the newspaper. One of our very poor classmates sadly related how his mother told him that the only time that she expected to see his name in the newspaper is when he was dead. We were all moved by his distress. I often wonder what became of him eventually. Children like him are certain to grow up into callous adults with warped morals and blunted emotions, who perceive emotional and physical pain and suffering as a natural consequence of their existence. Unresolved pain often leads to violence.


Communities that are denied the open arms of genuine love from the people who are responsible for them, the open arms of acceptance and respect from the wider society, and the open arms of appropriate emotional and physical support, view the rest of society as alien (separate and apart from their world), as disenfranchising, as oppressive, as exploitative, and as cruel. Products of such communities feel no allegiance towards anyone but themselves; no patriotism, no obligation to obey the laws of society, and no respect for life.

When a society makes it difficult or impossible for underprovided youth to obtain the physical, emotional, educational and vocational tools to make a viable living, the tools to be able to strive for security and happiness and the tools to achieve self-actualisation, it is creating the very monsters that it fears the most. Those youth will obtain the mental and emotional tools of hopelessness and hate, and the physical tools of knives and guns with which to unleash the most heinous crimes imaginable on the society that left them up to their own devices.

We can choose to invest heavily in the proper development of our children and the less fortunate communities, or we can continue being forced to invest very heavily in the security forces, security companies, security systems, the jails, the justice system, the prisons, trauma treatment and the morgues. Our future is in our hands.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.