Tue | Dec 11, 2018

Martin Henry | Of culture and heroes

Published:Sunday | October 15, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Chinese Ambassador Niu Qingbao has praised the work ethic of Chinese companies and workers, which has endeared them to governments and private investors and earned them pride of place in winning bids for major projects.

Soon come. Just try starting a meeting on time in Jamaica. Even in Parliament.

'Jamaica Time' is one of the cute hallmarks of the culture. It is also one of the cultural handicaps holding us back. There are others.

I've long been convinced that if we could convert dead time into productive time, five-in-four growth would not just remain a dream. Anybody can quickly pencil out the costs of wasted time. A 15-minute late start to a meeting with a dozen participants is a cost of 180 minutes, three hours, multiplied by the average hourly rate. Scale that up to national size.

And we chat far too much, from those long parliamentary speeches to our global records in per-capita cell-phone minutes. And that wouldn't be too bad if we were getting to points for action rather than just jaw-boning our time away. Years ago, I sat in an education meeting with some Israeli experts. The Jamaican man beside me, a rebel against the status quo, joked me in the side, "Martin, bwoy, yuh nuh hear how them man yah talk different from wi!" They were getting to their point along the shortest possible route and they had come on time for their meeting. We kept them waiting. Starting from scratch in 1948 and surrounded by enemies, Israel is a progressive developed country.

Single mother Doreen Dyer from Bath, St Thomas, is to return to court on November 15 to stand trial for beating her daughter with a machete last year, an incident videotaped by an observer and later circulated on social media.

The way we produce and rear children is making sure that we cannot achieve developed-country status. And it's not just the 'murderation'. What the prime minister so eloquently described and condemned as being intolerable is what we Jamaicans call 'murderation', not controlled and purposeful corporal punishment used in disciplining 'haad eas pickney'.


Huge burden


Fatherlessness is imposing a huge development burden upon this country, as are the widespread crude methods of dragging up children without proper socialisation, which initially had little to do with poverty or lack of school education. Ask the thousands of now middle-class Jamaicans who were brought up in poor but stable, and, we might add, God-fearing homes, which taught and enforced 'mannas' and discipline, including applying the rod so those who 'caan hear have fi feel'. Jamaican family life is in worse shambles now than at any time past. We are busy breeding away prosperity.

We are an increasingly lawless and disorderly people. A generally law-abiding, orderly society is a necessity for development. Before we even get to outright crime, bad road behaviour obstructs everybody, including the perpetrators, and kills time. Bad school behaviour blocks learning. Jamaican teachers are spending more time in trying to maintain class discipline than most other places in the world. The return on investment in education is atrociously low and school behaviour is not sufficiently blamed as a main cause.

The Chinese ambassador here was recently praising Chinese workers for their discipline and productivity. We joke about it, rather than adopt it. Work attitude, both from the angle of effort and the angle of management-worker relationship, is in the pits, and, unchanged, will keep the whole country there.

We are a hedonistic people of instant gratification. We want it now. Be it sex or money, or whatever. Our savings rate is low, our consumer borrowing is high, and very little of the remittances pouring in get converted into investment capital. Delayed gratification, we know, is critical for accumulating the effort and resources needed for development.

We will have to unchain ourselves from these cultural burdens in order to sprint, or even walk, forward.

The Government is bent on removing the shine from the exploits of national heroes and freedom fighters with the National Heroes and Other Freedom Fighters (Absolution from Criminal Liability in Respect of Specified Events) Act, 2017, which the minister of culture tabled in Parliament last week.

I have challenges with this noble act for a number of reasons. For one thing, the sovereign, independent Jamaican State did not exist when Sam Sharpe, George William Gordon, Paul Bogle and Marcus Garvey and their followers performed their heroic deeds, and, therefore, the modern State seems to me to have no liability for what was done to them.

These rebels/freedom fighters broke the laws of the time and paid the penalties. They were 'criminals'. But those laws were unjust laws. There is a significant body of political/legal/philosophical literature, including the works of John Locke and the American Declaration of Independence, on the necessity, indeed the duty, for oppressed citizens to rebel against their oppressors and against the unjust laws that oppress them. There is the doctrine of civil disobedience that Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King practised. And having elevated these fighters and agitators for freedom to national heroes and icons of the independent sovereign Jamaican State, there remains no blot upon their dignity and integrity requiring redemption and restoration.

I am proud of our illustrious 'criminals' while recognising, as so many are not now willing to do, their very visible weaknesses and tactical misjudgements and failures, like Bogle taking on with machetes, prayers and incantations the might of the Jamaican colonial State with the whole British empire behind it.

And now I must thank God and the unsung heroes who, in the course of their daily business, assisted me after a traffic accident. My first recollection after the impact was being assisted into a police vehicle. Strong, steady hands must have lifted me out of the wreckage. The two officers sped me to the University Hospital, siren blaring in my dizzy head. They contacted my wife, and went back to the accident scene to secure my things, taking them back to the hospital and delivering them to my beloved. She had called them to look for my glasses and they brought them back with them, battered but usable.

They ensured the vehicle was picked up and directed my son how to have it delivered to my auto mechanic's place. And they were out of their station area. A thousand thanks to Det Sgt Milford of the Constant Spring Police Station and to the female officer with him whose name I did not get.

Many thanks, too, to the staff of the University Hospital, who gave polite, professional care through a verrrrrry long day of waiting for diagnostics, immobile on my back. The wait ended in the wee hours of the next morning with Dr Alexander, armed with radiology results that took three hours to become available after the late-night scans, pulling off the neck braces and telling me I could go home. Wifey, who stayed the whole time with me, drove me home along the quiet streets of before-day Kingston.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to columns