Thu | Jan 17, 2019

Dr Alfred Dawes | Low EQ = intolerance - Lack of emotional intelligence fuels aggressive streak in Jamaicans

Published:Wednesday | February 28, 2018 | 12:00 AM

There is no question. Jamaica is a violent country. This is primarily seen in the spiralling murder rate, but there are multiple instances where our primal aggressive streak is borne out. Healthcare workers have for years been subjected to verbal and physical assaults from the very ones we are helping.

The recent attack on the Falmouth Hospital is an extreme but far-from-isolated incident. Relatives and friends of a patient who died while undergoing treatment at the hospital pelted the Accident and Emergency Department with bottles and stones. Staff and patients had to run for cover and sections of the hospital were destroyed.

Whereas anger is a recognised stage of the grieving process, it is puzzling why persons would think it OK to attack the very hospital workers who were just minutes before trying to save the life of their loved one. Destroying the property will only take away funds from the already strained health budget to pay for repairs. In the end, who will suffer?

But as I said, it was not on isolated incident.




A few years ago, a section of the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital and an ambulance were set on fire by a mob protesting a police shooting in front of the hospital.

In my very first week as senior medical officer, I was presented with a letter signed by frustrated emergency room doctors demanding enhanced security measures after yet another invasion of the department by an angry mob.

It is the custom to behave aggressively if you are waiting too long to see the doctor or if you are not satisfied with the services rendered.

* I myself was attacked by a man who wanted to sign out himself and his seriously injured girlfriend. He was upset that I overruled his decision on legal grounds, in the best interest of the patient, so he had to be physically restrained after lunging towards me.

ï A nurse was spat on by a mother after informing her that a hospital was out of medication for her baby.

ï A clerk had to undergo emergency surgery after shards of glass from a punched window caused serious damage to her eye.

ï A doctor had to stop treating a baby in order to prove to the threatening family members that the baby was still alive.

ï Verbal threats that if anything happens to their relative it 'nah go so'.

ï Trailing staff members to see what cars they drive or telling them they know where they live.

The list goes on and on.

During the chik-V epidemic, the hospitals and clinics were flooded with patients seeking medical attention. Sick patients waiting for long hours to see overburdened doctors began to verbally and physically attack the workers on an almost daily basis.

In fact, reports of physical assaults were so commonplace that we, the then executive of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association, decided that we would file lawsuits against anybody who attacked one of our members.

It was no wonder that the persons with the greatest fear of Zik V were healthcare workers.




Attacks on public servants are by no means confined to the health sector. Parents attack teachers, civil servants are abused by clients, JUTC buses are routinely stoned, and even the police come under attack from mobs.

But the frequency and severity of the attacks on healthcare workers is unparalleled. Some blame it on the lack of resources, long waiting times or poor customer service, but one simple truth is apparent. When Jamaicans in general are upset, they display attributes of low emotional intelligence.

This is manifested in killings over a $100 fare dispute or over the theft of crops or a piece of electric wire by a mentally challenged man. It explains why we lash out and attack each other when we are upset or frustrated. And nowhere is frustration more manifested than in the waiting rooms of hospitals while we wait to get treatment, or hear news on the conditions of our loved ones. Hence, the highest number of attacks on staff are in the Emergency Department.




Emotional Intelligence is an unfamiliar concept to many of us. We judge intelligence by IQ and performance in specialised tasks. This is governed by a part of the brain known as the neocortex that takes care of reasoning and problem-solving.

But there is another area of the brain called the limbic system that is responsible for emotions, behaviour, motivation and memory. It is this part of the brain that primarily dictates our emotional IQ. Knowing how to work with others productively, showing restraint, observing societal norms and behaving in a 'civilised manner' are some components of high emotional intelligence.

The neocortex and limbic system do work together, but higher functioning in one does not mean the other is equally developed. So persons with traditionally high IQ can still be difficult to work with and be prone to antisocial behaviour.




Persons who are highly emotional and show little restraint tend to have low emotional intelligence. It is these persons who are more likely to create a scene, be abusive or be prone to violence.

For some reason, this untamed aggression has become stereotypical of Jamaicans. Even comedy writers poke fun at our 'culture'. But this is far from a joking matter.

A country with a critical mass of emotional dunces is a harbinger of doom. Each attack on a healthcare worker is a canary in a mineshaft and one day we won't be able to escape the poison.

If we are to progress as a country, we need to find a way to address this disease in the general population.

Emotional intelligence can be cultivated. Persons can be trained to be empathic, think before giving in to raw emotions and to act restrained in their frustrated actions.

As to how we are going to achieve this, I leave it in the hands of those with the higher IQs. If we can't, God help us all.

- Dr Alfred Dawes is a general laparoscopic and weight-loss surgeon at Island Laparoscopy and Medical Care. Email:;