Achieving national aspirations
Topic of speech delivered at Life of Jamaica Long Service Awards: December 1988
I was speaking to a roomful of people with long careers. How could I now challenge them individually to be catalysts for productive behaviour in our society? Hopefully, I could inspire them by pointing to the fact that change is always possible.
I want to explore, if only in a very limited way, what we as individuals can do to help to achieve our national aspirations. There is no doubt that Jamaicans aspire to live like members of industrial societies, with all the trappings of the good life that this connotes. Many people who have spoken about this have also spoken of the impossibility of getting there without the economic underpinnings that permit this kind of society, that is, the production and productivity that are necessary. This is one side of the equation. The other side is our attitudes as a people because without certain positive attitudes, there is no hope of attaining our economic goals.The kinds of attitudes that will continue to frustrate our efforts are, among others, our tendency to go after short-term benefits rather than long-term gains, resulting in conspicuous consumption rather than savings and investments; our tendency to remain silent or, worse, to accept as the norm, immoral and corrupt practices, with an easy shrug as ‘the way things are’; and our tendency to be undisciplined, both at the workplace and in our public behaviour. These are not inherited traits of the Jamaican character. In fact, older Jamaicans will tell you that the opposite is true.It is also true that Jamaicans who go to live in industrialised societies quickly adapt to the norms of those places – saving and investing where they can, becoming among the most industrious and hard- working minorities in that environment; displaying a high level of disciplined public behaviour in the courtesy with which they deal with others, in their respect for the laws of the land, and even in the way they use public facilities and thoroughfares.
“When I reread this excerpt, I reflected: “I could have made this speech yesterday, and it would be just as relevant as it was 27 years ago!”
Why is this? Obviously, my exhortation for people to step out and demonstrate individual leadership hasn’t caused that to happen enough, and for those who did take action, it hasn’t resulted in the desired effect.
The fact is that there are, nevertheless, local clusters of excellence in our midst, and our diaspora, in general, acts differently and more productively than we do at home with respect to behavioural norms. Therefore, our behaviours are, indeed, potentially capable of rapid and widespread change. How can we catalyse this shift?
First, we now each need the courage to stand up for our beliefs and define a new set of norms for what we consider acceptable behaviour.
Second, we need to support those leaders who demonstrate the qualities of integrity and humility that engender mutual trust, and, consequently, lead to a more productive way of life for us all.
Third, for those of us who recognise that none of these counter-productive attitudes so prevalent in our society are unchangeable, let’s develop networks of excellence to support each other in making positive changes. New productive patterns and norms can emerge faster than we think through our concerted action.”
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