By Peter Espeut
"Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay" (Daniel 2:31-33).
None of us is perfect, and the best of us - though with heads of gold and arms of silver - have feet, wholly or partially, of clay. Our flaws, our weaknesses, can make an otherwise brilliant career crash to the ground.
This is why before we give national honours, we have to weigh carefully the plusses and minuses of those we consider, for minuses there will always be. The life stories of national heroes are taught to the impressionable young in schools across the nation, and inevitably these 'heroes' become role models. They, and what they stand for, are held up for public emulation.
Those awarded the Jamaican honour of the Order of Merit are entitled to be called 'Honourable', and in the nation honouring them so publicly, they, too, become lesser role models. How much clay and of what type - yes, mixed in with much gold and silver - is sufficient to disqualify someone from being dubbed 'Right Excellent' and 'Honourable'? And to be lionised by an admiring nation?
Quite a lot, it would seem.
GOVERNMENT'S CHOICE GUEST
To share the joy of our 50th anniversary of Independence, who did the Jamaican Government invite to be with us? Which exemplary world leader was held up for Jamaicans to applaud? None other than the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, a controversial figure, to say the least; not just because he is a polygamist (he married his fourth wife three months or so before coming to Jamaica); not just because he was accused of raping a woman he knew to be HIV-positive (for he was acquitted of that charge after the court found that the sex was consensual); not just because he fought a long legal battle over allegations of racketeering and corruption (the National Prosecuting Authority dropped the charges, citing political interference).
But maybe, because of how he came to be president of South Africa: His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, announced his resignation after the South African High Court ruled that Mbeki had improperly interfered with the operations of the National Prosecuting Authority, including the prosecution of Jacob Zuma for corruption. And then Zuma becomes president of South Africa.
And of all the leaders in the world, we choose him to celebrate with us our 50th anniversary? Now we know the sort of politician our Government admires.
The only thing that could match that would be if both sides of Jamaica's Parliament would spend hours lionising the conceptualiser and founder and builder of Jamaica's 'mother of all garrisons'. Do you think that could ever happen in Jamaica?
DON OF DONS
With the whole society up in arms against Jamaica's political garrisons and the unholy link between politics and gunmen, where ballot boxes have been overstuffed by thugs who can't even count, so that the victor wins by 102 per cent, 104 per cent, 106 per cent of the popular vote, do you think Jamaica's present crop of politicians would ever invite the Supreme Don to receive profuse congratulations in the Honourable House for a job well done?
I wonder whether I will ever live to see that.
You would have to carefully weigh up the plusses and minuses before you do something like that, for you might send the signal that you approve of garrisons and all they stand for.
How about awarding an OM to a notorious ganja-smoking man who could sing and write songs, and had nine children with seven different women, several of them at the same time? You would have to weigh such a decision carefully, considering the signals that would send the youth.
With our negative contemporary gun and drug culture, would you mark the 50th anniversary of our political Independence by giving a bad word-cursing drug abuser who could sing and write songs, who sported a guitar shaped like an M-16 assault rifle, would you give such a man an OM, so that he would be entitled to be called 'Honourable'?
You would have to weigh carefully the plusses and minuses, because of the signals you might be sending to the youth, and the role models you might be creating.
And maybe you would even have to redefine what is now a plus and what constitutes a minus.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.