The case for responsible citizenshipFriday, August 27, 2021
Lloyd B Smith
It has been said that one's attitude determines one's altitude. In other words, how one behaves and interacts with his or her fellow citizens can and will determine how far on the ladder of success one can reach. The same can be said of a country; however, Jamaica, land we love, has been beset by high levels of indiscipline, crassness, intolerance, and dangerously high levels of selfishness.
Amidst all the excitement with respect to our athletes' successes at the Tokyo Olympics and the “feel good” that has ensued in the wake of the Festival/Independence celebrations, one would have thought that this sudden surge in patriotism ought to have been translated into a greater level of respect for each other and country. But, alas, this has not been the case.
Whatever happened to that potent line in our national anthem, “Teach us true respect for all”?
During the recent inclement weather I saw one of those 'bleached-out' scammers, with about four Jamaican flags attached to his 'crissas', swish through a section of road covered with dirty water, dousing a number of pedestrians frantically trying to escape an unwelcome bath. This kind of unconscionable and crass behaviour has become typical on our roadways, which are becoming increasingly overcrowded, as there is now greater access to motor vehicles — whether by legitimate or 'bandooloo' means.
Incidentally, according to the dictionary definition, to be crass means “showing a grossly insensitive lack of intelligence”. And this type of behaviour has become the norm in Jamaica today — from Gordon House to the ghetto.
Note also that flag-waving does not necessarily spell patriotism. Indeed, in our case, it can be indicative of 'bhutooism' and crude behaviour. Take, for example, when the national anthem is played or sung at the National Stadium during a major sporting or cultural event. There is the resounding “boom” interspersed in the chorus, even while many “don't-care” individuals continue to sit listlessly or pay scant regard.
Over these weeks that we have seen Jamaica celebrate the successes of our athletes, I have also witnessed a great deal of crass behaviour associated with the merrymaking. Among them are disobeying of traffic signals, overtaking at the most inopportune moment, bodies hanging out of vehicles, despicable behaviour associated with smoking ganja or excessive consumption of alcohol, abusing people with a plethora of expletives, and I could go on. What is alarming is that when our fellow Jamaicans behave in this fashion they feel it is justified because, “A celebrate we a celebrate!”
Then again, why should we be surprised when it is this same type of behaviour that we witness when our two major political parties have their annual conferences? Some of it has even crept into Gordon House, as well as Jamaica House. In this context, let's face it, there is no leadership by example in this country. It is more a case of “Do as I say, but not as I do.”
It is no secret that we are a nation of 'wagonists', so the moment there is some great achievement we all jump on the bandwagon for yet another nine-day wonder. So much for Brand Jamaica. No wonder others, elsewhere, have been capitalising on what is good about Jamaica, while we at home revel in the bad.
In the meantime, many of our leaders continue to appeal to the lowest common multiple, all in the name of gaining cheap popularity. “A no nutten, a di vibes.” Yes, we find so many excuses and make compromises to cover up indecency, indiscipline, insolence, and the insidious behavioural pattern that has overtaken this beloved country.
Our current prime minister, Andrew Holness, when he took over the reins of office, promised to tackle this particular problem, but, to date, it would appear that even he is succumbing to the 'kulcha' of mediocrity and crassness. So much for the “Brogad” mystique.
When are we going to insist that there must be room for civility in our everyday lives? Nowadays, many of us go out of our way to be nice to the tourist, so much so that the number one reason so many visitors keep coming back to Jamaica is the warmth and hospitality that the natives exude. “Jamaica, no problem, Mon.” Well, outside of the Resilient Corridor it remains a case of “Jamaica, nuff problem.”
The problem is we do not show that same level of warmth, common courtesy, and hospitality to our fellow Jamaicans. I once witnessed an incident in which this dreadlocked man commandeered all vehicular traffic to stop on St James Street in Montego Bay to allow a group of white tourists to cross the busy thoroughfare. A few minutes later, an old, black Jamaican woman was attempting to cross that same road and I turned to him and asked, “So you not going to help her to?” His crass response was to hiss his teeth and walk away, saying, “A me you a talk to, Boss?” Needless to say, I risked being hit down by impatient motorists to take the old lady across the road, whose “God bless you, my son,” made my day and still rings in my ears. Yes, it made me feel good.
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett has helped to initiate a number of programmes, such as the Tourism Service Excellence Programme designed to develop a vehicle to monitor excellence in service standards and ensure such standards are being entrenched in the tourism product. One can only hope that it will be embedded in these tourism workers' minds that they should not only be nice to the tourists, but also their co-workers and the wider society. In this vein I would like to see a national programme designed and implemented along the same guidelines through which we are able to reward Jamaicans who excel in just being civil. The bottom line is that we cannot truly have a civilised society in which civility is lacking.
How many Jamaicans, now waving flags, have bothered to stand with respect when the national anthem is being sung or played? Do they fully understand what it means to be truly patriotic? To what extent is this being taught in our schools?
Many years ago, banker Don Crawford of Century Bank fame, sponsored a programme through his company which saw flag-raising ceremonies taking place on a daily basis in our schools. How many of our public buildings have the Jamaican flag unfurling proudly in the wind? Yet we all jump and carry on when the Reggae Boyz or our athletes excel. Patriotism cannot, and must not, exist in a vacuum.
Prime Minister Holness continues to appeal to the gunmen and their compadres that plague the society to cease and desist. Ironically, the murder rate continues to climb dramatically alongside repeated claims of excessive use of force by the police. It is as if the black in our national flag is turning red — blood red.
In the meantime, the unacceptable attitudes of many Jamaicans who persist in not observing the COVID-19 protocols and/or refuse to be vaccinated also brings into sharp focus the need for responsible citizenship.
Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 45 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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