It seems a day does not go by in this country when we aren’t forced to reckon with what the country has become or is heading towards.

Lovers’ quarrels end in murder/suicides, children killed by vengeful lovers, people fighting over spouses, the glorification of gang life, and the promotion of violence as if it were something to aspire to. The list could go on ad infinitum, be it schools, churches, or the home, we have seen a near-total breakdown in how we interact with each other.

Much has been said about the state of the country, the fact that we are unruly at home and as soon as we land abroad are able to follow the rules, even ones we find useless. How did we get here, from a country which, upon receiving independence, was poor but peaceful, to one which is still poor but now heartless and willing to commit the most heinous crimes to further personal agendas?

The easy answer is that the blame lies with our political parties. Both engaged in open warfare against each other as well as those uncommitted.  Both parties employ patronage schemes, both parties have links to the criminal underworld, and both parties have turned a blind eye as their former enforcers became some of the biggest drug dealers in the Caribbean.

It is easy to say that because it is true, but also because it absolves those 70 per cent who did not vote of any blame for what has happened. It is easy and true but far from the whole truth and to tackle this, the whole truth is needed just as a doctor needs a detailed family history before doing major work with a patient.

While it is true that politicians have their share of this blame, we cannot let the private sector off scot-free, nor can we find innocent the society which has birthed this mentality.

As both parties engaged in corrupt activities, so too did the business class. Rumours of bribes, relationships which spring up following entry into the Cabinet, and contracts going to companies with little or no track record have all been the stock in trade for some local companies which see no issue with breaking the rules to further their agenda.

John Q citizen who witnesses this is no fool and as such takes the cue from those who call themselves “leaders” and engages in criminal acts to further their agenda, and when caught correctly laments that the poor who commit crime are locked away while bigwigs maintain their position.

But that again does not tell the whole story of why we in this country and across the region seem to be embracing violence and crime as areas of first resort as opposed to the last resort?

A large part of this, the primary reason in my estimation for this, change in mindset is because the culture has changed — that much is obvious. But it is not enough to simply say that and leave it there.

This cultural shift has been spoken about and its impact has been noted and linked to our issues with crime. But what did we have before, what do we have now and what can be built to challenge and replace the miserable culture we have today?

Our culture pre-independence was broadly dominated by the colonial master, Britain. Books and entertainment came from the US — our closest English-speaking major neighbour — but with the judiciary, plantocracy, industrialists, and teachers hailing from the “mother country” we imbibed the British way of thinking and attitude.

With that came the deferring to authority, good manners which, truth be told, were beaten unto us because we had to be mannersable to our masters, and an outlook on the world which saw paternalism as a good thing.

However, what was also always there was the community. This can be seen in the rise of community groups and associations that were introduced. The birth of teachers’ associations, and farmers’ associations, as well as the construction of whole communities was a result of a culture which viewed the community as the cornerstone.

Post-independence things changed, the community was still the centre of culture, but with the influence of the black power movement as well as the Cold War, deference towards supposed betters began to go out the window. With the end of colonialism, Jamaican teachers took the place of Englishmen and women and began teaching in a fashion which was more suited to local issues.

It is sadly natural that during this time violence began to rear its head. The idea of community was challenged, and if we are honest died a bloody death in 1980. The culprit was individualism, and deference to the market. This view of rugged individualism which we have bought into is because of our proximity to the US, the land of individualism.  This has brought with it the hatred of the community and a by-any-means-necessary attitude.

If it furthers self-aggrandisement, personal wealth, personal power, or one’s status, no action is too low, seedy or just plain ugly. People are pawns to be used and tossed away, rules are merely guidelines for others to follow, and the basic human principle of do unto others is strangled and replaced with looking out for oneself.

Values and attitudes, that was the buzzword when I was a child, a scheme thought up in the 90s by former Prime Minister Patterson who, like others, saw the decline taking place in society. Unfortunately, it was not taken on board as we now find ourselves in a position where something like that would simply be plaster on a gaping wound.

The children who were to be the targets in the 90s now have children, the teens who would have been the last targets at the schools are now middle-aged and find themselves scattered across the country in various positions of power and weakness. A simple values and attitudes programme would not go far enough.

We know this when we hear middle- and upper-class society lamenting the break down in values of people in their own social strata. Scamming openly and other things which would have been either abhorrent or at least done in the dark, are now the norm, and as the old leaders retire or die off, they will be replaced by this cadre with warped values.

A root and branch effort is needed to transform a mindset which is prevalent from the top to the bottom of society and it will not be an easy fix.

Civics in school is an excellent start. The introduction of Garveyism, however limited, is also a good start. We cannot change our mindsets and outlooks until we understand the duty we have towards each other and the duty the State has towards the citizens, nor will the mindset change for the better until we learn to embrace, love, and respect our black skin.

More, however, is needed especially if we are to see a change in the parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. They must be reached in areas easiest for them to access, and to that end thankfully there are ways and means to do this.

There is a plethora of community centres across the island where, if we were minded to, social intervention in the form of civics, history, social studies etc can be taught to the adults who will be influencing the children. In order to break the back of this individualist mindset the power of the community must be leveraged.

Community clinics, basic schools, churches and other places of worship, and the ball field, are places where adults can be met and engaged with as we seek to change the mindset which has become common among us. The revitalisation of the community and all that it entails is what is needed if this is to be curbed.

Do our leaders have the stomach to do this? Sure, they recognise the issue and what it can lead to, but do we really expect them to kill the golden goose that is low voter participation and an ignorance of how this imperfect system operates which allows them to remain in power?

I do not, and that leaves the community to do the heavy lifting. We will either band together, teach each other and look out for each other or we will remain with this mindset which sees the individual and their needs as superior to that of the community.

2 thoughts on “Root and Branch or Beyond Values and Attitudes

  1. Excellent summary of our problems. The question is: “Do we the People have the courage to change our mindset for the future generations”?
    If we want good people in the world we will have to start where people come from – the HOME.

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