Columns

Jamaica: 55 and learning how to walk

Henley
Morgan

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

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Who as a child would not have entertained the thought of one day being the master of his/her destiny; deciding when to come and when to go, what to do and what not to do, not being pushed around or dictated to by anyone. That thought was frequently my childhood mental preoccupation, particularly when I had a run-in with the “man of the house” and suffered the consequences.

The childish idea of what it meant to be independent continued into adulthood. I have, on occasion, found it necessary to tell people, contemptuous of my manhood, that I am a man and not a boy. To be fair, I have also been on the receiving end of that acrid pronouncement.

That is the infantile and limited context within which my views about the meaning and value of Independence were shaped. And that, it seems, is what Jamaica has been attempting to do these 55 years of political independence. We have, like a rudderless ship, gone about our thing living according to our own rules, without an agreed vision of where we want to go or a strategy for getting there.

It has not been working!

Why has Jamaica, which has admittedly made strides in important aspects of national life, and enjoyed so many proud moments on the world stage, failed to fulfil its potential? The answer to that vexing question lies in part with our childish understanding of Independence. Many of us see Independence as the ultimate and final step in the maturation process; a panacea that cures all ills. We have not, as a nation, looked to the next level of development beyond Independence. We have been like the proverbial big boy of Jamaican folklore — showing all the external signs of being a man, but still wearing short pants in a class several grades below his age cohort — becoming a virtual laughing stock.

The late management guru and author Stephen Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, provides a profound insight to the human maturation process. Every child, he posits, is born into a state of dependency. As the child matures he moves from dependence to independence, and ultimately to interdependence. According to Covey, interdependence, learning to live and work harmoniously and cooperatively with other people, and not independence, is the highest form of human maturity. What is true for humans is also true for nations.

If we are to point to a single failing that has held back Jamaica's progress, it must be our failure to live our national motto: Out of many, one people. In many ways we are a divided nation. A house or a nation that is divided cannot stand.

It should not come as a surprise that in a recently commissioned and published Gleaner/Bill Johnson poll, 49 per cent of respondents expressed disappointment with Independence, saying the country would be better off today if it had remained a colony of Great Britain, with only 18 per cent disagreeing and 24 per cent saying they don't know.

In a July 26, 2017 Jamaica Observer article, 'We have not made full use of Independence — Butch Hendrickson', head of National Baking Company spoke for the majority of Jamaicans when he said the following: “Jamaica is now 55 years old. I don't think we have made the progress since Independence that we should have. I don't think we took the time to truly understand the true ramifications of what Independence entailed, and our own collective and individual responsibilities in ensuring that the Independence process worked for the entire country, and what it required for the country to develop and grow.”

We are divided along political, religious and social lines, so there is not one, but two, and maybe three Jamaicas. Whatever the pathogen that gave rise to the disease of distrust that characterises and divides the Jamaican nation, we must recommit on this the 55th anniversary of our Independence to finding a cure. National Hero Marcus Garvey left us a gem of a quotable quote and solid advice: “We are not engaged in domestic politics, in church building, or in social uplift work, but we are engaged in nation building.”

We can continue stumbling along like a child learning to walk. We must join hands and hearts together, as one for nation-building, so that Jamaica, under God, may increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race. The choice is entirely up to us.

hmorgan@cwjamaica.com

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