Turning crises into opportunities


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

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Depending with whom you talk Jamaica is a country in which nothing seems to work. Preachers and prophets of doom will always see the half-empty glass, the dark cloud instead of the silver lining, the oncoming train in the tunnel instead of the flicker of sunlight which indicates the exit is near. You will tell them “good morning” and they will ask what is so good about the morning. They are the legendary Sad Sacks who believe that the world has been unfair to them or that it owes them something. They nurse personal grudges and resentments harboured over a lifetime and are wont to blame everyone, except themselves, for their misfortunes in life.

You do not have to go far to find people like these — and they come in every stripe. But we live in a world of opposites and it is heartening to know that there are those who will still see and applaud what the doomsayers cannot or will not acknowledge. They will not only highlight the good they see around them, but will not easily take no for an answer. They do not see dreams as nightmares, but have a vision of the future which far transcends their present predicaments. They believe strongly in a vibrant work ethic and will work hard for what they want or need instead of depending upon others or blaming them and the larger society for their own failures.

It is gratifying to know that every morning hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans head out to work in all facets of life in the country. This is something to celebrate, though it is often taken for granted, especially when we characterise and blanket Jamaicans as lazy and good-for-nothings.

The story is told of an old donkey which its master threw in a pit as he believed its utility value had expired. Out of some pity the master would each morning throw some grass to it. It ate some and trampled on the rest. This continued for some time until eventually the pile that he had trampled on grew high enough for it to walk out of the pit.

This is the classic story of turning a crisis or near extinction into a promise of life. There are people who turn every problem they face into a crisis. When caught in a quicksand — whether of their own making or not — they do not grumble or complain while they sink, but resolve instead to turn quicksand into sand bars which they will use as springboards or platforms out of their difficulties.

But problems are all part of our engagement in life and every problem, however great, need not become a crisis. But we have a penchant in Jamaica to do just this. Everywhere you turn there is a crisis. Corruption at Petrojam is a crisis. Problems in the sugar and coffee industries have reached crisis proportions. A real indication of crisis is what we face with the marauding gunmen who are determined to subjugate the State and bend it to their own nefarious wills.

We face an existential crisis here and have to attend to it as we should. But we have to make a distinction between a problem or problems and a crisis. Life is never without problems, but crises arise is when we fail to deal resolutely with the problems that confront us personally or collectively. A crisis then becomes an existential threat to life and property to our well-being, if not survival.

Crime today has become such a threat because we have dithered with it for too long and have failed to resolutely fight it with the resources at our command. An earthquake and tsunami can represent such a threat as happened not long ago in Japan, and more recently in Indonesia.

On a personal level, divorce is a crisis in a marriage as it signals a disruptive end to a relationship which was once characterised as loving. Many times problematic fault lines develop in relationships which, if ignored, build into a volcanic force which will explode and rip the relationship apart. Divorces tend to be very common these days, but what they signify, to me, is the disfigurement of emotions and one's psyche which can have a damning effect on one's personal well-being. They are to be prevented at all costs and that is why couples ought to work out their problems even “with fear and trembling”.

In my years as a marriage therapist I have seen the deleterious effects of divorce on families. We often speak of amicable divorces, but there is hardly a divorce that ends well, even if one comes to a comfortable arrangement regarding disposition of property or the custody of children. And it is not only the children that are seriously impacted, but the spouses, including men, who may want to exude a more macho image. What is often clear to me is that a wrenching moment is reached when “hot love” becomes “cold love”, which in turn leads to irrevocable separation which may haunt a person for life.

As a people we need to resist the temptation of turning every problem into a crisis. There are good things happening in the Jamaican economy. Thanks to the work of both the People's National Party and Jamaica Labour Party governments the macroeconomic indicators are pointing in the right direction. International capital markets are beginning to look favourably on the country; giving it good ratings that it has not enjoyed for a good while. The stock market is roaring and Bloomberg News, the premium business news reporting outfit, has just placed the Jamaica stock market in the top bracket of markets worldwide.

Despite what the naysayers say, there is a resurgence of business confidence in the country. For the first time in a long time there are great opportunities for investment in the country that can bring profitable returns to those who are not too timid to wade in. Here I would say, especially to the young people, that they do not join the naysayers and grumblers — some of whom themselves have been failures or who expect to get something without having to work hard for it. There are opportunities for the person who is willing to work hard to achieve his or her goals.

Do not sit in the seat of the scornful, and those who have nothing good to say about anything or anyone, especially those who are driven by ulterior or political motives. Celebrate a sense of independence, develop a sense of personal resilience and assertiveness, and grasp what the future beckons that can take you to the top.

I have lived long enough to know that truly all that glitters is not gold, and that anything worthwhile in life is not achieved by short cuts which circumvent hard work. Cultivate a vibrant work ethic to achieve what you want. Short cuts circumvent important lessons that you ought to learn on your way to success. And real success is not about a big bank account, driving a flashy motor car, but believing in yourself, being grateful to others who have helped you along the way, and helping others as you pass by.

Do not fear problems or crises, but see them as opportunities for achieving the greatness that lies within you.


Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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