Rekin­dling na­tional fer­vour

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Ron­ald Th­waites Ron­ald Th­waites is MP for Cen­tral Kingston and op­po­si­tion spokesman on ed­u­ca­tion. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­

JA­MAICANS NEED a com­pelling idea, a no­ble cause, to rekin­dle the na­tional move­ment.

In their times, causes like Eman­ci­pa­tion, self-gov­ern­ment, and In­de­pen­dence each ex­cited enough of our an­ces­tors to raise com­mu­nal ex­pec­ta­tions and in­duce of­ten heroic in­di­vid­ual ef­fort. Dif­fer­ent classes, races, and in­ter­est groups came to­gether and saw their selfin­ter­est achiev­able by joint ac­tion rather than sel­f­ref­er­en­tial be­hav­iour.

But these goals have been achieved and have given way to vague ideals like ‘free­dom’, of­ten dis­con­nected from re­spon­si­bil­ity; ‘power’, with­out so­cial obli­ga­tion; and, lat­terly, ‘pros­per­ity’, di­vorced from spe­cific ef­fort.

Let’s ad­mit it: Our po­lit­i­cal cul­ture is good at mar­ket­ing the slo­gans but less than bril­liant in chart­ing the spe­cific at and in­clu­sive pro­grammes that can trans­form the so­cial, eco­nomic, and po­lit­i­cal cul­ture. Nei­ther party has a cur­rent ide­o­log­i­cal stance out of which pol­icy can be crafted.

What does free­dom re­ally mean in Ja­maica? Is it more than the eman­ci­pa­tion of per­sonal choice – to do what I feel like, what I think is in my self-in­ter­est, with the least in­ter­fer­ence pos­si­ble? Many peo­ple be­lieve and act as if this is the high­est good.

So we have vast dif­fer­en­tials of wealth, poverty and so­cial well-be­ing with­out de­mur­rer. We tol­er­ate a huge in­for­mal econ­omy with lit­tle in­tent to cor­rect it; not to men­tion the re­cent and con­tin­u­ing car­i­ca­ture of pros­per­ity by of­fer­ing free­ness to some at the crush­ing ex­pense of the weak­est.

I don’t doubt that the na­tion could well achieve five per cent growth of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct in four years, but I am not at all san­guine that this will make much dif­fer­ence to the peo­ple of Cen­tral Kingston and sim­i­lar ar­eas. There is the real like­li­hood that the ben­e­fits of growth will leave out the many once again or be ex­ported to en­rich other so­ci­eties as has been the pat­tern of our his­tory.


You can’t de­fine the goals of a na­tion only in economistic terms. Hav­ing plenty things won’t, by them­selves, make us happy. Don­ald Trump has had every ma­te­rial ad­van­tage imag­in­able since birth and look what a warped per­son he has be­come.

Re­cently, I at­tended a con­fer­ence of Ja­maican Di­as­pora Churches in Montego Bay. It was a good ef­fort to bring to­gether the con­cerns of re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions to ad­vance Ja­maican de­vel­op­ment goals. The dis­course seemed to cen­tre on char­ity and phi­lan­thropy rather than the stir­ring of an ex­plicit ethic of be­ing our brother’s keeper.

But the germ of a re­newed or­der of car­ing and shar­ing is deep in the Chris­tian psy­che of our peo­ple. Right now, all peo­ple of good­will need to put aside the frac­tures of de­nom­i­na­tion­al­ism and es­capism in re­li­gious and sec­u­lar cir­cles and de­velop the strong stom­ach for so­cial reengi­neer­ing that alone can re­vive the na­tional move­ment for in­clu­sive trans­for­ma­tion.

Cul­ti­vate these sen­ti­ments then de­mand and watch public pol­icy be­gin to re­flect them in the Bud­get and in new laws. This is the only an­ti­dote to the ‘free­ness’, vic­tim sta­tus, and false en­ti­tle­ment to which many politi­cians pan­der.

All of us, but es­pe­cially young peo­ple, can be brought to un­der­stand the pur­pose of sac­ri­fice, of post­pone­ment of grat­i­fi­ca­tion, of re­straint; of re­spect of self and all oth­ers.

These will have to be among the val­ues that will make us want to wake up and get out every morn­ing rather than bleach the nights away be­cause there is noth­ing wor­thy of com­pelling ef­fort to en­gage us next day. It is work and per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity that alone can make Ja­maica’s de­vel­op­ment goals in­clu­sive and sus­tain­able.

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