Cutting down trees to create a forest

In the past few weeks, the headlines of the major Bahamian newspapers have been dominated by evidence of a chronically disgruntled populace and an increasingly dysfunctional economy and society. Consider the following:

“Why So Little Aid And Why So Late?: Year From Irma, Islanders Insist Govt Does More”

“Wilchcombe: Gaming operators being victimized”

“Komolafe: Affordable homes program reveals ‘debt crisis confronting nation”

“No real movement in BGCSE results”

 

Since the beginning of modern settlement in our extraordinarily beautiful homeland, we have cut down trees to create forests. We have cut off our nose to spite our face, thrown out the baby with the bath water and have shot ourselves in the foot again and again.

These and many other metaphorical expressions refer to our continuing errors, and all are linked by great ironies. As one dictionary defines ‘cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face’, we engage in “a needlessly self-destructive over-reaction to a problem.” We act out of pique, or pursue revenge in a way that damages ourselves more than the object of our anger or the source of our fears. In short, we damage or impede our own plans, progress, or actions through foolish deeds or words. What is even worse, every challenge and every opportunity that comes our way.

Shooting ourselves in the foot is an age-old, painful practice in this country. It is a common behaviour of the Bahamian people and equally true of the Government of The Bahamas, one administration after the other—the white oligarchy, the black oligarchy—all much the same. I must admit, that the country has gained a degree of stability as time has rolled on, mostly by happenstance and a rare talent for “carpe diem”—seizing serendipities (legal and illegal) when they have arisen. Consider the “boom” years owed to blockade running during the mid-19th century United States Civil War; the 1919-1933 rum-running during Prohibition in the US, and the meteoric rise of Bahamas tourism in the wake of the trade embargo the United States erected against Cuba following the Castro-led revolution on that island. Let’s not forget the romance with the Colombians who came bearing the gift of ‘snow’ to our islands from south to north. This icy avalanche enriched many while distorting and undercutting the Bahamian value system.

With seemingly little ability or stomach for change, the mores of 21st century Bahamians are eerily similar to the outlook and actions of our forebears at the time of our country’s independence in 1973. We continue to burn down the house to get rid of rats. We continue to practice boomerang economics—throw good money after bad decisions. It’s a stubborn un-wisdom that has come back to hit us in the face again and again. If this behaviour were a sport in the Olympics, The Bahamas would be a formidable competitor.

Every Bahamian of sense and conscience will admit that we are in the midst of an epidemic of economic missteps, increasingly violent crime and a strength-sapping rise in non-communicable chronic diseases. How do we begin the cure? We must cease the euphemisms and excusing bad choices at the personal and national levels. We have to view certain methods of decision-making as cancers that must be eradicated before we lose hold of all we hold dear.

Following is a modest proposal by one who loves her homeland passionately, and works as passionately to contribute to the healing:

Make the Development of Thinking and Comprehension Skills a Feature of Every Stage of Education

  1. Promote analysis and discernment from preschool upward.
  2. Make daily reading (from a book) a part of family and classroom culture
  3. Bring back mental arithmetic and repetition to the start of the school day.
  4. Stop condemning solid practices of yesteryear as “old fashioned”. Memorization and drills are gateways to knowledge, which opens the door to and provides an essential base for analysis, visioning and smart decision-making.
  5. Instill giving and love of family, neighbor and country from an early age.
  6. In households of faith share that faith with your children, not blindly or forcing but explaining why it supports quality of life and peace.

 

Provide Reliable Public Information

From the chambers of Parliament to the lowliest shelter, through all media of communication, we must stop the insidious practice of politicizing all information. Nowadays, the newspapers seem to give an inordinate amount of space to opinion columnists for whom there is only one side—the politically partisan side. Their analyses and ruminations are nearly always coloured by PLP, FNM and, to a lesser extent, DNA sympathies. The radio talk shows do even worse—they seem to invite callers who are not only ignorant of any facts but incessantly belligerent. Social media takes the crown in this instance. Never has there been a more efficient vehicle for damage than the unfettered access to the Worldwide Web of the lunatic fringe and the grubbily spiteful. Let’s light a backfire to drive back the flames of misinformation.

  1. For the continuance of the country, give more media space to smart contributors who put the common good before personal disgruntlement.
  2. Make as much space in public media for imparting facts as for editorializing.

 

Elevate the Role of Research in Public Life. How Else Can We Prescribe Cures?

  1. Stop shooting from the hip, delusions of grandeur or midnight fantasies in devising national and personal plans.
  2. Highlight qualitative and quantitative research in high school and University of The Bahamas programmes.
  3. Make investigation into the ills and opportunities of The Bahamas a requirement for UB faculty who seek credit for research towards tenure.

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wisely said about treatment in the case of ills:

The physician must be able to tell the antecedents, know the present, and foretell the future.”

 

Support More Personal Discipline Education & Demonstrate the Value of Delayed Gratification

When our children ask daily for sugared drinks and salty treats, the loving parents among us don’t give them or only sparingly. They know that if they don’t, misdirected ‘love’ may saddle their child with a future of dental procedures and medicine-dependent diabetes and high blood pressure.

It came as a shock recently that out of the 60 applications for the government’s offer of low-cost land lots, only nine could satisfy the eligibility criteria. The partisan politicos took a verbal sledgehammer to the administration, blaming VAT, unemployment, recent austerity measures, a badly reflected national budget. One thing has been missing or given only trifling notice—the fact that too many Bahamians are complacent about or deny any need for pursuing personal financial fitness.

Not only children must be taught that their unmanaged wants can lead to loss in the long term, but the adults must also be awakened to their obligations to their personal well-being and that of their homeland. We need a constant diet of such revelations going out to the general public.

  1. Start with the Bahamian proverb: “What sweet yuh mout’ ga pepper ya tail.”
  2. Let’s have more civic-minded financial services professionals on radio, television and in print articles, explaining why taking your eight children to Disneyworld for summer vacation isn’t a good idea, if you will have no money left to buy school uniforms and books for the younger ones and pay college fees for the family’s bright teenager in September.
  3. Insist over and over on the need to save, to prioritize spending, placing the funding of needs over wants.
  4. Let our choice of candidates for election be guided by their consistent encouragement of personal liberation through a strong work ethic, personal discipline and smart decision-making.

As our good Archbishop teaches, having $5.00 in your pocket doesn’t mean that you can buy something costing $5.00. You have to first enter into the equation all other financial obligations, which take priority.

 

Know that When One Accepts a Public Post, It Has Implication for One’s Personal Involvements

  1. If you cannot put aside a fiduciary responsibility to a personal asset that may potentially conflict with or compromise the national obligation, then you must be set aside one or the other. Is it possible to serve two masters with equal disinterest, where money is concerned? All things are possible, as St Paul said, but the optics may lead into sin a brother whose faith and integrity are not as strong as yours.

 

Seek Knowledge, Practice Humility and Stop Pandering to Bahamians for Political Gain – A New Oath for Politicians and Other Pundits

  1. Heavily paraphrasing the oath for physicians written in 1964 by the brilliant Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, I advise that Members of Parliament, especially Cabinet Ministers, adopt it as a personal mantra and repeat daily:

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for the nation’s economic and social recovery. I will eschew all efforts to enslave my fellow Bahamians by making them dependent on my favour and handouts.  I will try to remember that a hastily constructed statement before a recording device connected to public media can be a sure-fire way to put my foot in my mouth and lose the next election.

 

Require Job Knowledge and Accountability of All Public Servants

  1. Make certain that national workshops are attended and require attendees to demonstrate learning in some fashion.
  2. Richly reward knowledgeable, efficient, caring civil servants with better pay, learning opportunities, better offices. Stop allowing MPs to fill the ranks of public institutions and agencies with ignorant slackers who believe that jobs so obtained are eternal and pay for no work is inscribed into the Constitution of The Bahamas.
  3. Get cohesion and digitally enhanced communication going between government ministries and among departments so that they stop sending letters of inaccurate information to a quaking public.
  4. Require civil servants to stop their constant incivility to the people who pay their salaries.

Let’s All Acknowledge Our Blessings and Learn to Be Grateful

This headline appeared in one of the nation’s dailies recently: “Why So Little Aid And Why So Late? Year From Irma, Islanders Insist Govt. Does More”. I firmly believe that a government should assist its citizens in need, especially the destitute, the aged and orphans and most particularly in cases of national disaster.

But expecting the rebuilding of personal assets from the Public Treasury? Suppose, God forbid, several other islands had been affected by Irma to the same degree as Ragged Island? Do those who complain believe the Treasury has a pipeline into the pockets of a consortium of Arab oil producers? Do these fictional benefactors love The Bahamas so much that they will continue to pump in the cash despite our upside-down notions of responsibility and entitlement? A few points for those who thumb their noses at government’s donation of $4,000 per affected family:

  1. Have you read that the Antiguan government forcibly evicted dozens of Barbudans (fellow citizens of the twin-island state) from a shelter on Antigua, leaving them with no place to go a year after Irma devastated their island? In fairness, it must be said that the location was a school and students needed to continue their education.
  2. Did any of the affected Ragged Islanders have property insurance?
  3. Have any expatriate Ragged Island groups offered rebuilding assistance?
  4. Don’t you think it’s time to stop partisan pandering to increase the Bahamian sense of entitlement to a sadly challenged public purse that must run the entire country?

It is time, my compatriots. Let us seize the day with more devotion to education, to better personal and national management and a greater commitment to the common good. If we desire a better life and a better homeland, we all must contribute to creating value in our homes and in our communities, on the job and in public life.

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