The New Year tends to bring optimism. There is a sense that this turn of the calendar can wipe the slate of the old year and give us new and better opportunities for a better life. In these early days of 2019, I have heard echoed in many quarters some form of the word “transformation” and this term has most often been connected with making changes to bring about a better Bahamas.
This way of thinking allies with my own aspirations for the year and beyond. I wish to see great change in my homeland. Instead of wishing for a “better Bahamas”, however, my desire for our country goes the step beyond. My wish is for the best Bahamas in terms of creating values and material substance that can stand up to the tests that are sure to come throughout time. To achieve this enviable state, transformation must begin with a vision constructed on clear goals, the most critical being a definition of what “better” or “best” means. What is certain—we can’t cut our shoes for the march to a successful 2019, if we shape them from 2018 material.
Last year proved one of very narrow vision. All too many people had their telescopes turned the wrong way, focused on enlarging of self, personal and group agendas, producing a myopic view of our assets and the world about us. It seemed that the goals on the “vision boards” of most people were giant, dazzling suns, but they shone in one direction only—towards the individuals, who constructed those visions seemingly intent on blocking everyone else from receiving the life-giving rays.
To begin the change this country truly needs, it can’t be business as usual. So much of the ways of thinking and methodologies in evidence last year proved unprofitable. Expressing as clearly as possible what I believe has been going wrong for The Bahamas and its people was the challenge I encountered when I started writing this essay. Then, the answer came in a quote from author Kenneth Hildebrand on the United Christian Broadcasters’ website and expressed again in John C. Maxwell’s book Put Your Dream to the Test:
The poorest of all men isn’t the one without a penny to his name. He’s the fellow without a dream…[he is like] a great ship made for the mighty ocean but trying to navigate in a millpond. He has no far port to reach, no lifting horizon, no precious cargo to carry. His hours are absorbed in routine and petty tyrannies. Small wonder he gets dissatisfied, quarrelsome, and “fed up”. One of life’s greatest tragedies is a person with a ten-by-twelve capacity and a two-by-four soul.
There it was. There was the approach that matched my perception of my country. This so closely described The Bahamas and many Bahamians, including a surprising number of the decision-makers of this land. By reason of our national assets—a people capable of brilliance and a land possessing enviable natural resources—we are like that “great ship made for a mighty ocean”. Yet, for three-quarters of the years of our national independence, we have been “trying to navigate a millpond”. That is, we have been trying to sail that great ship in a space made small by the smallness of our views and practices. We have been since 1973, we have too often engaged in “petty tyrannies”.
Let me explain further. We have all the materials and innate abilities to construct an admirable nation, economy and society, where people not only have a sufficiency in life, and by reason of personal will and drive, could achieve greatness. Yet, we circumscribe this great potential by packing it into containers that deny growth. What are some of these circumstances that shut down positive development and expansion?
- We hold on to traditions that have, over the passage of time, become unproductive and even toxic. Consider the way we have maintained a death grip on a colonial bureaucracy, with all its narrowly conceived hierarchies, merit systems and rituals that militate against 21st century advancement. We hang on, like the breath of life depends upon them, notions, legislations, institutions and practices that were meant for the control of subject peoples and not for promoting their self-direction and leadership.
By maintaining such processes, we are, year by year, draining the lifeblood and viability of our democracy. We are denying our people equality of opportunity and rights. We have continued to nourish subaltern status for a large segment of Bahamians. With Independence we changed foreign masters for native-born ones, but the chains remain unaltered. The local establishment still jealously guard self-assigned superiority by creating dependence.
- Added to this, many of us dream big dreams of leadership, but refuse to do due diligence. Our aspirations and willingness to contribute to their realization are like North and South Poles. Many Bahamians not only practice mediocrity and poor work ethics but defend them vigorously. Worse still, many have welcomed dependence and cry out against an attempt to change the one-way direction of mobility—hard work, honesty, accountability, paying just taxes and performing the other obligations of citizens in a democracy, lifelong learning and well-considered and directed philanthropy.
- In a narrowly conceived vision of who should be accounted worthy of getting ahead in life, the typical Bahamian ethos has constructed tight, airless, lightless boxes of “haves” and “have-nots”. There is little choice in the matter of the box we get to occupy—That status tends to be assigned by political affiliation, family ties and, often, by unvarnished prejudice. Nevertheless, by dint of great effort, some have managed to gain a place on the “good” side.
- Generally, however, we have forsaken the notion of community, the very foundation of strong nationhood.
So, here we are in 2019, with an opportunity to emerge from the Sargasso Sea of outmoded tradition and bad practices, which have befouled the engines and rudder of the ship of state and kept us becalmed rather than progressing. How do we enter and maintain the current of clean, progressive and sustainable tide? I believe that we must turn a new and better page in our aspirations, our value system and our work ethics.
In an address to the members of the legal profession and judiciary at the 2019 Red Mass, the Catholic Archbishop spoke of prime tenets of the Catholic Church’s social doctrine and practice—the concept of solidarity and the notion of the “social mortgage”, where, he said, none is too rich to receive or any too poor to give. Both concepts hinge on the brotherhood of humankind and community as the foundation of better that embraces all. Here is a point of departure that can be invaluable in guiding our country’s transformation to “better” and, eventually, to “best”.
In closing, I mention just a few platforms that underlie both solidarity and the social mortgage. These are tenets that I too hold dear.
- Human life is sacred and the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Every person is precious and people are more important than things. All should have access to the same basic services such as education, health care, transportation, and police and fire protection that help make possible personal development.
- Every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. With rights come responsibilities that we have a duty to perform in building an equitable society, always and ardently seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poorest and most vulnerable among us. These are the truest measure of every people, institution and every nation, as to whether they threaten or enhance the life and dignity of the human person.
We can transform—with a new and better national narrative. Let’s engage the journey to the best Bahamas in 2019.