Who Is Moving Our Conch?

Change is both the generous benefactor and the implacable tyrant of the 21st century, enthroned by the technological revolution that took an unshakeable hold in the 1980s and has infiltrated every aspect of our personal lives, whether we have given permission or not. The burning question every country, every people, every enterprise and individual must face and answer is how to deal with the constant waves of evolution. Some will opt to repudiate change, others will accept it and still others will view any fluctuation in the ‘force’, as peerless opportunity for advancement and fight to get their piece of the action. This essay is about how we are confronting the wave in The Bahamas.

It is a challenge not restricted to our country, but has been much written about for a very long time to present day. In 1998, Spencer Johnson, a physician who decided to become an author, published a book called Who Moved My Cheese? Wildly successful in the self-help market when it first appeared, this slim volume is a parable about change. Its four characters—the mice Scurry and Sniff and the two little people Hem and Haw differ greatly in their reactions to a significant change (the disappearance of the huge block of cheese on which they all depended for their nourishment). At the heart of the matter are the choices each makes in the face of their changed c circumstances and the resultant outcomes for good or ill.

Scurry and Sniff take off immediately in search of new sources of cheese, while Hem and Haw hung on waiting for a return of conditions they had grown used to. Haw decides eventually that doing nothing was doing nothing for them, so he too took off in search of new cheese and was eventually rewarded.

In 2004, no doubt foreseeing the inevitability of massive change and its potential impact on his homeland, Zhivargo S. Laing, a former Minister of Economic Development, wrote a book about Bahamian life in the same vein. In this instance, the Bahamian economy buoyed up by international tourism was the “cheese”, which the author localized by calling it “conch”, immortalizing that giant mollusk, worshipped by Bahamians. The Laing book title became Who Moved My Conch?—a commentary of the inevitability of change and the need to adapt to it, especially in the area of international and free trade.

With the current mutability of the Bahamian society and economy, it seems time to put a boat in the water of this powerful tide. in tribute to Johnson and Laing, I decided to take on the topic of change, with specific reference to The Bahamas. First questions: What is the “conch” in question and who are the “conch” burglars?

It is helpful to begin my journey with a viewpoint offered by one “Kate” who critiqued the Johnson book in 2008. She sees the dramatis personae of Who Moved My Cheese? as the lower and middle classes trapped in “a corporate capitalist maze”. The suggestion is that cheese movers are big business concerns and their cheese moving is all about boosting their profits, no matter whom the movements hurt—namely, the people already economically burdened.

If we are guided by the continuously growing plethora of financial reports, we will agree that this is happening worldwide. There is much to affirm that the same is the case in The Bahamas. Big business and other special interest groups engage their scare-mongering promotions with each new piece of legislation government introduces that might curtail their profiteering, even though the proposed change may result in more widely distributed benefits.

What is particularly conscienceless in this scenario, such groups trick unwary Bahamians into shooting themselves in their already hurting feet. How do the manipulators succeed? Easily. They make use of the mental make-up of their target audience. They know that Bahamians are suspicious or even fearful of change. Firstly, that the greater number of us tend to react spontaneously and negatively to any shift or attempted shift in their long-held beliefs or familiar routines. Secondly, reading anything more than social media posts of doubtful veracity is not on the to-do lists of a goodly number of Bahamians. To many, reading serious and improving texts is akin to a cat’s attitude to baths. Because of these characteristics, there are cadres of Bahamians who are readily exploitable. How great is the disappointment we have witnessed when, weeks after the outcry/the march, the troupe leaders have decamped, gone on to richer pastures leaving their followers scratching heads, no wiser or better off than when they accepted the ring in their noses.

Also negatively impacting beneficial change in this country is a general spirit of entitlement—many don’t want to lift a finger to harvest the “conch” or prepare it for consumption or work to preserve this food so important to Bahamian culture and cuisine. There is the belief that all of it is someone else’s responsibility—especially the “gubment dem”, whose treasury is considered limitless. Allied to this is yet another self-defeating way of thinking—seize the day with no thought of tomorrow.

In this instance, I refer to the reactions to the announcements in late 2018/early 2019 by local conservation bodies, such as Bahamas National Trust and BREEF, that the supplies of conch in Bahamian waters will be exhausted in fifteen years, if regulation and management are not engaged post haste. From certain quarters immediately rose the typical anthem of “takin’ bread from the ‘small’/’poor’ man mout’” and “It’s all lies”. Never mind that these same protestors had to have been among the conch harvesters responsible for bringing pitifully undersized conchs to market and thereby shortchanging the future. Just as guilty have been those who have been buying this illegal product.

Bad enough, but for me, the present commentary became obligatory when a supplement of four full pages appeared in The Tribune on Tuesday, 22 January, 2019 with the headline “NHI Bahamas Primary Care Proposal Is a Delusional Health Plan”. The main point of this clever red herring is clearly to convince readers that not only do Bahamians currently enjoy a programme that provides all major aspects of health care for free, but also that the government’s proposed plan will take it all away, saddling the backs of the populace with more burdensome and unnecessary load. I quote:

How many times do we have to say there’s no way we’re paying for ‘Health Income Tax’ which ‘Dunks’ citizens into a Socialized Medicine Black Hole; jeopardizing the Health Insurance of 11,517 Bahamians; potentially costs Hundreds of Jobs; Forces Civil Servants to make Life or Death Treatment Decisions & takes away our Free Healthcare?

Shades of communism, according to the authors! All of this pernicious screed bedecked, bedizened, and littered with such trigger terms as “Black Hole” and “Life or Death Treatment Decisions”. To gild the lily, certain of these inflammatory comments are bolded and underlined in red. We are told that those paying for and supposedly writing the copy are “Citizens for Universal Health Care”.

How can any intelligent person not smell “big business” and “special interest” in this masterpiece of manipulation? I’m placing bets on two horses seeking the winners circle in this race—the insurance industry and disgruntled politicians, both bloated by self-interest. How can anyone who truly cares about the best interests of our fellow Bahamians not attempt to point out the fallacies contained in this advertisement. How can the eminence grise behind it all claim to be well-intentioned in touting the greatness of the present government-funded healthcare system? Wearing another hat, haven’t they roundly condemned it as inadequate and demanded further injections of funding from a severely financially strapped government? This is surely miscarriage of truth and justice.

I believe that the proposed National Health Insurance scheme to be one of the many attempts of the administration to haul this country and its people into confronting and accepting with 21st century realities and dealing with them more beneficially. This commentary in no way exempts the Bahamas Government from blame, however. Our healthcare system, still bearing too many of the features of colonial provisions, which were already inadequate in their heyday, has grown worse over the four decades since the declaration of Independence through mismanagement, malfeasance and the lack of any decent system of accountability, which could pin down and prosecute malefactors.

Neither does this writing excuse the rank and file Bahamian. It should be clear to most intelligent people that the Bahamian society and economy is weighed down to near immobility by beliefs that have become counterproductive (if they were ever fertile) and customs that have served their time. How long are you to demand rights and accompanying benefits without accepting commensurate responsibilities? How long do you expect to be nurse-maided?

But, by all means, if we pay the pipers (the people in charge of investing our tax dollars), they must render us an endless tune of accountability and constant vigilance. It is imperative that none of the people’s money be diverted into the pockets of damnable “conch” burglars.

Will Chou, in a 2016 review of Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? summarizes the lessons the author wanted us to take away. (https://willyoulaugh.com/who-moved-my-cheese-book-summary-review/) I have taken the liberty of listing the following points with minor substitutions, especially replacing the word “cheese” with “conch”.

  • Change Happens They Keep Moving the Conch
  • Anticipate Change: Get Ready for the Conch to Move
  • Monitor Change: Smell the Conch Often so You Know when it is Getting Old
  • Adapt to Change Quickly: The Quicker You Let Go of Old Conch, the Sooner You Can Enjoy New Conch
  • Change: Move with the Conch
  • Enjoy Change! Savour the Adventure and Enjoy the Taste of New Cheese!
  • Be Ready to Change Quickly and Enjoy It Again: They Keep Moving the Cheese.

For one reason or other, the “conch” will move. And, hey, if you can’t digest it, change your diet. Much as we try, we cannot stem the tide of change and survive. The idea is to manage change to our best advantage. That takes planning before, during and after evolving circumstances. It also requires knowledge, research, creativity, invention and a willingness to work hard. If we are not ready to board that train, be ready to get left behind in the dangerous neighbourhood of stagnation, assaults and ultimate loss. So, let’s haul our very real genius out of that darkness, dust off the cobwebs and re-prime the engine, navigate and master the tide.

1 comments

This article was witty, poignant, reflective and spot on it it’s assessment of our Bahamian mindset. I was even forced back to the dictionary a few times to ensure I understood the context.
I agree with the author on all points. The content of our character as a nation is under threat of being depleted by our pursuit of material things and lifestyles that chokes us financially. The proliferation of numbers houses highlights our lust for easy money, with millions of good dollars (from those who could least afford it), being sucked up in a vortex spun by web shop/number houses owners, who only allow pennies to fall back down. All this has weakened our work ethic, yet we continue to expect and demand more…with no thought of giving back more in return (“reciprocity”). We’ve been blessed with a beautiful country, full of potential and value which many on the outside see and want. Hopefully, Mrs. Glinton-Meicholas’ article will encourage us to “look at the man in mirror” to acknowledge our shortcomings, and give us the wisdom to brace for change so that we can forge a brighter, smarter Bahamas tomorrow for our children.

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