Jamaican public officials seem to have put themselves into a series of awkward positions, and unlike yoga practitioners, it’s not clear that the contortions are anything but accidents. They are, nevertheless, painful to hold or unwind.
In the grand scheme of the world, we’re a young nation–51st birthday of Independence just passed. We’ve been playing many roles on the world stage over that time, and we’ve moved from just being in the chorus, to understudy for lead roles, to star, if I can use a theatrical metaphor. We now command respect in several fields that inspire and excite worldwide, especially entertainment and sport.
Our political leaders and public officials, however, do not seem to have received and read several important memos. They are not alone, as I’ve seen similar ignorance in other countries. Too many politicians seem to think that holding office is for their benefit, not for that of the electorate locally or nationally. They also have a hard time understanding that insubstantial mutterings do not substitute for substantial statements. These figures are easily found out, and often become the butt of jokes or ridicule. (Admittedly, politicians provide good butt-fodder for many other reasons–weight, height, looks, voice, choice of romantic partner, etc.) Their political careers stall or get derailed and they then seek new work as tele-evangelists, game show hosts, or directors of shady companies.
The modern world has moved away from the impression that decisions are made in ‘smoked-filled rooms’ or ‘behind closed doors’. People now expect real transparency from elected officials, though will often accept the semblance of transparency, given that very few know what really is happening.
Modern media can spread information worldwide in less than the blink of an eye. If the information is correct or not, matters little. So, pressure is on to make sure that the right information goes to the public, otherwise, false or incorrect information gets spread, and fast, and it will do its damage.
Here is where Jamaican politicians seem to have tried to get into a full lotus position, having not mastered downward-facing dog. They seem to be still under the impression that they are insulated from the humdrum outside world, and that they control information flow and reactions to it. Recent instances make this clear. A minister arrives late for a major meeting and gives his excuse as the desire to watch one of our top athletes run abroad. He asks for the media to be removed from the meeting. A journalist leaves a recording device in the room and then world later hears how the minister was “nauseated” by the media coverage of issues related to his portfolio. Hello! Well, cue the guffaws for his temerity in taking liberties with people’s time. Cue the possible viral reaction that he could have found many modern ways to do both things and still be on time. Cue to raised eyebrows and face palming that follow from his appearing to be unaware that actions and comments would hit the WHOLE world without his doing a thing and probably before Bolt’s chest hit the tape. Was he living in a bubble?
We’ve seen and read about other seemingly silly instances in recent days. A very important hearing on alleged drug abuse by a star athlete is being held in camera, or behind closed doors. The media were unwelcome and the venue was changed to a secret location. Surprise! The location was discoverd and its address publicized, with pictures to confirm. The opposition political party is perhaps about to witness a challenge for its leader, and partisans are putting on show their likes and dislikes. Plenty of mouth-in-foot opportunities. Maybe, they’re not surprised, but whatever their cases others are quickly deciding if the bags are full of loot or rotting fish.
John Donne’s poem begins “No man is an island“. Good journalism is built on a desire to eke out information, and if someone is trying to bury it, to try to dig further to uncover as much as possible. Jamaica has some good journalistic traditions, so it shouldn’t surprise public figures to be probed, prodded, questioned, doubted, praised, mocked, vilified, etc. So, why won’t they seek to help to move the rocks rather than watch them rolling down the hill and find oneself buried? Donne’s poem ends “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
We’ve moved a long way from being some little island, known for very little but rustling palm trees, lovely beaches, sun, rum, and exotic fruit. We’ve produced mega stars whose reputations far outstrip our size, and who’ve encouraged a long line of new stars both here and worldwide. They stand on the stage and show that they know what their doing and how to get the audience swaying with them. Our public figures seem to have not yet grasped how to do this. We have a public well versed in making up stories if they cannot be told one. We have a public hungry for news and able to digest many nuances. Do public figures understand this? Many politicians now use social media to spread their messages. They also take opportunities to get out the message in different ways: President Obama being on late night shows is an example. Are ours dragging their feet, thinking silence is golden or no news is good news? Do they believe that what I don’t say can’t hurt me? Wrong!
These figures should know how to manage their audience, and be very interested in being ‘masters of the moment’. So, why have they given the impression that they do not know or lack such interest? Surely, they care.:-)