I keep saying in different ways that the things that Jamaica has done wrongly are not necessarily major, but they have gone uncorrected for so long that people don’t know how to put them right.
People make much of the fact that Jamaica has the highest number of churches per square mile or per head of population, as if the presence of those wonderful buildings is enough to guide the souls, hearts and minds of all the people. Clearly, it is not: we know the murder statistics. I wrote yesterday about the Jamaican interpretation of the ‘entitlement society’: people take what they want, sometimes facilitated by politicians, and they get confused about what are their rights.
People have talked about a dearth of political leadership in Jamaica. I have no idea what it’s like to lead a country, let alone one that is full of seemingly headstrong individuals. But, I do know about trying to lead people who are difficult to control, namely, young children. I’ve coached youth soccer for well over 20 years, pretending to work as an economist at the same time. One of the things that’s clear about dealing with children is that they like structure, despite what they say and what some believe when ‘letting them run wild’ seems in vogue. They can be very creative within boundaries set by adults, mainly. But, also watch and listen to children when they are without adults steering them. They are a bunch of little rules setters. “It’s my turn!” is a cry that is about order and fairness, even if the person saying it has just had a turn. When the child holds the ball tightly to his or her chest, it’s an attempt to ensure that order prevails. Kids set up their rules and stick to them. They can often play without supervision so long as the group observes the rules. “Dad! Sara isn’t sharing…” tells me that someone has broken a rules about what is fair. I usually intervene rarely, but say, “Start the sentence with ‘I did…’, then tell me the rest of the story.” That way we get an idea of what is cause and what is effect. (I’m an economist, for pity sake.) Order is usually restored quickly.
I have met, but do not know well Jamaica’s prime minister. I know people who work closely with her, and they tell me she is a wonderful person, who works really hard behind the scenes to help people. I won’t doubt that. But, her role of national leader is not about working, working, working, hard behind the scenes. Like the football coach doing the same on the training ground, the need arises for him or her to stand up and make a stink because the team is playing rubbish football. Or the opposition are kicking lumps out of us and we are either not protecting ourselves well, or the officials are not protecting us. Or, when the officials have lost the plot and make decisions that are hard to understand and/or inconsistent. Then, you get out of your technical area and pull out your folder marked ‘Colourful phrases to hurl in public’. You are well-organised and start with the ‘A’s’: “Listen, A***hole!…” Having gotten the listener’s attention, you turn to the ‘B’s’: “A b*****d’ like you didn’t deserve a mother!” Attention now fully locked in (and remember the Zidane-Materazzi moment), you flip a few pages and look up the ‘F’s’.
Because you are a quick thinker and fast reader, all of this took about 8 seconds. If the referee was the object of your hurling, he is now on his way towards you for what is called in refereeing school (I’m a qualified ref) ‘a quiet word’. He has his back to the rest of the field and his mouth is close to your face. “What did you just say?” You reply, “Nothing,” remembering what you did as a boy. Like you dad, back in the day, though, the ref is not having it. “Nothing, you say? You sure? I heard something.” You try to step back, but his face seems glued to your nose. “Well, I was a bit upset with…” The ref puts his hand into one of his shirt pockets and pulls out a pad, which contains his dreaded yellow and red cards. He pulls out the yellow one and starts to jot down a few words. He then pulls out the red one, and makes a few more jottings. He calls his assistant to his side and they talk for a few seconds. The crowd has been whistling all this time and some are singing a rude song, popular in England: “The referee’s a w***er…” He shows you the yellow card, and then the red card, and asks if you read what he’d written. You nod, and walk back to your technical area and sit down with you arms folded. He walks back and restarts the game.
Shaggy dog story, aside, the point is that you have to lead from in front. The coach stood up for the team and showed everyone that he was in charge of his team and was there to deal with all issues. The referee has control of everything within the lines, so he too had to show his leadership skills. They had different styles. The coach got the ref’s ear and attention. The ref showed the coach who had authority in a certain area. They exercised their rights. But, no one was left in doubt that leadership was on display.
The cry for leadership is not something that should keep going unheard, and it’s not something that gets answered by sending surrogates to talk to the people. Like the crowds at the Roman Colosseum, or at a major boxing match, or at a music concert, they want to see and hear the main billing. “PSM! PSM! PSM!” they are saying, and when she walks up to a podium (and it’s a pity we do not have somewhere like Buckingham Palace, with a grand balcony), and waves, wearing one of her signature yellow dresses, the crowd goes wild. When she utters “My people…” The crowd shout back “Yea!” Alright, that’s all a bit romantic, but I’m making a point.
Where current leadership seems to be lacking in the most evident ways is what is happening when the ‘team’ are not playing well. The coach should yank the player and send on a sub. Or, at least, take a moment to call the player over so that everyone can see, say a few words and let him or her continue for a while, but show that the weakness has been noted. The crowd then knows that the warning has been issued. I do not need to name names, but the country knows who has not been playing well and wonder, with good reason, why they are still on the field, miskicking every ball that come their way. Some have cost us matches with own goals so bad that they have a top 10 of their own on YouTube. The problem with that tolerance is that the rest of the team does not feel they have to play for their places. They do not appear threatened by young stars playing in the reserves; they have the manager’s eye and ear. I’m for benching some of those players, and if possible, sending them to the reserves, or selling them to another club, so that they can wreak havoc there.
I say to my charges: “You can’t keep asking for second chances; that’s not how life is”. Whaddya mean coach? But, Jamaica’s PM is all about second, third, fourth, n-th chances. What has happened is that leaders, of which she is the latest, have set up a country where accountability has not meant anything serious in the eyes of the people. Mess up; stay in post. Do wrong; stay in post. Lie and connive; stay in post. Why so much faith with people who seem incapable of doing the right thing? Well, they don’t know the right thing to do, and it’s not been reinforced on them what the right things are to do. Their moral compasses have been set pointing towards wrong, not right. They keep following the pointer and head off to the land of wrongness with full confidence that they are headed in the right direction. When they get to complete wrongness, they don’t seem to suffer any major consequences: a parent has sent a car for them to take them back home, driving in comfort and having lemonade and cakes to eat on the drive; maybe, even a change of clothes.
I had a vidid example of how that moral compass has been misdirected last night, when a current cabinet minister was introduced to me by my wife. He asked if I played tennis. My wife told him I played golf. On our first meeting, he chose to allude to the fact that the balls men play with get smaller as they get older: footballs, as a boy; then onto little golf balls, as we age. Was I mistaken that this was a double entendre? My face didn’t crack a smile–it wasn’t funny, and my tee-hee button wasn’t pressed. I raised my eyebrows, but it was semi-dark, so that might not have been seen. My wife didn’t say anything. We let the ‘joke’ pass and continued on our way out of the reception.
Generally, the way you greet people on a first meeting is indicative of how you act usually, but with a little more circumspection. I shuddered at that thought. “What was he thinking?” I asked myself. Clearly, someone for whom he should have regard, his female PM, had not impressed on him well enough that he needed to act with a certain decorum and bearing–not silk stocking and ermine, but some common decency. Let the matter rest there, for the moment. But, as I often say, “You are what you tolerate”.
I want to see the PM grab the national moral compass and give it a hard reset. If she doesn’t then the ship is already on a course towards some nasty rocks, and I haven’t found my life jacket yet.