Last week, Jamaica had its National (Leadership) Prayer Breakfast. According to reports I have seen, it’s in its 36th staging, and comes from the ‘Church’s push for peace, justice, reconciliation and unity in the nation following the bloody general election of 1980’. The aim, as cited on the Jamaica Information Service website is ‘to foster greater unity in the nation, particularly among the nation’s leaders at all levels’ [my stress]. Now, I’m all for national unity. But, as with many things, the path to that can vary in the eyes of each of us. Personally, I think Jamaica has moved past the time when a staged, set-piece occasion such as this remains ‘fit for purpose’. Without meaning to disrespect anyone, leadership models in Jamaica leave a lot to be desired. However, having said that, it seems that the objective could be given more sincerity with a little change. I would suggest that the time has come to focus on the ‘national’, and less on the ‘leadership’. Why do I say that?

For too long, the society has been searching ‘to be led’, rather than finding ways to ‘lead itself’. I take one simple example, that is both timely and appropriate–the spread of infectious diseases. As we enter another year when a mosquito-borne infection is set to pose all kinds of hazards, we see the flurry of activity to clean up, and urge people to clean up. But, you don’t have to go far, or ask many people, to find out that much of the problem resides in people ‘waiting for someone to do something’. If each journey starts with a single step, then so too does every solution start with a single action.

Whether it’s ignorance, wanton disregard, downright nastiness or any combination of negative sentiments, we have lots of people who do not see cleanliness as being something they need to practice. Last weekend I was driving to the north coast, on a back road, with hardly a vehicle passing either way. The car in front of me was speeding to get somewhere, without much regard for the fact that the road was windy through the mountains. The verge of the road looked quite tidy, by anyone’s standard. Then, out of the window came a plastic bottle and food container. OK. So, meal and drink were finished, but where did the notion that throwing it out into the road come from? Who was expected to deal with that? I couldn’t get up to ask the question, and the road was too windy to stop and pick up the garbage safely, without risking a car hitting me. But, I wondered.

We see people pouring buckets filled with trash into gullies. Why? They say they have no regular garbage collections, and no one has place collection bins anywhere so that they could dispose of the rubbish in another way. Now, I’m not an engineer, and I do not manage the resources of NSWMA, but I thought. What would it take for each community to build (or have built for them) some bamboo bins that could be placed at many points, and would be ‘collection points’, easier to service than if it were from every house? The idea may need refining, but the notion seems simple. If you don’t offer an answer to an obvious problem, then the problem must remain. We know the problem is ‘what to do with garbage’, but what are we waiting for? Don’t keep telling me ‘It’s a lack of resources’. It’s a lack of will!

So, back to the breakfast. If you want to unify, why not do that directly? Why try to do it through a range of people who are not necessarily seen as unifying. What is wrong with the ‘breakfast’ being a truly national event? If someone’s calendar has it set for mid-January every year, well maybe we have to just say go with that. But, lets’s think about what we want to do, not what seems convenient–that’s the garbage problem.

If the idea is to get religious focus onto things, then that theme can always be at the core. But, what is wrong with the idea–like on Labour Day–of the nation ‘being called’ to act as one on a certain day? Personally, I’d prefer if each person were left to bring their own religious context to it, if they so choose.

I like the idea of the ‘national’ unity breakfast being part of our Independence ‘celebrations’. Our national motto of ‘out of many, one people’ is a strong bond. Holding the ‘national breakfast’ then would deal with the problem of asking everyone to give a little of their time to unify. We would have few issues about work, school, or other important things missed, as it’s already a holiday. If we want to have the symbolism of national leaders being front and centre, let them have their moment, but keep it brief and keep it apolitical. If we could say to the nation that on August 6, at 7am, the nation would be called to ‘break fast’ together, then we could mobilize around that. Start your feting with it, by all means. If you want to hold special services for it, run with that. If you want to have breakfast TV shows focused on the theme, then, run with. The idea is the nation will know that each person has been called ‘to arms’, in a sense, and we could use as the ‘prayer’, the singing of the National Anthem.

Maybe, I’m being naive, but that seems to have more of the body of unification embodied in it than does an event that is for the few, supposedly acting for the many. Think about it.

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