I’m no great lover of lists for ordering preferences, but they can be useful just to clear one’s mind about what people are doing or what appears to be going on.

Economists know of a phenomenon termed ‘revealed preference’: consumers reveal their choices through their purchases. More generally, people reveal their choices by what they do and accept.

As I observe what passes my eyes and ears, some of it reported by organizations whose business it is to provide us with information, I see several features of the Jamaican that keep recurring. I wont attempt to be exhaustive, but just highlight a few traits that I believe are well-ingrained.

Jamaicans appear to like:

  • Simple solutions; people often show little patience or interest in ideas that are not what I would call linear. See problem, ‘hit it’ with this solution (even though the proposed solution might have been shown repeatedly to have failed in the past). If we want reasons, many good ones result from education systems that favoured listening and repeating over thinking and solving problems. 🤔
  • Retribution: whether this is simple ‘eye for an eye’ or ‘sins’ must be punished, Jamaicans tend to steer toward punitive solutions, with little time for rehabilative alternatives. If we’re looking for reasons why, we can blame many Christian missionaries. 🤔

Policy makers and politicians seem to acknowledge these likes by often proposing seemingly easy solutions and seeking out people for blame, other than themselves. 😒 I’ve not gone through Hansard, the record of parliamentary proceedings, but, I would be shocked if it contained more than a handful of statements that essentially said ‘the government wishes to acknowledge that it is to blame for…’

Jamaicans tend to have short attention spans and/or are poor at following up, in general. Oddly, many instances exist where it seems that Jamaicans are also poor at following up on matters that affect them directly. This is complemented by policy makers and politicians who are poor at carrying through actions, often happy to repeat or renew promises. All of this is captured by the easy use of the term ‘nine-day wonder’. For those people who did not realize the difference between wonder and wander, the term has nothing to do with walking around aimlessly waiting for something to happen. But, then again… 🙂

Related to these two phenomena is the love of ideas and things that are foreign. Like Toad of Toad Hall, who was always dazzled by anything new and having shiny baubles, Jamaicans love something once its been repackaged with the ‘made abroad’ label. We’ve taken this to new heights, or lows, by some of our official actions that deny the possibility of our national talent to have anything to do with the creation or development of things to enhance our future. Many will look at the debate involving our national architects and the government about plans to redevelop our Parliament. Sometimes, that dismissal of national over foreign seems well-deserved, as in the case of who may be better for road construction. It may not be that our local road engineers are not capable of doing a good job, but certainly the jobs they do seem to have very short lives and lack quality. But, that may not be what it seems, as the companies involved may just be responding to the many incentives to do shoddy work—ready renewal of contracts, poor oversight, connected relationships, etc. Whatever people may feel about Chinese companies getting ‘all the work’, they come to the dance with their money and talent and are only seeking the ‘girls’ who want to dance tangle with them. Visitors often comment favourably on the politeness of Jamaicans they meet. Of our many features, this is one of which we can all be proud. I believe that we are genuinely a warm and welcoming people. However, we have been diverted by a few ‘sinful’ ways, including the lure of ‘easy money’, which, like a Siren’s song, turns many into utter fools. Our general inability to figure things out by working through possibilities leads us to act in ways that can been downright ridiculous and some of the best examples of ‘cutting off our own noses to spite our faces’. Cue the song! Self-destruction is the yang to the ying of our good side.

It’s often about how people see only themselves in the future, and somehow don’t see the effects of their actions on others. So, we are not afflicted by short-sightedness, but we are also blinkered. One of the most common examples of this can be seen daily on the roads. Many Jamaica drivers stop to deliver a person or package to a desired location, with little or no regard to the inconvenience that causes. I don’t mean minor things like slowing down the flow of traffic, but major things like positioning the vehicle directly in front of the only entrance and exit to a place. The ‘I’ll only be a few seconds’ thinking does not have space for ‘what if anyone else wants to do something?’ Don’t believe me? Just stand near a business complex. I’ll admit to being less-than-thrilled the other day, when I was trying to leave a plaza and a minibus had parked across the entrance way and was not only letting off passengers but also negotiating with them over fares. To amplify my point, two taxis were lining up behind the minibus to take its place. We are the true believers of ends justify means. Those who’ve seen the film The Harder They Come should remember the scene when two bus drivers were approaching a narrow bridge and the passenger urged their driver to let the other pass. Sounds familiar? Read a column by George Davis, in today’s Gleaner, to get similar impressions.

With this little glimpse I’m left where I often am, pondering how to get from here to somewhere better. One thing that keeps repeating itself in my head is that Jamaicans have been given few, if any, convincing examples of how things could be better for them all by doing things differently.