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One thing I love about Jamaica is its ritual dance around the ‘rules are rules’ maypoles. It usually gets a good spin when it comes to how children comport themselves at school and spins around locks of hair and length of skirt, mainly. This year, it goes a really good spin because of a court case, ended last week, about whether a 5 year-old—the most rebellious age—could wear locks in her hair at school. The Supreme Court ruled she didn’t have that right, universally, and a particular school was within its rights to tell her to cut them, even though their reasons for wanting that were based on utter nonsense.

The reason I love the maypole ‘dance’ is that it’s one of our familiar tussles with our internal self-contradictions. We need rules, otherwise, there would be chaos and the ‘floodgates would open’ for all kinds of behaviour. That’s why we want children to follow the rules at school, so that as adults they know the importance of this aspect of disciplined behaviour. (At that point, the aliens put the rockets in retro thrust and headed straight back into outer space, because these people were clearly not so intelligent.)

Here’s how it looks to me, and I will focus, not on hair, but on rules to help us manage with COVID-19.

If we are so in love with ‘rules are rules’, you’d think that the easiest thing would be to follow the rules about wearing masks in public, especially now that is mandatory, not optional. But, we don’t. Why? Because, we are not rule followers, in general. Though, it’s not really true, we’re often criticized for not following rules. Truth is, most Jamaicans follow the rules they are forced to, or the ones where the penalty for not following is harsh and clear (eg the oft-cited case with applying for a US visa) So, why are we expecting water to flow uphill? Simple. We like making and having rules AND many relish in breaking them.

If that were not the case, then why was the PM at such pains to point out that the ‘self responsibility’ and ‘moral suasion’ weren’t working?

As many a Brit would say, ‘Follow the f***ing rule, idiot!’. But, no. Jamaicans like to flex, and the best flex is the flaunting of rules.

So, we love the message to ‘Tan ah yuh yaad’ (stay home), but we love more ‘Being out a road’ (roaming around).

We love the safety that comes from imposing curfews, better if they’re early and long, but we love holding a party in the road or better outside someone’s house, and the sound of sirens and blue flashing lights to make the party glow better.

I think many Jamaicans love nothing more than to resist and then say ‘See how mi big! You cyaa tell me wha’ fi do!’

For economists, this is just like watching market forces at play—demand and supply trying to find balance around a price. Buyers pushing lower, sellers pushing higher.

I think most Jamaicans see rules much as they see handling over the price of pumpkins; you can’t just take the first price, you must push for better. We must haggle.

Nothing makes me laugh more than the sight of a Jamaican—often a male—being arrested. It is a picture of contrition like no other. If humble hadn’t been invented then it would be defined by that hangdog look, and the shuffling walk of shame. It’s opposite is the ‘I’m right’ bragging stance often taken till the hammer drops. That’s even better when it’s a person ‘of position’. If you were paying attention to the early days of curfew life, you’ll recall the episode below:

What a change between night and day. 🙂

So, let me be the change. Wear your mask! It’s not hard. Yes, it may be uncomfortable, but for a small amount of discomfort there’s a much better chance of not having to end up in a box, which is even more uncomfortable.

It was funny, during the media briefing on Thursday, when the PM came back to the podium to answer some questions and made a point of saying “I’ll keep on my mask”. Truth is, amongst the weak fences have been many politicians, who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk on mask wearing. Worse still, they are into PR so much that their social media pages are littered with their exploits walking their communities, WITHOUT MASKS in close contact with people NOT WEARING MASKS. Not being the example and not using the teaching moments. Wanting their breadfruit and eating it, too. It’s not really fine to look the part only sometimes.

So, if you don’t think we’re our worst enemy, I suggest you look more carefully before pointing at others: