A message is a message

Michael Burke

Thursday, July 03, 2014

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THE title of my regular column last week was 'Principles and confidence'. I also wrote about collective ownership, and one response online was that I should write about collective ownership as part of the philosophy of the People's National Party (PNP).

I thoroughly agree. The PNP needs to revisit collective ownership, especially since tomorrow is the 121st birthday of its first president, National Hero Norman Washington Manley who was big on collective ownership and responsibility. It is my opinion that in shelving socialism to meet the new political realities in the world, the PNP has shelved too much.

In shelving the growth of co-operatives, the sense of collective responsibility and collective ownership of Jamaica has been stunted. This is all the more disappointing because of the elder Manley's role in setting up Jamaica Welfare in 1937 (now Social Development Commission) that promoted community co-operatives and cottage industries.

I have been unfairly accused of rewriting history. No one more than myself has come out against the institutionalised revisionism of history in Jamaica. For example, Norman Manley said in a 1966 broadcast that it was he who secured the funding in Washington for the building of the houses in West Kingston known as Tivoli Gardens. Is this fact or fiction?

It was Norman Washington Manley, as premier of Jamaica, who established the youth camps. Later on the youth camps were removed
from the Social Development Commission and called HEART by Edward Seaga while he was prime minister of Jamaica.

But where did the idea come from in the first place? Again, is this fact or fiction? I can understand the honouring of Edward Seaga for making certain improvements to the youth camp principle, but to honour him as if he created the idea in the first place is to
rewrite history.

I also wrote last week about PJ Patterson who had his values and attitudes campaign. I wrote that some were more interested in shooting the messenger than dealing with the message. Many anti-PJ Patterson sentiments were expressed by Jamaica Observer online readers. As far as I am concerned, the shooting of the messenger only continued in the responses to my column last week.

There is still a need for a values and attitudes campaign, no matter who says it. It does not matter if it comes from PJ Patterson, Edward Seaga, Portia Simpson Miller, Andrew Holness or whomever. It does not matter if it is said by leaders of any religion or by 'worldlians' or by atheists. It does not matter if it said by capitalists or communists, socialists or free marketers.

It is this shooting of the messenger that is holding us back. And it would be just as bad if those who are shooting the messenger were the ones who set up the plan only to be shot down by someone who highlighted their faults, which everyone has. We even criticise pastors who have the right message.

Between 1990 and 1996, in both the now defunct Jamaica Record and the now defunct Jamaica Herald, I wrote about the need to change the meaning of the Jamaican Flag. This was finally changed in 1996 from "Hardships there are but the land is green and the sun shineth" to "The land is green, the sun shineth and the people are strong and creative."

Prior to the change, I had always been uncomfortable with a flag in which the colour black stood for hardships in a country of mainly black people. So PJ Patterson made the change while being prime minister of Jamaica. I was not even named to the committee to review the national symbols and I have never been publicly recognised for my role in this.

But the fact that I have a personal disappointment in Patterson has not stopped me from being objective in my analysis. He did make the change in the meaning of the flag and he did call for a values and attitudes campaign, even if that was also someone else's idea.

One response online was that Catholics have no moral authority to talk about morality, based on the Roman Catholics' historical role in the sin of slavery. But the Roman Catholic Church has apologised for its role in slavery and for all other sins. There is even a book on the apologies from the popes.

Where are the apologies from the other churches? Where are the apologies from the descendants of the pirates who are still living in Jamaica? But in any event, no matter how it came about, crime is an endemic reality in the Jamaican character and has its roots in the fact that the pirates were the first aristocrats in Jamaica. The absentee landowners do not count here because they did not live in Jamaica.

The moral authority will always rest with the Roman Catholic Church because it is the church established by Jesus Christ, no matter who says what and how many rush to respond online. And in giving the authority to Peter, Jesus Christ did say that the gates of hell should never prevail against the church.

All of the sins of the clergy can be construed as the attempts by the gates of hell to prevail against the church, but it has never succeeded in doing so and never will. But whether the church has sinned in the past or present, a message is a message.

Come September, it will be 50 years since I entered Jamaica College (JC) as a first former when I was not quite 11 years old. I visit JC once per week during school time for the last 23 years, mainly to do mentoring and counselling.

I have told JC students for more than two decades that they are there for an education irrespective of whether they like their teachers. (I did not like all of mine, especially those who seemingly foisted their domestic problems on the students).

It is one thing to explain this to teenagers, but why is it necessary for me to tell this to grown men and women? Many adults need to grow up. We need a collective plan to change values and attitudes, no matter who says it.

A message is a message.





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