Have you been naughty or nice?
IF only Jamaicans could bring back the good "ole time Chrismus". There is a popular trend in the United States dubbed "Elf on the Shelf" which is designed to get children to be well-behaved (nice) as against their being rude or disobedient (naughty). How it goes is that elves are sent out by Santa Claus to monitor kids during the year. They are placed on the shelf at home to do their work. Those little ones who are nice will be the ones that are suitably rewarded when Santa comes down the chimney... "Ho, ho, ho!" To this end, replicas of elves have been made and have become a hot item in that country.
Well, when last I checked, there was not an elf on my shelf, but in a real way all of us always have an elf overseeing us and it may be called our "conscience". In today's Jamaica, selfishness has reached a new high and it comes in many different ways. Those irascible, undisciplined motorists who traverse our roadways every day and night are a prime example of naughtiness. They break stoplights, overtake at the most inopportune moment, and terrorise any driver that dares to obey the road code. Taxi and minibus drivers are perhaps the naughtiest of the lot. They defy every law in the books. But perhaps the one I personally find most annoying and dangerous is when they stop in the middle of the road to let off or take on passengers. Apart from blocking traffic, there is a tendency to open the door suddenly even as one tries to overtake cautiously. Rumours persist that many of these renegade taxis and minibuses are owned by police personnel and some politicians -- that may explain why they have so much laxity and "in your face" attitude. Tessanne "The Voice" Chin should have added that Jamaica has the worst drivers in the world and not just roads.
I once told the story about a visitor to the island who rented a motor car. Within half an hour he was back at the depot to return the vehicle trembling and appearing to be a nervous wreck. He declared that driving in Jamaica was too much of a hazardous exercise for him considering he had come to spend a relaxing and enjoyable vacation.
The increasing number of road fatalities is ample proof of the bad driving habits of too many Jamaicans, especially young men. As I always say to my relatives and friends, in Jamaica it is advisable to drive defensively at all times, even if it makes you look stupid to the wild and reckless ones out there. Especially during this festive season, motorists are being urged to be nice, not naughty. The life you save may very well be your own.
Another area of concern is the poor and abrasive customer service from both private and public sectors. Times are hard and many persons are in fact living from "hand to mouth", so it can become difficult to smile; say thank you, you are welcome, please, or have a nice day. But these little words can make a great deal of difference both to the sender as well as the receiver. Yes, I have observed some improvements in service delivery among many entities, but there are still too many persons -- including even bosses and supervisors -- who are crude, rude and uncooperative. Then again, to deal with some Jamaicans can drive just about anyone up the wall, because we are not an easy set of people to deal with.
It is against this background that Christmas which has become so commercial has lost its true meaning. So instead of Santa Claus being able to reward us for being nice, he may well stay at the North Pole in order to avoid the traffic! In the olden days, many Jamaicans gave more than they received at Christmas and they did it without flashing cameras and media hype. Today, much of our altruism tends to be self-serving to the extent that the giver is more interested in letting the world know what he or she has done rather than just enjoying the act. In these harsh economic times, every one of us should identify at least one or two less fortunate individuals, such as the aged, invalid and shut-ins, not to mention the very young for whom Christmas should mean so much and make them happy.
Of course, giving can become very stressful and expensive. Needless to say that the greatest gift we can give is our love and caring spirit. Money, as they say, is tight, and come January there will be many "bruck pocket" Jamaicans complaining about back-to-school expenses, mortgages, rent and supermarket money, et al. Yet many of these same individuals would have spent their last dime on the most expensive clothes, hairstyles, shoes, liquor, presents, jewellery, you name it. And that's naughty.
It is my hope that, for this Christmas, we will all take time out to reflect on where we are as a country and where we want to go. From all indications, 2014 is likely to be even more tough than 2013 as we seek to claw our way out of heavy indebtedness and economic stagnation. May the true meaning of Christmas be your guiding light as we all celebrate the Saviour's birth, abhorring naughtiness and embracing niceness. As the popular saying goes, "Jamaica, a yah so nice!"
Lloyd B Smith is a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the People's National Party or the Government of Jamaica.