Columns

More than mind games required for success in 2014

Henley MORGAN

Wednesday, January 01, 2014    

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ANY objective assessment of Jamaica's condition will bring us to the same conclusion. Last year was a depressing time for the country; for those who live, work and raise families in Jamaica, land we love. The economic and social problems overshadowed such successes as there were.

In failing to acknowledge the small victories at the individual, family, institution, community and country level, we place ourselves at risk of falling victims to a kind of negative introspection which says all is lost. It is natural for people suffering protracted hardships, such as we in Jamaica have, to feel this way.

Those of us who write for newspapers or share our opinions over the airwaves are not immune to the prevailing mood of the country. If we, the influencers of public opinion, are honest with ourselves, we will admit that in 2013 we spent too much time dwelling on the problems, too little time acknowledging those areas in which we are making progress, and even less time focusing on solutions. This is an important admission, for with the privilege of shaping public opinion through the media comes the responsibility of keeping hope alive.

Hardly anyone will argue with the need for greater balance in the views expressed through the media concerning the state of the nation. Achieving balance, keeping hope alive, is difficult — particularly in a politically charged atmosphere. Those who are hard-wired to feel that the party in power can do no wrong believe that to criticise anything the Government does is anti-government, negative or even unpatriotic. Those who are as dogmatic in their support of the party out of power believe that to have anything good to say is politically partisan or unrealistically optimistic. This ambivalence produces a stalemate in which confidence in the nation's prospect for recovery and growth is sacrificed on the altar of political partisanship. The resulting negative national psyche feeds the very economic underperformance every citizen will tell you he or she does not desire.

The Pew Research Centre, a non-partisan fact tank that provides information on global issues through public opinion polling, conducted a survey to determine the level of confidence people have that their leaders are taking the country in the right direction. A sampling of the results follow: China, 87 per cent; Brazil, 50 per cent; India, 45 per cent; Britain 31, per cent; America, 30 per cent; and France, 26 per cent. Local studies place confidence in the leadership of the Government, regardless of the party in power, in the sub 20 per cent range. When the level of confidence in governmental leadership is plotted against annual growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for each country, there is a casual but unmistakable correlation between the two variables. What is true for individuals turns out to be also true for countries. There is a link between a country's prosperity and the positive outlook on the future among the populace.

Carried away with the world-leading performance of the likes of Usain Bolt, Tessanne Chin and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, one instinctively wants to declare victory for the nation over the mountain of problems that confronts it. Upon closer examination, one discovers that we are a country that produces icons. Icons, as is the case everywhere, make money for themselves, their families and special causes. Industry creates wealth for a nation and its people. Icons are born of individual effort. Industries emanate from the policies instituted by a nation's leaders.

It is arguable whether Jamaica can be said to have a music or sport industry — a glaring failure on the part of policymakers. The Government is unable to guarantee economic growth, law and order, fair play, and justice, or an environment free of vice and corruption. One may reasonably assume that Jamaicans have a high degree of confidence in the potential of their homeland and the people. It's with government that they have a problem.

There are growing numbers of motivational speakers, preachers, counsellors and best-selling books with appealing titles espousing a false philosophy; one that says, thinking or talking success leads naturally to success; that speaking positively about an admittedly awful situation is, by itself, enough to cause measureable improvement. This line of thinking creates false hope, causes people to feel comfortable in their mediocrity, to stay in abusive relationships, to continue working where their contribution is not appreciated and, sadly, to live in the world's most underperforming economy relative to the country's natural endowments — Jamaica — while speaking of it as if it were paradise.

Before we place too much credence on those rose-coloured New Year's resolutions and fanciful projections we may have made at the dawn of the new year, consider the following findings from a study in the field of metacognition, otherwise referred to as thinking about thinking. Humans are first emotional beings. Our thoughts tend to follow a pathway of least resistance, leading almost naturally to wishful thinking and other forms of mental delusions. This is especially evident in situations relating to strongly held beliefs such as religion, politics and relationships. We have the capacity for logic, but logic and critical thinking are learned skills.

Metacognition teaches scientific scepticism based on logic and critical thinking. The process involves systematic doubt; examining all the facts that one is assuming or thinks one knows, as well as questioning one's motives and considering the implications of a set of beliefs. To simplify the process, think of it as basing your belief on actual evidence, as opposed to wishful thinking, to arrive at reliable conclusions. Training the mind to think in this way allows critical thinking to take place in nanoseconds. But even the untrained can apply the methodology in given situations such as when determining the future prospects of the country or making life-changing decisions to be pursued in the new year.

The society needs to be more appreciative of the two-dimensional individual; one who vigorously exposes the ugly realities even to the point of appearing angry with society's gatekeepers, all while remaining the eternal optimist about the prospects of the country. It is in that context that success for Jamaica in 2014 needs to be viewed. And many of my readers will not come from playing mind games or sweet talk to realise that the problems are real, requiring commitment and hard work.

The admonition of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians (Chapter 4: verse 13) is a fitting ending for a column dealing with hope in the face of adversity. Paraphrased it says, that if we sorrow, as is natural for man to do in these circumstances, we should sorrow not as others who have no hope (for our hope is in the Lord). This is a blessed country. A happy and prosperous new year!

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