Columns

New Year's revolution: Sweat the small stuff!

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, January 03, 2014    

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WHATEVER you have been doing, stop now and do different. Find things you can change for the better and change them — your weight, attitude, behaviour. Don't spread gloom and doom, nurture the rays of light and expand the aperture. Peace and prosperity eludes us so we must find a new path.

The year 2014 can be a watershed if we believe, repent and do right. The politician alone cannot build this country and many of you are liabilities, few are assets, but we can prosper this small nation. We are now bean counters. Friends abroad check FX rates when going on vacation. Here, it's a daily drag. We endured febrile change for 40 years; grew by a per cent, declined by two — 1.5 next year? Who knew we grew by a per cent? Did you feel it?

We hurt. When Trinidad was gridlocked by a surfeit of cars we were hoping to catch a bus. We hurt. Barbados was the true "no problem" state; they lived the life of Riley until recently. We hurt. Now everyone is suffering, our normal is their fate. We learnt suffering and by default how to make others suffer. We must change radically and we can if we deal with the small stuff first!

The Bible we love is big on "small stuff" — the finest nation-building manual ever. It is believable as the word of God; has some weird stuff, but when God asks old men to write stuff down — dementia and all — expect errors. Imagine if God gave us Das Capital or Alice in Wonderland or Origin of the Species to help us navigate life? One author, too logical — life isn't. The Bible teaches us that small stuff matter, and done timely the big stuff is easier. In 2014 we have to try new stuff — care more, take charge; mend fences; do what is in our own power — small stuff. You raise the flimsy rod, God will part the water; stand up to Pharoah, God will melt his heart; get your slingshot, point and shoot, God brings down the giant. Sweat the small stuff and leave the rest to God! Let's plan a New Year's revolution; no yacht, no faux marble mansion on the hill; legal prostitution before legal ganja? Small stuff keeps us sane and need no FX, laws, foreign experts or loans; lower the decibels, rage and violence; stanch the blood; give the hopeless hope, incentive to the trying, boost the sum total of human happiness. God made the tick, flea, cockroach, crab louse and mosquito — small stuff is crucial. We ignored the small stuff for decades and are now paying the price. We bitch about bad luck. Deal with the small stuff in 2014 and we will never have bad luck.

Claim your freedom, speak out — small stuff. Big men are cowed as they fear reprisal, loss of job contract. We are not fully free. Some think the second fiddle I play in this Observer column makes me the entire orchestra, "you just write you must change things!" Well hello... why did you elect them? It is in the gift of Cabinet to reward truth — small stuff.

Last year was bad for freedom. We saw a powerful union shout "Fire di man!" Why? Data, new analyses, new actions? "Oi, don't change the old ways, they work for us!" The trade union bays for one worker's blood. Fight for free speech in 2014!

The street is crucial to our sanity. We spend a lot of time there, motorist and pedestrian. I do 12 hours plus in an office, some 3 hours "to-ing and fro-ing" on the street, but men I see in the morning are there at night. I see women who cross to avoid harassment. Safe streets, traffic need no FX and the aggro kills productive people. In 2014 the police must ticket violations and move windshield enforcers at stop lights — the small stuff. The selfish taxi and minibus drivers sow discord, as do the idiots who stop traffic to talk to friends. Take the demented and destitute from the streets and care for them. Enforce the laws — small stuff matter.

The family needs help. Women and children need protection as domestic violence is crime. Do women have to die so the police lay a charge; child abuse and underage pregnancy is men too. We must teach boys respect; deferred gratification and compromise is manly — small stuff. Check productivity; it's been declining and we have the power to arrest it — a small thing! We have the fittest people in the world and they do well at pleasure, but on the job they suck! We applaud Bolt's and Veronica's work rate yet are satisfied with poor production metrics year after year, why? Let us reward jobs positively and negatively by their results — small stuff.

What about small stuff in school? We embrace the minimum in school so when the law says kids should get "no less than" 190 days of classes @ 4.5 hours per day we hold it there come hell or high water. Suppose we did this to salaries? Even the minimum wage is moved. Since 70 per cent of poor kids exit school with nothing why not give them more than the minimum? — small stuff. Even so why can't kids get the full 190 days? The 142 days average is not verified as school is holy ground and fingerprint time log on school computers is of the Devil — small stuff.

The church is crucial to our sanity. Where are the geldings for God? It is riven with excess; minister of song? I am Archbishop of prose. When people flock a church be very afraid is God a liar? "In the last days they will persecute you, despise you; say all manner of ill against you for my sake". The entry bar is low, so start a church; get a tent, a facial, mani-pedi; a big De Lawrence signet ring, teeth whitened, tight suit, a big Bible, and get God rich. Where is simple faith, modest living? — small stuff.

Politics is the route to Parliament. Parties are never more than 2-5 per cent of the population and most high performers are not joiners. But don't "diss" politics, use it well. Personally, I would give out swords in a constituency, lock candidates in a bull pen, and put the last man standing in Parliament. I critique politicians as in the last 50 + 1 years they underperform. They did not beat the secular trend but, like fibre, we need them in the diet. Join a party — a small thing. Be the ACCA who is party treasurer; Miss Project Manager get into party logistics, and there is place for the novice too. Since we may give the parties taxpayers' money we need to know good guys are in there.

The civil service handles small stuff, but underperforms and needs system. I just renewed permits. What a country to do business with government! Time wasted, juggling one office and another. "You can't pay here, Sir." I need a paper from another office to get permission to pay, then take the receipt upstairs and on to the next stage. I met good civil servants who know the screw-ups. Small stuff we can fix in 2014. Do it online; or in a "how to" manual, samples of forms, step-by-step stuff; where to take it next; which JUTC bus, which stop; and how much money to take. Alternately, lean on the counter near the teller, engage her, ignore the dagger-like looks of those in the line and listen for her falsetto: "Oh, Mr Smith, weh yuh did deh, you com' back?" Doing business with government is art and artifice. Ignore the small stuff and the mountain of frustration means you never get to the big stuff and neither can God as the precondition is not met. Sweat the small stuff, my friend. Best to yours through 2014! Stay conscious!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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