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The Bureau's proposed code for our behaviour

Tamara Scott-Williams Knight

Tuesday, February 19, 2013    

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An interesting advertisement appeared in the paper weeks ago, asking members of the public to comment on the draft Jamaican Standard Guide for Public Behaviour (Reference DJS 321:2012) by the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), which is the outcome of a 2007 BSJ initiative by the Standards Council to provide guidance in standards development regarding the public conduct of Jamaicans.

The premise is that "there has been a gradual but perceptible decline in the quality and standard of public behaviour in Jamaica. This has resulted in the widespread distrust of, and disregard for authority, low outputs in all sectors of the society, and a pervasive indiscipline all around. Jamaicans have thus become increasingly aware of the need for socially responsible public behaviour and specific guidelines to promote the development of the country and its people."

Perhaps the specified period for comment has elapsed, but in the wake of public cries of "distrust" and "Nicodemusims" that followed our prime minister's (yes) announcements and orders with regard to the IMF requiring a second debt exchange programme and a whopping tax package, we think the work in progress makes for very interesting reading and could possibly assist us in enduring the severe hard times ahead.

The authors of the document insist that no part of it may be reproduced without permission, but I do so in the national interest, because this very document may be the only thing to guide us necessarily back to humanity; and as things often go in this country, their very good ideas may otherwise never see the light of day.

A 16-member Technical Committee of social, civic and business members (along with three sub-committees of citizens, students, and workers who were canvassed for opinions) was given the daunting task of developing a voluntary national standard for public behaviour in Jamaica. Noticeably absent from the technical committee were members of political parties, titans, moguls and socialites, leaving a discrete group of people who represent those societal norms and values deemed positive and who seek to build trust as part of our national identity.

On behalf of anyone who loves this country and who wants to see it survive, we say thank you to this group of people for seeing through a document with the simple aim of saving us from ourselves.

The committee, through its consultations, has identified some simple truths:

* That our lack of self-regulation has caused some citizens to live in fear of other citizens, as crime and violence has become our everyday reality where aggression and arrogance have replaced gentleness and civility.

* That our dire economic straits have led to "the pursuit of unlawful avenues, as a way of making a living. Corruption has permeated all sectors of the society. Persons and businesses are pursuing goals via non-legitimate means, which subvert and render redundant the legitimate methods available to them. They generally think it clever to 'outsmart' the system, which severely impacts transparency and accountability. Inefficient and ineffective systems also contribute to this state of affairs. Long and protracted processes to conduct basic routine tasks also influence corruption, as it is simply more timely and cost-effective to 'grease' someone's palm than to utilise the legitimate paths available.

* That our "political representatives and other persons in positions of power too often demonstrate their lack of commitment to the values and standards of democracy. They breach legal rules and procedures of the system for personal advancement. These violations, over time, erode the moral fabric of the society and are manifest in various forms of corruption including nepotism, cronyism, patronage and grafting. The leadership should commit to stronger sanctions and their strict enforcement to stem corruption".

This absence of leadership and self-regulation manifests itself here in Jamaica (and the rest of the world) in antisocial behaviour which includes, amongst many, many others: assault, noise and garbage pollution, vandalism, bribery, intimidation and extortion, reckless driving, drug and alcohol abuse, handling stolen property, inappropriate use of public spaces, commercialisation of residential properties, indecent exposure, illegal vending, sale of contraband, squatting, unapproved building construction, et al.

Polite society would historically look to governments to regulate conduct through legislation, or to the police to protect its citizens from groups whose behaviour required change. But bad behaviour is pervasive and currently there are no standards of behaviour in any socio-economic group. In other words, we're all guilty of something.

Why? Simply put, in an environment where discipline is absent and freedom is emphasised, "non-comformity and unaccountability" will rule. Antisocial behaviour comes as a result of a misguided sense of entitlement and prioritising instantaneous gratification and materialism over traditional empathetic and responsible family values and education.

While the document itself goes into exacting detail as to how each one of the principles should be voluntarily meted out, the proposed standards of behaviour are simple: (1) show respect at all times, (2) comply with society's laws and regulations, (3) be moderate in all things, (4) foster good relations with neighbours, (5) employ integrity in all areas of your life, (6) demonstrate fair-mindedness in all things, (7) act in a way so as to personify goodness in all things, (8) commit to promoting and embracing good family values, (9) take responsibility for your own health and welfare, as well as that of the family, (10) show love to others, (11) participate in the good governance of the state.

Dear readers, this is the season of Lent. If you were thinking of 'giving up' something, may I suggest that you "add something" instead. Take on any one of the 11 items above and practise them daily.

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