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What values? What attitudes?

Grace VIRTUE

Tuesday, July 08, 2014    

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Last week, I opened a canister that I have had in my house for years and hit pay dirt. Inside were two copies of a small blue pamphlet titled 'Manley: A Legend in his Time', and four others containing speeches by former Prime Minister PJ Patterson, including his address at his swearing-in ceremony at King's House, April 3, 1993, titled, "...to build a strong spirit of national unity throughout the land..."

The others are: 'Social Agenda and the Reorganisation of the Social Development Commission', dated November 1995; 'A Constitution for the People', December 5, 1995; and most importantly, 'Promoting Better Values and Attitudes', his address at the national consultation on values and attitudes, February 15, 1994.

This last document was important because I planned to follow up on an assertion in last week's column, titled 'Global megatrends and why education needs vision', that education needs to be both value-laden and responsive to the trends shaping the future worldwide.

While we do not seem to be planning for these trends, international development experts are tracking them and the developed world are, alongside the recognition, of course, that the future can only be predicted up to a point. In the tradition of the Waldorf School then, "a sound education prepares us for an unknown, uncertain future... We educate truly when we educate for creativity in the face of the unknown".

This speaks significantly to sound values and attitudes such as creativity, integrity, teamwork, flexibility, industry and resourcefulness, which transcend time and space.

At the risk of again sounding like a sociology professor, I believe our starting point has to be clarification of what we mean by values and attitudes. Communication, after all, is shared meaning; we have to understand each other's perspectives.

Values are the shared beliefs of a culture on what is right, wrong, good, bad, fair, just, desirable or undesirable. Right away we face some serious challenges. For some, stealing, for example, is a blanket term that means taking anything that does not belong to us, and it is wrong. But for others, it may be confined only to breaking into someone's car or house and taking their property, but it is okay to short-change customers or steal from employers. Pilfering from the State is common practice; we steal time, resources and money.

Cultural values include the place of family, religion, education and attitude to work. They influence personal values like integrity, respect, loyalty, honesty, equality, dignity, courage, wisdom, independence and compassion. Business values include excellence, fairness, equity, integrity, innovation, philanthropy and corporate responsibility.

Our values guide our behaviour and influence our attitudes — the combination of emotional, cognitive and behavioural responses that determine how we evaluate people or circumstances.

The recent address by American businessman JJ Geewax to the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) speaks to a set of behaviours which, based on the value system to which he is accustomed, are no less unproductive than the boys just hanging out on the corner.

The emphasis on keeping up with the Joneses or to live like the idle rich — people who are never seen actually doing anything but who, on paper, are heads of entities and are able to buy themselves the flashiest of lifestyles — are contrary to the value of frugality, which entrepreneurs in Asian cultures, for example, pay scrupulous attention to.

They are also a distortion of our values if we are serious about social and economic transformation. Whereas the affinity to "flashiness" can be dismissed as superficial but harmless, when coupled with a lack of innovativeness and the absence of a work ethic that places a high value on results, it does the economy no good, confuses our young people, and frustrates the efforts of those who are trying.

Based on my values, I am embarrassed that in the 21st century, in a country facing a severe crisis of survival, a young man from the outside has to be telling us to grow up; that pretending to be productive and actually being productive are not one and the same thing; that serious business people do not consistently portray themselves as giddy frat boys with nothing else to do but roll from one party to the next.

Hopefully, PSOJ President Christopher Zacca will drill down into the comments and help his members to understand that while our society may have taught them to be overly impressed with themselves, to any discerning onlooker in this age, their values and attitudes inspire neither confidence, trust nor respect.

Patterson's address, 20 years ago, provided a framework to tackle some of these challenges. His comments were cogent then and poignant now because little was done to advance the agenda, leaving us once again to ponder: what if the society then had agreed on a set of values and attitudes we want our people to embrace, and design and implement programmes in schools and civil society to realise this effort?

I wonder, too, why Patterson did not aggressively follow through. Could it be that he was discouraged by the ridicule that he encountered from some quarters? I believe, though, that Patterson is made of sterner stuff. So, what happened?

"I am firmly convinced that we should develop a national strategy... to promote attitudinal change and social renewal," Patterson said then. "This is the surest way (and perhaps the only way) to improve in the short run, and in the longer term, maintain the quality of life for all Jamaicans... It would mean greater levels of public accountability; obtaining full value for the money we spend; protecting rather than destroying community property," Patterson said.

"It would result in increased production through new entrepreneurial opportunities and a better work ethic; more material rewards to workers for greater levels of productivity; and no longer mistaking good service for servility," he added.

Trust, integrity, respect for human dignity, the quest for excellence, represent absolute values, he added. They are neither relative nor transient.

He was right. Let's get the show on the road!

— Grace Virtue, PhD, is a social justice advocate.

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