Does culture define us or do we define culture?

Does culture define us or do we define culture?

BY Headley George Squire

Thursday, November 05, 2020

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Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness, addressing the Jamaican community in Belgium on April 15, 2018, said: “You wonder why a country with so much potential does not achieve.” He went on to add: “In 1960 Jamaica's GDP [gross domestic product] was greater than Singapore's. Fifty to 60 years on, Singapore's GDP is 10 times that of Jamaica's.” He wondered whether the very thing that defined us, our culture, is limiting us.

In the prime minister's 2020 swearing-in ceremony speech he said: “The challenge, however, is not one of resources and regulation; it is also one of will and culture — the will to challenge culture.”

A Pulitzer Centre report by Julia Rendleman notes: “Jamaica has been called the richest poor nation on Earth. Jamaicans take pride in their island's abundance of fruits and vegetables, and hunger is not an extreme problem. On the other hand, rural farmers remain poor, and scratching out a living that will support a family is hard. (

Based on the prime minister's articulation, the above quote, and my observation, I have come to the conclusion that, indeed, certain aspects and practices of our culture are hampering our progress at home and abroad.

Singapore is certainly a modern First World country without slums and poverty. Jamaica has the potential to be similar. When we compare Singapore's vs Jamaica's economic development we should also take into account their government policies that ensure citizens adherence to law and order. Being cognisant of Singapore's achievement, is the prime minister using the tools Singapore used to achieve similar success for Jamaica?

How does our culture play into our economic development so far? Could it be our interpretation and display of culture is thwarting our progress? If we want change we must be willing to change; to change is to grow. We need to adapt a disciplined, modern mindset, instead of maintaining the status quo. We do not have to be victims of society chained to tradition and frozen in the pasture of the past.

I believe culture should always be under construction adding value to our progress. We should preserve where we are coming from in history books, archives, and museums, as well as celebrate where we are at and promote where we are going. To achieve success we need to embrace civil norms and values — emotions should not govern our actions.

Promoting public display of lewd behaviour in the name of entertainment and culture is subtracting from our upward mobility. That type of behaviour is stifling and impeding our progress. The more it seeps into our society the more momentum it acquires.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's quote is worth observing: “Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again. Wisely improve the present, it is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear and with a manly heart.”

People behind successful ventures did not use a Jamaican format of rules and regulations to achieve success. Their successes adhered to international standards. Likewise, if we want to achieve economic pinnacles, we need to give what the world needs/wants in order to get what we need/want. Think locally and act globally.

Focusing on the collective good, instead of appealing to individual rights, should be the tenet of people in positions of influence. Our goal should be pursuing the things that uplift us instead of trivialities that divide us in the name of culture. If a society wants to move forward, the bottom needs to emulate the top and not the other way around.

Discipline, finesse, and refinement should be promoted as the order of the day if we want to create a modern 21st century society. Our leaders and those in positions of influence must set standards for the citizens to follow. I am very suspicious of those who have achieved success in their respective fields and promoting something else for others instead of showing them the steps used to achieve theirs.

People allowed themselves to be manipulated by politics and religion, at the same time, looking at politicians and people in leadership positions with doubts and suspicions. Other ethnic groups immigrate to Jamaica, exploit our weaknesses, and achieve success on our backs because we lack discipline and order and we blame the Government for selling us out.

The philosophy and opinions of Marcus Garvey are not being adhered to. He preached self-respect and self-determination among other things.

Finally, the acceptance of ignorance is the beginning of knowledge. Good intentions do not always equate to good results. What we need is to be an orderly, disciplined society laced with patriotism. Culture should not define us, we should define culture. Discipline is the key that unlocks the door to an upwardly mobile society. The more we have in common with people around the globe, the more we will be successful at home and abroad.

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