Personal responsibility and change
“Although the connections are not always obvious, personal change is inseparable from social and political change.” Noted clinical psychologist and prolific author Harriet Lerner made this profound statement nearly 40 years ago. It was true then and is now.
The legendary American bass-baritone Lou Rawls, in his international hit What’s the matter with the world?, released in 1979, made a similarly wise utterance to that of Lerner. Rawls, in what became a global anthem, sang: “…What’s the matter with the world has the world gone mad/ Nothin´wrong with the world is the people that’s in it…”
Here at home, for decades many well-thinking Jamaicans have been asking, “What the matter with Jamaica has Jamaica gone mad? I believe there is nothing wrong with Jamaica; it is the people who live in it. Pardon me for taking slight liberties with Rawls’ seminal tune.
Like Lerner, I believe personal change is inseparable from social, political, and by extension national shifts. A national recognition of this reality is one of the great challenges before us.
You and me, we can
On New Year’s Day, Adam, a friend of mine, sent me a most disturbing and horrifying video. It contained frightening footage of a young man performing a stunt on a bike.
This newspaper delivered these and related details: “A motorcyclist is now dead after the bike he was driving collided with a motor vehicle on Saturday in Hope Bay, Portland. He is Rushawn Miller, unemployed, of Black Hill District in the parish.
“Jamaica Observer Online understands that the incident took place around 3:15 pm. The accident involved a 2001 white Nissan Caravan, which was driven by a 68-year-old man, and a blue and red motorcycle without registration plate, driven by the deceased.
“In a video circulating on social media, Miller was seen seemingly performing a stunt with his legs up on the seat of the motorcycle and swerving occasionally, before crashing into the vehicle.”
A family is now needlessly in mourning and will have to find thousands of dollars to bury their loved one.
Was this a preventable crash? Absolutely!
In the mentioned video, other people could be seen and heard participating in the asinine farce. Immediately after the deadly collision some of the participants spewed exclamatory words, most of which cannot be repeated here. Others, clearly in a state of panic, frantically called out for someone to take the youngster to the hospital. The footage was blood-curdling. Twisted limbs and other massive lacerations were evident.
No one apparently had the presence of mind to shout, “Stop this rubbish now!” before the horrible crash.
This frequently happens. Why? I believe this was another instance of terror by choice. Right quick some are going to say, folks cling and clinch bad practices and ideas because they just cannot do better. I do not agree. Noted writer Paulo Coelho famously said: “A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.”
I gather the deceased is known for doing wheelies. I am told he was warned many times about the likely deadly consequences. There is a lesson here for those who wish to learn. Either we alter our decision paths or hug the whirlwind.
How often have we heard and or uttered this refrain: “Wha di Govament ah duh?”
It is a legitimate one. But where, though, is personal responsibility in the critical equation which must determine decisions in our individual lives?
Lest there be any doubt, let me make clear what I mean by personal responsibility: It is when you take full accountability for your actions and decisions. Behaviour experts say when you hold yourself responsible it leaves far less room for blaming of others and you develop better control of your life.
It is no secret that acceptance of personal responsibility does not fetch a premium here at home, nor is it a big vote-getter in our country. I suspect that is a large part of the explanation as to why so many of our citizens believe someone else is responsible for their every action, or inaction, and must, therefore, bear the consequences of either. Quite frankly, I think babysitting the feelings of individuals who are intent on being downright irresponsible must become a thing of the past. Mollycoddling people who choose to ignore even the most basic rules of self-preservation has not benefited this country.
I believe far too many of us are fixated on ideas and practices that no longer have any significant utilitarian value. Similarly, far too many of us are hanging on to ideas and practices that are no longer relevant to the global stage. The continued tight embrace of them is the equivalent of an alligator-like death roll in which all Jamaicans become prey.
“Is Govament fault,” many will doubtless bellow. Admittedly, many of our long-standing worries are the result of massive ineptitude and corrupt practices by some administrations. Too many of us, though, use this ‘blame the Government’ switch as a defence mechanism for our every ache, scratch, and itch.
In order for Jamaica to become “the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business,” all of us will have to realise that personal responsibility is inseparable from social, political, and national change. The reality is, State authorities and agencies cannot be on every street corner, all the time. No country has the resources to do that.
“Everybody wants to change the world, but nobody thinks about changing himself,” said Leo Tolstoy. I agree. I drive on Hope Road often. I sometimes see motorcyclists doing wheelies, to me, an insane joust on a public thoroughfare. Interestingly, some of these cyclists are individuals who transport fast food. I doubt wheelies improve the taste and/or reduce the price to the consumers. I suspect the illegal acrobatics push up the cost and, quite possibly, in many instances, dampen the appetites of potential customers. Who in the right mind wants meals delivered by daredevils? Whether they are classified as private contractors or not, I think companies have a duty to implement policies to protect their brands, their employees, and members of the public. This is personal responsibility too.
Head of the Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch (PSTEB) of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Gary McKenzie, said on a radio programme last week that 32 per cent of the 425 people killed on our roads in 2023 were motorcyclists. They are highest category of road deaths, McKenzie said. I am not surprised.
While we ramp up the message of personal responsibility, we have to simultaneously talk about tough consequences. Numerous studies have found that people obey rules not because they are innately predisposed to obedience, but more so because of consequences for disobedience.
One of our long-standing challenges is our low-enforcement environment. One of its very terrible results is that large sections of the society have come to believe that skulduggery is as Jamaican as dukunoo. Additionally, we have adopted the self-deprecating thought process of, “A so di ting set.”
The reality is if people know they can get away scot-free by beating the system, they will. I believe tough consequences for miscreants are necessary. Consequences are powerful adhesives. When that adhesion is fractured and/or ripped apart, the result is usually a state of affairs in which it is each man for himself, similar to Hobbes’ State of nature. When this happens, a society’s critical social foundations become nearly untenable. From there it’s downhill.
In his new year’s message for 2024, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said, among other things: “We will continue to build out our plan to sustainably secure Jamaica.
The new Firearms Act, Bail Act, and amendments to the Offences Against the Person Act to create realistic deterrent penalties, along with usage of the anti-gang law, and improved intelligence and policing operations, are having strong impact on reducing crime overall.
Already, we are seeing about 7.5 per cent reduction in murders, that is approximately 120 lives saved. And serious crimes are down 10 per cent overall, in fact the total number of reported serious crimes, (murder, shooting, rape, robbery, break-in) is the lowest in 20 years.
We are heading in the right direction. But, while well-thinking Jamaicans invest blood, sweat, and tears to help make this Rock a better place, there are those among us who are blindingly corrosive.
They will stop at nothing, nothing at all, to derail the country’s advance. As we say on the streets: We must push dem out. Those who invest in our country’s destructions are not friends, they are foes.
Until there is a complete social reorientation of this society, where the vast majority — whether, rich or poor — come to understand and expect sure and swift sanctions for antisocial and illegal behaviours, we are going to continue to have abnormal increases in the number of persons “biting the thumb” at the law, (William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet). And we are going to see more people from uptown, midtown, and downtown trying to ‘beat the system’.
I believe most people will almost always be their worst selves if they are allowed.
Consider this illustration of the point. In 2016, Geico Insurance put out an advertisement titled: Alligator Arms. In it, a family is at dinner in a restaurant. A well-dressed alligator dines with them. Nearing the end of a delicious and very expensive meal a waitress puts the cheque in the middle of the table. A female member of the dining party reaches for her purse to pay the bill. The alligator suddenly interrupts her: “Woe, woe, woe, I got this. I, I just have to reach the cheque.” He pretends to stretch for it. The alligator is of course a freeloader. All in the dining party look at the alligator in amazement. He looks back at them as if he is the injured party and asks, “What?” A narrator comes in and says, “If you have alligator arms, you avoid picking up the cheque. It is what you do.” The bill is paid by a male in the party. The humans leave in utter disgust. The alligator remains and devours the leftovers.
Left to themselves people will avoid paying car insurance. That was the primary message of the advertisement. But, I am sure you realise an even bigger meaning. We all agree on the need for change, but when it comes to embracing it personally, too often far too many of us fold our arms and mentally recede into a convenient and mummified-like state, while some are content to point an accusatory finger at a neighbour and shout, “Start with him/her!”
This is what behavioural experts call the change paradox. Among other things that is why consequences matter. The world is watching Jamaica. Economically we have emerged from the abyss. Prime Minister Andrew Holness is right; we must now achieve peace in our time.
Kudos to Mark Golding
I do not often have occasion to commend the Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding.
The reason is, Golding seldom says anything that is worthy of commendation. Some portions of Golding’s 2024 new year’s message did rise to a standard which, I believe, warranted commendation. He said among other things: “I am committed to working constructively and in good faith with all well-thinking Jamaicans, regardless of political affiliation or other considerations that have too long divided us, towards finding the ways and means to secure a better future for our country.”
I can only hope Golding was being genuine, given some of the awful faux pas which he made especially on the political hustings in 2023.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, my late grandfather always told me. I will wait to see Golding’s actions and measure whether they match his words.
I think it was American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson who said: “There is a great difference between what a man says of himself and what he is and does.” I agree!
For this and related reasons we all need to embrace humility and also accept that we are fallible.
My favourite book, the Bible, supports this sensible approach. In Philippians 3:12, Apostle Paul says: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”
Happy New Year, everyone!