Often in his columns the late esteemed journalist Ian Boyne would inveigh against what he described as the moral relativism haunting the country. He was particularly concerned about the hedonism and materialism that characterised so much of our national life; that a people’s obsession with materialism without this being informed by strong moral underpinnings will not augur well for the long-term health of the society.
If he were alive today I believe he would still be as strident in his call for economic growth being buttressed by the thinking that man cannot live by bread alone.
It is almost an understatement to say that Jamaica is in a dangerous and precarious moral place today. All around us there are signs of moral decay, indications of a country in social ennui, where too many are becoming dissatisfied with the tearing of the social fabric that they now believe that the country is gone for good.
Too many are coming to the conclusion that nothing that can be done to restore or repair the bridges of our social existence that are being destroyed daily. This moral relativism is characterised by human behaviour being governed by what is convenient or expedient at a given time, not how one’s behaviour or actions can impact another person for good or ill.
Thus, as the Commissioner of Police Major General Anthony Anderson revealed in a recent press conference, there are young men in our midst who are willing to snuff out a person’s life for $15,000.
The hitman and scamming cultures are outgrowths of this kind of thinking, wherein one’s conscience is not constrained by the value of a human life, but the short-term remuneration that can be gained from killing someone or destroying his property.
And it is not to be believed that it is only at these levels that this kind of thinking and behaviour persist. They run the whole gamut of society; from the so-called elites to the poorest elements who see “eating a food” to be more dominant than respect for another person’s life or property. The rampant corruption at our ports of entry, where goods are under-invoiced or guns allowed to come into the country through bribery, are all part of this relativistic thinking that contributes to the tearing of the moral fabric of our society. The bribing of civil servants to get one’s project to the head of line also comes to mind. Often these are not considered moral lapses but actions consistent with doing business in Jamaica.
How do we as a society arrest this problem? In retrospect, one of the better initiatives to have come out of the P J Patterson Administration was the values and attitudes campaign on which the Government embarked. It was an attempt to get the nation to think very seriously about what could be done collectively to prevent the country from sliding into a moral abyss. The initiative never gained the traction that it deserved and today seems to have petered out or at any rate disappeared from people’s consciousness.
Yet, what cannot be denied is that there is a clear need today to re-emphasise time-honoured and tested values that have sustained viable societies over the years. There needs to be a seismic shift in our attitudes to work, to how we view and interact with each other as human beings, the respect we have for human lives, and our individual responsibility in building a society of which we all can be proud.
This cannot be the work of Government alone. They can take the lead in certain things, as Patterson attempted, but the fundamental responsibility rests with each of us making the changes that are necessary, starting with ourselves.
One thing we cannot do is to throw our hands into the air in despair and believe that nothing can be done to arrest the problem. What we face is not a problem unique to Jamaica; every country is struggling with moral relativistic thinking which has become a defining feature of life in the third decade of the 21st century.
Neither can we throw religious fundamentalist thinking at it, or believe that divine intervention of itself will lead us to a better path without our involvement in leading the change for which we clamour. I can hear loudly the voice of the prophet Micah saying to us: “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to have mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
We cannot just appeal to the “better angels” in our nature, or seek to appease the barbarism that lurks in the hearts of the dog-hearted criminals in our midst. Negotiating with criminals for peace is a non-starter. I am an eternal optimist who does not believe in a point of no return for any person or society. Human beings are malleable and human institutions are elastic and subject to reform. There is nothing that we resolve to do as a nation that we cannot achieve.
So, I will not join with the chorus that says that all is lost and that Jamaica is beyond redemption. We are facing some serious headwinds right now, but we can prevail if we have the will to. That is where the real problem lies — having the will or the resolve to take the proverbial bulls by the horn and effecting the changes that we know are necessary.
The absence of this will, largely for political reasons, is as daunting as it is paralysing. We must overcome this paralysis if the country is to move towards developed nation status by 2030. Failing this, the lamentation of one of my family members of this happening in 3020, is unerringly prescient. We must all work for the change that we demand.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books: Finding Peace in the Midst of Life’s Storm and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
- We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper; email addresses will not be published.
- Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.
- We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.
- Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.
- Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: email@example.com.